The Media Production Show: Day 1 Highlights

This year the Media Production Show took place at London’s Olympia venue, its second edition falling in nicely with the start of the summer. Organized across a range of pop-up stalls, camera studios and platforms for the key interviewers, visitors were free to roam from stall to stall, networking, engaging and hearing about new developments in the industry.

With more than 100 speakers across the different panels–from The Missing’s writers and co-creators Harry and Jack Williams to Paul Machliss and his insightful points on editing on-set–the Media Production Show really came into its own in terms of style. Highlights of the show included kit and equipment exhibitions, networking opportunities, and masterclasses which covered everything from colouring, content, distribution forms and post-production. There really was something for everyone. From editors and VFX specialists working on features to camera operators and screenwriters working in television, the atmosphere was one of great optimism.

Day One of the show began on a positive note, kicking off with brothers Jack and Harry Williams’ keynote interview. Having co-written and produced (with no trace of sibling rivalry I might add) the award-winning series The Missing, the two provided continuous nuggets of knowledge for hopefuls just starting out. Their inspiration for writing, they explained, was conducive to constantly working and bouncing ideas off one another. They also talked about location scouting within a production, and that compromising on a location budget is not always necessary (If it’s a good idea, funding will be found). They also touched on the importance of being able to multitask and understand the business and financial decisions involved in launching your own creation into the unknown.

As Jack himself said, business was not something he had planned into the folds of a writing career; but in film–or TV–it’s a must. And what with their recent contract with All3 Media, it’s safe to say they know exactly what they’re talking about.  

Next up was the Editing Masterclass, delivered by Paul Machliss, editor of the well-known Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Baby Driver. What followed was the interesting analysis of his process for the latter, and how, given that the film relies on music to set the pace (main character Baby has tinnitus and requires the beat of his I-Pod music to get through his days), it was easier for Paul to carry out the editing on set. This way he could observe the rhythm as he went along. This tied in nicely with talks of current and new software, as he could work on set at the same time the footage was received. Editing, as he tells us in his own words,  is like telling a good joke: delivering the punchline depends (in a big way) on excellent timing.

Though a legend in the editing world now, Paul Machliss came from humble beginnings. He kickstarted his career as a runner at a television station in Melbourne, though he said this was punctuated by long periods of boredom and eventually frustration, as those around him were involved in the editing and he lingered on in the background. After moving to London and working on a documentary, however, he got his lucky break. He met Edgar Wright, who invited him to edit his series Spaced, and the rest, as he said with a modest smile, “is history”.  

Finally, I sat down to watch what would be my final interview of the day, the New Kings of Content seminar, featuring Alex Morris, Chris Bonney and Richard Chambers, CEOs of Barcroft Media, Cineflix and Zoomin’ TV respectively. This seminar explored new developments in video production, mostly the exploitation of rising opportunities online, and how young producers are commissioned to create short, punchy and true videos for the their young counterparts to enjoy.

Wandering from stall to stall, it became apparent how expanding and growing the media industry really is, particularly for young professionals. There are new developments to explore and exploit every day; whether it’s camera novelties, electronic designs or Youtubers new to the scene, it really is a great time to break into this industry.

Formatting Fun: Scriptwriting Essentials

Script Formatting

So now that you’ve got the basics of your screenplay worked out and ready, it’s time to cast your ever-eager gaze onto the art of formatting.

This is possibly one of the trickiest aspects of scriptwriting to master, but only because there are plenty of differing views and techniques at large. If you grab a copy of the Hollywood Standard, by Christopher Riley, you’ll find it’s jampacked with formatting gems that will really make your life (and everyone else’s in your near perimeter) a lot easier. He covers every formatting element in existence, from transition shots to camera work–always handy if you’re a script supervisor.

Today I’ll provide you with the tools to equip you in writing one scene according to professional formatting guidelines. It won’t be enough to write a whole feature or even a decent short, but keep your eyes peeled and eventually you’ll get there. Script formatting is a bit like learning to drive a car, rocky and uncertain at first, then gradually easier until one day you wake up and it’s second nature. Another practical way to go about it–hands down–is by installing Celtx (a scriptwriting software) onto your computer. It’s free, it’s easy to navigate and it segments your excessive babbling into formatted elements, practically on automatic.

There are, after all, certain stylistic conventions every script must adhere to, independently of your writing style.

For now though, let’s focus on the basics. Say hello to Courier 12, he’s your new best friend. Every script is written in Courier-or a variation of the font, thanks to its clarity. But more importantly, setting is the first thing you’ll need to whack us over the head with. Bringing us to the time-old questions of who, where, when and why–not necessarily in that order.

1. Scene Heading

Every new scene you write–even if it’s set in the same room but at a different time–requires a heading. You’ll answer three questions (maybe more if you want to be very specific). Is the scene outside or inside (exterior or interior)? What is the specific location, a hotel lobby or a beach? Does the scene take place during the day or at night?

You’ll need to insert a new scene heading every time one of these elements change.

Interior and exterior are always abbreviated to INT. or EXT. (capitalized). But where you abbreviate the Interior with a dot, you’ll separate the location from the time of the day with a hyphen. So your scene headings will look something like this:

INT. COFFEE SHOP - MORNING

Or:

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - NIGHT

This is what Riley calls a Master Shot Heading, and anything longer than that is usually unnecessary. The code is short and sweet. Beyond that, you might be wasting paper space.

2. Action

The first thing to remember is that professional script-writers don’t tend to worry so much about their character’s inner thoughts for a reason. On the page, it doesn’t matter if Tom is agonizing over whether or not to jump from a balcony in a gun chase, if in the script it takes him a split-second to do so. The screenwriter must lay out the characters’ actions in a way that cinematographers and directors can easily visualize them–and quickly too.  Never be ambiguous, you can’t afford to be vague for literary effect, describe exactly what is happening as if it’s happening NOW. Action is always set in real time.

Writers usually break the rhythm of each action down into one or two sentences each, so that the time it takes to read the action, is how long it actually takes to carry out in real time. This is so that the reader generally has the same imaginative experience as the viewer will have.

 

In Pulp Fiction, the writer establishes via the ACTION, that the coffee shop is in Los Angeles, it’s 9:00 a.m and the place is bustling with breakfast-goers. That’s one sentence.

Next, he establishes the two protagonists of that scene:

"Two of these people are a YOUNG MAN and a YOUNG WOMAN."

Whenever we introduce our main character, you should capitalize their names once, to establish their protagonism.

 3. Character–Dialogue–Parenthetical

On Celtx, when selecting the Character from the drop box, the name of your character will automatically be centred in the document, and the Dialogue option will present itself just beneath that. Character names will always be capitalized.

You can also choose to portray the attitude or accompanying action with which your character speaks with the PARENTHETICAL option. The rule of thumb “Show, don’t tell” applies to the Parenthetical option, however. Parentheticals in every sentence is overkill.

For example:

 

JEREMY

(Slurring)

Leave me alone, I'm not drunk!

 

Or if the Dialogue spoken by your character takes place Off-Screen, you’ll write:

 

JEREMY (O.S)

Leave me alone, I’m not drunk!

 

If your character is narrating but you can’t see them, it’s defined as a Voice-Over, and looks like this:

 

HENRY (V.O)

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.

4.Transitions

Transitions are mostly used in scripts to define the abruptness with which each scene leads into the next. There is a lot of controversy nowadays as to whether these should only be inserted later in a shooting script, but as a writer, you might find them useful anyway.

The most common transitions are:

 

  • CUT TO:
  • DISSOLVE TO:
  • QUICK CUT:
  • FADE TO:
  • FADE OUT:
  • SMASH CUT:

 

Transitions are always capitalized and placed in the right-hand margin of a page, preceding a Scene Heading, as follows:

Jules finishes his burger, crumples the wrapper, and tosses it into the bin.

                                           Jules

                                         Let’s go.
Cut to:
 INT. HOTEL LOBBY - NIGHT

 

These are the ABCs of formatting, but there’s a lot left to cover so next time, we’ll delve into the different transition shots. Meanwhile, get Celtx and start experimenting. Also, look for scripts online, you’d be surprised by how many famous scripts are just sitting there, waiting to be read. See how they separate action into sentences. Learn dialogue pace. And focus on the scriptwriter’s style. You’ll start to notice a pattern unique to each writer. The best scripts stand out not just due to spotless formatting–but also because of individualistic traits.

If you read a lot of scripts, you’ll notice an improvement in your own writing within a matter of weeks. Remember, practice makes perfect.

 

10 Tips on Driving a Production Van – Runner Driver

Intro

Being able to drive a van is a very useful skill to have as a runner. In the UK, if you’re over 25 with a full manual driving licence, chances are, you’ll be more likely to get that runner driver job.

But what if you’ve never driven a van before?

On one of my first runner driver jobs in film, I was required drive a van. During a phone interview with the production manager on the phone, she asked if I could drive a Luton. “Yes no problem!” I said, and I got the job.

Then I googled “what is a Luton”

 

 

“That’s a Luton?! How am I going to drive this beast??” If you’ve never driven a van before it can seem a bit daunting, at the time I had only driven small cars.

I’ve done a few jobs now driving large vans and I still get a little bit nervous getting behind the big wheel but I’m a lot more confident. The more I drive a van, the more I realise that essentially it’s just a large car and pretty much the same as driving a car.

That being said, other than its size, there are many other things you have to consider with hire vans as opposed to cars.

Here are 10 tips that I wish I had the first time I drove a large van on a production:

 1. Checks

When booking out a hire car, the hirer will walk you around the vehicle pointing out any current damage, the same is done with a van. I’d recommend taking pictures of any visible damage to cover yourself and the production from getting charged for damage that wasn’t your fault.

Before you drive, it’s essential that you know the fuel type and the height and width of the vehicle. You don’t want to kill the engine or decapitate the van under a low bridge, you, and or the production would definitely get charged for that.

2. Get Comfortable

Take the time to adjust all of the mirrors and the seat positioning to what’s comfortable for you, also familiarise yourself with the van’s controls such as the indicators, headlights, hazards and radio.

A van’s engine can pack a bit more of a punch than a car, so when you first try to pull off it’s possible that you’ll shoot forward and stall. Don’t worry, just hope someone wasn’t watching and try again. Before hitting the main roads, it’s a good idea to drive round a block a few times just to get used to the engine power, biting point, and how the gear changes and brakes feel.

Soon it will feel like just driving another car.

3. Mirrors Are Your Best Friends

They’re not just your best friends, they’re you’re only friends. In a van you don’t have the luxury of a rear view mirror, and you’re definitely going to miss it! However, in a van you have a higher viewpoint of the road and large side mirrors to make up for it.

You’ll need to be checking your side mirrors much more frequently than you would in a car. Bearing in mind the cumbersome size of a van, the side mirrors are your main guide when parking, manoeuvring, changing lanes, turning corners and driving in general.

When turning corners in a van I’ve gotten into the habit of checking the side mirror to see when if I’ve got enough turning space, taking into account the longer length of the vehicle.

4. Know Your Blind Spots 

There’s been a few times when I’ve forgotten about my blind spots and nearly caused a collision. I recall two occasions, on a dual carriage way and motorway where I checked my mirrors and saw no other vehicles, then proceeded to change lanes. Both times I nearly drove into a car, putting me on the receiving end of panicked car horns and very angry drivers.

Because of the van’s height smaller cars may creep into a blind spot under the view of the side mirror. Ensure your mirrors are adjusted to give you the maximum view possible, when changing lanes indicate early and turn gradually. Leaning forward and checking the mirror also gives you another perspective.

5. Ask for Help with Manoeuvres

Most people (including myself) find it difficult to parallel park in a car never mind a van. In my experience manoeuvring and parking in a van is more difficult than in a car.

Simple tip, take your time with manoeuvres and don’t be afraid to ask another crew member to help guide you.

On a shoot in the countryside, I had to park the van on a small drive on a very narrow road that was next to a ditch. When it was time to get out two other guys from the crew had to help guide me through a 37-point turn. Don’t risk doing difficult manoeuvres alone.

6. Watch Your Load

When driving a van, it’s important to always think about the load you are transporting. This should affect how you drive the van, if the back is full, then drive as gently as possible, turn corners more gradually and slow down even more on speed bumps. You don’t want anything to get damaged or to tip the van over by handbrake turning round a corner (even if the back is empty, don’t try that).

When loading a van, you need to consider the distribution of weight. Make sure the weight of the load on both sides of the van is approximately equal, this is to avoid the van leaning or tipping and makes it easier to control when driving.

On an indie short I worked on, production hired a man and a van to transport some lighting equipment to the next location. The driver did not distribute the weight and was stopped by the police and fined, also the shoot was delayed.

7. Take Your Time

If you’ve never driven a van before, the last thing you want is to be in a rush. It’s a good idea to give yourself extra travel time so you can focus on driving rather than worrying about a call time.

To avoid accidents or damage, it’s best to drive a van at a considered pace; accelerating and braking gradually, turning slowly and always being aware of other vehicles.

8. Bring a Portable Phone Charger

Thanks to smartphones, gone are the days when most people understood road names and could get from A-B without a sat nav. Navigating with your phone will avoid getting lost on unfamiliar routes, but you’re in trouble if the battery dies.

Most modern vans have a USB socket allowing you to charge your phone, however it’s best to have a portable charger in case.

One time on a night shoot, I was sent to pick up some equipment from a storage unit. On my way back to the location, my phone battery died and I had no way to charge it. I ended up getting lost and delayed the shoot, the producer was not happy.

 9. Accidents Happen

Unfortunately, sometimes accidents happen. Scratches and dents on a van can be difficult to avoid when you find yourself in tight spaces.

While working on a feature, I managed to make a huge dent in the lighting van after getting it pinned round a corner.

 

To say I was nervous about telling the production manager is an understatement. Being charged for the damage and never working in the industry again were among the many scenarios that went through my mind.

In the event of damaging a vehicle you should inform your production manager or supervising crew member at the earliest opportunity. For production and insurance purposes, you will need to fill out an incident report with details on how the damage occurred.

Production will usually have a contingency budget to cover incidents such as this, so it isn’t the end of the world or your career. A lot of the crew had their own stories to tell about accidents they’ve had in the past, so do your best to avoid it but if it happens, it’s not the end of the world.

 10. Relax! 

If you feel intimidated the first time you drive a van, just remember, fundamentally it’s not that different to driving a car, as with anything, it gets easier with experience. However, while you’re still getting used it, be prepared for the possibility of making mistakes and annoying other drivers, especially in the city.

If you’re having trouble with a turn or manoeuvre, finding yourself in the wrong lane or accidentally cutting someone off, you might get frustrated or trigger another driver’s road rage. As a first time van driver these things will happen, but don’t let these situations break your concentration or panic you, it’s always best to keep calm and relax.