Sunday, May 14, 2006

My perfect storm - boxed

Have you ever seen rain falling on the sea during a storm? Perhaps you have. Ever seen it from underneath the water? Well I needed about 8 seconds of this particular image for my film and to get it I built what I can only describe as a 'Water Box'. These are usually used for filming people's faces underwater while they are being drowned or tortured. (David Blaine's got his own ball-shaped one the lucky chap). I have no idea how the professional cinematography ones look but here's mine (see the pic below). Now doesn't it look professional? James Cameron would no doubt be proud.

It was real pleasure making the thing (except for cutting the hole in the box). I felt like a kid again rushing around building some weird construction in the garden. The only difference this time was that what I built had to be seriously reliable. See how my one and only camera sits precariously under all that water pressure? And imagine if that glass cracked? During testing there were a few Das Boot moments as water began to seep through the duck tape that holds the glass panel to the bottom of the box but thankfully it never became more than a trickle.
While I was working on the shot it occurred to me (yet again) how people who design camera mounts for music videos, Hollywood and Nature documentaries really have one of the best jobs in the world. You get to build all kinds of crazy stuff. It all has to be extremely flexible and bulletproof reliable - rather like building a weapon - but its all in the name of capturing life instead of killing it.

Filming through water is tough (but just look at beautiful ghostliness of it). Grubs and dirt fall down to the bottom and collect over the lens - and how does one catch a bug through half a metre of water? Perhaps that's why water in films is often far too clean. That and the fact that if you add something to cloud the water you lose visibility and contrast after a second or two. Then there's the magnification, the reflections and did I mention the focus?

Real rain was forecast but in the end it didn't arrive. As there's a hose-pipe ban in effect (Do they have hose-pipe bans in Poland? And how would you spell that?) I had to switch the most pathetic filmmaker's friend of all - the humble watering can - in order to get the shot. It took two of them working from a height to get it looking storm-natural.

I just played back the results. It isn't perfect but it works.

Tomorrow I need to create the inside of a nuclear missile. It is times like this that I seriously wonder if the film will be worth all the effort...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

From here to reality

How many weeks have I been in the UK now? Almost 3 I guess. Already a whole new routine and outlook on life have formed. Even though I miss its uniquely tenacious ambience, Warsaw feels like a distant crazy place. Sitting here in the sleepy English countryside and listening through Skype to the usual stories of Polish Reality - bread-level bureaucracy, rudeness, dire mismanagement etc. it just makes part of my brain rush to draw the curtains.

I do still maintain my more than cursory interest in Polish current affairs. The pope is coming (I will just miss filming his visit to Warsaw - a real shame), a seemingly unhinged nationalist has been made minister for education... la la la... (Didn't Nothern Ireland have an IRA terrorist in such a role once?) It feels all a bit trivial really. Not that there's anything wildly significant happening here. Life's life.

Here in England oddly enough I turn on the radio and get a report about Polish archaeologists working to save the ancient remains of Babylon from becoming a military base. In Warsaw I get Radio Dominik telling me how the rise of Yoga and Aikido are covertly working to distort the fabric of Polish society...

It all feeds into my regrettably inherent pessimism concerning Poland's future. Generally there is a widely-held enthusiasm about the emergence of the 'New' European countries. For better or for worse I think the Czech Republic will continue to excel at playing catch up with the west. And Hungary too will not be far behind. That's all ok. But Poland - oh Poland - I think you will only ever do 'ok' and only that much with an almighty fight. To me it all comes down to Poland's proud obsession with 'Purity'. But this is a topic for another post...

What I wonder is why whenever I'm outside England I have a fanatical interest in world affairs, but being here these days I find I don't really give a toss what happens next in Israel or Iran. What does this happen?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Shoot a syringe in close-up

[People find this weblog for strangest of reasons. For the record / geeks is what I learnt trying to get a decent close-up of a syringe]
1) For that 'technological' look use a glass syringe not a plastic one. In extreme close-up the plastic looks rough scratched and greasy even if its brand new. See how the one I used looks crude and cheap? :-( Also you can't really use plastic ones twice as you can never really clean them up to new again.

2) Never work with used syringes. I did and I stabbed myself with one (despite being super careful). Mine came from the friend of mine who was in hospital. By now any kind of a virus should be dead (HIV for example cannot survive once its carrier fluid is dry) but even as a budget-less filmmaker its still dumb to work with used syringes.

3) Don't use milk or cream if you want to make a 'mysterious cream fluid' (or a semen look-alike). Working near lights the milk will soon curdle and become unreliable. Use concentrated lemon squash or diluted tinned chicken soup. Thick fluids will clog the syringe. Flour grains will only visible in clear fluids - remember the view from inside the syringe in Trainspotting? Soluble tablets might work but I would never waste one of my precious Solpadeines unless it was absolutely unavoidable. Filming blood is whole other topic which I won't go into here because getting movie blood to look almost unquestionably real is very difficult.

4) Take gravity into account. Its easiest to dip your syringe into fluid vertically. My syringe was mounted vertically but was filmed to look horizontal. As the syringe fills with fluid air bubbles can be seen moving downwards. A 'Revealing mistake' for the 'Goofs' section on IMDB perhaps...

5) Choose the aesthetics of your syringe wisely to start with. The plastic used to manufacture the syringe I was using did not accept paint. I tried everything but the best I could manage was a thin coating of silver enamel (to turn the plunger from distracting orange into metallic grey). But repeated plunging take after take caused the enamel to be slowly scraped off, revealing the orange underneath.

So now you know.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mission Injectable II

Thanks to all those who emailed in ideas for what I could have been making in the previous Mission Injectable post. The winner was only person who was brave enough to comment on site. So I can reveal that it wasn't macroscopic icebergs or The Wallace & Gromit Good Sex Guide (I had to pause to imagine those 'wrong trousers') but rather plain old 'human DNA manipulation fluid™' being loaded into a syringe.
Here is a frame from the finished shot. Lighting and composition look easy, don't they? Nothing to it? Well, they weren't really. See the cool laser highlight? It won't actually be in the final shot as I wasn't able to operate the syringe, the camera and the laser at the same time. Pity. Perhaps I'll reshoot it some day when I have more time. Like in the afterlife.

(See how flat the shot looked like to begin with). I also plan to add in a background to give the impression that we are in a lab or factory. Perhaps two dark silhouettes - scientists waiting to see the results. Or perhaps just a HAL-type machine would be better... Any ideas would be welcome - but no Wallace & Gromit this time thank you all the same.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mission Injectable I

There's a fantastic mystery prize available for anyone who can guess just what on Earth I am trying to make in this picture...

It has taken all day today and will probably take most of tomorrow too. And that's only half of it...

So come on you suckers have a guess!