Thursday, 2 December 2010

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The life of a film- Touching The Void

Life of a film 
Is a docudrama film based on a book of the same name by the climber John Simpson and documents Simpson's and Simon Yates' disastrous and near fatal attempt to climb the  20,813 foot  Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. The film combines footage of interviews conducted with Simpson, Yates and Richard Hawkins with a reenactment performed by actors. The film was directed by Kevin MacDonald.

Initial idea
As mentioned in the synopsis Touching The Void was first a novel of the same name by the climber John Simpson and the initial idea for the film came from producer John Smithson, managing director of independent production company, Darlow Smithson. However the route to a theatrical release was not straightforward as Smithson says "By the time the filming started, we felt we had already climbed a mountain of our own."
Because of the success of the book (which having sold slowly, managed to sell 500,000 copies before the films release after it won the NCR award and beat Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Tim in 1989 four years after it’s initial publication) the rights to a movie had been bought up by a big hollywood producer as Smithson explains “More than 50 producers were going for the story, and the rights were locked up in Hollywood” however despite rumours of Tom Cruise and even Steven Spielberg potentially making it with scripts having been written up to 2003 a film hadn’t yet to be made of it.  Luckily Smithson was not as interested in making a feature film  and was able to obtain the documentary rights instead as his production company specialises in factual documentary and he first pitched an idea for a  TV documentary to Channel 4 commissioning editor Charles Furneaux and Paul Sowerbutts, managing director of Channel 4 International.

Having received backing from channel 4 the project now had a budget of £400,000 but making the documentary on that budget would have been almost impossible due to the expense of filming on location in the high altitude locations in Peru. Smithson went to the US in search of more funding having previously secured financial backing from US producers with his independent production company such as its breakthrough documentary Black Box. The film was first turned down by the Discovery-owned TLC but he was able to increase the films budget to just under £1m after making a deal with PBS.
The project then grew in size after oscar-winning director Kevin Mcdonald (who would go on to direct The Last King Of Scotland) took interest in the project.
 “I first heard about it from reading Joe's book which I recommend to you all. I sat up and read the book in one sitting overnight about three years ago and was completely dumb-struck by it. I found it so exciting and terrifying. It was like being transported to a totally different world - so alien does the world of high altitude and mountaineering seem to me.”
Helped by the involvment of a well respected figure in the british filmmaking industry FilmFour and then The UK Film Council got involved attracted by the unusual nature of creating a big screen drama documentary this pushed the Budget to £1.7m and the idea of a theatrical release was suddenly likely.
"Suddenly we had grown from a conventional British TV documentary into something far bigger and more ambitious”. Smithson later said.
There was a major threat to the production of the film just a couple of weeks before filming was set to begin in Peru when FilmFour was suddenly reabsorbed into channel 4 and the chief executive of film4 Paul Webster who had been so influential in securing the film4 backing for the film, quit with film4 also experiencing major budget cuts and the closing down of its distribution and international sales arm. Luckily channel 4 remained involved as a production company which meant filming could go ahead as planned with the same budget.

Director Kevin MacDonald explains the filming process
         “I interviewed both Joe and Simon (the climbers) for two days each and then we filmed    the reconstructions for a month in Peru in the actual spot, yes, where the adventure took place. Then a month in the Alps, shooting close-ups and other bits of reconstruction”.
Filming in such awkward conditions however wasn’t easy as Macdonald describes some of the difficulties in an interview
“We filmed with 35mm Aaton cameras in Peru and in the Alps we filmed with 16mm Arri cameras. Often the batteries ran down extremely quickly due to the cold and we learned to sleep with the batteries in our sleeping bags at night to keep them warm. We also suffered a great deal from condensation on the lenses because if one part of the equipment was even slightly warmer than the rest it would cause condensation, which would ruin the shot. A lot of times we had two cameras going, one being kept warm so that we could replace the one that was freezing up with ice on it every hour or so.”
Also when they took the two climbers back to mountain to film them together again back at the base camp they hadn’t been since the incident in 1986 it went very badly. “ The trauma of what had happened all those years ago came back to them and they began to find it more and more difficult to take part in our filming. It was a very emotional experience for both of them.” Recalls Macdonald. Simpson had suffered with post traumatic stress syndrome on returning and Joe Yates left early after getting angry with the Director.
From Simpson’s recollection it appears that neither got on very well with director.

“I didn’t enjoy the experience and Simon didn’t like the director. Simon got within an ace of head butting him because he felt Kevin MacDonald wasn’t treating the crew safely. He thought that because he wasn’t employed by the film company he could stand up to them but he just did it a bit too aggressively. Simon was judging Kevin MacDonald by climbing standards, which is very unfair because Kevin MacDonald is a film director with a Hugh Grant hairstyle from London. The only ice he had seen in his life was in a Gin and Tonic, suddenly he is staggering around at 18,000ft trying to make a film. I was saying to Simon, just respect him for that, you couldn’t make a film mate, so don’t criticise him because he is doing his best.”

Their visit back to the mountain was excluded from the final cut but made into a short documentary called The Return to Siula Grande which features on the DVD extras

Production companies
           Darlow Smithson Productions

Production year: 2002

Production budget: £1.7m (approx)


Because Film4 was no longer able to distribute the film, Pathé stepped in to distribute and market the film for a UK theatrical release. With IFC Films distributing the film in America. And various other companies distributing to other countries.

List of Distributers
                Pathé Distribution (2003) (UK) (theatrical)
                A-Film Distribution (2004) (Netherlands) (theatrical)
                Asmik Ace Entertainment (2005) (Japan) (theatrical)
                Diaphana Films (2004) (France) (theatrical)
                Hopscotch Productions (2004) (Australia) (theatrical)
                IFC Films (2004) (USA) (theatrical)
                Kinowelt Filmverleih (2004) (Germany) (theatrical)
                Monopole-Pathé (2004) (Switzerland) (theatrical)
                United International Pictures (UIP) (2004) (Spain) (theatrical)
                Fandango (2005) (Italy) (all media)
                Four Films (2006) (Chile) (all media)
                Kinowelt Home Entertainment (Germany) (DVD)
                MGM Home Entertainment (2004) (USA) (video)
                Paramount Home Entertainment (2005) (Brazil) VHS) (DVD)
                Paramount (2004) (Sweden) (DVD)
                Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (2004) (USA) (TV) (original airing)
                With Cinema (Korea)
        Yleisradio (YLE) (2007) (Finland) (TV)


Theatrical Release dates
Had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on the 5th September 2003 and its UK premiere at the London Film festival 27th October 2003. Its UK theatrical release date was 12th December 2003 and was then released in cinemas in New York on 23rd January 2004. Later it was exhibited in south America (Argentina 12 March 2004 Mar del Plata Film Festival), had cinema releases in Asia and Australasia (Hong Kong 15 April 2004 and Australia 24 June 2004) as well as numerous cinema releases in numerous European countries. see link 

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic:                  $4,616,440                     33.1%

+ Foreign:                  $9,315,046                     66.9%

= Worldwide:                  $13,885,802                 

Domestic summary
 Was in cinemas for 6 weeks (42 days) and 20 weeks in America (140 days )
Widest release: 50 screens (in America 137 screens)
Release date:             12 /12/2004
Closing date:                  8/02/2004

American opening weekend box office takings

(#45 rank, 5 theaters, $19,394 average, 25 January 2004)

  2.1 % of Total Gross:            

UK opening weekend


(14 December 2003) (29 Screens)

TV Premiere

The film first aired on PBS in America on Sunday, November 21, 2004 because the television company helped to produce the film and this is a form of vertical integration with 1 of  the companies involved in the production process also exhibiting the film.

Home Exhibition
The film was first released on DVD on 5th April 2004 in the UK by Film4 who also funded the film and this is therefore also a form of vertical integration and later in the Canada and the US (region 1) on 15th June the same year by MGM with the film also available in Video format. For a dvd release in America to be successful you need to use a large distributer and that is what MGM is as a part of Sony. Although i could not find any statistics for DVD sales it is likely to have had some financial success in America because of the size of the distributer, in the UK it is likely to have recorded far fewer DVD sales as film4 does not have the resources to widely distribute its DVD releases.

Film4 dvd only UK release      MGM dvd and video USA release

For a documentary Touching the void has achieved phenomenal financial and critical success. It is the most financially succesful british documentary film of all time and has won numerous awards including a BAFTA in 2004 for Best British Film and two BIFA's for best Documentary and Best technical achievement. 

Monday, 25 October 2010

Post production

After we had finished filming we uploaded all our footage onto computers so that we could begin editing.      
We used Adobe Premier Pro as our editing software and so as to speed up the process we edited simultaneously on two computer's with George and Leah cutting together the first half of the film up until the point of the match on action of the case being placed on the desk and myself and Martin editing the second half of the film. Although there was the risk that the rhythm of the film could be displaced by editing on separate computers and with different editors we wanted everyone to be able to have the chance to edit and by being aware of how the two different parts of film were being edited together by communicating with one another we were able to create a smooth transition from one to the other when we eventually joined the two sections together.
I found that because i'd used the editing software before I was fairly confident at making basic edits and having a feel for what worked and what didn't. However Martin deserve's most of the credit as he did a really good job at editing the majority of the transitions, the shot reverse shot of myself and George's conversation flowed well and had a good rhythm to it, neither holding shots too long which would have made the exchange of dialogue lack purpose, nor too short, which would have ruined the natural pace of the film and made it look disjointed.
The match on action proved harder to get right and we found we had to be more precise about were to cut each shot. I learnt that sometimes, even if technically the match on action is edited almost perfectly from a continuity of the positioning point of view the edit can still not appear smooth. for example the walking to the desk and the placing of the case match on action shot didn't seem to match the rhythm of the rest of the film. No matter how smooth the match on action, the overall sequence still appeared slightly rushed compared to the other sequences and shots.
One of the main things i had to do in the edit was to put in the music over the top of the last sequences. The track we used was 'Prince Charming'  in keeping with our idea of an 'Adam and the Ants' parody. Rather than just using the beginning of the track, I cut to a section halfway through the track where you get a guitar bridge (to be played over the close up shot of myself putting on the white streak of makeup) which then goes into the chorus. I managed to crop and cut the track so that the chorus came in just as it cut to a wide shot of myself dancing on the corridor. 
We decided it would be a good idea to end on a freeze frame so that the audience were left with the comic image of the ridiculous pose of myself doing an 80's dance move. We couldn't find any straightforward way of doing this as we weren't able to extend the longevity of the individual frame to make it last more than a second and so using a copy and paste method we were able to get the freeze frame effect we wanted. It was then up to me to put in the credits that appeared at the end, we decided we didn't want anything gimmicky and so I chose a simple font with our names appearing in a white text, simple yet classy.
I was fortunate that I was in group containing two already very skilled and competent editors in George and Martin and i great learner in Leah which meant that all our match on action shots were spot on and there were no jerky transitions or cuts. I felt I learnt a lot about the importance of remembering to keep a clear narrative when editing and of establishing a rhythm. I improved in my ability to edit together both audio and visual content and the role music can play in helping to convey an atmosphere or mood. I think next time I get the chance to edit a film I would like to take on more responsibility as I felt I could have improved more if I had volunteered to edit more of the footage.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Production Process

Once our storyboards were completed we were ready to begin filming, normally each member of the team would take on specific roles and duties but as this was our first filming exercise we decided everyone would have a go at the various technical and creative duties, camera operation, directing and continuity management and George and I would also be the actors.
First we gathered and set up the equipment we needed, a tripod which is vital for the framing of shots and instantly makes footage look more professional because it stops the camera from jerking which happens if filmed handheld, a camera of course which we attached a dynamic microphone with windshield to. We also used the dolly for the tracking shots but found that because of the carpet in the English corridor the shot was too jerky and so we ended up shooting handheld, in the end the shot was better for it (the shot was a tracking behind the shoulder shot of George which moves into a close up of George's head which deliberately breaks 360 degree as it tracks round into a close up of George's face) as the handheld 'style' used in Bourne and Bond films is in keeping with the thriller style we were trying to create. We also tried to be creative when working out how to film shots for example Martin and George had the idea of using a skateboard to get low angle tracking shot of George's feet.
I think we did well at taking our time over filming, making sure we had at least 3 good takes of each shot and playing back the footage before moving on to the next shot to make sure the framing was correct, that there were no unintentional camera movements and that we had captured clear audio. By not rushing the filming process it meant that when it came to the edit we would have an easier time fitting clips together because of the choice of footage and less likely to need to re-shoot certain scenes because of unusuable shots that were crucial to the narrative and shot sequence.
 However our methodical approach did mean that we had to complete filming over 4 or 5 sessions and from a continuity perspective this caused various difficulties and problems in terms of the weather conditions on different days and how this could affect the lighting continuity of the film and also in terms of appearance of the actors and having to remember to wear the exact same outfit everytime we filmed as well as potentailly the little things such as keeping the same hairstyle.
We did fairly well at working around the problems we faced in terms of location, for example when we couldn't film inside a classroom we shot the corridor walking sequnce although we made the mistake of shooting with a camera that didn't have manual focus or manual white balance control, we replaced it after we had filmed the first shot but because of the complexity of this shot and time concern we were never able to re-shoot it. We were lucky in that the white balance didn't differ that much between the two camera's but potentially it could have been a continuity concern.
Whilst shooting we constantly had to use our storyboards as reference to make sure we were capturing the right shots and that could fit together, specifically for shots we would use for match on action sequences as we didn't want to have to make jump cuts when it came to editing the shots together. We also didn't constrict ourselves to filming in complete chronological order instead filming shots in terms of location. Although this may of saved us some time, we could of potentially been quicker if we had created a specific shooting script.
Overall, we worked well as a team as we were able to be efficient and get on with filming and distribute responsibilities evenly. Perhaps if we had done more preparation we could have completed filming in less time as our storyboards weren't perfect and we often had to think on our feet to come up with different shot angles during filming to get the shot reverse shot we needed while keeping the rule of moving the camera by at least 30 degrees. However it was also to our credit that we didn't just follow the storyboards exactly but instead we made changes and thought up new shots, considering the look of the film as a whole and making improvements to our initial plan where needed.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Pre Production Process

After we were set our preliminary task, the first thing to do was to come up with an idea. We discussed a couple of different ideas in our group and soon settled on a thriller spoof that focused on some kind of deal transaction being made between two people, the idea being that we would build up suspense and tension and the audience would presume it was some kind of drug deal. Then there would be a comic twist right at the end.
Once we were clear on our narrative, we started to consider the shot sequences we wanted and the types of shots which could help create the 'thriller' style mood and tense atmosphere. I think we did well in really thinking about using imaginative shots 'such as the tracking shot of the feet' and from an editorial point of view how different shots would fit together to create a sense of rhythm. For example we came up with the idea of cross cutting between George's feet and my hands tapping the desk with the same rhythm as George's walking stride.
After our initial ideas on the different shots we wanted,  it was important to start getting our ideas on paper and create visual prints of the camera shots and the chronological order of them in the form of Storyboards. In the boxes we drew pictures of each shot, annotated with type of shot (e.g. Over the Shoulder) and it's framing(e.g. mid shot). We also annotated the camera movement. Generally we were successful in creating a clear plan of the shots we wanted to film that hopefully would help us to be efficient in the production process, however we did have some problems in drawing accurate pictures of each shot because of our lack of illustrative skill this meant that sometimes there was some slight confusion over how each shot was meant to look but mostly we were able to re-draw and eventually get on the same wave length for the film in how we want it to look.
Although our planning and research process may have been limited, we didn't create a shooting script or dialogue script and we probably could have discussed location in more depth. Generally we went into the production process with a clear idea of how we wanted to film our preliminary and an understanding of each others strengths and weaknesses.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

48 hours of media consumption

As a first task to introduce us to what constitutes media and better are understanding as media consumers we were asked to record a diary covering 2 days that gave listings of every piece of media we used and consumed.
7:45AM:   Woke up and checked phone for time and any new texts.
8:15 :  Flicked through fourfourtwo (specialist) magazine while eating breakfast.
8:30 : Listened to music on ipod while walking to school.
9:00 : Checked school emails during tutor time on school computer.
10:15 : Logged onto an online learning resource website for science using a computer.
12:20Pm: Learnt lines from a play script.
3:30 : Sent text on mobile phone.
4:35 : Listened to music on ipod while walking home.
5:30 : Logged onto Facebook on home computer and listened to podcast on itunes.
8:20 : Watched episode of Mad Men, online.
9:45 : read a few chapters of the novel 'A Handmaid's tale'.
7:50Am : checked for time on mobile phone.
8:15 : looked at local newspaper while eating breakfast.
8:30 : listened to music on ipod.
8:40 : glanced at advertising billboard on the side of a bus.
10:45 : completed pieces of work through online learning resource website.
11:40 : Shown PowerPoint in lesson.
12:20Pm : given pieces of drama text to work with during drama class.
2:05 read through printed out newspaper articles in English class.
3:30 : Listened to music on ipod on way home.
4: 00 : watched 10 minutes of Bargain hunt on the tv.
4:30 : logged onto Facebook and checked emails on home computer and listened to music through music sharing site 'spotify'.
6:30 : Sent and recieved several texts.
9:30 : Listened to music through ipod dock speakers while socialising.
10:45 : Listened to music through mobile phone.
12:30Am : started watching beginning of the film '4 Brothers'.


Hi i'm dan and i'm currently studying media studies at AS, film and the media has been something that has really fascinated me for a long time. I have enjoyed creating films in and outside of school in the past and every aspect of the production process from storyboarding your ideas through to filming and editing your shots i find equally interesting.
I hope to use this blog as a place to post not only my own filmed material and work but also as a place to express my views and opinions on media pieces both current and old.