My First Digital Film

Persephone Kimberly Vandegrift
Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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For a darker view of
the filmmaking 
process
see Robin Hill's two part factional series:

Dark Visions Part 1: 
What Price Glory?

Dark Visions Part 2: 
The Tiny Glass World

“And what does that kind of camera do?” I pointedly asked my soon-to-be Director of Photography, sounding so sure that I was going to understand his answer.  He pondered for a moment. “Well, it’s a blah blah blah...” he simply stated, and then his eyes glazed over. So did mine. He has a Sony DSR 500 ‘top of the line’ digital video. Those are the only terms I could recall from the conversation. Luckily I had worked with this DP on an earlier short film project, which was my very first introduction to film, so he knew what he was getting into, I hoped. With a budget of $1500, what could I have? The DP agreed to do the 3 days I had planned for a good price and he’d even throw in his jib-arm. “Uhhh...what’s a jib-arm do?” I had to ask. How insane am I really to undertake this? Wait, I meant to say how ‘easy’ was it really? It seemed like I was going into it backwards, but after all was said and done, I feel strongly that I started from the very beginning with the slap on the bum included. 

After rewriting the script at least twenty times while in Scotland, I returned to Seattle, became possessed and decided to film it as it stood to see if the story would come across. I had set aside three days in June for filming in Seattle. I didn’t worry about rain, or what could go wrong, but instead focused on all the things that would go right. As a first time writer/producer I asked as many questions as I could about what and who I needed to have. And I kept asking, which was a challenge for me as I have a hard time asking for help. But I knew this was a different situation. My best friend had worked in L.A. and I had helped him on a previous project so he was very keen on helping me out right to the very end and was extremely patient as I phoned him every twenty minutes with a new question. He became so enthralled with the project he willingly agreed to direct it.

It was like being at summer camp really. In a few weeks I had learned about liability insurance, how to replace a costumer after he flaked out at the last minute, riding a bicycle again (we were filming in a very hilly park - remind me not to do that again), and how often digital batteries can die.  I found our local media centre and put word online for a Sound Designer and within two days had a reply. Actors? I went to the theatre and hand picked my actors from seeing them perform. The rest I found via a local talent agency that was willing to donate their time to my project. I was amazed that it was actually coming together.  My best friend/director turned to me and said “when you are excited and focused on your project then you will see that others will follow suit.” Hey, my eyes didn’t glaze over!

It was true. For three days I watched everyone arrive on the set ready to bring my nine-page fantasy script to life. We had great food (donated), sunny weather (due to me begging for months) and loads of smiles from everyone each morning. A cast member’s parents offered their trailer for us to use, the DP phoned his steadicam pal who came down to volunteer his time and equipment for a few hours, and then every time I turned around one of the actors was offering to hold up a light board or even my hand on a few nail-biting occasions. It was like being in an ant colony but I forgot all about being a new ant in the hole. I kept my wits about me. Everyone knew I was the writer and producer but there were no eggshells for them to walk on. By day three no one took notice of my worn-out Guinness shirt and mismatched socks. No longer did I worry about how this whole thing was going to happen. It had happened. I didn’t stop to worry about my depleting account balance. People do understand about low budget. They are there for the experience and the fun of creating a film. One hopes. Indeed in retrospect much of it was due to luck, an interesting script, willingness to compromise, and a vicious determination to see this project succeed.

I will probably never know every single thing about film making, but I learned more than I would have if I had waited for someone else to give me permission to start. I have my first short digital film of something I wrote.  I found out what I can do and yes that journey was exhilarating and frightening! Me make a film? What do I know? I now know what a Sony DSR 500 WS is, how a jib-arm makes that one shot look fabulous and how to push myself further into uncharted terrain. This is not a ‘toot-my-own -horn’ article. It is intended as an inspiration for all the others who are embarking on this journey as well. One really does have to ‘try’ it to find out what they are capable of. I especially would like to thank all of the independent filmmakers for your inspiration and for cleaving a path wide enough for us all to follow.

And now that we are in post-production, the questions start all over again. Stomachs are grumbling, empty soda cans lay neglected on the floor and the playback button is not doing what it should. Suddenly I lean forward and ask, “Michael (DP), do you think you could take that and put that there with the other thing and make it look like it’s doing that other thing we talked about?”  He turns to me, smiles and starts to open his mouth but closes it again knowing he’d have to explain it to me like I’m five. “Sure,” he nods approvingly and refocuses his bloodshot eyes back onto the monitor.
 


Persephone Kimberly Vandegrift presently stays in Seattle, Washington. After experimenting with poetry and play writing, she has embarked on a career in film. Her first digital film, Belle’s Last Stand, is nearly completed at the time of this article. She has written three other short scripts, has a novel boiling on the back burner, and is presently writing a feature set in the States and in Scotland where she hopes to someday settle. She can be reached at pkimberlyv@hotmail.com.



Persephone's Director of Photography runs this website that contains information about his jib-arm and showcases his work. It will show Belle’s Last Stand when it's ready.
 
 
 
 
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