Feeling Halloween-y? Filmmaking and more

The latest Newforge Studios halloween production, “Horsham Horror”

After an atrocious start to the spooky festivities with Hubie Halloween (why, Adam?!) we had a rather smashing time. No pumpkins were harmed (unfortunately), but plenty of fun was had. Everything kicked off with production of the 2020 Newforge Studios Halloween film, “Horsham Horror”, starring Sarah and myself.

Horsham Horror – The Making Of

Most of the filming took place a week or so before the 31st on a rainy Thursday night with the odd shot filmed before and after. I always enjoy seeing the end result, and the editing process because you get to see the culmination of all of your effort up to that point, but the filming is another matter. I enjoy aspects of it, but also find it immensely stressful. Translating the output of my imagination (unlimited) through our limited equipment and environment is challenging and requires a lot of time and thought. I did buy a set of lights for the occasion as proper lighting is immensely important for producing a decent quality project.

Equipment indulgence: a set of Neewer LED lights

The first step is the idea. We sat down and asked ourselves,

“If you were sitting at home by yourself, what would really unsettle you? What would scare you? Worry you?”

I wanted to keep it simple because of time constraints, and confine it to a few different rooms to limit the time spent setting up equipment. That in itself can be a pain – moving lights, tripods, cameras for a new shot. We only had a few hours to get the bulk of the material shot so time was not on our side. Often equipment and time limitations shape the final outcome; it’s not always a bad thing, but definitely something to take into account.

I’m terrible at endings. I’ve accepted that. It is something I need to work on, but for the purposes of our story we didn’t want to drag out the climax. Creepy, punchy, to the point. It’s also harder to film a confrontation whenever 50% of your actors are behind the camera. The availability of cast and crew is becoming more of an issue with intermittent lockdowns and restrictions on movement and indoor meetings.

Once we had the idea it was time to script it out. It sounds like an excessive measure in the case of a two minute film with hardly any dialogue, but writing the script helps you to visualise the whole story and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

The Keep shotlist

After that comes the storyboard and shot list. We were the only ones working on the film so opted not to have a storyboard, but it’s crucial to have a shot list to ensure nothing is missed. At the very least you’ll have a coherent film at the end of the process. Skip the shot list and you might just find missing scenes and uneditable material. Take it from someone who regrets missing this step on previous projects.

It can be as simple as a handwritten page detailing the scene, actors, camera-angle etc to a properly laid out table. I opted for somewhere in between, using a checklist on Google Keep.

The next step is to set up the lights, sound and get started recording. We had a quick rehearsal to double check shots and our setup, then got cracking. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the shotgun mic I was using (Rode Videomic) off the camera as I couldn’t find a 3.5mm extension cable, but ideally the mic gets as close to the actors as possible. Having somebody running sound is ideal as it’s a whole art in and of itself. As a result the audio clarity is suboptimal, but we worked with what we had.

Milkshake, anyone? Filming the last scene.

I spent the night before filming working on an effect for the final scene, and testing out the lights. I expect the neighbours thought I was mad, dousing my car with a cornflour based concoction, but I was relatively happy with the results. The mixture was a tad anaemic though, so I ended up using Premiere to change the colour to something a bit more…brutal.

Speaking of Premiere, we’re on to my favourite part, the edit! As with the vast majority of projects, I used Adobe Premiere Pro. I’m by no means an expert, but after over a decade of use I’m pretty comfortable with most core functions and a few fancy bits. I’d love to learn more advanced editing techniques and some colour grading theory – I tend to fall down on the colour side. This time I was using a colour calibrated monitor and had a basic plan for the grade – warm colours for the setup, and becoming cool/blue-tinged as the horror unfolded.

“Horsham Horror” edited with Adobe Premiere Pro 2020

I used freesound.org for a number of the sound effects – it’s a fantastic resource if you haven’t checked it out already, with a great community behind it. For the rest of the effects I recorded them during filming to simplify the process.

And when it comes to sound, it would be nothing without a great soundtrack. Calum McCormick (https://soundcloud.com/myfriendkadi) wrote and produced the excellent 80s themed music, and worked admirably to the unreasonable deadline I placed on him. It’s amazing how much the music augments the story-telling, and brings the whole thing together. Check out his SoundCloud for some more of his awesome work.

Lunch at Fletchers

I didn’t know it before booking, but our lunch in Plymouth last weekend was to be our last meal out before the second lockdown was announced. My sister and brother-in-law were visiting us and I had planned a day out for Halloween on Saturday. Fletchers is close to the Theatre Royal in Plymouth and offers a really nice fine dining experience (there are surprisingly few options in Plymouth) with excellent food and presentation at a very reasonable price. I’d highly recommend it, and I hope it weathers the storm and is still open on the other side.

The Sanderson Sisters in Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus

We had some time to kill so visited Coffee #1 in the city centre before making our way over to the Vue cinema. Many years ago, Hocus Pocus was a Halloween staple in our household. The 1993 dark fantasy comedy set in Salem, Massachusetts is about a trio of witches who are inadvertently reincarnated on Halloween and set about exacting their revenge. I was looking for Halloween events and suddenly thought to check the cinema listings. The dearth of new releases has resulted in plenty of classic film screenings and on this occasion Hocus Pocus was showing. Does it still hold up? It’s silly, over the top and the CG cat is a bit crap, but yes. It’s a really fun film packed full of 90s nostalgia and some stand out moments. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d definitely recommend it. It remains a firm Halloween favourite.

If you weren’t scared of clowns before, you will be…

It Chapter Two

Being Halloween, we couldn’t stop at just one film. No, we moved on to something rather more horrific. It Chapter Two is the follow-up to It, the 2017 big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic. Bill Skarsgård returns as Pennywise the clown and man is he creepy. Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the first It, where the Losers Club have grown up and become (mostly) successful after leaving Derry, Maine. A call from Mike Hanlon reunites the gang for a second confrontation with It. If you haven’t seen It, it’s worth watching. Gory, yes. Creepy, certainly. Terrifying at times. For me, Chapter Two lives up to the first film, though it’s not as scary and we did laugh from time to time at the silliness of it.

That’s it for now. Stay safe and stay home, I guess. Next time, the Last of Us Part II.

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