Last week my group – Aine, Darcey, Sam and Quinlan – presented our film project concept to the class, receiving a lot of great feedback and encouragement from the class. As one of our main ideas for the project was to utilise a bright red neon light and various car shots we decided to shoot our project at Magic Mountain Saloon, which has both neon lights and a nearby car park. Darcey knew of this location from working as part of their hospitality corporation and got some test footage for us so we could see exactly what the location looked like.

Film Light Test Footage for Practical Exercise #1 from Darcey Taylor-Morrison on Vimeo.

We decided to organise the shoot for the following week however in class we decided that we simply weren’t ready for the shoot as we hadn’t booked equipment, organised a shot list, nor decided on specific roles yet. I suggested to the group that we still do a run-through of the scene because we’d already booked a table and organised the actors, so we may as well utilise this and start deciding on specific shots we want and specific lighting we wanted to utilise. In my last studio with Paul Ritchard he often suggested that rather than try and spend a heap of time nutting your project out before you’ve been to the location, you may as well just do a complete run through of whatever you need to shoot and then learn from this experience. I found this an extremely useful way to work, so suggested we do that again for this project.

We all met up at Magic Mountain and started deciding on shot compositions with Darcey’s own camera. I suggested that we start with a wide shot of the building, that captures the carpark in the right hand side of the frame (as they’d later walk here) and then slowly zoom in to a tighter shot of our actors sitting at the table. The actors are having an argument in the scene, so I decided it might be a cool shot to track them as they attempt to walk out of the restaurant, with the various walls, chairs and obstructions disallowing us to see the actors at all times adding tension to the scene that aligns with the tension the characters are feeling. The camera then eventually meets up with the actors, only getting a proper clear shot of them as they walk out the front of magic mountain, stopping there to watch the characters angrily walk off and then turn the corner to the carpark. I thought it was very important that the actual blocking of the scene, match the emotion of the scene itself. I like how we the viewer can see this argument unfolding as they slowly walk towards the building, trying to make sense of whats going on. We then try and follow them as they walk towards the door, waiting for them to appear out of it, but as they burst out they’ve already finished their argument and are in too much of a hurry to get to the car for the viewer to keep up, so we simply stand there in awe as they turn the corner. This first scene as well as the rest of the test shoot footage can be seen in the embedded video below:

Test Shoot #2 from Darcey Taylor-Morrison on Vimeo.

Originally we had planned to shoot the car scenes out the front of Magic Mountain, but it turns out that those car spots are essentially always full and don’t get much spill from the neon lights. However the car park next to Magic Mountain is – in my humble opinion – extremely beautiful, with all its bright white fluorescent lights, yellow painted accents and industrial doors and railings. Because of how beautiful this location is I suggested that we film the car scenes here, this way we could also utilise the spill from the bright fluorescent lights to light the car scene. I think the next shot, after the shot of the actors turning the corner is really beautiful – the yellow railing, the dirty white wall in the background, the way Ella is angrily walking ahead being followed by Taylor but then stops to have a go at him, and he just keeps walking past, allowing us the viewer to pause on her and witness her anger and see his shadow move on the wall behind her. Even the slope of the walkway they walk up makes the scene look even more interesting as the actors move about the entire frame.

For the next shot I wanted to shoot Ella walking towards the car showing Taylor already standing there angrily waiting for her, but after some group discussion we ended up shooting a shot reverse shot over the car bonnet. I do really like the look of the magic mountain sign in the background, but I think it would have made a lot more sense to shoot this next shot on a different angle, attempting to still get the sign in the background but feature more of the character movement. The movement of the characters through the space is what adds tension to the argument and makes the scenes look really interesting. We’ve all seen shot reverse shots of characters standing still and theres only so much you can do to make these shots dynamic.

I thought the next couple of shot reverse shots from the back seat of the car worked out really well and do look visually interesting even though its a pretty simple shot setup and a widely used technique for filming dialogue scenes in cars. I really don’t however like shot that looks straight out the front window from the back seat, it feels overly staged and takes you out of the scene as it directs your attention away from the actors and to the various uninteresting things in the background of the frame. Hopefully when we do the real shoot, we’ll find a more interesting way to shoot that shot. It’ll also be really interesting to work with extra lighting for the car scene, adding more red neon light as a key and potentially some blue or white as a fill, to make the shots look even more interesting. Overall though we did get a detailed breakdown of specific shots we wanted to use as well as blocking for each of the shots.

Until next time,

Louise Wilson