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DIY production

Every pitfall has a silver lining. Since losing three days to re-installing all the software on my computer after a trojan attack, my editing software has worked much better, without any of the weird behaviour which was slowing it down before. This is great news, as I've been able to successfully finish a lot of editing projects which I was previously blocked on.

After setting up a monster export queue last night before bed, I've sat down today to watch the results and take notes on things that still need tweaking. It's an interesting process watching the results of your labours for the first time. This is a very bootstrapped baby business, and a lot of my films have been more or less a one woman show behind the scenes. When you've done the writing, the camera work and the editing yourself, you have ample opportunities to confront your own errors. Whether you can correct them or not is a different matter.

Some films were shot by Tom and I, the only people in the room: we both set up the lights, performed in front of the camera and then cut if we wanted to move the shot. This way of shooting is low-budget and can be very intimate, but it can result in flaws such as:

  • the actors glancing at the camera after changing position, in order to check whether they're still in shot (the only monitor I have is the digital preview screen on the camera itself, and an actor looking at the lens can be surprisingly disruptive to a roleplay scene);
  • the actors failing to check the composition of the shot after changing position, resulting in either someone's head getting chopped off or a very imbalanced shot with both players squeezed into one half of the frame.

Without someone else to check the shot, it can be hard to get this right... but the more practice we get, the better we become at it. Alternatively, you learn to only use this method to film scenes where looking into the lens won't actually be disruptive - such as candid personal scenes, rather than immersive "in character" scenarios.

Another learning curve has been how much to change the shot. Often we're shooting in quite cramped interior locations, where after fitting the lights into the room you only have a couple of angles you can point the camera without getting the lights in shot. If you cut and you can't change the camera angle, the resulting video will "skip" in a way which I personally find quite annoying as a viewer. You can put a fade transition in, but I prefer to keep those to transitions which imply the passing of time rather than to cover errors.

However, the scenes I like, with interesting psychological twists and character development, can sometimes end up quite wordy, especially if you're shooting without a script or a storyboard. Lots of dialogue can work really well in some scenes, but in my opinion you want at least something to be moving to keep the film visually interesting. If the characters are sitting down and talking, the camera should move around them. If the camera is static, you want the characters to move within shot. Otherwise you might as well make it a radio play from the moment they sit down.

So, some of the scenes we've filmed have a nice little emotional journey for the characters, but it all happens in dialogue and the camera doesn't move much. As an editor, I'm watching the footage wishing I'd made the decision to move the camera more. On the other hand, when I have changed the shot more frequently, employed more handheld camera, more zooms and pans, the results are often imperfect. I've only worked with professional, experienced camera operators on two or three shoots; most of the "homegrown" scenes have been me, Jimmy or Tom behind the camera, learning on the job and doing our best.

The more editing I do, the better an idea I have about the kind of camera techniques that work in practice. This has informed my decisions as a director and camerawoman. However, manual camera skills are not learned overnight. If my early scenes tend to be overly static, my more recent scenes tend to suffer from over-ambitious storyboarding and more wobbly handheld shots than I'd ideally like.

The DIY production process goes a bit like this:

WRITER ME: I came up with this awesome scene idea! Can we shoot it?

PRODUCER ME: Hrm, yeah, I think that might work; we could probably make this location look suitable and those performers would be great in these roles. I'll make the arrangements.

(On the day of the shoot)

DIRECTOR ME: (reading script) Okay, actors, here's what you have to do. Camerawoman, can you get this shot for me please?

PRODUCER ME: Hang on, I haven't finished set-dressing yet! Let me just hang this picture...

CAMERA ME: Right, okay, sorry I'm late. I just need to check the mic's on... Okay, slow zoom, coming up.

DIRECTOR ME: Great, that'll do, now let's get the next shot.

(Later, editing)

EDITOR ME: What the hell is this?! Director, what were you thinking? Cutting from this angle to that angle doesn't look natural at all! Also this zoom is really shaky! Camerawoman, you SUCK!  How the hell am I meant to make this look like a professional production? YOU ALL HATE ME.

It leaves me wondering whether it's better to stick with what you know, keep a static shot and risk having a visually slow-moving scene; or take risks, try new things, have a go at operating the camera myself so I can get the shots I want, and end up with otherwise excellent scenes which are let down by jerky camerawork.

As a viewer, I think I'd find both annoying. But as a producer, I think the latter is probably the better mistake to be making, because otherwise how will I learn and improve?

There are some advantages to this sort of low-budget, DIY approach. Each job I do gives me a unique perspective on the others. Editing has taught me lots about direction and camera work; editing, direction, performance and camera work have all helped me write scenes which are actually achievable; working as a performer for other people has taught me lots about how to be a director and producer without being hateful to your actors. Being able to clean up my own messes is also quite satisfactory: for instance, as a performer, I'm much more comfortable modelling for photos when I know I'm going to be doing all the post-processing and can tidy up or cut out anything unflattering. And if Editor Me is going to be swearing at a novice camera operator for their shaky transitions, I'd much rather be cross with myself than with one of my friends or partners.

On the other hand, multi-tasking is very fallible, and if you get stressed or behind schedule in one role it affects all the others. Behind the camera, I'm jill of all trades, mistress of none. With my novice skillset I'm rarely able to implement my ideas exactly as I'd envisaged them. The most successful shoots I've had so far have been ones where we had lots of people behind the scenes all doing different jobs, so that everyone was able to pay full attention to their own contribution without getting stressed out. So hopefully, as the business expands and I can afford to hire more crew, we'll get better results. At the same time, Tom, Jimmy and I are all gaining experience every time we shoot, learning on the job and making fewer mistakes. 

Maybe I'm just hopelessly perfectionistic, but every film I finish, even the ones I love, I can see things which I'd like to improve. I hope that you can enjoy the character interplay, interesting storylines and solid spanking action without being put off by the technical imperfections. Trust me when I say that I'm aware of each and every flaw, and working to improve and learn as fast as I can. Every producer has to start somewhere. I'm looking forward to doing this long enough to get as good as I'd like to be.

Comments

Just had to reply

I know exactly where you are coming from in this post!! When I first took on the challenge of shooting content for my own site, I rather niavely thought that I could do it all, and the results would be fabulous!!

I have discovered that it is a much more difficult process than I initially thought it would be - I have some brilliant images in my head of what I would like, but translating that into the end result on film is not easy. I'd always been fairly confident as a videographer and model, but directing models, photographers and videographers has been a steep learning curve.

Editing my own content has really taught me what things I need to work on - I know I'm definately learning to be a better videographer from being the one having to figure a way to work around my mistakes and seeing what I can do in future to avoid them.

I still have a huge amount to learn, and as you say, there are always decisions to make between using low-risk, slightly less interesting shots and the slightly higher risk, but more varied shots - but I think i'm slowly getting there, and you'll settle into a style which you feel is a comfortable compromise between the two.

Ha, yes, I thought you'd understand where i'm coming from! I think I always knew it'd be a big challenge, and that diving in feet first would result in some failures, but it's been really interesting observing where those failures arise. Some stuff I didn't really expect to get away with has worked fine; other things I thought would work quite well haven't quite given the results I'd hoped for.


Having creative control at every stage of the process does mean you can make up for early mistakes later on. I've loved being able to apply 15 years of graphic design experience to post-processing my early photography and turn fairly amateur shoots into credible galleries. My video editing skills are a long way behind, but there's no way to learn faster than having to tidy up your own shooting mistakes in order to fix a scene you really care about!

It doesn't get any better you know...

It doesn't get any better, you know! You just get more finickity and demanding in the edit suite as you gain experience, and the holy grail of making a film you're actually happy apparently gets further and further away!

Like you, we've found that shooting with just us as both actors and crew is fraught with potential for visits from the cock-up fairy and many looks into the lens, but can deliver intimate scenes with a more natural vibe. Of course, sometimes this is the only possibility anyway. (I'm not sure whether fans/customers realise just how shoestring most fetish producers' budgets really are).

Where possible, I've found the best results for video come from having at least one camera operator who isn't appearing in the scene. Even more of a luxury but a vast help when trying more intricate things is to keep the director as free as possible of other jobs, so as to minimize the hideous content switching. It lets the director keep the whole movie in their head, and therefore know if you've got everything you need, or if you're going to need cutaways and closeups at a certain point.

The few pro TV crews I've seen at work have a minimum of three people- lighting camera operator, sound recordist and director. I aspire to being able to do that, some day!

The best thing to do is to do the best you can do, learn from your mistakes, and try to develop a way of working that works for you.

Without a doubt, editing the footage yourself is the best way to learn!

Oh dear! It's a bit dispiriting to learn that perfectionism increases faster than your skills, but not really surprising. And actually, although I can name the flaws in every scene I've made, there are some I would gladly give to people and feel proud of, nonetheless - as long as they understood how new I am at this! So hopefully I'll be able to retain that sense of achievement relative to my own experience, if never quite reach the point where I can feel I'm doing good work relative to everyone else.

Directing and performing is hard - directing and bottoming is almost impossible, and has resulted in some very truncated scenes as I had to wuss out of action I would normally have been perfectly able to take. Having to be in charge has a really negative impact on pain tolerance!

But the problem with delegating direction is it takes a hell of a lot of trust - I've let Tom take it on before but I still find myself wearing the hat to make sure we're on the same page. (I'm very appreciative of how much easier it made my job being able to hand direction over to you when we were shooting together! Thankyou, it was brilliant.)

Loving being in on your process

Screenwriting is one type of writing I've always been interested in. In fact, attempting to make my own film was what got me into writing music, because of the need for original soundtrack.

So I love being "in the loop" on what you're dealing with and what you're learning. Like you, I definitely would encourage taking more risks and dealing with those consequences than staying stagnant. As a viewer I'm very tolerant of "mistakes" if I think they come from a place of creativity and experimentation, rather than laziness or not thinking it through. I can't imagine you'd ever fit into that latter category of course.

I still hope to make videos of various sorts - interview/talk, spanking fiction, and other narrative kinds along with music videos. So you've just added another reason for me to be a fan :-)

Best Regards,
Quai

Screenwriting

If seriously interested in it, I can strongly, strongly reccommend two reference works: JMS' "The Screenwriter's Guide" and The Guerrilla Filmmaker's Guide, otherwise known as the Big Green Book. Both did me a lot of good when I was in that line of work.

Thanks for the recommendations...

I'm looking forward to checking these out. I know I still have so much to learn.

Thanks! We very rarely have the time or resources to do full screenwriting for these films - even if we had the time to write a script, learning lines doubles or triples the amount of work required of the performers and frankly, spanking video doesn't pay its actors enough for that. Your fee covers the time you can't do other modelling work until the marks fade, it doesn't cover a week's preparation beforehand! Although of course people do do this from time to time, for projects they really care about.

I tend to write shooting scripts which describe the events of each scene, with some suggested lines to get the performers started. For complex scenes I'll describe each shot, but mostly that's not necessary. Improvisation is one of the biggest thrills of spanking performance, though; I'd miss it if every production became so upmarket we were always working from scripts instead :)

Practical Constraints

I can definitely understand the practical and artistic limitations that come with having a prepared screenplay to work from. I try to keep in mind that there are many possible levels of detail in a screenplay. I seem to recall that the writer/director John Cassevettes only wrote very broad outlines of a story to hand to his actors and that they mostly did improv work for the filming. It made for very interesting results..

Less is more

At its heart, film making is simply story telling. An obvious point, no doubt, but one worth making in this discussion. Whether you're working from a basic outline or a full blown script, capturing the story therein involves the same techniques.

You can't go wrong with a "master" shot (ahem). Set the camera up at a pleasing angle which will encompass all the action (and not on exactly the same axis as the actors, please) and shoot the scene in its entirety. Once you see that initial footage, it will be easier to decide where a close up, a detail cutaway, a moving camera, etc. will serve to focus the viewer's attention on an important part of the story. Then, it's a relatively simple matter to go back and shoot what's needed. Basic film making.

Film making is all about manipulating images (and your audience) for a desired effect---telling a story in the most vivid possible terms. And, while budgets, crews and extra equipment are desirable, they aren't required to tell that story.

Editing is best used to heighten the effect of the piece, and not as a desperation tool to hide the errors. Otherwise, you become like a musician who thinks a track's shortcomings can be fixed "in the mix". Uh huh. And pigs fly.

Good luck! This is all getting very exciting. :)

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