Thursday 19 July 2012

The Making of THE ATTIC - Part 2 - Principal Photography

With the script complete, it was time for filming to commence! Though in actual fact, the filming process was vastly intertwined with writing the script itself. The opening scene of The Attic, featuring David getting pulled to his death by The Ghost within the dark room, was shot twice in the year 2011. Not only that, but with different actors!

In January 2011, the filming began, with George Bligdon (you should know him as George from The Map of Five) portraying David. The entire film was shot with my Panasonic SDR-S26 camcorder, previously used to the film The Map of Five and The Reign of Five. The footage is now lost as it was deleted when I lost interest in The Attic and felt I had no decent way to develop the story. It was essentially the same as the version you see in the final cut, with David hearing the knocks, awaking from his sleep and approaching the locked door where he is dragged to his demise. Even the music was the same: The House of Leaves from Royalty Free Music.

As a horror film, it was essential that The Attic had a frightening opening scene.
The opening scene was pretty much identical in terms of shots, with the only key difference being the shot you see above. In the original, this shot was instead one of David's feet pressing the ground (with floorboards squeaking prominently), but we decided a shot that captures the darkness of the area would be a lot more eerie and effective. The opening scene, as it was written in the script, had David using a torch to light his path in the darkness, but when testing this it proved to be ineffective as the area surrounding David could not be seen well enough. Unlike the later match scene, which uses the inability to see to increase the tension and suspense, we wanted to clearly show the darkened landscape in this introductory scene to illustrate the layout of the house: so that when Joseph visits it later on, the audience can instantly realize what house he is in and who the initially unnamed character in the opening scene really is.

To sort out the issue of showing a nighttime setting, I sniffed about online for some tips at grading the image to make it appear as a nighttime scene, and found a custom made filter for Final Cut Express that could achieve that effect. Although the glowing of the lights is clearly seen, it sort of adds a creepy, moonlight esque tone to the footage and thus didn't bother me an awful lot. Once I returned to The Attic in late 2011 the opening sequence was reshot in the same fashion (bar the aforementioned shot) with Nathan Carr portraying David. This reshoot took place on October 27, 2011 and the scene was edited and placed on Facebook as a teaser the following day, receiving a lot of positive reception.

Originally this shot was meant to show The Ghost barely visible through the window, but test shots showed it was not visible at all due to light reflection, and so a POV shot was adopted instead.
But with a busy college schedule, lack of ideas to finish the script (it wasn't complete when the reshoot took place) and minor burnout, The Attic went on another hiatus. During this time I was adding ideas to the script and thinking of various locations to use. Those who have viewed the opening scene on Youtube (the video of it uploaded in February) will notice it ends with silence as David is dragged in, then subsequent knocking and the appearance of the title. This was the original cut from October 2011; in January 2012 I came up with the idea to utilize trains in the film to help it span several locations and to make good use of my rail card which I used to journey to college. As a result, I developed the idea to have a train horn drown the loud screaming and cut to a train speeding past the camera. I did a test edit of this by using a video of train passing from Youtube, and filmed the real clip on January 31 during a college free period. Regular filming commenced five days later, ready to go on for almost four months.

On February 5, me and Nathan got together and filmed the scene where Joseph returns home from the train station and then leaves the house to meet Mike and his friends at the park. This scene was shot before the footage of Joseph on the train, it passing through Totton Railway Station and him exiting Southampton Central Station. The entire scene from the train passing till Joseph exiting the station was not complete until March 10.  The next scene to be shot was the first 'big' scene, which saw Joseph entering David's home to find it empty. This scene was shot on February 18, the same day the CarrCom Films channel opened, and makes use of a lot of cinematographic techniques I favour: long shots, detailed close ups and POV shots. The following scene took place in Brockenhurst (the location of my college), which was selected for variety. Filming at the train stations was not difficult and required no special permission; usually Nathan (operating the camera) would catch a train to Brockenhurst ready for me to follow on the next train and exit it with him filming. The scene where Joseph exits Southampton Central was originally much longer and saw the train entering and then Joseph getting off it, but this was cut down extensively as it began to get extremely boring and unnecessarily long.

Luckily nobody admired the camera at the station!
For the most part, filming was challenging but never to the point of impossibility. Scenes such as when the box tumbles from the attic were tricky and required a lot of effort; for the aforementioned scene, we had to load the box onto the attic door, pull it open and allow it to fall down and spill everywhere multiple times for the mere two seconds in the film when it happens. Lighting occasionally became an issue as did the lack of crew (meaning the final shot where The Ghost attacks had to be setup carefully before acted out), which is something I intend to rectify in future film projects. We did have some clever techniques of getting around this lack of crew issue, however. For example, in the shot where Joseph leaves the house and the camera pans up to reveal The Ghost at the window, the camera was placed on a nearby wall, elevated slightly on the tripod clip, and once I passed I merely pushed it down at the back to angle it upward. A cut was made during the time between me exiting the frame and then moving the camera to make the shot flow better. As filming spanned such a long period of time, people may notice some changes in sets: for example, posters for The Amazing Spider-Man and Beauty and the Beast appearing in my bedroom when Joseph packs his bags for David's house, as well as changes to the bed duvet in the same scene (previously a zebra pattern and then suddenly brown). The duvet on David's bed also changes from a blue, patterned cover to jet black at one point in the film (spot it yourself!).

Filming concluded on June 2, 2012, where the last few ending shots were completed and edited into the film. Filming wasn't a continuous process throughout these four months, but took place whenever time was available; in April there was a minor hiatus due to particular contraints and problems, meaning no filming took place between March 10 and April 21. It restarted on the latter date with the scene where Joseph is chased out of the house by The Ghost (after trying to rid himself of the necklace) and subsequently continued on a regular basis.

That pretty much covers the filming process, so look out for Part 3 where the editing will be discussed!