Making of OTM

01-Jan-01 otm

This post is about how we approached producing One Track Mind, it's quite long but hopefully informative.

Preproduction

We just need a train.

This was more difficult that we thought. Most of OTM takes place on a train and we explored a number of different options. We tracked down some standing carriages that we might have been able to use but of course they need to bounce up and down and more importantly it takes place during the day and how should we handle the views? It could be green-screen or, better still, some kind of projection but this was a very low budget short and the overhead of lighting for sun and reflected foliage, managing spill not to mention the actual vfx work afterwards to comp the scenery in seemed a big ask for what should be a small intimate short.

We struck lucky with a small railway in Essex, The Epping Ongar railway. It was privately owned by some train fans and it ran between two old stations, mainly for fun and for the public. They had a number of different engines and carriages. We went down to visit and take a ride. They were all lovely people, very helpful and we could afford to rent an engine and few carriages for a single day. I took some reference footage and stills of the carriage. I needed to know what kind of light ranges would we be talking about and as we had just a single day we needed to be 110% organised.

I modelled the carriage in 3D and then we broke the shots down scene by scene and placed characters in the 3D train. One of my main concerns was light. We can't control the weather, it was summer and so I prepared for the worst - direct sunlight.

The piece of track was just between two stations. The engine would pull to one station. Disconnect, move to the other end and pull back to the first station. At a slow speed, but still fast enough to look like a moving train, we estimated 15 min journey time then the time to disconnect and reconnect and another 15 mins travelling. Looking at a google maps of the track i could be fairly sure where the sun would be throughout the day. But of course it would switch sides as we bounced between the two stations - bright idea - lets move everyone around each direction. So that relative to the sun, it was the same angle.

We held rehearsals for the passengers, Kat set up the seats as she wanted in a hall and then described what we are doing and what she needed from everyone. This included moving seats between the two journeys - everyone had their allotted seat in each direction. The more time spent here practicing, the better prepped everyone would be.

Kat also worked with Jane and Bill at home and we had a number of read throughs and rehearsals. Both were well prepared and looking forward to the day.

We also realised that during the switch around of the Engine we could shoot the passenger reactions whilst stationary. I can bounce the camera around as if we're still moving and we can have people moving lights or reflectors around on the platform to get a bit of moving light when needed.

So with this in mind we broke down the whole shoot, scene by scene, and i rendered off 3D pre-viz storyboards. Initially it was to help me understand where i could get a camera in, what angles i could get and where i could add light inside. I used global illumination in Modo to help get a sense of the basic light and bounce angles and we ended up with a document that broke down every single shot and included time for multiple takes of dialogue. Just.

Pre production gallery, photos, pre-visualisation and shot breakdowns

Comparison of PreViz with the final shot
We decided on this as our commuter carriage
And our carriage from the outside. It has a bar in too, sadly not used!
We did a test run and shot on an a7s to get an idea of the range of light. Clare non too keen on this.
To help organise everyone we modelled this carriage in 3D so we could plan everything
All shots on the train are pre-viz'd and a spreadsheet of all shots made
The document includes times, sound notes and call sheets
Kat rehearses with all the passengers to ensure everyone knows what they're doing. Chairs are set up as their train seats.
Kat rehearses with Jane and Bill

Production

Carla working on Ursulas make up

Day arrives and whilst the crew set up we have make up in one of the carriages working through the passengers and getting everyone ready.

Sound was always going to be a tough call. We had Aris mixing in the back of the main carriage (where the bar was) and two boom operators. He set up mics in a number of places, some to capture the track sound without dialog in a different carriage. Jane and Bill have both lav and a boom each. Overall we generally had around 9 tracks of audio going. Audio on a train was never going to be easy, so we covered as much as we could.

Freddie, Maria and Noor helped rig the lights. I'd worked out that a LED strip panel hidden on the luggage rack can add ambient bounce light from the ceiling which lifted the centre of the carriage. Then i'd previously tested the structure of the racks so i knew i could super-clamp two Area 48 remote phosphor panels to key/fill Jane and Bill. Making sure no one was standing in front of them when they were needed was going to be a challenge!

Power was always going to be an issue so i had bought and imported a bunch of V Lock batteries from China, they were all tested and ready to go so i knew i could cover 8 to 10 hours of constant power on the lights and everything.

Adrian was acting as DIT in the make up carriage. I'd timed the offload and capture cards so that they were always in rotation. Using my MBP and Hedge we were offloading and verifying each Red mag to two SSDs as redundant backup.

Ersi (Left) multi tasking with the slate. You can see how cramped we all are!

Ersi was ADing and was keeping her eye on script and continuity and managing passengers. Clare was pulling focus for me and we ran a paralinx wireless video feed. We had an additional receiver going off to Sound in the next carriage. Aris was running a closed communications loop with his operators and keeping them out of shot and on their toes (in their socks of course).

I'd decided that i was going to try to not hand hold - 8 hours of that would take it's toll. Instead i'd set up a monopod and have a squishy mount on top. This allowed me to be fluid but not shaky and worked well. I could get the base of the monopod in many tight areas. I had a light fluid head on as well for levelling. I'd tried ball heads and all sorts but nothing really worked as well as i'd have liked.

And so, a long, tiring but satisfying day of shooting. We are indebted to the staff at Epping for staying on a bit longer than we arranged and we got more time out of it. The day was full of the usual troubleshooting and problem solving but nothing major and we stuck to our lists and managed to get all we needed. At the end of the day we also managed to shoot the external platform scenes with Jane inside the building and still had light.

We also scheduled a few other shoots. We had an evening car park scene and we also shot the car with green screen behind to get elements we needed for a very late night scene, we didn't want to put the actors through a 2am call in the middle of nowhere and to get back to London! So we shot at dusk knowing that i'd then get the car and vfx plates done later with a small crew.

So on this final night we were deep in the woods and it was pretty terrifying actually. Pitch black and i have my Voyager DS lights that i could light the trees with and we had the car headlights. We got all the plates sorted before any creatures came out from the forest to chase us.

Production gallery

The carriage had a bar area, ideal for kit and storage for the day
Maria works on ticking off the script and days plan
A brief discussion on the next shot. Making sure everyone knows the plan.
One of two boom operators, tricky under any circumstance more so in a train
Focus and monitoring was wireless helping minimise people around the camera
A shot in progress
After the day on the train some evening shots needed too

Post-Production

The main edit was done in Adobe Premiere by Kat and when it was finalled we moved into Resolve to pull it all together.

Fairlight page in Resolve, dialogue editing

Sound was synced fairly easily as we used tentacles to sync timecode with everything. We ended up with 9 tracks of dialogue and then in time that was both cut down (choosing the tracks that worked best) and added to with ambient sound, foley, music and fx work. I did the audio mix and sound/dialogue editing in Fairlight. Some of the dialogue was a tough edit - if a wheel clanked at the wrong time it may render a word inaudible and so a replacement was found. Or we'd distance the dialogue when we were on the passengers. Overall we managed to get it to a good place.

The title sequence, adding cloud and names to some stock aerial footage

There were a few vfx shots in this. The opening sequence was vfx and we bought some drone footage of a train and used that as a basis, doing a 3D track, adding clouds and writing. In the carriage itself we had to do a comp for a key moment because what was done on set was unreadable (i won't mention whos' handwriting!). And there were a number of planned vfx shots at the end, mostly because it was easier for the talent that way and the final result more controlled in post.

The grade was a challenge. Before shooting i had done a test in Resolve. I wrote a DCTL plugin that helped average out exposure from frame to frame. One massive benefit of shooting RAW is that there is a direct quantifiable relationship between the image and real world light levels - so i wrote something that would compensate for exposure changes from bright sun to shadow. I didn't want to remove the changes, but just make them less extreme. I'd estimated there's around a 4 stop difference, so in reality if i could knock that by half then it would be less distracting. Of course another challenge was the edit in that we'd be piecing together different shots from different times. So if Jane went into darkness then we cut to Bill in sun I'd need to animate an exposure ramp on him so it wasn't so jarring.

Once the balancing was done we worked on a look and found something we all agreed on. Nothing too fancy or extreme. Lower contrast which was better on the skin.

Then i ran out a DCP and we were able to check it all out at the local Curzon cinema and where we had a small cast, crew and friends screening - which went down really well!

Post Production Gallery

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