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Creative Black Country

Last Autumn we were asked by Creative Black Country to make a half hour film documenting their groundwork groups presented by Fizzog’s Dancing Grannies.

The aim was to make something that was fun and could be shown in front of all of the community groups at a party, which would be a rare chance for all of them to see what each other do. In some cases it would also be a rare chance to have some respite from their routine.

A gonzo-style exploration was the inspiration for a loose narrative to link the disparate groups together. Fizzog’s Dancing Grannie characters would also be able to disarmingly bumble into the groups they came across. Fizzog knew their characters so well that it made it very easy to improvise interviews and break out of character when necessary.

The main priority was that interviewees were in on the joke, felt comfortable and were respected. A lot of work was done to make sure they knew what was about to happen and who we all were. That way Fizzog could lead a rambling conversation with no pressure on the interviewees. The relaxed, messy style often brought out the funnier confident sides in people. We also made sure we had a tiny set up so that we didn’t crowd out the groups. Craig Bush shot everything, with Paul McHale standing in one day. Pete Styles recorded and mixed the sound. Fizzog rocked up in costume. I directed and produced. In practise, it meant that the day started off like a little tea break with all of the interviewees being privy to any artifice, which could have caused confusion otherwise.

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In terms of any plot, we only had to bookend the film with some motivation and closure. The bus stop idea came about purely from the amount of dancing we’d already filmed and having to fit a new location into an existing filming day. It summed up their role in the film nicely, but I only realised the Gregory Is A Dancer rip-off till afterwards. Anti-Social Bus Stop Dancing should just be a thing that is in all films. Everything in between was them discovering stuff they didn’t know.

What made the project special was that everyone working on the film were also discovering stuff. I’m relatively ignorant to what’s going on in the Black Country and the groups by definition were ‘hard to reach’. We went to some spaces and buildings that are hidden gems, people were going through things that we’d never had to think about, and there were some incredible acts of selflessness.

Here’s the full film

Presented by: The Fizzogs (Sue Hawkins, Jacky Fellows, Deb Nicholls)

Filmed by: Craig Bush, Paul McHale
Sound Recording: Pete Styles
Sound Mix: Pete Styles
Editing: Craig Bush, Louis Hudson
Colour: Craig Bush
Directed & Produced by Louis Hudson
Commissioned by Creative Black Country

Croissant Behind the Scenes

About 3 years ago outside a coffee shop, Ian got some croissant on his face and a silly sketch popped out fully formed. The main challenge was how to attach structurally unstable croissants to a face. We asked Twitter and THE Bob Mortimer told us “copydex”. If sticking stuff to your face is good enough for them it’s good enough for us. After Croissant’s first screening we heard Bob had ‘fallen’ and underwent a triple bypass. Sorry it took 3 years to make Bob.

 

 

Kings Sandwich Bar

This summer we wanted a nice excuse to work with our clever mates and have something to show at a couple of festivals. We settled on Croissant, which at first felt more like a sketch, but there were so many weird elements to it that there was a reason we hadn’t braved it yet.

We feel that animation and live action should only be used when they’re most useful. It would have been easy to make a 2D cartoon, but that wouldn’t have had much impact beyond the amusing concept. The aim was to make the film purely funny in every aspect and have the audience feel the escalation is spontaneously happening right there. However that’s achieved through quite a technical way. The actors and their chemistry have to fit with the correct surrounding. There needs to be some sort of relationship subtext so that you can care about why they’re angry/confused. The transformations should look shoddy but believable.  The pastry levels have to increase in the right increments. The roaring torrent of jam has to be a punchline that can’t be topped (I would have liked more jam).

It felt like it should take place somewhere like a roadside cafe. Maybe because roadside cafe’s feel like strange limbos, but probably because we like greasy spoon cafes. As for actors, Tom Reid was always going to be our number one croissant. John Henry Falle was so impressive on DuckManBoy that we had to find a way to work with each other again. Together, Tom’s small performance versus John Henry’s jangly, booming  performance was brilliant to watch.prop sketches

PROPS:

Next thing to work on was the Croissant head. After a while of painting and glazing, the smell of stale reference croissants started to make me think I had a painted an actual huge croissant.

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The squirty eyes were made under the wisdom of Chris Randall. I turned up with some pingpong balls, jumbo syringes, tubing and twelve jars of cheap jam. Chris immediately rolled up his sleeves. The first test was a thick jam fail. Cordial made a lot more sense and could wash out. We also got bonus Doctor advice to shorten the tubes for less resistance.

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I enquired about a custom croissant handlebar moustache and eyebrows with a French patisserie, but realised it was easy enough to just bake/grill puff pastry to make sturdy but flakey facial hair.

 

Post-Production:

In the script there was no specific dialogue or clear cut emotional ramp until the obvious big transformations. Capturing the spontaneity of the performance took priority so I threw out continuity in favour of building and layered the performance in the edit.  It took about 2 edits to realise this. Up to then, the performance felt consciously cut and snarky. Once the continuity was ruined it was quite freeing to do the ‘croissant choreography’ from scratch, even though this meant removing and adding croissant on most of Tom’s shots. It also meant I could really start experimenting with the rhythm of the edit. The emotional build up of the characters became much clearer too. John Henry’s nervousness is brewed up by Tom’s stupidity to the point where you can see why he would crack. It took a lot of time and we debated whether we should have done things differently, but the only way round would have been a day of rehearsals we didn’t have, or tons of retakes which might have killed the atmosphere.
 
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Craig’s framing on the shoot really captured Tom’s performance and built the tension, but all of my edit meddling lead to inconsistent framing. This meant that half the shots were reframed with tracked background plates. That sounds like an unnecessary amount of work, but it gave the scenes a flow by steadily pushing the camera back and forwards on Tom. By the time I’d gone this deep I went the whole way and fixed a couple of continuity errors, rubbed out jam tubes and rubber bands, painted Tom’s face, and made his butter fascinator melt.
 
Making a jam torrent that would smash into Tom without a ruining the cafe was another hurdle. Genius Chris Randall came to the rescue again. He had the idea of turning Tom on his back against a green screen and pouring jam from above to give the illusion of lots of gravity defying force. Otherwise we’d need to bodge together pressurised equipment full of jam. Buckets full of watery jam were a lot easier.

Crew:

We had one of the nicest teams we could have had for filming in such a tight space.

We’ve done stuff with Craig Bush for a few years now. We share a lot of the same humour and he was the one that chose Croissant as the next film.

Pete Styles is a great sound designer and recordist and wehad wanted to work with him for a while. He’s one of the loveliest guys going, and since shooting this Craig, Pete and me have got to keep the fun going on a few location shoots.

Beth Lowes was amazing and one-upped Bob Mortimer’s ‘Copydex’ with ‘eyelash glue’. We’re really grateful that she chose to use her Sunday to share Tom’s head as a craft project.

Also a huge thanks to Kings Sandwich Bar in Kings Heath. After recceing around town and scouring Google Maps, the only cafe that was closed on Sunday, happy to film, and had the world’s best mural of a full breakfast, was just a mile up the road. Thanks to Lucy from King’s for cameoing as the waitress too.

‘Premiere’:

The film got it’s first showing at Bar Shorts in Shoreditch. By most accounts it got the best laughs of the night. Ian filmed this nice video of the reaction:

GIFs:

Here’s some GIFs. Everyone likes GIFs.

 

I Hope You Like Croissants

We’ve made a new film. It’s called Croissant. It’s very silly. It stars Tom Reid (Gregory is a Dancer) and John-Henry Falle (The Story Beast). Here’s a teaser.

Croissant Teaser from Dice Productions on Vimeo.

The full short sketch will be released shortly. Follow us on Twitter @diceproductions in the meantime.

New Showreels and a Revamp

After finishing DuckManBoy, and other projects we can’t chat about yet, we thought it was time to finally make a showreel. It’s also been about 5 years since starting production on Man In A Cat. Since then we’ve created stuff for Channel 4, Nickelodeon, BBC Comedy and Oxfam, and worked with some amazing people in the process.

 

That was fun. Everything is with Italian 60’s Pop.

It’s also been 6 years since my last freelance reel, so it’s nice finally showing off what I’ve done for other people between our Dice work. More Italian 60’s Pop:

 

We’ve also got a new website design and silly Dice ident to suit us better. We’ve always had an awkward relationship with the formality of ‘Dice Productions’. It’s like an embarrassing band name that’s too late to shake off. So, instead of starting again we’re styling it out with a silly rubbery neck, yellow paint, and a slide whistle.



Gregory Is A Dancer & Behind the scenes shots

It’s great to finally have Gregory Is A Dancer out in the open. Big thanks to everyone involved again, and to everyone who watched it.

It’s interesting how much work and accuracy needs to go into something to make it look silly and shambolic. The tracksuit combinations alone took a lot of consideration.

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Kirby Skank was played on a loop for days as our rehearsal and dance track, with Bob Mortimer providing a bit of inspiration. We knew Rob had cracked the score the day it finally pushed that skank out of our heads.

While that’s playing here’s some behind-the-scenes photos. You can also find out more information about the film at: diceproductions.co.uk/gregoryisadancer

2 Day Green Screen Shoot:

Pre/Post and Location Shooting:

Shot Breakdown of the Newspaper Scene:

Gregory Is A Dancer Airing 12th March

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Our second Random Acts film for Channel 4 will airing on Wednesday 12th March at Midnight (end of the day). It’ll be showing after a classy exposé called ‘Strippers’. Classy.

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It’s also screening as part of special sound-focused edition Bar Shorts organised by 12foot6 and Chris Shepherd. The first screening will be at The Book Club, London on 26th March, 7pm. The second screening will be at the Eagle Inn, Salford on 2nd April, 7pm.

 

Here’s some background to the film.

Gregory Is A Dancer is our second Random Acts film for Channel 4 and was commissioned by Balletboyz. This was our first live action commission but still has an animated sensibility and contains the same surreal approach we use in most of our work.

Part of our pitch was for this to be an ‘anti-dance’ film. However it still needed to be entertaining and work physically to deliver the right emotions and comic timings. That’s where Tom Reid came in. He’s an incredibly talented comic performer with a lot of physical control. Rehearsal sessions helped us find out which parts of the dancing could be pushed and where it needed restraint. To over the top and it would look too staged, losing the humanity in the performance. To small or too loose and there was nothing to hang the scenes on. Although Tom would say that he just based it on how Louis dances. After one of the funniest days ever spent on or off a set, it was obvious that nobody else could have brought what Tom did to the film, especially under the low-budget conditions and filthy tracksuits he had to endure.

Having almost no dialogue we re-united with Rob Connor to help tell the story through music. The general idea was for the film to be perceived as a driving music video that happened to match the emotional beats of the music. It was a nice process of starting with our points of reference, particularly our rehearsal track, and hearing Rob slowly build up different ideas and changing the nuances of the track to capture the tone of the story.

We looked at different ways to show so many scenes with our tiny budget. After first being put off by weekend hire of green screen spaces, we realised that a small kit green screen filmed at one end of our studio offered a garish, shabby feel that suited the main character’s upbringing as well as pulling the sleazy glitz of stardom down to the same level. Using flat lighting rather than matching up the environment light also enhanced the feel of all of the characters not quite fitting in their disjointed world. Keying and compositing was then a tricky balance of retaining  green screen artefacts and the cheapness of the production while making sure it was slick enough not to be distracting.

Quirky symmetrical single-point perspective has been very much done but it was a very convenient way to reinforce that this film is all from the main character’s simplistic point of view while being surrounded by the things that have made him.

That was a lot of text. Here’s some pictures:

Notworking

Recently I was asked to write for the good folk at Shooting People about film. So after a small amount of head scratching I thought I’d tackle the thorny issue of networking. I see it as an important part of making your way through film, but people get it so, so wrong.

Shooting People

Here’s what I wrote over on the Shooting People blog.

Shortly afterwards I was happy to receive a few follows on Twitter and some praise from readers. They were either naturally polite, sensible folk or  they’d taken on some of the points I was making in the write up. Either way, all good.

But then I got an email. It is the type of email that not only makes my eye twitch a little, but that prompted my article in the first place. A reader of the Shooters blog got in touch with Louis to say “Great article! Here is my script for a film. Can you make it into an animation please?”

This is annoying on many levels. One, they thanked the wrong person for the blog post. That’s lazy in the extreme. Two, there was no introduction so I still barely know who this person is. Three, they had a fundamental misunderstanding of the system to assume we could just make an animation for them. Four, the manner of the contact, and the content, went against every point I had made in the blog post. Either they didn’t read it, or they didn’t understand it.

Suffice to say, they got a rather short response asking them to re-read the article.

So, what can we learn? The first thing is to read things carefully. The second is to put a bit of effort into researching who you are contacting. The third is to not be ‘that guy’ and make me write a fairly embarrassing blog posts dedicated to you.

And if you are in any doubt about networking and how it should be done, there’s a new post on BBC College of Production about the very thing I was talking about. Read that too. And think before you fire off that email.