Monday, 30 July 2012

Building sound-castles

Bloody kids.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the ADR process – gathering all the replacement bits of bad-quality dialogue and miscellaneous bonus grunts and groans from the cast.

Automated Dialogue Replacement, although I’d be interested to know how the word “Automated” found its way into the acronym as it was a far from straightforward exercise. But Sunday was decided to be the moment to take a day off from watching people running around on the telly to kick-start the process of making Glen-the-sound’s life easier.

Step forward Rachel Nottingham and Joe Rainbow, Zombie Resurrection’s na├»ve teenager Becca and officious party leader Gibson respectively. Good solid professionals to call upon to play the part of cast guinea pigs. Nothing too strenuous missing from their collection of on-set dialogue; just some extra sounds of weeping, grunts associated with various zombie bludgeonings, and long swathes of the deranged kind of Tourette’s that arises during the slow transition to zombiedom.

And a couple of lines from the first act of the film, where the extraneous noises evident in pre-apocalyptic Portsmouth woodland simply couldn’t be scrubbed out.

There is, it seems, an adage in getting good quality ADR – if you’re replacing lines originally spoken outside, you need to get the sound recordings done outside too. Unless you’re doing all your ADR in a perfect anechoic environment, there will always be a little room reverb evident in what you record in a recording studio. It’s OK for all the inside stuff, as you’ll then be adding a whole load more reverb to the ADR tracks to make them match the rest of the dialogue from the shoot (simples), but once even a little bit is on there it can’t be taken off.

And in the great room-less outdoors, these lines will stand out like a green sock on a bloodied stump.

And so we face problem number one – is there really anywhere in Hampshire that is suitably quiet? Somewhere acceptably close to a car park, but away from planes, trains, automobiles, dog-walkers, fields of livestock, chirruping crickets or forest birds looking for a shag?

Or, more importantly, bloody kids?

There is something about the eager squeals of children that carries for miles. Too much car noise? Just head deeper into the woods. Aeroplanes? Hang back for 20 seconds and it’ll be gone. But the sound of an under-eight having fun anywhere in the same postcode? You’re waiting for nap-time before that’ll get any better. And while I can’t blame any parents for wanting to take full advantage of the few days of actual summer that we’re going to get this year, please know that your selfish pursuit of fresh air and exercise is making our lives really tricky.

But, a hundred takes of all the swapped-out dialogue later, and Glen-the-sound was finally happy that he’ll be able to fabricate quiet versions of all our troubled chat, even if it’s a syllable-by-syllable Frankenstein agglomeration of acceptably noise-less moments.

And so we get to head indoors, over to the recording studio built at the back of Dale-the-tunes’ garden.

This is where all the movie music magic happens; a grown-up potting shed into which Dale can escape from the wife and kids, and actually do something worthwhile other than sipping scotch and pretending to whittle away at a piece of wood while listening to the Archers. Sound-proofed, covered in acoustic absorbers, and with a bloody-great piano in the middle where the lawn-mower should be.

And it was at this point that everything took a turn for the smooth. As Rachel screamed and Joe sweated, we powered through the rest of the list with grace and agility; three metres away outside on the patio no one was any the wiser about the cacophony of shrieks and growls that have left me with slight tinnitus this morning. Anybody needing to gut a pig or torture a POW in a residential setting could do a lot worse than phoning Dale-the-tunes up for copies of his architectural plans.

And at eight o’clock last night we stepped outside into a welcome cool breeze with 2/9s of our ADR firmly in the bag. To Glen-the-sound and Dale-the-tunes, it’s an enormous Charmed thank you for giving over your Sunday to our screamy silliness; to Rachel and Joe, it’s our eternal appreciation for coming back to Winchester almost a year to the day after we started shooting to re-enjoy the horrors of life on a zombie set; to all the other cast members, prepare yourself for a phone call.

And to the parents of small children in the environs, what’s wrong with the X-box or the cinema? If it’s fresh air and running about in the countryside you’re after, open a bloody window and see how quickly they can water the pot-plants. Incredulous.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


With only a week to go, now seems like the perfect time to let you know what you’ll be missing if you’re thinking of opting for two weeks of televised Hunger Games.

Down on the South Coast we’ve got better things planned for the first half of August. The terrifically talented Rob Luckins, he of photographic duties on the set of the movie last year, is having an exhibition. And there’s not a discus, high-jump or sand-pit in sight.

Unlike some of the key roles on the Zombie Resurrection crew (I’m thinking of Director and DoP here, particularly), taking photos is what Rob does for a living. Well. When he’s not pointing a camera at somebody, he’s teaching other people how to, and so it may come as no surprise that he’s amassed quite a lot of them by now.

Enough, it seems, to decorate Room 237, Portsmouth’s premiere comic-book store, with some of his choicest cuts.

Disappointingly, it won’t be wall-to-wall zombie carnage, although by popular demand last summer’s undead will be making a solid appearance. This is the problem when you spend the rest of your time taking photos of Mike Leigh and Wayne Hemingway – they tend to get grumpy when they’re bumped by a bunch of nutters covered in blood. One sympathises.

Anyway, for those zombie-enthusiasts in the environs, it’s a no-brainer. For everyone else, it’s a road trip. Catch it while it’s still squelchy. Shot.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Beaten into submission

Jesus H Ripe – that was harder work than I had imagined.

To save you any angst and stress, I should reassure you all up front that the screener did get finished, and was submitted in time (just) to Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas. The US’ largest horror film festival would be an awesome place for a world premiere.

Well, I say “in time”; actually, by the time that the film had finally successfully uploaded to the extraordinarily flaky WithoutABox site on about the eighth time of asking, it was about 36 hours past the deadline, but a severe amount of apologising and mea cuplae to the organisers later and we are officially locked and loaded.

But this was no easy ride. I haven’t had so little sleep over such a long period of time since the bloody shoot.

The division of labour broke down something like this: Matt-the-VFX was pulling together the last of the VFX shots through till Thursday lunchtime, and then FTPing the buggers across to us; meanwhile Ads-the-grade was making the whole movie look pretty and FTPing his bits across in stages. Glen-the-sound was tidying up the last bits of problematic dialogue, and Tom-the-foley was manufacturing some deliciously sick zombie noises. Andy-the-dog’s-body was downloading everything as it came in and putting the jigsaw together, while Jake-the-actually-knows-what-he’s-doing was grading the bits of the movie that Ads didn’t have time to get on to, adding muzzle flashes where appropriate, and plastering over as many cracks as we could. 

An insane amount of juggling. But by the time that I left Jake’s hive at 5am on Friday morning, we had all the right notes in the right places.

Friday’s activities were to be so much simpler – one final quality check viewing, render the bugger off and fill in all the submission forms. And we had until midnight before the deadline ran out. Masses of time.

And relax…

Ah no. Not in Charmed-land. Nothing ever goes that smoothly. The forms were simple enough, but getting them a copy of the movie in the format they wanted was an exercise guaranteed to confound even the most patient of filmmakers. It was the initial promise of 36 hour render times, and a website that just wasn’t interested in accepting our film, no matter what browser, broadband provider or OS we tried.

But by 4 am on Sunday morning it was there, courtesy of Jake’s girlfriend’s parent’s broadband, and via an enormous amount of industrial language.

And it’s my sincerest apologies to Nik-the-zombie-extra, whose fortieth birthday party on Saturday night was the final casualty of the enterprise. Sorry, mate – I’ll make sure I’m at your fiftieth, if you’re still talking to me.

So, it’s a couple of days to catch our breath, and then we get to go round the loop again with a couple more festivals; let’s hope karma takes stock of the credit that we’ve amassed over the past few days when determining how easy a ride that’ll be. But, when all’s said and done – I’ve got to tell you that the movie really does look and sound lovely. Sure, there’s still the odd green sock, and we have gallons of digital gore yet to throw about the place, but it doesn’t require a leap of imagination to see the finished film that’s hiding in the mist.

Hell – it’s not like we haven’t made it easy for them. Invisible.

Now you see it...

Now you don't...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The thin brown line

It’s all going down to the wire in Charmed Central.

It’s the end of the long wait, as Jake and I try to assemble all the first passes on everything that’s happening in the Zombie Resurrection post-production into one place. It’s not going to look perfect; there’ll be CGI missing, green socks aplenty, and all our zombies will sound nothing like they’re going to in the finished film. But it’ll be enough. Enough, hopefully, to secure ourselves a spot in a couple of festivals.

All the best festival submissions happen in June and July. The global horror silly season appears to run from September to Halloween every year, and if you miss the boat there is a very strong possibility that the US premiere of your movie is going to be in front of twenty people in a church in Boise, Idaho at a festival arranged by a heavily-tattooed goth in their spare time. And there’s no way anybody’s going to let us out of a church alive after seeing the film.

So, it’s got to look nice. Not perfect, but nice enough that the programmers can see beyond the next few months of manic post-production activity at the finished movie lurking beneath the surface.

And, I guess more importantly, it’s got to be now.

Deadline one is at the end of this week. This is for the largest and most prestigious horror film festival in the US. Which probably then makes it the largest in the whole world. Within the extraordinarily vain world within which Jake and I operate, this would be a satisfactory place for the world premiere of Zombie Resurrection, and getting accepted can’t hurt when chatting to distributors and sales agents.

And being the conscientious programme managers that we are, we gave ourselves a week to allow us to bolt it all together. Everybody – can we have your homework in for Friday 6th, please?

A week seems reasonable. There are going to be important pieces missing, and the inevitable mistakes. A week gives people time to fix any major problems; dig out important elements that need to be in there; and for us to fill in the remaining gaps as best we can. And then enough time for us to upload an entire movie to the submission site over my woeful broadband.

So, you’d imagine that we’d be just about done piecing everything together by now. Er… not quite.

Stand up Dale-the-tunes. Charmed Apocalypse’s star performer. By Wednesday last week we not only had his first pass on the music for the entire film in all its 24-bit mastered finery, but we’d also had the opportunity to sit and watch the film with him, chat over a bunch of changes, and he’d managed to address every single one in time.

The man is currently sat on a cruise-liner somewhere giving his brain a well-earned rest and dodging over-age swingers. Just as well he works so damn fast, as it wouldn’t be much of a holiday if he’d had to shlep his keyboard and computer with him, and then spend his shore leave sat in a Marrakech internet cafe.

And the sound is also looking pretty good. About ¾ of the dialogue has been tidied up, and we have plenty of the juicier foley elements – the rips, hits and splats. It’s incomplete, and filled with what I can best describe as temporary zombie noises. But what we have got in is fabulous quality; when it’s finished the film will sound genuinely splendid.

Bang in a couple of workarounds, appropriate some bonus foley from the internet, revisit a couple of moments from the native audio footage, and we’re in business. So far, so good.

But the graded footage and the CGI. This is causing us sleepless nights.

As of midday on Tuesday, we have nine minutes of graded footage in our timeline; we are roughly seventy minutes shy of a sensible viewing experience. And only about twenty shots into our CGI list of 88.

This is the problem at our end of the movie machine. The guys that are pulling all our visuals together are all proper VFX artists. They have day-jobs in the industry, and even though the CGI is the single largest cost in the Zombie Resurrection post-production budget the whole thing still only equates to about 2/3 of what they would charge James Cameron for a single shot. This wealth of craft and expertise shows itself in the superb quality of the work that they are producing; however, when JC needs something done quickly we find out just where the pecking order starts and stops. Money talks, bullshit walks.

Great for the finished film; an extraordinary stressor when we’re also working to a tight deadline.

And from where I am right now, it’s touch and go whether we’ll actually have something to upload in time. It’ll be a few days longer of leaping out of bed in the middle of the night to start something downloading that will then take fourteen hours to complete. It might just be doable if everything works first time, but this is not the best of project management principles.

So we wait, crossed fingers poised over the download icon. Anybody know a good steak-house in Boise, or can recommend the best US health insurance for trauma and burns injuries? Excommunicated.