Joining a weekend film competition with a fixed time limit is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a budding filmmaker. You would normally have a certain amount of hours to write, shoot and edit a film of usually not more than five minutes, according to variables as specified by the competition organisers. It might sound simple, but the amount of discipline, organisation and mental resolve required during those few hours is extraordinary.
We love taking part in these competitions when they come around because they allow us some time to do something different. So far we’ve joined about four such competitions, and though we’ve won nothing yet, we’ve probably learnt enough tricks to help us complete the competition more efficiently. That’s the whole point isn’t it?
Most of these competitions usually require you to do all your creative work during the time period, but who says you can’t be creative in the planning process?
Secure your cast early
Most of the time, prior to a competition, we would normally have an idea of who we’d want to work with, crew-wise, or we might be asked to register a team including individual particulars. However, when it comes to casting it is a different story altogether. I would normally recommend getting proper actors, or at the very least, acting students, for your film. Shooting with people who have acting experience is a breeze, and can save you lots and lots of time. If you have at least a foot in the industry you would know at least more than a couple of freelance actors who’d be looking for challenging work too. For Use, we opted to look for our friends from The Changing Point Productions to recommend one male and one female actress to have on standby depending on the variables given.
Plan an hourly-schedule ahead of the competition
Look at the number of hours the competition lasts for, and plan an hourly schedule from the start till end of the competition. This will give you an idea of how much time you actually have to produce your film, then weigh your options carefully according to your strengths and weaknesses. Would you want to allocate more time to pre-production or more to post-production? Be sure to include sufficient time for rest, travelling and meals. Wherever possible, try to include some buffer time as well as that would certainly help ease things back on schedule when a scene overruns.
Minimise travelling distance between locations
Another way to help with the time limit is to actually minimise travelling distance between locations. The most important thing to do here is to determine the point where your editing workstation will be, and work in a fixed radius around it. If you travel less, you will pack and unpack less. It also helps if you have a vehicle (or two) around to transport everyone.
In the first such competition we took part in, we went from Ubi to Punggol to Toa Payoh to Bedok to Jurong and back to Ubi. That wasted a lot of precious time that could have been spent on refining the edit, but it was due to the lack of experience and planning.
The Code (2013) is by far the least we’ve had to travel on a competition because we filmed in the service lift area of our then-office, which was only down the corridor. We had a lot of time for pizza and sleep after that.
Determine your workflows
This is important especially for production and post-production. Your production workflow will greatly affect how you work in post-production. For a timed competition, you’d might tend to focus more on the speed of acquisition. However, quality can suffer as a result. Finding the right balance between efficiency and quality is one of the most important and challenging things we’ve had to do on timed competitions. Save time when the clock is ticking by determining capture format/codec, recording media, finding how your it reacts with your NLE (Non-Linear Editing) software, to how you capture audio and organise your timeline.
Understanding your NLE and how it works can go a long long way in speeding up the edit. We previously shot on AVCHD in the Panasonic GH2 which required us to spend time logging & transferring footage in FCP 7, and then H.264 MOV on the GH3 which required extremely slow rendering on FCP 7 every moment you did something, so I preferred to transcode chosen takes to ProRes422 after viewing the dailies to minimise render times. Even so, organising clips on FCP 7 was a very tiring manual process, creating Bins after Bins after Bins.
Now we shoot everything in ProRes422 on the BMPCC and edit on FCP X, so the files are NLE-friendly and ready to edit out of the card. Syncing audio and creating multicam clips is also a breeze with FCP X’s Synchronisation and Multicam features. The built in Keyword and Smart collection functions also make it very easy to organise footage according to Scene numbers and Shot types. Everything is near-intuitive, except for the actual editing process. I can also make use of the compound clip feature to separate my editing workflow into each different scene, so when I decide to make a massive edit to a particular scene, it doesn’t screw with everything before and after. With FCP X, I had more time to focus on creative decisions than technical problems.
Food, food, food
If you’re the one running the production AKA the producer, you’d be expected to take care of your cast and crew regardless of whatever other role you’re playing in the production. Feeding the production keeps everyone happy and motivated. Also, make it a point to identify specific dietary requirements like Halal food, vegetarian and even allergies so that you don’t end up in a situation where someone doesn’t eat or pukes halfway on set.
Personally I’d prefer to just buy all Halal to simplify things but you still need to identify the vegetarians and specific allergies that exist among your crew. Vegetarian requirement aside, I also recently learnt that it is easier to omit ingredients (if the case of allergies) for the entire lot rather than have a meal prepared specifically for that person, unless the person has a lot of allergies that makes it impossible for him/her to consume that meal. That also contributes to less confusion when the meals arrive.
Plan your meals and take orders the first thing in the morning when everyone arrives on set. And make sure you don’t lose the sheet of paper!
And… That’s probably all I can muster at this point of time. I hope these tips can help you succeed in not just weekend film competitions but also in any kind of production work you undertake. Good luck!