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Adventures in Amateur Filmmaking: Mistakes and Missed Takes

The lighting is perfect, the camera is rolling, the actors are nailing their lines - and a train roars past.

Cut! Stupid train.

My directorial debut came on a study abroad year in the USA, when I entered a student competition to make a five-minute short film. I’d love to say my effort was a resounding success, a prize-winner, but it was a disaster. I tried to tell a feature film story in five minutes. I did most scenes in one take. All the scenes were very obviously on a university campus. I even had a conversation with my cameraman while the camera was rolling (pretty unforgivable, that one). Although these rookie errors had me pulling out hair as I edited the footage, everyone involved truly enjoyed themselves, which is a standard I try to maintain.

With a couple more shorts under my belt, and many more mistakes, I felt confident enough in my abilities to attempt something larger in scale. I already had a story in mind - a short fantasy about a former bank robber who must confront his demons - and I knew a few people who would help out. A few friends were kind enough to do a read-through of my script, and they were pretty brutal. Clearly, I didn’t know anything about bank robbers, and my friends couldn’t help but read their lines in parody Italian accents - “Forget about it!” Lesson learned and back to the drawing board, I rewrote the script with characters I understood. I still shudder at some of the lines that made it into the film, but it could have been worse.

For this more ambitious film I was leaving the university campus behind, choosing to shoot at an unfamiliar location downtown. What I hadn’t planned for was the parade going through town that day, as well as the heavy police presence. As a director I was on the edge of a breakdown with worries over a flashback sequence involving two armed robbers in masks, one with a realistic-looking plastic gun, the other with a very real shotgun. As the American police are not known for their sense of humour concerning firearms, I made the decision to film from inside the car and just suggest that the characters were getting out, which works well enough in the final edit.

When filming a night sequence, I learnt the importance of location scouting the hard way. What was supposed to be a deserted alley happened to be behind a busy nightclub, so if it wasn’t a train ruining the audio, it was drunken revellers screaming at the top of their lungs. Apparently, I was also shooting around the corner from a motorcycle gang meeting point. I was considering abandoning the shoot due to near-constant sounds of engine revving and competitive doughnutting, when thankfully the police appeared to shut down the meeting. Thinking back, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to film this happening, because it might have been more interesting than the eventual film.

The most important thing I’ve learnt from all my mistakes has been that none of them were insurmountable. When things go wrong on a shoot, most of the time it can be solved by keeping a cool head, and when one of those once-in-a-lifetime disasters occurs, remember that you’ll laugh about it later.

It is said that someone who never makes any mistakes never makes anything at all. I try to remember this when I watch my old work. Even though the glaring mistakes make me cringe, each and every one has made me a better filmmaker. That train was a bloody pain though.

Joe Dakin


The Room
Rick Harper, 2003
Weds 10 Feb | 7:30pm | Film Unit, Sheffield Student’s Union
The Five and Dime Picture Show are very proud to present a special farewell to their favourite icon of cinema, Tommy Wiseau. They will be screening all things Tommy, including a very special premiere screening of the documentary Room Full of Spoons with director Rick Harper in attendance. The film will be introduced by director Rick Harper, who will also join Five and Dime's Ryan Finnigan (author of The Room: The Definitive Guide) for a special Q+A session on the film, The Room and Tommy Wiseau.

Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson, 2012
Sun 14 Feb | Unit 15, 92 Burton Road, S3 8DA | £10 (£7 concs)
A visually delightful tale of what happens when two kooky 12-year-olds fall in love, make a secret pact and run away together into the wilderness. Street food available from Cowboys and Nether Edge Pizza, with music, a bar and comfy chairs.

Addicted to Sheep
Magali Pettier, 2014
Fri 19 Feb | 6:30pm | Calver Village Hall, Main Street, Hope Valley | £10 w/ pie and peas supper.
Immensely popular at last year’s Doc/Fest, this documentary explores the lives of a farming family as they try to rear the perfect sheep. Replete with reflections on rural life, the film is also praised for its portrayal of the bleak beauty of the north Pennines. All event proceeds to St Luke’s Hospice in Sheffield.
Tickets via Richard Wheeldon - [email protected], 07540 945768

Tues 23 Feb | 7pm | Cafe #9, Nether Edge | Free
We’ll be showing a few short films about sheep and hillsides in February, alongside some darker fare. Come along, enjoy our new, larger screen and a brew or a veggie snack, alongside film screenings and (sometimes bemused) chat about what we’re seeing.

Hope Adventure Running Evening
Sat 27 Feb | 7pm |, Hope Valley College, Hope | £7.50
The evening event of Hope Valley Adventure Film Festival is "a mixture of lectures from record-breaking fell runners and films from the world of adventure running". The ticket also gets you into the John Muir Trail running lecture by Olly Stephenson at 5:30pm. The daytime festival features some of the best films from Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (ShAFF) 2015, alongside live activities like bouldering and caving.

Kimi wa Iiko (Being Good)
Mipo Oh, 2015
Mon 29 Feb | 6pm | Showroom | £8.30
Part of the Showroom’s fantastic-looking screenings from The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2016, this film paints portraits of a range of people, from a newly-qualified teacher to a bullied child and an elderly shoplifter, who reviewers describe as spiralling into negativity. But there are also small kindnesses thrown into the mix.

Collated by Samantha Holland

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