“When I say flat shot, I mean wide shot”
On 9th June we filmed Between the Trees. When I put it like that it sounds so simple but the process to get to that point lasted 8 months with a national lockdown and a successful bid for Arts Council funding thrown into the mix! Moonbeam are by no means the first theatre company to turn to film making during the pandemic and Colette would happily tell you that it’s not something she wants to hurry back to any time soon. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed having the chance to learn about an entirely different art form, even if it did mean being thrown in the deep end. It was a big learning curve because theatre and film are unique mediums in their own right, they require different skills and considerations. Where our schedule once included contacting venues and schools to perform in, it now had time blocked out for post-production. So, I thought I would write a bit about four of the biggest differences between theatre and film that I experienced during the making of Between the Trees.
Us with our fabulous videographer and crew after a day of filming
1) If you make a mistake people will notice
In theatre you get told that if you make a mistake to carry on as if nothing happened and nobody will notice. After all, as soon as the mistake happens, it’s over with and you can move on! This isn’t the case with film. The camera seems to magnify every movement and because it’s being recorded there’s the potential to re-shoot a moment that hasn’t gone exactly as planned! There’s a permanence to film that just isn’t there with theatre. This was quite tricky to get our heads around because our theatre-brains wanted us to push on through, if we mucked up a take, but what we needed to do was the opposite! However, I learnt that there is an art to getting the right balance between continuing with a take and calling cut. It’s possible to over-analyse mistakes that potentially aren’t noticeable and end up stopping a take that could have kept rolling, purely because there is an opportunity to do it better than before! It can be addictive to try and get the perfect take that has no mistakes, which couldn’t be more different to theatre where live mistakes and the ability to use them or work through them make it what it is!
2) It's all stop-start
Another aspect of shooting a film that took getting used to as a theatre-maker was how stop-start it was! Some scenes had to be repeated several times in order to get different angles which meant resetting the scene each time. Of course, we were expecting this to be the case but it still felt strange! When performing something live, you’re in character for the duration of the performance but with the constant call of “Action!” and “Cut!” we were snapping in and out of ‘performance mode’ all day. This was quite a challenge to keep on top of and there were a couple of takes which we started over because someone wasn’t in the right headspace. In theatre you have to be on the ball for the show but film actors have to be on the ball in an entirely different way; there’s such a skill to jumping in and out of a scene with the same energy you had beforehand, especially when there’s no audience to perform to!
Running through the moves before a take!
3) Post-production is everything
I also have an entirely new attitude towards film premieres now and why they mean so much to the cast and crew involved! In theatre, performing on the opening night is the culmination of the hard work put into the show but in film the performing is only a cog in the wheel. So much of the work happens after the acting is finished and we are so grateful to have had Adam and Olivia on board for this project, who have brought all of their sound and film expertise with them to both the filming day and the editing! Because editing plays such a large part in the process, one really has no idea what the finished project will look like until it’s on the big screen, even if they’ve been at every shoot!
4) A dead cat isn't what you think it is
Finally, in film there are lots of terms that aren’t used in theatre. A few of these are:
· B Roll
· Wide Shot
· Dead Cat
Olivia really had her work cut out with us, having to translate what we told her into actual film terms. At one point Jess was running through some of the different shots we wanted in the film and kept referring to having a ‘flat shot’ of the forest. After a few times of Jess saying ‘flat shot’ Olivia said “do you mean a wide shot?” Yes. Yes, she did mean a wide shot.
Like I said at the start, it was a big learning curve. But it was an experience I wouldn’t change and the beauty of creating a film has meant we are reaching children further afield than we could have done with live theatre! From Exeter to Aberdeen children across the country have been watching Between the Trees, which is such a joy to know!
I’ll be taking a lot of lessons with me from this project, including knowing that when someone refers to having a dead cat on their microphone, they don’t actually mean a deceased feline.