Oneself (running time 5 minutes)

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Oneself Two (running time 7 minutes)

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Oneself Three (running time 6 minutes)

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Sci-Fi Zone (aka Oneself Four!!!) (running time 14.5 minutes)

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A History of the Oneself Trilogy
The Oneself films were all created by myself and were originally conceived after the difficulty I had securing a cast for one of my larger productions. For this reason it was during a time of utter frustration at the unreliability of 'professional' actors I felt that if I made a film entirely by myself I wouldn't have any problems ensuring everyone turned up to work on it.

After further thought I discovered a more serious side to the idea, which in effect was to prove that a self contained film with some degree of quality could in fact be made by a single individual with no outside help from anyone.

Fortunately I had gained valuable experience in a number of areas in film making over the years which made me feel I could effectively take on all pre production, production and post production roles with some degree of confidence. Yet even with this experience there were going to be challenges in areas I wasn't overly familiar with, namely lighting, makeup and the most formidable task of all, music. As it turned out I already knew of other people who had attempted self-made films before, however, my aim was to make a film of substance whereby the audience would completely forget it was all made end-to-end entirely by one person.

It was for this reason I coined the phrase...

...because I believed that's what I was doing. Rather ironically my friends were quick to point out how creating a film by yourself had one amusing benefit, that being the catering for the cast and crew wrap party would be really cheap, plus you're always guaranteed a 100% attendance.

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The films
The first film to be made was Oneself in June 2009 which was a simple comedy designed to confirm whether creating a basic split screen effect would work. Moreover, because I had very limited knowledge in visual FX, split screening was the only effect I could achieve within my editing programme. So once I realised how a self made film would require a LOT of planning, I opted to feature as many characters as possible which were then supported by snappy timing and sharp editing to help sell the idea.

Until May 2020 Oneself was my quickest ever film production being shot in one night and finished a week later. As it turned out, in May 2020 I was able to shoot and finish what was effectively 'Oneself 4' in around 24 hours though admittedly no music creation was involved. In any event what was particularly gratifying was that my friends and peers really enjoyed it.

Knowing I was able to create a successful split screen visual effect, it seemed only natural to make a second film. However, unlike the first film I opted for a more serious and stylised tone to deliberately increase the difficulty level. Oneself Two was made in December 2009 and was based around a concept I thought of years earlier where three people were trapped in the same lounge room but in different dimensions whereby the only communication was through the TV (although in the film there are only two people present).

Oneself Two featured a heavily stylised black and white noir look which was intentionally designed to contrast the colour of "reality" which appears later in the film. Yet what was of particular significance for the film was the musical soundtrack, you see Oneself Two boasted a complete musical score created entirely by myself which I was quite pleased with as I have absolutely no musical ability whatsoever.

In the end Oneself Two took four days to shoot and was completed within two weeks.

As I have no musical ability at all, a friend was keen to see how I created the film's soundtrack

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Although it was never planned (honestly it wasn't), I suddenly found myself writing a third and final instalment in the Oneself series to effectively complete the newly created trilogy.

Filmed in the Summer heat of January and February 2010, Oneself Three was designed around the humorous style of the first film where each of the characters had different personality traits. However, the biggest challenge in the production was dealing with four main characters who were interacting with each other along with objects on the table they were sitting around. For this reason Oneself Three was a very complicated film to make, not just on a technical level but also from a story perspective as it was important for the audience to remember who was who as the conversation jumped from one character to another. Fortunately this film saw me discover a more simplified technique for split screening which worked really well (phew).

In the end Oneself Three took a lot longer to complete than expected as I could only commence filming after 9pm (thanks to daylight savings) and the music was really hard for a non-musician like myself to do. For this reason it was by far the most difficult of the three films to make.

The interesting side effect of making the trilogy was how my friends reacted. A lot of them were pushing me to make a fourth movie which was very flattering to hear, but considering the time and effort required and the fact I had to make them by myself, three films was definitely enough.

So you're probably asking "what on Earth is Oneself Four???"

In the first quarter of 2020 the world was hit with the Covid-19 crisis and as a result everyone had to self isolate by staying at home. After having previously produced 25 episodes of my online Sci-Fi Zone series in 2019, in May 2020 I opted as a bit of fun to make a new episode of Sci-Fi Zone using the Oneself concept because visiting people in their homes was still not permitted.

Unlike the actual films themselves, the episode was not strictly scripted aside from a few outlines. However, what was particuarly significant was that by using two digital (tapeless) cameras I was able film, edit and complete the entire episode in 24 hours. From a historical perspective, this new 'Oneself 4' was made almost 10 years to the month after completing Oneself Three.

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How the films were made
Self made films have one significant disadvantage over their traditional cousins, the person making the film has to literally think of EVERYTHING in the production which means your workload is enormous and unrelenting.

Aside from simply writing the script there is the consideration of which character is speaking? Who are they interacting with? What shot do they appear in? What do they wear? How will the set be lit? What will the camera framing be? How will sound be recorded? What equipment needs to be hired/borrowed? How do you maintain a level of continuity with props, costumes and actor positioning??? Honestly, sometimes it's enough to do your head in!

Although the Oneself films were relatively simple to conceive the organisation behind them was quite complicated, even so everything started with a traditional screenplay.

.Oneself Two was the only occasion where characters were given a proper name (ie "Max"). In all other scripts they were just numbers

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Once the screenplay was finalised the shots and their framing were then worked out using editing methods in my head. In the case of Oneself and Oneself Three, all the split screen shots were planned in advance so they could be filmed in groups to enhance productivity and to avoid wasting time (see example below). Believe me once you start doing split screen shots, which require multiple costume changes for each character, you want everything to run as efficiently as possible.

Another consideration was to avoid complicated moving shots which were not possible to shoot by one person, remembering that no one was behind the camera during a take to see if any mistakes were occuring. As all the shots were locked off, I tried to break up the stagnant look by ensuring the film had a lot of cuts and edits so the audience didn't dwell on the lack of camera movement, though on occasions I deliberately held onto a long take for dramatic purposes.

In the example here, each of the numbers represents a particular camera setup (ie two shot, three shot, close up). By knowing in advance which shots were to feature more than one character, I could then prepare the shot's dialogue recording in advance for playing back later on the set. Categorising the shots this way meant I didn't have to record myself saying the entire script.

Figuring out how the film would be edited just from the screenplay alone was crucial as no other coverage would be filmed. So if two shots didn't cut together properly in the edit there was no 'second (Camera B) angle' to fall back on

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To prove just how outrageously complex planning for the films could be, the following camera setup plan was created for Oneself Three showing 10 different framing setups. Each number refers to a specific angle and the character who appears in the shot.

To clarify, setup 1 is just character #1 in a mid shot/close up, whereas setup 5 includes both character #1 and #4. Of particular interest is setup 9 which features characters #4, #2 and #3 and the filmed image of this appears further down the page along with setup 10.

It may look like a bowl of spaghetti, but this level of planning saved HOURS of time during filming

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Without doubt careful care was needed with any shot requiring split screening, especially in the setup and execution as problems could occur where you least expected it. It's important to remember that once the camera was in place it couldn't be moved until the entire shot with all the characters was completed.

As I painfully discovered in Oneself Two, when the character on the left walked over to his final position he cast a distinct shadow on the kitchen bench which made the split instantly visible. As a result of this the entire sequence with all four characters had to be reshot from a totally different angle so I could change the split point. Needless to say the problem wasn't picked up until AFTER all the character shots had been completed and edited together. Not happy.

Shadows and visible split lines were always an issue and because no one was behind the camera, the faults weren't discovered until the editing phase

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A similar problem occured in Oneself Three where there wasn't enough room for all four characters to appear in the one frame. In the example below, the guy in the blue shirt was standing over the guy in the grey shirt and as a result part of his arm was cut off due to the split effect. As was the case with the shot above, the problem only became evident during editing so once again the whole shot needed to be redone with all four characters.

Reshooting failed split effects was a major time consuming exercise as it required all four characters in their costumes to be refilmed from scratch

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Yet among the problem shots were some winners and clearly the biggest triumph in my spilt screen endeavours was the tuxedo guys in Oneself Three. This was achieved by moving the actual split line every two frames as the characters and their shadows moved through the frame. Fortunately there were some good vertical points where I could place the split to hide it. In the shot below you should be able to work out where the split is as it's barely visible - although since writing this I've forgotten where it is.

A triumph at last! The walking tuxedo guys worked a treat even though because of the shadows I couldn't have them be as close together as I would've liked

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One of the things which made films reasonably successful was the attention to detail (because it certainly wasn't the quality of acting). In fact I personally believe this basic element is always important in film production and for this reason I can be quite pedantic about it. Having said that the continuity in Oneself Three fell apart almost at the start with the ever changing coffee cups and chip bowl.

For the Oneself films a good example of attention to detail was usually in the area of character orientation, ie where a character was looking at any given time. Even though I filmed myself speaking to no one, I knew it was really important to make the audience BELIEVE I was actually conversing and making eye contact with other people, for this reason I made sure I was looking at the other characters as a way to help sell the story.

In the example below, when I filmed myself for the character on the TV I was actually looking at the kitchen bench whilst saying my lines, yet when the footage was played back on the TV for this shot I was now looking at the other character on the couch so the idea worked really well. Unfortunately as I discovered later, my eye line for the TV guy was a fraction too high as he's effectively looking just over the top of the couch guy.

One of the easiest effects of them all. I just played a pre recorded DVD of myself on the TV and reacted to it

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Another example of paying attention to detail was when one character was reacting to something another character was doing. In the example below the character on the left is shocked by the character on the right having eaten all the chips, naturally in real life when I was filming the guy on the left I was reacting to nothing. Focusing on these tiny details is what I think film making is all about.

For this film I discovered a new split screen technique which allowed one character's vertical line to move over another. In this example the pink shirt guy's right hand on the table covers the black shirt guy's right arm from a vertical line perspective. This simple effect added an extra sense of realism and depth to the shot

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One particular problem I had with Oneself Three were reflections in the window. Originally the film was meant to be shot during the daytime so this wouldn't have been a problem, but alas at night everything was reflected in the glass which is why the screen door behind the guy in the black shirt is open (plus being a hot Summer night it allowed SOME fresh air to come in). As it turned out I was able to use a couple of reflections to my advantage which was something I hadn't done before from an FX point of view - especially as it helped to hide the camera and tripod which were in full view!

The guy reflected in the glass has been noted as a great bit of detail. However, as the camera and tripod were in full view adding him was crucial!

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So is it weird filming yourself speaking to no one? Well there were times it felt bizarre, but fortunately being alone in my house meant I could work at my own pace without feeling silly.

Seeing myself so close on the TV felt really weird, so I wasn't overly keen on having to do this scene

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Without doubt the most successful practical effect achieved in any of the films was the 'high five' in Oneself. Over the years a number of viewers have attempted to work out how it was done because it looked so genuine. One theory suggested I hung some string from the ceiling as a guide for my hand, now believe it or not I actually did contemplate doing this at the time. However, the real answer is far simpler.

What really happened, if you can believe it, is I filmed both guys going through the hand slapping motion and it was only by sheer 100% FLUKE their hands matched up at the same point in the air. Now just think about it, their hands could've been at the wrong height, been too far apart or even overlapping each other. Ultimately the risk of this effect not working was massive.

Fortunately I was sooo lucky the shot DID work as I didn't have any alternate takes to fall back on, worse still it never even occurred to me during the shoot to film a safety variation where the guys said the lines without the high five. Honestly, it was a genuine "get out of jail free" card moment.

I gotta hand it to myself. Clearly the film making gods were smiling at me during this effect because it was so risky yet so successful

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The really funny challenge about doing a split screening film is wondering just how many people you can actually put into it. So by the time I got around to making Oneself Two I was already trying to create a record which is where this shot came from. Despite being a quick moment in the film, it still took ages to do as I not only had to think of a role for all the crew extras to play, but I had to work out where they would be positioned so I could create an effective split for them.

It's all about me! This shot was intentionally designed to see just how many 'me's' I could squeeze into one frame

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What is particularly interesting to note when making a split screen film by yourself is how during the shooting process you have no idea how things are progressing. You film each character sitting in a spot performing accordingly whilst looking at nothing at all, and because you ARE alone there's no sense of anything actually occurring. But when the shots are edited together everything suddenly comes to life and the magic really does appear right before your eyes.

In fact I can still recall my reaction when I completed the very first split screen shot from Oneself and realised "holy cow, this is actually going to work!"

 
So how does one film oneself?
Preparation is the secret to the film's success and a shot's complexity determines what effort is put into it, naturally the trickest shots were the long split screen ones so for them I did the following:
  • First I would record myself saying all the dialogue from the script, but only for shots with split screening in them. If a character appeared in a split screen shot but had no lines, I would still go through this process because they needed to react to what was being said by the other characters. Single character shots were easy to do as I just spoke their lines by themselves with the camera recording.
  • With the dialogue track laid down, I would then determine which character I planned to shoot first. From there I would, in an audio editing programme, delete the recorded dialogue for that character accordingly. By doing this I would be left with a recorded dialogue track with perfectly timed 'silence' points so that the character could speak their lines onscreen whilst hearing and reacting to what the other characters in the shot were saying.
  • I then repeated this process for the other characters.
  • From here I would make around 5 or 6 copies of the dialogue track so I could record multiple takes without having to leave my position on the set.
  • During filming I would press record on the camera then allow the dialogue track to play through so I could perform as the character for a few takes. It's worth noting I didn't use an earpiece or anything like that, instead the audio was played openly in the room as I knew it would all be removed in the edit.
  • Once a set of takes were complete, I'd change costumes and proceed onto the next character whose audio track had been prepared the same way.
  • If a character was onscreen but had no dialogue, I would play the full version of dialogue so he could react to what was being said accordingly.

It was certainly a lot of preparation but it worked well, especially in the case in Oneself Three which featured 16 different dialogue tracks!

One particular advantage of using this method was being able to adjust the timing of a shot as all the characters were being filmed separately. As an example if two characters had a line each, I could actually move the shots around to adjust the delay between their statements, eg I could either make one guy effectively cut the other guy off or I could lengthen the delay between lines.

Ultimately though the key to making everything work was being able to effectively respond and perform to people who weren't there.

The camera does indeed lie. In reality both of these guys aren't looking at anyone

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Individual shots were by far the easiest to do as I would usually just read the lines from the script (which in the example below is sitting on my lap), then I would just deliver the line on camera accordingly. As for the TV effect in Oneself two, this was achieved by placing the camera in the position of the TV and recording my lines. From there I transfered the footage on to DVD and just filmed it playing on the TV - mega easy.

I was really lucky to have a decent sized TV back in 2009 because this shot would've had no dramatic impact had it been on my previous 28" screen

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For the character of Boss as shown below, I simply read the lines from the script which was attached to a stand right in front of me (hey it worked for Brando). As it turned out, the Boss sequences were the very first shots I did when commencing the Oneself journey so I was still pretty nervous about it. Ultimately having the script in front of me was the most efficient way of getting these shots completed quickly, although the trick was to not make it look like I was actually reading from a page.

Being the first shots of the whole Oneself journey, my performance as Boss shows I was still very uncertain as to whether the film would even work

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Needless to say the easiest shots to shoot were the ones where no one was saying anything, but even so it was important to react to the other characters or situations that were occuring.

One of the more funnier moments of Oneself Three

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To assist with the framing and setting up of shots, I had the camera plugged into a portable TV so I could see what the camera saw. In fact quite often when I was looking at something off screen I was actually looking at the TV to ensure the framing was correct. In the case of Oneself Two I had the TV switched to black and white so I had a good idea how the final product would appear.

The problem shots were when I couldn't see the TV or the camera due to the character moving around. In the example below I walked into the frame with my back to the camera so I had to be really precise in knowing where to turn around and where to stand so I'd be in frame for the whole shot. Naturally I didn't know if everything had worked until I watched it back later.

Oneself Two allowed me to attempt a number of artistic shots using different camera angles and lighting

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As for the camera itself, I had the flip out monitor turned around so I could see it from my position on the set to continually check the recording levels of the microphone - yes I focused on both the video and audio at the same time. With regards to recording the audio, I had a mic attached to a stand pointing in my direction which was located off camera, I then set the levels on the camera to get a good recording.

Finally, I utilised the greatest invention of all time in my hand, the camera's remote control! Honestly If I had to get up every single time to press the record/stop button on the camera I probably wouldn't have made the films.

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