Oneself (running time 5 minutes)

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Oneself Two (running time 7 minutes)

 

Oneself Three (running time 6 minutes)

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A History of the Oneself Trilogy
The Oneself films were all created by myself, Darren Maxwell, and were originally conceived after the difficulty and frustration I had securing a cast for one of my larger productions. It was during a time of annoyance at the unreliability of others 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 and that was to prove a self contained film with some degree of quality could in fact be made by a single individual.

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 knowledge. But this wasn't without some challenges as I also had to tackle areas I wasn't familiar with, namely lighting, makeup and the most formidable task of all, music. I know there have been others who have attempted self-made films before, however, my aim was to make a film of substance whereby the audience would completely forget it was made end-to-end entirely by one person. This is why I coined the phrase...

...because I believe that's what I was doing. Ironically creating a film by yourself does have one humorous benefit to it - as my friends were quick to point out - and that is the cast and crew wrap party is a pretty cheap affair from a catering stand point plus you're guaranteed a 100% attendance.

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The films themselves
The first film to be created was Oneself in June 2009 which was a simple comedy designed to show whether a basic split screen solution could work - unfortunately I have very limited knowledge on visual FX so split screening is the only effect I could achieve. Knowing that a self made film required a lot of planning, I opted to have as many characters as possible appear in the film which was supported by snappy timing and sharp editing to help sell the idea. Oneself was my quickest ever production as it was filmed in one night and finished a week later. As it turns out, it was a big hit with my friends and peers.

With the success of Oneself, it seemed only natural to take on a second film, this time 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 had thought of years earlier about three people trapped in a lounge room in different dimensions where the only communication was through the TV (although in the film there are only two people present). Unlike the first film, Oneself Two featured a heavily stylised black and white look which was done to contrast the colour "reality". Furthermore, the film boasted a complete musical soundtrack created by myself which I'm 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.

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 was dealing with four main characters all interacting with each other and objects on the table they were sitting around. For this reason Oneself Three ended up being a very tricky film to make as it was important for the audience to know who was who as the conversation jumped about from one character to another. This film also saw me use a more simplified technique for split screening which included a brand new effect that I hadn't tried before that worked really well (phew). In the end Oneself Three took a lot longer to complete than expected, which wasn't helped in the frustration I had creating the music, but it was clearly the most difficult of the three films to make.

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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 saying what? 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 are relatively simple to conceive the organisation behind them is quite complicated, for this reason everything started with the screenplay. Even though all the actors are the same person, each character still needed to have their own name so that there was no chance of mixing them up as demonstrated here.

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To emphasise the point further, character names were vital in Oneself Three to avoid any confusion as to who was speaking at any given time.

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Once everyone was named and their positions known around the table, the trick was to work out what shots they would appear in which is where the following layout design came into play. Despite the haphazard look it all makes perfect sense. In essence there are 10 different shots:

  • Shots 1-4 (representing the characters) are individual close ups
  • Shots 5-8 feature two characters
  • Shot 9 features three characters
  • Shot 10 features all four characters which is from Max 5's point of view (the guy in the Tuxedo) which is the shot above

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As can be seen here, all the split screen shots were planned in advance so they could be filmed in groups to enhance productivity and to avoid wasting time. Believe me once you start doing split screen shots, which require multiple costume changes for each character, you want everything to be as efficient as possible.

With a filming layout plan in place, the next phase is to go through the screenplay and work out what shot will be filmed where. In the example below from Oneself each of the numbers represents a particular setup.

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Careful care needed to be taken with shots requiring split screening, especially in their setup and execution as problems can also occur where you least expect it, remembering that once the camera is in place it can't be moved and there's no one around to check that things are working properly. As I painfully discovered in Oneself Two, when the character on the left walked over to his final position, he cast a shadow on the kitchen bench which then made the split instantly visible. As a result the entire sequence with all the characters had to be reshot from a totally different angle so I could change the split point. Needless to say the fault wasn't picked up until AFTER the shots were completed and edited together. Not happy.

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A similar problem occured in Oneself Three where there wasn't enough room for all the characters to appear in one shot. In the example below, the guy in the blue shirt is standing over the top of the guy in the grey shirt and thus an effective split was not possible as one character is now cut off. As was the case with the shot above, the problem only became evident during editing and so once again the whole shot needed to be redone with all four characters.

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Yet with some problem shots come 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 in the screen 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.

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One of the things that make films successful is attention to detail, for myself I believe this basic element is important and as such I can be quite pedantic about it (having said that my continuity in Oneself Three was terrible with the ever changing coffee cups and chip bowl). In the Oneself films, the level of detail was usually in areas of character orientation - ie where you're looking at any given time. Even though I filmed myself talking to no one, it was important to make the audience really believe that I was conversing 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 shown 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.

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Another example of paying attention to detail is where one character is reacting to something another character is 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.

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

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So is it weird filming yourself talking to no one? Well there were times when it felt a bit bizarre, although it helped that I was alone in my house during the shoot. Having said that, the shot below was definately the weirdest especially when I was playing the guy on the left looking intently at myself on TV.

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So how does one film oneself?
Preparation is the secret to a shoot's success and a shot's complexity will determine what effort gets put into it. Clearly the trickiest shots are the long split screen ones so for them I do the following:
  • First I'll record all the dialogue for the characters by reading from the script based on what shots have already been deemed to require split screening.
  • From here I'll pick one character then delete all the dialogue for the other characters. What I end up with is an audio track with one character speaking which has a perfectly timed gap of silence all ready for filming. Normally I'll loop this material around 5 or 6 times so when filming onset the track will replay itself a number of times to avoid me having to stop/start the recording for every take.
  • Once I have a dialogue track completed for one character, I'll then do the same with the other characters. The advantage of this system is that not only do I get my cues and timing spot on, but I can react to what the other character is saying even if it's just a pre recorded voice.

All this effort makes filming go a lot smoother, however, in the case of Oneself Three I had 16 different dialogue tracks to work with so it ended up being a lot of preparation.

The key to making the film work is being able to respond and perform to people who aren't there which can feel a little weird when doing it for the first time. For example in the image below don't let your eyes deceive you, in reality both guys are looking at no one.

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Individual shots will usually have me quickly read the lines from the script (which in the example below is sitting on my lap) then I just deliver the line on camera accordingly. By the way the TV effect was achieved by placing the camera in the position of the TV and recording my lines, I then transfered the footage to DVD and just filmed it playing on the TV - mega easy.

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For the character of Boss as shown below, I simply read the lines from the script attached to a stand right in front of me (in fact the Boss sequences were the very first shots I did when commencing the Oneself journey). Normally I'll do this a few times in a row to vary the performance. Ultimately this is the most efficient way of getting the shots done quickly although the trick is to not make it look like you're reading from a page.

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Needless to say the easiest shots to shoot are the ones where no one is saying anything, but even so it's important to react to other characters who are speaking or to situations that are occuring.

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To assist with framing and setting up of shots, I have the camera plugged into a portable TV so I can see what the camera sees. Quite often when I'm looking at something off camera I'm actually looking at the TV to ensure the framing is 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 look.

The problem shots are the ones where you can't see the TV or the camera as the character is moving around. In the example below when I came into the frame I had my back to the camera and 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. In the end I didn't know if it all worked until I watched it back later.

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On the camera itself, I have the flip out monitor turned around so I can see it from my position on the set, this is so I can double check the framing as well as the recording levels of the microphone (yes I focus on both the video and audio at the same time). With regards to the audio, I have a mic attached to a stand that is pointing in my direction located off camera, I then set the levels on the camera so I get a good recording.

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

The Oneself films were a good experience though each of them was a challenge, still more than anything I'm pleased with the results especially as I achieved what I set out to prove.

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