Helen Oakleigh as Liz Lassiter

I’m immensely happy to be able to announce that I’ll be directing a play at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention in London.

It’s called Mastermind.

The masked villain known only as Mastermind has hidden a bomb somewhere in the city. When it goes off, it will kill hundreds of innocent people.

It’s going to explode within the next hour.

Reporter Liz Lassiter knows how dangerous Mastermind is. What she doesn’t know is if she and her boyfriend J.D. can escape the city in time.

But that might not matter any more either. Because J.D. thinks that he might know the location of the bomb, and how to defuse it.

Because J.D. thinks that he used to be Mastermind.

Rhys Lawton as J.D.

The play is written by Michael Patrick Sullivan, and as soon as I read it I knew it was something that I wanted to direct. Claire Childs will be in charge of the Lighting Design, and my wonderful cast includes Helen Oakleigh as Liz Lassiter, Rhys Lawton as J.D., and introducing as Mastermind…

Well. That would be telling.

If you’re planning to attend Worldcon, I hope you’ll come along and see it.

3:30pm, Friday 15 August.


Short Films – Lessons Learned

I made a short film, Fatal.

The absolute best thing about making a film is that you learn what not to do next time. So in the spirit of saving you some trouble when you make your first short film, here’s a few things I learned.

Have a suitable script

I knew that the film would be a one-day no-budget shoot. So that means, realistically, two or three actors in one location.

I considered going as far as the garden, my bedroom, or the local Travelodge, but in the end decided that my front room would do. Then I wrote a script featuring two actors in a front room. So the shoot itself was quick and easy.

Record your sound separately

Seriously, this is the most important thing I learned. Always have a separate soundtrack.

I knew one sound guy, and he’s no longer working in the business. I tried a couple of other leads, but time was getting short, and the DP swore blind that we could just run the sound from the boom mike into the camera and it would be fine.

Not having a separate sound guy is the worst mistake you can have.

If no-one’s monitoring the sound levels when you’re shooting, this means that you can’t match sound in editing. There were some great shots I couldn’t use at all because the background traffic noise was too high. Sound levels vary from scene to scene because no-one was watching the meters, so the actors don’t sound their best – the recorded dialogue is either clipped, or too quiet and had to be boosted (with loss of quality, and added background noise).

Editing the film took maybe twice as long as it needed to because I had to dance around the sound problems all the time. Even now, there’s one particular shot where the traffic is super-loud – and that was the best take, even after playing with it to filter out as much background noise as I could.

And then there are the scenes which sound the way they should. But, of course, they don’t match the rest of the scenes. To make it work, I had to add extra traffic noise throughout, so that although it’s noisy at least it matches.

Sound guy. Don’t believe anyone who says you can run it into the camera.

One small crumb of comfort is that even Joss Whedon can get it wrong. Check the traffic noise suddenly springing up in the laundrette in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog when Captain Hammer confronts his nemesis.

Be aware of the background

I cleared out a lot of the front room to get a nice background. (See those nice empty shelves next to the music system?)

Not enough, though. All the clutter in the background distracts you from the important thing: the acting.

Also, there’s a piece of gaffer tape that appears and disappears from the bannisters, because it got stuck there to keep it out of the way and no-one noticed it was in shot.

Have more runners than you think you need

It was a five-person crew, including me. As little as one extra runner to make tea, sort out food, and check the background would have freed me up to do more actual directing.

Assign someone to be the production manager and deal with everything that’s not directing. If you’re the director and production manager on the same shoot, both jobs are going to suffer.

Mark off your coverage

I had a shotlist, but I didn’t make sure that all the dialogue was covered twice. In one place I had nothing but a master shot.

Fortunately, I had a master shot. The master shot is the first thing you shoot when you do the scene: Camera static, everything in view, run the scene from beginning to end. It meant I had something to fall back on when I was short of footage.

Which I was, because I didn’t mark off my coverage.

So there you have it. With my next film, I can look forward to making lots of exciting new mistakes.

Radio Days

Some time ago, I directed a radio play.

I joined a Radio Theatre Group at work. Figured it would be fun and interesting. An email went round a while back saying “Here is an interesting play. Who wants to direct this?” and I thought: Why not. I’ve not directed anything before.

So I volunteered.

In the spirit of passing on what I’ve learned, here are a few useful things to know about directing for radio.

Have a rehearsal

The recording went much more smoothly thanks to the actors knowing who their characters were and what they were doing ahead of time.

It was all quite painless: The actors got sent a copy of the play beforehand, and after a readthrough to get us all settled in, I asked them some questions about their characters, and what they thought the characters knew, thought, felt.

Because we’d thought through these things in the rehearsal, we didn’t have to stop during the recording to ask any questions like “Why am I saying this?” or “What exactly do I mean here?”

Which results in a much more stress-free recording. Which is good for everyone.

Re-format your script

Specifically, number your lines.

A writers’ draft doesn’t need them. For example, check out The King’s Coiner by Philip Palmer for an example of a radio script in the BBC standard format.

But when it comes to recording, it’s immensely useful to be able to refer to an exact line quickly.

So reformat the script with a number next to each speech or sound cue. Try Porshia by Ed Harris for an example.

You could number everything, as this production draft does, or start afresh on each page like I did. Either way, it makes production easier because you can simply say “Let’s have line three again.” or “From line eight on page twelve.”

Listen through after you’ve finished editing

We finished our edit, and didn’t have a listen-through before quitting the edit suite. So of the two takes we could have used for one particular section… we had both. Plus a longish section of me saying “That was it! Let’s have it one more time.” Which isn’t really what you want in the middle of your radio play.

Which leads me to:

Back up your masters

Because if you don’t, and they get accidentally deleted from the computer you’re editing on, you could be absolutely screwed.

Which is what happened.

Fortunately, if you

Always burn a CD of the edit to take home with you at the end of an edit session

You may be able to salvage something.

So, with a special thanks to William Gallagher, who was able to take the edit and cut out the worst of the fluffs and pops and me, here it is.

Politics, by Katharine Way.