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By midlandsmovies, Sep 16 2019 08:00AM



A Day in the Life of music composer Kirby Spencer


Our fourth entry into our 'A Day in the Life" features follows Kirby Spencer. Leicestershire based Kirby is a music composer and has worked on local short films Thursday and Eve.


From mixing, sound design and composition, Kirby tells Midlands Movies about creating the perfect musical accompaniment to film projects made in the region.


07:30 - Up and at them as they say. The usual get up routine, with a little bit of breakfast possibly - but most importantly coffee.


08:30 - I turn on the most important piece of equipment I have, my computer. From here I produce all of my music and it needs plenty of time to warm up. I never start a day from scratch you see, as I am either loading up work from the previous day or far less frequently, I am loading up a template. This is a tip a few composers use in order to get over the shock of a blank page. The feeling of not knowing what to do to get yourself started. This way I always have something to look at, to point me forward. My template is simply a preset list of tracks/instruments that I use on a regular basis. For example that includes, Violins 1 and 2, viola, cellos, basses, trombones, various synths and sound fxs etc... my main template at the moment contains close to 100 tracks each ranging from a few MBs of memory all the way up to several GBs. Spread this across 100 tracks and my template can take anywhere between 10 mins and 15 mins to load for any given project. So while thats happening...


08:30 - 09:00 - Business hat on. As a freelance composer, you take on the role of a head of department (HoD) for yourself, but also everything else that needs to be done in order to run a successful business. Answering and making Email enquiries, updating social media accounts, marketing, market research, reviewing contracts, dealing with PRS etc etc. I can't get all of this done in half an hour, but I take a bit of time to wake up by reviewing a certain aspect of this side of being a Film Composer - most of the time its either answering Emails (There's a handy setting to send them out across the day) or doing a bit of market research in order to get the creative juices flowing.


09:00 - Time to review the previous days work. When we listen to music, especially the same piece of music over and over again - our ears and our mind can block out noise and frequencies that are disturbing or unwanted. Or simply an instrument might be slightly too loud or soft (most of the time its too loud..). We gradually get used to these imperfections over time as our ears adjust to them. I can get around this by listening to the previous days work with what we call 'fresh ears'. I've not been subject to the piece for several hours or even days previously, and this morning listen can highlight any problems that I may have missed through this phenomena. This can be a tip for any directors or producers out there too - you can usually tell if the music is right or wrong for the project within the first few plays. Its a bit of a balance however, you should give the music some time, but at the same time we can con ourselves into a certain piece if we dogmatically listen to it over and over looking for some profound revelation that makes it all okay. Listen, take some time away and come back to confirm - it works for me. Anything that comes up, I'll do my best to fix.


If I am starting with a new template that contains only the blank tracks that I use most frequently, then I skip to the next stage.


10:00 - Time to actually compose. If its a fresh scene or a fresh piece of music I will again try to remove the daunting aspect of having a blank slate by looking at the Film Composer's guiding light - Story. The music if decided to be present in a scene, must follow the story in some way. It must be highlighting (not adding!) something present in the scene. Through study I use an approach that was highlighted to me by Andy Hill (Walt disney Studios Music Producer) in his book, 'Scoring the Screen'. What is the point of view the music is highlighting? What is the energy level of the music? By that we mean does it work with or against the pace of the scene and the editing, and finally, does the music need to tell us something that the picture does not? Armed with these questions, and a brief from the film makers about what they would like to see (notes from a spotting session work absolute wonders), I can settle on a general direction for the music. From here its a matter of controlled experimentation, and at this point I cannot say how I might proceed as every case is different. But if I ever get stuck, its time to go back to the guiding lights.


12:00 - Lunch and break. Its important not to fatigue your ears, eyes and mind. I might go for a walk after having something to eat or something like that.


13:00 - Back on it in the same manner as the morning. It can be a solitary job this.


15:00 - Mini break usually about halfway through the afternoon - at this point I might go back to doing some of the business side of things, in particular, looking for new projects and productions that I feel I might be able to benefit, and those that might benefit me. Or anything else that might need to be done adhoc.


16:00 Back into the nitty gritty of scoring to a scene. At this point, my ears are pretty fatigued, and the creative juices are going to be running low. This late in the day, I usually focus on the technical aspects of making the cues sound realistic rather than anything creative or experiemental. There are times where I might save the thing I am working on and move back to a previous piece, something fresh in order to again get out of getting too used to hearing the same thing over and over. I would not mix at this time of the day, it always ends up sounding off.


18:00 - Pack up, save - Relax. When it gets close to deadlines, I will work on into the night as late as I feel I can.


That is just an example of a 'Day in the life of a Film Composer' and I know that it can vary from composer to composer quite drastically, and even for each composer themselves. Some days will be spent more on production (Mixing, Sound design etc) than composition. Some days will be spent on simply upskilling - learning more about the craft of writing music to picture. Some days may be spent on the business side of things, travelling to networking events, meeting clients, attending spotting sessions etc. But this is the general outline I like to follow when creating music for a media project. "


By midlandsmovies, Sep 9 2019 07:00AM



A Day in the Life of Midlands producer Kelly McCormack


In our third "A Day in the Life of" features, local Leicester producer Kelly McCormack herself describes what it's like to be involved on a film shoot in the region.


From early starts and long complicated days to celebratory drinks once a film has wrapped for the day, Kelly explains below the pressured environment of a Midlands film producer and the varied tasks to sort during a production.


0900: Wake up, get ready, sort out my paperwork ready to head to the venue. I choose a bright outfit with our production company’s logo so that any extras or location staff can recognise me as a point of contact.


10:00: I arrive early and the first person on location to ensure I can handle any early problems with the city centre venue such as no answer or room not cleared. Fortunately on this occasion everything goes to plan so I order myself a coffee.


10:20: Crew and main cast start to arrive, I keep an eye out for who is here and who there is no sign of. I start to ask around to see if everyone has heard from each other and if they are ready and excited for the day ahead.


10:45: I ensure whoever is due to have make up is in the makeup chairs while the crew continue to set up. Anyone already made up, I ask them to run through lines with each other. I let everyone know where the ‘snack trolley’ is based.


11:00: I sit down to have a chat with the director to see where his head is at. I explain we are slightly behind schedule and need to make a start asap. We discuss cutting a potential scene to help with timing if necessary. I help an actor with a read-through of his scenes whilst he is waiting to go on set.


11:00-13:00: I sit back and observe the shots that are happening, answering queries from the director, venue staff and actors not in the current scenes. I remind the director of timings when needed. I ask those not on set to take regular breaks when they can and ensure they have had something to eat.


13:00: Extras begin to arrive whilst I am covering clapper board duties so I ask my production runner to get them all signed in. I remind the director that we are technically behind schedule but I think we will be ok to catch up.


1330: I have a chat with my extras to ask how they are, how they feel about the shoot, if they have been on a film set before.


14:00: I do a speech to the thirty extras about the filming day, the scene they are in and what they need to do; it’s a gig scene so they just need to react to the two bands playing. I remind them that this is all for fun so to go with it and enjoy it but if anything concerns them or makes them uncomfortable that they can talk to me or our production runners. I ask them to only talk to the director and camera men if essential as they will do a lot of moving in this scene so need to focus. Everyone gives a big cheer to signify that they are happy. We sing a quick happy birthday to one of our cast members and the scene sets to begin.


14:00-16:00: We spend a good amount of time on the scene, rerunning about ten times to get different angles, ensuring the extras only put 100% when the camera is on them to ensure they aren’t too worn out! They all do brilliantly. I help by pressing play on the audio system for playback purposes about six or seven times. I take some behind the scenes photos.


16:00: I clarify with the director and camera men that we have everything we need, they confirm so we wrap the shoot early! We have an hour still in the venue so take our time to pack away, chat to the extras and lock them into some more shoot and just have a breather after an intense but seriously fun shoot.


17:00: I chat to the main cast and crew informing them of when the next shoot is scheduled and what is needed, they have already been told electronically so it is more of a reminder. We all thank each other for the hard work that has been put in.


18:00: We head to the bar, order a Guinness and toast to an enjoyable St Patricks day.


By midlandsmovies, Sep 2 2019 07:00AM



A Day in the Life of Midlands Camera Operator Mbili Munthali


We return with the second entry in our "A Day in the Life of" features courtesy of Kelly McCormack who has been throughout the region and spent time with a number of local productions to find out about what it is like during a day on set.


Covering different roles we hope this will help first-time and more experienced film industry workers see what it's like during a local film shoot.


This week sees local camera operator and director of photography Mbili Munthali take the stage as he tells us about one of his recent days on set and the experiences and challenges he regularly faces:


06:30 - 08:00: Wake up and get ready for the shoot. I like to be limber and although I don't run in the morning anymore, a good stretch feels good and prepares me for the day. Physical and mental readiness really helps. Read my notes from the recon of the location, shoot schedule etc again to put the whole day into context for myself as I will be relaying that information out throughout the day. Have a good breakfast since I have a high metabolism and need nourishment as often as I breathe. Final check of the equipment list that I am taking and need to have at the end of the day (Can't beat a good list).


08:00- 08:30: Get picked up since I don't drive (yet) and make sure I've had strong tea (I don't drink coffee at all).


08:30 - 09:00: Walk the set and unload equipment I have brought. Breathe, the calmer you are through the day the calmer everyone else is. The calm before the storm so get ready to get your head down. The main crew arrive and we have a quick chat and just talk about everything except filming while I help them unload whatever I can. Many hands make light work, this is all a team effort. Set up camera and lights.


09:00 - 09:30: Main cast arrive and go off to make up and outfits. I talk to the director and just touch base for the day and just give them confidence that you have it all in hand and play devil’s advocate for some things that could go wrong but already have options to counter those things. It's not about assessing everything that could go wrong, just to keep a reality check with a lot of optimism. A crew will remember the negative person on set that brings the mood down but if you're taking on challenges with a gun ho attitude, people will gravitate to work with you. A team is only as strong as its weakest link.


09:30-09:45: Touch base with the actors and extras and give some reassurances. You are going to make them look good, they need to trust that they are in safe hands without being pandered to. They have enough to think about being in front of the camera. Extras arrive and get set.


09:45-10:00: Safety briefing with everyone, where everything is, procedure of the day and who to talk to for each department or general questions throughout the day. A reminder that the hardest part is getting the team and talent together, this is the fun part of a long process.


10:00- 13:00: Shoot. Get the hardest parts of the day first. Get as much coverage with minimal set changes as you can but do not compromise. A difficult balance but trust your team, there is a reason they are on this set with you. This is when the actors are at their freshest for the day, capitalise on this. They've been rehearsing and they know what they are doing. Trust them because they trust you behind the camera, the director is getting the performance from them, you need to get the performance from camera, light and sound. Do not skip blocking unless absolutely necessary. This is a partner dance, especially if the camera is moving.


13:00-14:00: Lunch. Very important for everyone. There might be a shortage of time due to something to taking a little longer than expect but we did the best we could to second guest this before we started right? Give each department at least some time to eat and sit for a little bit. Sound to have lunch but have lights and camera set the basics of the next shot. The director should be sat with the talent chatting and reaffirm that they are doing very well. Don't forget the extras. Stand in for framing for camera and lighting and once the bulk of the next set up is done, send them to lunch and grab a bite. Find a seat and eat/drink. A tea to keep that caffeine coming as you shift a few things to get the essential shots but get those extras too. Don't lose heart, it's only been a couple of hours. Make use of your runners to stand in, check equipment is on set for the next run of shots and hydrate everyone. Then they too should eat and rest.


14:00-14:30: Camera and lights back on set. Ready to go again.


14:30-17:00: The last of the shots with extras. Wrap them if they are no longer needed. Work on less physically intensive shots, emotional scenes are a good way to go. The actors have settled into their characters by this point and are not even thinking about the camera and they've just been fed/rested. Run the scenes and get those shots. Shoot the B roll and the scenes you may have missed earlier in the day that you weren't able to before lunch.


17:00-17:30: Give everyone a break. Naturally, everyone is a little tired including you. Just make everyone know that this is the home stretch, you've hit all the shots you wanted and they've been rock stars. Just a last little push.


17:30-19:00: There are some dusk/night shots so get those now. The sun is/has going down in the colder months so move indoors. Runners are packing down some equipment outside to shorten the end of the day.


19:00: That's a wrap! Thank everyone. Everyone. This was a long day and everyone pulled together, despite some things that meant that you had to think on your feet. Everyone already has the information for the next shoot but remind them anyway and trust the rest with your producer. Check your equipment list before you leave. Those markers usually end up going for a walk somewhere. You're going to need them for that next day though.


20:00: You're back home. It's another shoot tomorrow, better get some dinner and sleep - a bit of whisky helps the digestion.


Kelly McCormack


By midlandsmovies, Aug 23 2019 10:18AM



A Day in the Life of Midlands Actor Tim Watson


Midlands Movies has a brand new 'Day in the Life' feature series compiled by guest contributor and Leicester film producer Kelly McCormack. Each week we'll be looking at a different local person and their daily role within the Midlands film community.


With a host of productions regularly taking place at any one time, we hope to give you an insight into the world of local filmmaking - and the more often than not long days on set - to help raise understanding of a specific role during the production process.


First up is Birmingham actor Tim Watson who explains below his processes on a typical - and sometimes not so typical - day on set:


06:30. I wake up, get dressed, ensure that I get a good solid breakfast. After eating, I make sure that I have packed everything I need for the day ahead. I’ve been asked to bring a selection of different clothes for potential costume, so I make sure I’ve packed it ready.


07:15. I head to the gym for a quick 30 minute workout. I like to use this time to clear my mind, and to work out any stress I have before the shoot. After this, I have a quick shower, get dressed, and walk to the train station.


08:55. I arrive at the venue, about 35 minutes before the call time. I like to make sure that I’ve got to the location early, in case of any trouble on route. I use this time to grab a sandwich to eat later, fill up my water bottle, and about 20 minutes before my call time, I arrive on location.


09:15. I go and speak to the director and producer, discussing the schedule for the day. I’m told that there are no issues so far, and am shown to the room we’re going to use as a dressing room. We agree with the costume director on which pieces I would be wearing, and I change into my costume.


09:25. I sit with the make-up director, and get a moment to relax and run through the scene we will be shooting in my head. There is not much make up to be done for today, mainly on my hands and a small amount on my face, so I take this as a good chance to relax and do a few vocal warm ups.


09:30 The other actor arrives in the dressing room, and we have a brief conversation while we get ready for the shoot. Once we’re both ready, we begin to run line together while we wait to be called onto set. We also both do a couple of quick character building exercises, to get ourselves into the roles for the shoot.


09:50. We’re called onto set, and have a meeting with the director and producer. We’re told the shoot is running to schedule, and are given approximate times for breaks. We have a quick discussion with the director about his vision for the scenes we’re going to shoot today, and get ready to be on set. We’re then fitted with our microphones, and do a quick test shot to make sure they’re working correctly.


10:15-13:15. The shoot begins. I’m on set for most of the scenes being shot, so have to constantly be on my game. Even if I’m not in the shot, I try to make sure my delivery is the same as when I am, to give the other actor as good a performance as they are giving. After each shot, the director will discuss the performance and share their thoughts with us. I also have a couple of ideas on the shoot, and I discuss these with the director and we try these out as we film. When we’re not shooting, or I’m not in shot, I make sure that I have plenty to drink, and express any needs/concerns to the team, and work with them to ensure that I don’t delay the schedule. I also take the chance to watch the other actors working on their own scenes, using their performances to help build my characters and reactions to the scenes.


13:20. We break for lunch, having 40 minutes until we’re needed back on set. I sit down with the actor and the crew members, eat my sandwich, and discuss other work we’ve done. I use this time to build connections and help to understand more about their different roles and experiences. I find this really useful, and a great chance to improve my work in the future.


13:50. I quickly nip back to the dressing room, to check my make-up and costume before returning to the set. I also re-fil my water bottle, and run a quick vocal warm-up before the shoot restarts.


14:00-15:20. We get back to shooting. We’re running a little behind schedule, but have a plan to make up time in the later scenes, cutting a couple of angles on the next shots. Once again, I try to make sure that I give my best performance at all times, whether I’m visible to the camera or not.

15:20. There’s a quick scene change needed, and I need to have my make-up re-done for this scene. The other actor is finished for the day, but asks if he’s alright to stay and watch the rest of the shoot. We talk briefly, until I’m called back by the director.


15:45-17:00. We shoot the final scenes for the day. This time I am in every shot, so make sure that I am ready to give the best performance of my scenes. As before, after each shot the director discusses the shoot with me, and we work to get the scenes exactly right. This involves repeating the same actions many times, to be captured from different angles, so I am focused on performing my actions with the same precision and consistency each time.


17:00. Filming is finished for the day. I head back to the dressing room, to change out of my costume and get out of my make-up. I then go and have a chat with the crew, especially the director, to discuss the day’s work and note anything else which needs to be done in the future. I say goodbye to everyone, taking some contact details for potential future work, and head off to catch my train home.


Kelly McCormack


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