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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


By midlandsmovies, Sep 3 2017 05:55PM



Midlands Professional – Camera operator Mbili Munthali


In a brand new series of articles Midlands Movies is talking to a range of regional experts who are sharing advice and hints and tips from their particular field in film. Second up to pass on their knowledge and experience is cameraman Mbili Munthali who currently works on a range of projects across the Midlands.


Midlands Movies Mike: Hi Mbili. How’s things?

Mbili Munthali: Great cheers. I’m very busy as always [laughs].


MMM: We can tell from your IMDB! Ha ha. If we can start at the beginning, your background is first and foremost in camera operating. How did you get into your current role?

MM: Well it was a mix of education and hands on experience. I studied at De Montfort University and not knocking the academic route but being on set has helped me develop a lot faster and a lot more instinctively than the formal education part. However, both have great merits though and the combination of each works extremely well.


MMM: And what happened after that?

MM: I graduated in Media Production in 2009 but photography was my first foray into using professional visual equipment. We developed 35mm film and I tell my friends there’s still nothing like a tactile experience and understanding the medium at its most basic. There’s a kind of disconnect with digital and the old way just gives you a good grounding for moving forward – especially as photography is the basis of how you use a film camera. Photos are just individual sequential frames. You naturally progress from the still image to moving pictures and if you learn the basic rules, it translates from one to the other.


MMM: And where did that lead you to?

MM: After the photography I used DV tapes and believe it or not I edited and structured my first films using Windows Movie Maker. Before long I got DSLRs and would take them out every day. I recorded test footage at different frame rates and in slow-motion and the like, which allowed me to experiment without any consequence. With my original course being more on post-production I learnt camera work in order to get the best out of the images I would end up using for visual effects.


MMM: So the two link well together?

MM: Yes, having the foresight to shoot in the correct fashion to give you the best possible outcome later on in the production is the approach I like to take.


MMM: What were the first projects you worked on?

MM: I started worked on Doug Cubin’s The Fort as a runner whilst at the same time Kenton Hall was preparing A Dozen Summers and asked me to join that production too. I did a Steadicam shot on that film actually – they’re not too heavy but it’s quite restrictive with the counterweights so you need to be quite physically flexible. I also helped on other projects and it all snowballed from there!


MMM: Were there any memorable moments from these varied shoots?

MM: After a while, Doug asked me to be more extensively involved in his movie and we ended up at a real fort in Dover. There were times where we filmed in a spiral staircase in the complete darkness and one time I was walking backwards with a ‘fly-cam’ and trying not to fall down and break my neck! On another shot we placed the camera down lower to create a certain feel but there were steps and features that were half my body size which I had to get up and over whilst keeping the camera steady.



MMM: Sounds exciting! We’ve talked about the physical side of things but what other kind of skills in general would you say are needed?

MM: You will need a lot of patience! Things can get frustrating but sometimes the magic happens on the first take which I’ve had several times. Also, ask plenty of questions and be curious. And I don’t just mean camera operating but everything else. You have to work with so many people and anticipate movement and all that will influence how you work. Obviously don’t ask questions whilst ‘doing’ a take [laughs] but during the downtime have conversations with others so you can use their information to get better at your own role.


MMM: Outside of a working set can people learn more elsewhere?

MM: Yes, as you are one link in a long chain I recommend budding camera operators shoot, plan and edit their own footage to go through the whole process. You then have an understanding of each step and the easier you make everyone else’s life, the smoother the production. You are there to provide the footage in the best possible way. And, oh yeah, don’t get precious if they don’t end up using your favourite shot. I would however recommend you ask for the footage for your own show-reel. Seriously though, I want to be able to provide what serves a story best.


MMM: Do you mind straying from storyboards or planned shooting?

MM: Not at all, you have to understand that all plans can change too. In fact it actually pushes you to be very versatile in your camerawork. I advise that if there’s a suggestion to do the shot another way then just do it! Some of the best times are when you are on the limit of what you think you can do. It may take a bit of practice and time but all the while you are learning along the way. Some will naturally find their best, or favourite, way to shoot but personally I like to be on as many different kinds of shoots as I can to expand my knowledge.


MMM: And what about low/no-budget short films – are there different challenges?

MM: With shorts there’s so much to do in so little time. And often with no money! I worked on Capricious by Jordan Handford and we got a very complicated shot completed at 2.30am but it’s about perseverance and patience but I advise others to stick with it through the frustrations.



MMM: As well as camera work, you’re also adept at turning your hand to sound and special effects?

MM: There’s a big crossover and although I am no sound expert I try to understand at least parts of other roles on set and will try my hand at them when required.


MMM: Is that because the nature of low budget filmmaking i.e. less crew available?

MM: Yes. Although I wouldn’t take, or advise people to take, roles they didn’t think they could fulfil. Rather than one good job you could end up doing two jobs poorly. That said, sometimes you have to find creative solutions to logistical issues that come up.


MMM: In the case, what pitfalls do people need to look out for when approaching low budget filmmaking?

MM: Well, the technical aspects can sometimes be an issue. As I said earlier, if you can get your hands on equipment then you can practice in your own time. Also, an appreciation of technical speak is needed so people can understand the basics of terms like aperture, f-stop, shooting modes and the like. To help though, people shouldn’t underestimate the power of the internet, especially YouTube, where you can view and learn about different cameras. And I do mean literally the button and menu placement which vary on different cameras on low-budget shoots. The manuals are also online and if you can’t practice with the camera you’ll end up using it’s the next best way to learn.


MMM: That’s a fantastic tip! Moving on though, you also work with young people at the Pauline Quirke Academy. Do you enjoy passing on these skills as well?

MM: Yes, when I was asked about helping out at PQA, I never really thought about teaching but it became appealing as you find out a lot about how much you know when you teach. So I started and it was a very positive experience. The children have a great idea what a camera is, it’s on all our phones, but not the best idea about what it can do. The things I’ve learnt to do automatically had to be explained in a way they would understand. The kids came back with photos they never knew they could take – they looked like magazine covers!


MMM: And what’s next for you?

MM: I’m working on Rhys Davies’ Acid Daemons as well as starting a new venture in special effects. I have recently built my own render farm and production space to work on CGI and visual f/x which I hope to get going very soon.


MMM: Huge thanks for meeting and chatting today, Mbili. Any final thoughts?

MM: Thank you. It’s been great and I hope it can inspire more people to get involved in a role I find so fulfilling.


FInd out more about Mbili and his projects below:


Follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mbilimunthali

Follow on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5946474/


Midlands Movies Mike

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