Filming with animals, overseas and in the dark by Karelia Scott-Daniels

My life, like so many screenwriters, is pretty busy between making a crust, family and the added complication that most years I feel I spend more time on planes than with my feet on the ground.  Added to which, I am British, I live in Britain, my  biggest network is in Britain but to be honest my life is so busy here I just couldn’t see how I would have the time to shoot when in UK.  So I looked at my life, and decided I’d have to do my filming elsewhere.

I spend an inordinate amount of time in Asia, and latterly, I think I write best there, probably as I have less to do and am regularly awake of a night, recovering from jet lag or groping through the darkness for yet more mossie bite relief cream.

So I wrote and organised a shoot for my Impact 50 film to be filmed and set in Asia. The script was written, I had cast and crew.  I’d read the rules and printed the contracts. And then I suddenly realised I’d have to completely rewrite it and reorganise it as it might be set in the day in the US and UK, but in Asia all the action would be in the middle of the night.  Duh.  You see?  This is why I need so much down time in Asia: jetlag brain!

The first film I shot was on my mobile phone and the quality was great but sadly the sound quality, not so good.  So I looked into hiring things but it was all gobbledy gook and having spent half a day trying to work out what to hire I realised I’d have to hire for an extra few days to get used to all the equipment which when we added it up, made buying equipment seem more affordable.  Because as an intrepid screenwriter, indoctrinated into the Chris Jones school of positivity, I will be making loads of brilliantly successful films… or something like that!

So by the third film shoot, I’d invested in 2 radio mikes and a boom mike, a camera and we’d  got some lighting and other bits for Christmas.

The added complication was that my Impact 50 script was set in Korea so for authenticity, it was important to have Koreans playing the roles.  But my Korean  friends and contacts have about as much interest in acting as they do of poking their own eyes out.  Also I seem to know more women than men so recruitment for the Male parts had to be done by Facebook.  And man after man pulled out till a week or so before the ill-fated shoot, I finally remembered a friend with a Korean husband whom I hadn’t yet asked.  Fortunately he agreed, once I had assured him it wouldn’t be in English and there was hardly any dialogue.

Which led to the next problem. Impact 50 is an English film in English for the UK and US markets but to be authentic, Korean nationals wouldn’t speak in English to each other would they?  Ofcourse not!  So I resolved to do without most dialogue and just to use action and have music.  We recorded the natural sounds for use in editing but the plan was no dialogue, which was a refreshing and interesting challenge for the actors.

When we finally started shooting, another big issue we had was the dark.  And boy was that an issue!  Our impact 50 film was set between 1am and 3am give or take, which is probably why there won’t be many Asian films: most people in their right minds will be asleep!  And maybe that’s the best way to go: painlessly, without anxiety, in your sleep. Unfortunately for them, my beleaguered characters didn’t get a choice.

I have edited a few films before and knew we could lighten in post plus our DOP wanted darkness and some shots are great: spooky and cinematic with her face almost white against the dark night but some of the outside shots we thought looked good at the time just haven’t worked despite all the light we had bouncing round the place.  I only hope our editor can make it all work.

I wanted Seoul to be almost a character in itself, but that just wasn’t feasible.  It had to be shot on private land where we knew the landlord could provide a permit in English.  So we’ve just had to make do with views of Seoul at night.

And lastly there was my dog Hattie.  Again she got a starring role and most of the time, behaved impeccably.  Perhaps that is the moral of my story.  Perhaps I should do what many Mothers do: forget about my dreams of being a writer and focus on her route to stardom instead?  At least I would just be Hattie’s handler, rather than reluctant Director, reluctant, Producer, reluctant Assistant DOP, reluctant Lighting Manager, reluctant Assistant Gaffer, reluctant contract supervisor… ah the life of a writer!

Karelia Scott-Daniels

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