Film production

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1Film production London

Working on short film production is a particularly exciting area of my wide variety of project commissions. As an independent producer, filmmaker and editor, I support many small production companies and freelance film and documentary producers with their short-form productions.

Film production case study

Pamela Roberts, Director of Black Oxford Untold Stories, recently commissioned my production skills and creative services to assist her with the creation of a short historical film production.  This was to be part of a continuation of Pamela’s project to uncover the untold story of Christian Frederick Cole. As the author of ‘Black Oxford Untold Stories’ and the organiser of events such as ‘re-imagining Cole’, she planned to bring his story to life on film and had obtained some funding for its commission.  In this case study, I briefly outline how we worked together on the production to create this short film.

Pre-production planning

Once we had reached an agreement on the possibility of creating such a film within a very limited budget, we began the pre-production process with many long discussions to pool our ideas for the format of the film from our different perspectives. Pamela sent me a copy of the draft script outline she had written together with her ideas on how the story could be enacted for filming. I then emailed her with various creative and technical questions from my filmmakers’ point of view. With more details of the project and a sense of what might be possible, we reached an understanding on how we could co-ordinate our knowledge to proceed with this historical film production.

Filming location recces

Pamela had secured special permissions to film at the three historic locations which Christian Cole’s story revolved around: University Oxford, Inner Temple (one of the four Inns of Court in London) and the Old Bailey in London. In order to assess these locations before filming began, Pamela and I first met at the Inner Temple in London for a location recce. This enabled me to walk around the site and film some test shots to capture the historically accurate period details that would be the background of the story.  We then drove to the Old Bailey where we met their very helpful team and where I also filmed some test shots in the Great Hall and Court rooms. The following week, we went on a second recce to Oxford University to visit and photograph the planned historical filming locations and meet the people who would be involved there.

Period costume hire

Pamela had recruited two actors to carry out the roles of the young Cole and the later Cole. To give the film more authenticity, we carried out research on what type of clothes he would have worn at that time. During the next few weeks, I learned what type of costumes would be required for the actors’ parts, where we could obtain them and the cost to hire. We eventually sourced our costumes and props from the very helpful team at National Theatre Costume and Prop hire in London.

Film production development

Gradually, during the following weeks of planning and frequent communications, Pamela developed and adapted the script and we co-ordinated our ideas for the film’s production. Pamela liaised with her contacts to confirm the filming days when we would have free access to the chosen locations. We then created a list of suitable historically accurate shots to film for each of the filming days in Oxford and London. The days leading up to the filming were quite hectic as we were both occupied with many different roles in addition to sourcing props and final costumes for the locations and actors.

Film music production

As the film editor on this project, it was very important to me that the music chosen for this film needed to convey a sympathetic atmosphere and tone. Fortunately, my sister Jacqueline Langham is a very creative music composer and, after discussion and agreement with Pamela, she was commissioned to compose the special music for this film. So as to acquaint Jacqueline with the brief for the Christian Cole film story, I sent her Pamela’s proposed draft script and we discussed some ideas for the potential music.  Later on, in the production process, I also sent her an edit of the whole film script which had been read to the camera by the actor Prince Plockey. Jacqueline soon composed a very beautiful selection of varied and unique music. This proved to be an absolutely perfect match for the story and was of great help to me during the editing process when selecting the right music to the changing situations in the Christian Cole story.

Production filming days

Two days of filming were scheduled for this historical film production – one day in Oxford and one day in London. Both filming days were long but very enjoyable – creative and rewarding. Luckily, we had dry weather and sunshine for both. For each filming day, I had secured the support of one assistant and very much appreciated the help they gave me with everything which included moving a lot of filming kit. For the Oxford filming day I was assisted by the helpful and talented ex-Goldsmiths student  Silvio Ugarelli Lima who also filmed with a second camera. For the London day of filming, I was supported by the very multiskilled artist, prop maker and stagehand Marko Waschke who also helped with the actor’s costume dressing.

Director of Photography

For both filming days, I set up the lighting required and worked as the Director of Photography directing and filming the required shots.  I worked with actors Moses Alexander and Prince Plockey to film the scripted lines and shot list to illustrate the story as best as possible given the tight time constraints we were working to. The big advantage of being able to work in larger crews is that people can be assigned to specific roles which enable more eyes-on set thus ensuring your creative vision is fully captured. However, this short film’s tight budget did not allow for a large crew and additional assistance with all the tasks involved. As a London based freelance filmmaker, I have a wide range of film production equipment and so had all that was required to film and light the single actor scenes. I’m also very practised at working on my own which very much helps when working on larger projects such as this. For this film production, I also carried out the role of sound recordist.

Film post-production

Once the two days’ filming had been completed, I began the process of the film’s post-production. Postproduction is all the additional work required after filming to create the finished production e.g. editing, colour grading, final sound mixing etc. My first priority of any post-production process is to make sure all the filmed media files are securely backed-up and stored safely. Once this was done for the Cole project, I then transcoded all the filmed UHD media into a suitable file format for editing. During the next few weeks, I edited this short historical documentary film together and added the beautiful music score which had been specially created for this film. Once the final edit was completed to my satisfaction, I sent a link for Pamela to watch and offer her feedback.  I was very happy to hear that she loved the film as did both of the actors who re-enacted the Cole life story.

Historical film production

This short film has now been named after the person that it’s all about – Christian Frederick Cole.  Christian Frederick Cole, originally from Sierra Leone (then a British Colony) was Britain’s first Black African to graduate at University Oxford and went on to become Britain’s first Black African barrister to practise Law in the English High Court. This short historical film production brings his unique story back to life to inspire a new audience and a new generation, also to recognize this important part of black history in Britain.