Category Archives: Set design

T-Minus 4 Days: Final Details

It’s definitely the final countdown as we’re heading into the last weekend before we go to camera. We’re dealing with last minute details and starting the process of setting up!
The first thing that we had to do was pay a visit to ACTRA, go over final details, get a tutorial on the various forms that we and the actors have to fill out and submit and answer some questions about conditions on set. We also had to supply a bond with the full amount owing to pay the actors – ACTRA will then disperse pay cheques to the actors according to the time sheets that we supply. This turned out to be a bit of an issue because we discovered that we will have to pay overtime to any actors who work beyond five days without two consecutive days off – 150% on day 6 and 200% on day 7. We had submitted our “day out of days” sheet, which lists what actors are on set on which days, but the overtime had been missed. Not a big deal but there was a moment when a confused reading of the IPA (union contract) led to a belief that the actors’ rates would rise to 300% and stay there for the duration of the shoot. That would have gotten very expensive – but Indra, a senior steward, came in and cleared up the confusion and saved us a few grand in the process. Whew.

After that we had to rush back to the house to meet Len, who was there to set up the lab in our living room. You can say that Len is on top of the details: he even had screws and diodes of various types to lay in clumps on one of the work benches to make it look like Murray (our scientist/landlord) had just been working then got up and left to go make a sandwich. Len’s a fascinating guy and splits his time between designing “real” things in the world and designing and building sets. He has a contract with the Toronto Fire Dept to design a device to rescuing people injured in the subway. Generally, if someone is hurt on the tracks, four or five fire fighters/paramedics have to go into the tunnel to carry out the injured, with the danger that someone will trip on the tracks. Len designed a portable trolley that fits on the tracks so that only one paramedic is necessary to push the injured person down the tracks and out of the tunnels. Back at the station, the trolley folds up into a large suitcase that is portable and can be put back on the fire truck. Anyway, there are some final touches to add to the lab, including gear that we’re renting on Monday and which Len will deliver at that time. This set was our biggest single expense other than actors, costing us a little over $4000. An awesome deal as far as we’re concerned – the lab is very important to the story and so we wanted to make sure it looked good. We were probably thinking of the smash indie hit Bellflower from 2011, which had a budget of under $20k and, according to the filmmakers, most of that went on the fire-breathing muscle car.

Our daugher Bea explores the lab

Finally, in the evening, we had our camera and audio test meeting with Alex, our DP, Jeff (1st AC), and Zoe Mapp, our sound recordist. It was a very important chance to set up pretty much everything, test out the quality of the lights and figure out our workflow. We’d bought a copy of QRSlate ($50) from the Apple app store as an alternative to an analog, wooden slate. It got a solid review on NoFilmSchool as a way to simply organize your files to prepare them for post. Um, not so much. We’re recording sound separately and also shooting with two cameras a lot of the time, which adds another layer of complication. The beep that provides a sound mark for syncing the audio and video lasts over several frames without the benefit of a linked motion. When the sticks on a classic clapper snap, you have the motion leading up to that sharp, cracking sound to provide a guide for syncing up the sound file. With QRSlate there’s just a short flash that isn’t the same length of the sound and isn’t itself sharp enough because the screen doesn’t go instantaneously black afterwards but, rather, fades out. Jeff was not at all happy with it – Jeff works as an assistant editor at a post house in his day job. I think that we’ll have to revisit this marking and workflow again Monday morning; there may be an element of QRSlate being new and unfamiliar at play here, though dealing with multiple cameras is a bit clunky. But the important thing is that the D7000 produced some sexy images with our cheapo lighting kit on a very basic set-up without any colour correction. Manuel, our co-producer/lead actor, was at the house for a wardrobe meeting with Zuzana, our key wardrobe, and to check out the camera/audio test. HE stood in front of the camera and shared the truth about a deep and secret relationship that he’d never told the world before. Check it out below.

A Man & His Beloved Seahorse from Shawn Whitney on Vimeo.


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Filed under About BNY, Gear, Pre-production, Production Diary, Set design, Uncategorized

First Peek At Our Science Lab

Previously we had only a sketch from Len Rydahl, our set designer and builder. But Len’s fast and he’s pulling together the components that will make up the lab where our cast will clone a dead woman and implant her into the womb of a surrogate mother. As we wrote previously, we’re VERY excited to be working with Len, who, besides being a highly talented and experienced set builder, also helped to revolutionize playground design in North America and beyond with what became known as “soft play” (like all those ball pits at the IKEA daycares where you drop off your kids so that you can spend too much money). This is just  a peek at what’s to come but we’re already super-excited by what we see! Tell us what you think.


Filed under About BNY, Micro budget, Pre-production, Science Fiction, Set design

BNY Production Diary: T-minus 26 Days (Keep Calm & Rock On)

In many ways things are coming together quite smoothly, especially since we have no money to pay crew. Our 1st AD, undergoing some personal challenges with living space and the need to get freelance film work, has made an enormous effort to get us a preliminary shooting schedule under a tight deadline. We have our DP, at least one camera operator – who is also a gaffer and happy to do more than one role – and we now have a 1st AC. We met yesterday with Len Rydahl who is building our laboratory set to bat some ideas and give him a deposit to start construction. I’m particularly excited about this, not only because Len’s other work is fabulously creative and looks amazing. But, it turns out, he was one of the designers, along with Eric McMillan, of the Ontario Place Kid’s Village. The Kid’s Village was a favourite place of mine back in the day and it was a revolution in the design of playgrounds for children. You know those pits of balls kids love to play in? Ikea has them in their nursery where you can drop off your kids. Well, Len and Eric et al came up with that idea and designed the first one (apparently finding balls the right size was a real challenge). Now they are everywhere. He literally helped revolutionize playground construction. And he told a funny anecdote: they designed the playground to be sturdy enough for children AND adults to play together on it. But the parents were so out of shape, particularly when it opened in the 1970s before the fitness craze, that adults were always getting injured. So, they had to ban adults for their own good! Anyway, we’re very excited to be working with him and his ideas are fabulous – we can’t wait to show them to you.

We also had our first out-loud reading of the script in our living room. I’ve been hearing the script in my head – I suppose we all have – for the past year. So it was awesome to hear actors saying the words. It revealed some weaknesses – the dialogue in the final scene made me cringe – but overall I was quite pleased with how the whole thing flowed. Of course, there’s a lot of space between a script and a final film but a good script is an important foundation. We also had the whole thing filmed by Carlos Bolivar. He’s working as our videographer for the “extra-diegetic” material (the behind the scenes stuff) that we will use in our promo material. He did an awesome job and has a great energy. I’m looking forward to working with him some more.

It’s not like there are NO challenges. Don’t get me wrong, there’s enough to give me stomach flips and anxiety. We have still to get approval from ACTRA (the actors’ union) to work with their actors through the TIP program. This is turning out to be more of a challenge than I expected. That’s not entirely bad – it has forced us to be more professional and serious. We had a meeting this morning and were given some “homework” – nothing very serious: we need more detail on our plans for post-production and to demonstrate we have money in our budget to deal with overtime that might arise. But we have to have another meeting with the program coordinator next week. This could go on and it’s holding up casting!!

And speaking of transparent and streamlined, what’s up with Nikon?!? The D800 has turned out to be wildly popular – not surprisingly. It’s a full frame camera with 36 megapixels and video capability that puts it within spitting distance – if not equal to – the Canon 5D, which has dominated the HDSLR video space since the Mark II came out. The reviews for the D800 are saying that it has the resolution of many medium format cameras that cost upwards of $15,000. No wonder they have been flying off the shelves. It probably didn’t help that a battery problem forced Nikon to recall some cameras. But the back order delays are sometimes months long. In Britain sent out order cancellations to everyone who bought a D800 through their site because Nikon couldn’t guarantee delivery within 90 days (I’ve heard that they’ve reinstated the sales after an outcry but who knows when the camera will arrive). We’ve gotten on some waiting lists (Henry’s has 500 people on their list and only receiving a few cameras a week!) but this could force us to reconsider shooting on the D800. We have access to a pair of D7000s, which also shoot 1080HD but just don’t have the quality of the D800 and which are partial frame sensors at 16.2 megapixels, less than half the D800, and which doesn’t output raw to HDMI (which means having more image information to work from in post-production). Shooting partial frame sensors also complicates things for the DP, figuring out the conversion for lenses from a full frame sensor. Yipes.

But, we will survive this and I feel confident that we’ll get ACTRA’s approval in the end and a camera package that we can work with. Even if it’s the D7000, it will still look better than most indie films shot in the 90s and for most of the first decade of the 2000s. And if it ends up online (let’s be honest: there’s no major theatrical release in our future), it will be more than enough resolution. We just need to stay calm and continue doing what we’re doing.


Filed under About BNY, Gear, Micro budget, Pre-production, Production Diary, Science Fiction, Set design, Uncategorized

Meet Our Mad Scientist Laboratory!


We’re very excited that we’ve recruited designer Len Rydahl to design and build the lab where it will all happen – all the cloning that is. He has a wide range of design experience, from film set to industrial to amusement park design, he’s done it all. He even co-wrote an article on designing a lake filtration system for Ontario Place in the collection GreenTOpia with the original designer of the Children’s Village at Ontario Place, Eric McMillan (I LOVED the kid’s village when I was a kid and we went on school trips to O.P.). He recently sent us his conception of the DIY biology lab that will be set up in Murray’s house. Ain’t it awesome?


Filed under About BNY, Micro budget, Set design