The poor man’s dolly

A dolly is a piece of equipment that allows you mount a camera on a set of tracks and push it along, creating super-smooth movement. Naturally, Midnight Pictures doesn’t have one, so we improvise. On the evening that we were filming the closing shot of Don’t Look in the Attic, Andrew brought a big blue trolley to the set. We tried putting the camera and tripod on it and pushing it along, but it was a disaster. The camera was sitting too high for the shot; the trolley’s wheels kept mis-steering; the resulting picture was none too steady.

But sometimes, if you just open your eyes and look for a simple solution, you find one. Smooth floor, not exactly slippy enough for movement, but with the camera set atop an upside-down bathroom mat – bingo! Of course, you’ll hear the mat dragging, so you have to forget about recording the sound, but that can sorted out later during editing. Check out the close of the movie to see this camera shot in motion. I think it worked pretty well.

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Saul’s Pupils II screenplay by Michael Quayle

I have the pleasure of sharing with you a screenplay for a sequel to our film Saul’s Pupils, written by Michael Quayle. It gave Andrew and I a real buzz to think that someone out there was impressed enough with our film to dedicate time and energy into the writing of a sequel. There are no plans for Midnight Pictures to make Saul’s Pupils II, but we’d like Michael’s story to get exposure in one form or another. So, you can download the screenplay (it’s an RTF document, which can be opened in any word processor). Readers, we’d love to hear what you think. Please post your comments to the blog.

"Meat cleaver in shoulder" effect

Ouch! Don’t you just hate it when somebody comes up to you and sticks a meat cleaver in your shoulder? What’s the world coming to?

Obviously this is one of Midnight Pictures’ special effects, courtesy of Andrew Harrison. I’ve decided to start blogging about the tips & tricks of filmmaking-on-the-cheap that Andrew and I have learned in our many years of experience as low-budget filmmakers.

We’ve borrowed this one from the master, Tom Savini. First, you need a suitable implement such as a cleaver or axe – something with a reasonably wide blade. Then you need someone who has the kind of equipment that can cut through the blade. You get them to cut an oval shape out of it. Then all you have to do is press the gap against a suitable part of your body, and with the help of a little stage blood, presto! For our effect, we also drilled a couple of small holes in the cleaver, one on each side of the gap, allowing us to tie on some elastic and feed it under my armpit to prevent the cleaver from falling off.

A more elaborate variation on this effect can be seen on Dawn of the Dead (1970s version), where one of the bikers slams the blade of his machete into a zombie’s forehead. Here’s how to make the motion convincing: start the shot with the blade already embedded in the forehead, then have the actor pull it away very quickly. The editor then plays the shot in reverse, and it looks as if the machete cuts right into the zombie’s head. The final touch is to quickly move on to another shot before you need to show the blood spurting.

Zombie Genocide fans will be confused about what the above photograph relates to, because “Doc” (i.e. me) is clearly a lot older than he was in that film. Well, a couple of years ago, Andrew and I recorded a trailer for an as-yet-unmade film entitled Shadow of the Dead. We’ve kept fairly quiet about this project. There are no firm plans to make it, but it’s the one Andrew and I keep talking about.

Zombie Genocide on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is one of the coolest resources in the web for information. It’s a constantly growing encyclopedia written by the general public. A short article on Zombie Genocide has suddenly appeared, also featuring the cover art from the film. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: despite being our oldest and tackiest film, Zombie Genocide continues to be our most appreciated. This is evidenced by the fact that you won’t find a Wikipedia article on any of our others films.

I sometimes find it interesting to type “Zombie Genocide” into Google and see what comes up. Here’s a list of some of the more interesting findings from a recent search:

Resurrecting an old Saul’s Pupils DVD sleeve

Saul’s Pupils was originally released as a two-disc DVD set, with a cover designed by Simon “Spartacus” Fleming. When Philip Topping (who runs Eclipse Creative) created a new edition of the DVD, he designed a new cover to match, which we’ve been using for the past couple of years.

I decided to shake the dust off Simon’s old cover and give people the choice of printing whichever design is their favourite. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done, because Simon’s sleeve features the words “TWO DISC SET” splashed across the front and a different list of extras on the back. All I had to work with was a JPEG source, which meant that the text was locked into the picture; I couldn’t edit it, move it, or remove it. However, I managed to fix these problems by spending a couple of hours with Photoshop’s “Clone Stamp” tool. This is an excellent feature for hiding cracks in old photos, or for removing unwanted lamp-posts from the front of buildings, or for transplanting someone’s head onto somebody else’s shoulders (depending on your mood).

Zombie Genocide on BitTorrent

Zombie Genocide continues to be Midnight Pictures’ most widely known and loved film, despite its lowly origins. I thought it was about time I made it available online (XviD format). Download the Zombie Genocide torrent file to get started (if you’re unfamiliar with BitTorrent, you can learn about it here). I will try to leave my computer connected 24/7 over the next week or so. Over that period, I would ask downloaders to give a little something back by leaving your seed active for a while. If users are willing do this, the downloads are quicker, and everyone benefits. This is a temporary arrangement, and I don’t know when I will be doing it again, so I advise you to grab the video now while you’ve got the chance.

Guardian movie competition results

Received the following news from The Guardian newspaper regarding the competition that Andrew entered Don’t Look in the Attic into:

“The results won’t be officially announced till the new year now, but i can tell you your film was voted into 7th place. This was out of a total entry of over 120 films, so many congratulations. The judging panel comprised three people from the Guardian (Guardian film editor Andrew Pulver, Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw, Guardian film website editor Xan Brooks) and three external (my Summer of Love director Pawel Pawlikowski, optimum releasing acquisitions director Danny Perkins, and City Screen Cinemas programming director Clare Binns). So thanks once again for sending us your film, and congratulations on your achievement.”

Article on Midnight Pictures in Film Ireland magazine

This month’s Film Ireland magazine has a two-page article on Midnight Pictures. Thanks to the writer, James Gracey, who was a production assistant on Don’t Look in the Attic. Great article, James. Other unexpected publicity came from the RTE television show The Blizzard of Odd, who featured the film on this week’s program. I missed it, but Andy has it taped, so I’ll have to see if I can get it onto the forthcoming DVD. I am constantly amazed by how much press coverage Midnight Pictures has received in 2005 – and most of it just fell in our lap, rather than us chasing it. I’ll have to get everything typed up and into the press section of the site soon.

Good-night, Midnight Pictures!

Andrew Harrison begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting and I have mutually agreed to bring Midnight Pictures to a close. The surprising thing is that it was Andrew who approached me about it, whereas it’s usually me whose enthusiasm often wanes to the point of quitting. Nevertheless, his wish to end it is welcome news to me. We’ve been making films on and off for fifteen years, and we’ve both reached a point where we feel it’s either time to go professional or get out. By going pro I mean seeking investors, getting a film crew, and taking time off work to be a real film-maker. Why don’t we just keep doing what we’re doing, though? Lack of reward. I have no regrets about all the time invested in film-making, especially the recent Don’t Look in the Attic, which I think is our best ever. But there is a huge investment of time and energy with every film we make, and since we’re doing this for no financial gain, there comes a point when you say enough. For Andrew, he wants to invest more time in his family, and for me, I want to spend the next few years concentrating on my novel writing.

I will continue to keep the Midnight Pictures website alive, but my intention is to integrate it with my personal homepage, which is how things were in the very beginning.

Whilst this is the end for Midnight Pictures, it will be possible to pick things up again in the future, should we so desire.