The Zygon Incursion

Continuing on from the last post about the TARDISshorts my daughter and I have been making (each themed around whatever episode Emily Cook is hosting on Twitter) I thought I’d document a little about how each short was made.

Just to be clear, this isn’t a ‘how to’ post because (as will become apparent, if it already isn’t) I have no idea what I’m doing.

The filmmakers among you will already know how to do all this stuff. Most of you will easily spot the mistakes I’ve made and know how to solve them. I don’t. I’m literally figuring this stuff out as I go along.

I guess that makes this blog post a catalogue of errors. Or stupidity.

So without further ado, here’s this week’s short themed around Peter Harness‘ The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion.


The idea

I’ll happily admit this one was made in a state of mild panic. We only found out on Wednesday night that these episodes would be rewatched on Sunday. Thursday I couldn’t do any filming (because reasons) which left me with Friday to shoot and Saturday to edit.

Editing takes me ages because, as with everything else, I have no idea what I’m doing.

A day to think, a day to shoot and a day to edit sounds fine though.

Although it wasn’t a day to shoot because we only had the afternoon (the morning given over to shooting a Crossfit video for my wife). Nor was it a day to edit because I can’t just do this at the expense of all other aspects of family life.

Also, I had no idea what to do for this episode. I have a few vague ideas for episodes I think might come up. Next week’s, for example, I’ve had a vague plan of what to do for a month or so now. I didn’t know when, or even if, The Fires of Pompeii would pop up, but it had crossed my mind.

Zygons hadn’t.

So that stumped me for a bit. Initially I thought my daughter might want to play the two zygon/human parts and that it would be some kind of cheeky secret twin type fool your parents romp.

That sent me down a weird cul-de-sac for most of Thursday. We had loads of ideas, but no story. Especially one which could be told in 140 seconds, the limit for Twitter.

Eventually we decided to flip it because in this series I’m the idiot and my daughter has all the smarts.

Pretty much like real life.

The idea came together pretty quickly after that. The Zygon is trying to steal the TARDIS, my daughter figures it out. I ruin her plan, she comes up with a new solution on the fly.


The shoot

Here’s where the wheels came off a bit.

I thought split screen would be easy: fix the camera, shoot one half, cross the centre line and shoot the other half.

Sounds easy.

Except apparently it’s not so simple. I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Then there’s the haphazard nature of our unscripted approach. There’s no script, we just have a vague idea of what the scenes will be, talk through what we might say and we start shooting. Occasionally I’ll stop the recording and ask for a specific line, but other than that it’s all improvised.

Which is great until you’re trying to say the same thing at the same time as the other you who isn’t actually standing there.

My solution was to record it on a second phone …

I did mention all this is shot and edited on one phone, didn’t I?

Well it is.

Anyway, I thought I’d record the scene audio on my daughter’s phone and play it back while I crossed the centre line and shot the other half of the conversation. Simple solution, one I managed to mess up … but I wouldn’t find that out until the edit.

The bigger problem was how to punch myself in the face.

We don’t really have a green screen. We have green towels, which work fine so long as we have a wall to pin them to. What we can’t do is have them freestanding across the upstairs landing.

Me running upstairs could be done splitscreen and I (wrongly) assumed I could punch myself in the face in the edit. Somehow. Eh, I could figure it out tomorrow.

The only green screen work we did was the reveal of the real me in the cupboard:

With this shot dropped in afterwards:

And we pinned the bathmat to the walls to simulate the hole teleported out of it.

All in all we shot for about an hour and a half and thought that was that.

Another thing I was wrong about.


The edit and reshoots

That night I managed to find a few hours to make a rough assembly and cobble together some of the not-so-special effects … and it became apparent a lot of what we’d shot wouldn’t work.

Leaving the camera shooting while I performed both halves of the shot didn’t work as well as I’d hoped for two reasons:

  1. The light (because we’re using natural light) seems to vary enormously in the course of 30 seconds. Possibly because I block out different amounts depending on where I’m standing?
  2. The phone refocuses as I move which (somehow) means the captured video is larger for one half of the scene than the other.

The second thing isn’t a huge problem, it just means I have to resize the image each time … which is tricky to get exact when pinching and zooming on a phone.

The first was a bigger problem. Practically what this means is the walls changed colour when the shot was split down the middle. Even the door frames change from bright white to dull orange depending on which half of the scene I’m shooting.

I worked round this as best I could by brightening or darkening half the screen and applying a colour filter. Not ideal, but I console myself with remembering no one expects Avengers-level effects.

The bigger problem was you could clearly hear the version of the scene we’d recorded as a dialogue guide. In other words you could hear three versions of me talking and two of my daughter. I could have rerecorded the dialogue, but matching that up would be too difficult on my phone, so I decided to reshoot it the next day.

Annoyingly the light was streaming through the bathroom window much more strongly on Saturday so matching the halves of the screen looked even worse.

But at least you could hear what we were saying.

The punch was a pain in the arse to get even vaguely right. I can’t draw custom masks to blot out sections of the screen, I certainly can’t draw round my arm and fist in every frame so I can hit myself properly. All I can do is apply a series of predetermined shapes,speed it up and hope it happens too fast for anyone to notice.

Spot the disappearing shadows here:

What made this harder is my daughter moved between the two sides of the same take. Not her fault, it didn’t occur to me either! But it meant I had to be careful where I put the join.

And again, hope no one noticed.

Then there was the problem of my arm disappearing up to the elbow. I got round that by shooting my forearm against a towel …

… and snipping bits of it out until I had a full arm. Which was a different colour (lighting again!) and needed adjusting until it was vaguely acceptable.

In individual frames you can see it’s completely misaligned, but hopefully it works okay in the film.

The next thing I wasn’t happy with was what you could see through the teleported wall. Initially I thought it would disappear the outside wall behind it too so you’d be able to see the house behind us, but it doesn’t look like a house, it looks like a pyramid.

Oh look, I cropped the shot so it was harder to see the join. Wish I’d thought of that the second time around.

It’s not clear there’s a hole in the wall either, it looks like the gun made a photo of a pyramid appear. The angle’s wrong too and when the zygon me gets shot the wall behind him doesn’t disappear, so why does the external bathroom wall?

I decided to redo the effect with a shot of the bathroom beyond and then reinforce the fact it was a hole by having me wiggle my fingers behind it.

Initially I just wiggled my hand on both sides of the bathroom wall, but the wiggle on the hall side (in front of the circular green bathmat) was much larger than it should be because, apparently, things get bigger the nearer they are to the camera.

I also decided to add the end scene of where the zygon had been teleported to to ensure it was clear my daughter hadn’t murdered him.

I added the Blake’s Seven teleport sound and then tried to work out on the fly how to film myself dropping out of the sky and into the lake.

Green towels to the rescue.

As with all these things, the devil is in the detail:

My wife stood on a stepladder on Saturday morning and patiently waited for me to get the shot lined up. This took a lot longer than the brief clip above.

The long shot of the zygon hitting the loch was harder to do, but in the end I decided no one could tell the difference between a distant me and a tiny Ron Weasley doll.

And there you go, that’s the behind the scenes idiocy.

This post turned out a lot longer than expected and I’ve no idea if it’s of any interest to anyone, but if it helps stop anyone else from making the same mistakes then I feel it’s been worth the effort.

Anyway, enough of this. On to the next one, The Fires of Pompeii … has anyone got a volcano I can borrow?

Categories: My Way, TARDISshorts, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Zygon Incursion

  1. Very nice! Your effects are WAY more special than anything I’ve dared try. I have a bunch of editing programs on the PC, but still turned over all my footage of Derek the Dalek to my Middle Kid, who’s starting Capilano University’s Film course in September (virus permitting). Here’s what we ended up with:

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