Monthly Archives: June 2020

The Tenth Plan/Twice Upon a TARDIS

On the 30th May, Emily Cook announced the final Twitter watchalong would be World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls on 6th June. That gave us 7 days to film our own #TARDISshorts finale.

We knew after the last two-parter that we wanted a cliffhanger and that the ending would involve a Timelord taking the TARDIS away from us for the events of Mew Earth … but being a sentimental old fool I didn’t want to end on a sad note, so I decided to sneak in the hint of adventures yet to come.

We worked out pretty quickly we needed to have some Cybermen and that the basic structure would go:

EPISODE ONE

On the run from the Timelords

Hide in a black hole

Something, something cybermen!

Daughter is about to be converted, dad is locked in TARDIS da da dah …

EPISODE TWO

Dad bursts out of TARDIS and rescues daughter

Escape in TARDIS

Get caught by TImelords

TARDIS gets confiscated

Dumped on beach, meet future daughter, receive TARDIS crystal

Which, as you can see, means we had absolutely no idea what the actual cyberman story would be.

But never mind, that’s just details. We can ignore them.

More pressingly we needed a Cyberman, a Timelord and a grown-up daughter.

For the Timelord I contacted a guy (Russell) I know from the (currently defunct) TARDISbuilders.com forum. He lives in Worthing and I’ve never met him, but I’ve seen his TARDIS is in Brighton, we have a vague connection through Kung-Fu and more importantly he has a homemade Timelord costume.

Largely papier-mache but it looks great.

I messaged him and luckily he agreed so we were one third of the way towards our guest cast.

For the grown up daughter we could have used my wife/her mum but she has completely different coloured hair and doesn’t really like being on screen that much, so instead we asked our friend, Robyn, to help out.

Luckily she agreed too.

Which actually presented a new problem – they both needed lines to learn.

I may have explained before, but I’ll do it again anyway – there are no scripts for the TARDISshorts. We just get a vague idea in our heads and then start filming, making it up as we go along. Obviously that doesn’t work when other people are involved. Especially since Russell was going to film his part and send me the video.

So I bashed out a few pages and sent them to the relevant people. Despite being a scriptwriter, this felt very weird. I don’t like writing out of order and I know the first few pages of any script will be trash. I always junk the first ten pages or so when I get to the end of a script because by then I actually know what they need to convey and set up. Writing them cold knowing they’ll be fixed forever is awkward … but there was no other choice.

As it turned out, Russell couldn’t send me the video (technical reasons, no idea why) so he suggested doing it live over Google Hangouts and me recording it my end.

I don’t use Hangouts but I assumed it would be easy to figure it out so I agreed … but then couldn’t work out how to record the chat. In the end I just pointed my phone at the computer screen and recorded him that way. Between the awful lag of my laptop and the atrocious speed of our internet that day … yeah, well … luckily he was on a viewscreen darting in and out of the time vortex or something so the poor quality didn’t really matter.

On Tuesday the 2nd it looked like the beautiful weather was going to be a bit grim for the rest of the week, so Robyn popped down to the beach after work and we shot her scenes first in a suitably socially distant manner.

Hopefully the hair colour, the glasses and the outfits help sell the idea they’re the same person.

Frustratingly none of the audio came out so we had to rerecord it later and it still sounded awful. I tried to hide the weird unbeachlike echoes but ended up burying the dialogue in the mix. The version above is a remixed version, but it’s still barely audible.

I’d also written far too much dialogue for our 140 second running time so it got chopped down a lot. Part of what’s missing is her lamenting my death and telling her younger self to enjoy the time we have left … so, you know, no bad thing having to drop it.

Robyn had already starred in a TARDISshorts episode, by the way:

As herself, named quietly at the end using her real surname. So if you want to get all headcannon-y about it, I guess my daughter grows up to marry one of my best mates sometimes before she’s actually born.

Personally, I try not to think about that.

With the bookends done I just had to get myself a Cyberman.

I toyed briefly with 3D printing a Cyberman head, but the lockdown has left plastic-embarrassed and I just don’t have enough PLA to print anything that size. Besides, a week to print, sand, fill and paint a full head mask is a bit tight. Besides World Enough and Time is about the original (ish) Mondasian Cybermen so why not make that one?

It’s a damn sight easier for a start.

So I delved into the shed of wonders and came up with a pile of plumbing parts and some silver sticky-back plastic.

Chuck a bit of cardboard into the mix and some regular inkjet-printed stickers and I got this:

Add to that a £5 protective suit, some more pipes, a plastic cup, some gaffer tape, silver tape, half a pair of white leggings and a couple of those cap things you fill with washing up liquid and put in the washing machine and we arrived here:

£5, incidentally, is the entire production budget for this “series” of films.

I love the result. It’s shonky and wobbly and clearly made of gaffer tape, but it fits our homemade, zero-budget aesthetic beautifully.

I finished the cyberman at 10.20 on Wednesday evening. At 11.00 I read this on Twitter:

If you’re reading this in the future and don’t know what happened, look up George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and you’ll understand.

World Enough and Time has a black person shot in the chest and killed. When she’s reanimated as a cyberperson she’s not allowed to express her emotions about the event and has to suppress them.

Cancelling the tweetalong was the right thing to do.

Which left me with a bit of a dilemma. Obviously we couldn’t just carry on with our planned homage of an episode which was cancelled for being insensitive.

I thought about cancelling our finale too, but in the end decided to pivot away from World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls and towards The Tenth Planet/Twice Upon a Time.

If you’re not fluent in Doctor Who that’s the final episode of the first Doctor, William Hartnell and the final episode of the Twelfth, Peter Capaldi. The Tenth Planet is the debut of the Cybermen and takes place in Antartica in 1986, Twice Upon a Time (although filmed over 50 years later) slots into the final five minutes of that 1966 episode.

Because we hadn’t filmed  (or even thought of) anything to do with the Cybermen yet it was really easy to change the black hole location to the South Pole.

And they even rhyme.

On Thursday the 4th June we filmed the TARDIS interior shots for the last time … and messed them up.

In order to get the lights on the console bright and the roundels lit up nicely I kept the room lights off. This caused two problems:

  1. It was too dark and the phone camera had to work hard to compensate, the resulting footage being very grainy.
  2. The light outside was so bright it washed out the green towel over the window making it very, very difficult to chroma key Russell in later.

So … yeah … those scenes look awful.

For the shots of people stepping out of the TARDIS we threw up the green towels across the right hand post:

Layered those shots on top of the now familiar model shot:

And then replaced the green towel background with a static shot of the Antarctic. Or maybe the Arctic? Who knows?

That all done it was time for my favourite moment from any of the TARDISshorts. Like I say, originally I had no idea why I was left in the TARDIS while my daughter was taken for cyber-conversion nor how I was going to escape and rescue her.

She would normally rescue me, because I play the idiot in most of these episodes … but if I was the Cyberman and the one being converted … well that’s tricky to pull off.

Initially I thought they might  have left me behind because I was too old or too ginger or something … but ultimately settled for what you see, me staying inside. There wasn’t enough time for an outdoor adventure anyway.

My first thought was I’d strap on my DL-44 (Han Solo’s blaster) holster and fight my way out gunslinger style …

… but then I thought about this being the last TARDISshorts episode and all the toys I never got to play with, the lightsabers, the proton pack, the myriad of Kung Fu weapons … oh and then there’s this guy:

Built for a friend’s kid’s birthday party five years ago, Iron Man has stood proudly in my office ever since, decaying slowly since he’s just cardboard. I have 3D printed myself a new suit … but it’s not assembled or painted so the old cardboard version stands guard.

I spent most of Tuesday reinforcing his groinal injury with cardboard and hotglue, changing batteries, polishing off the dust and generally bringing him back to wearable condition.

I love the juxtaposition of Iron Man and Cybermen – both are cybernetically enhanced, but Iron Man is a removable option whereas cyber-conversion is permanent. This to me sets off the episode’s theme of running around in a TARDIS being great fun … until you can no longer go home. Temporary is brilliant, permanent  … not so much.

So we filmed Iron Man bursting out of the TARDIS and then went outside to our improvised green screen studio:

 

A tarpaulin slung over the washing line.

Although, due to the green being very dark and my daughter’s only winter coat being a dark blue it seemed better to flip it over and use the blue side:

Hence the neighbours looking down on this scene:

And then, after a quick costume change and a bit of TARDIS guarding cyber-action:

… we subjected them to a bit of this sort of thing:

These two shots show the limitations of our chroma key technology. In the first one, upstairs against a green towel, The Cyberman’s headpiece is just level with the top of the towel. This means a half step forward puts the headpiece above the line and it gets cropped out of the shot.

If I were doing this on anything more sophisticated than a phone I could probably draw around that bit … but I’m not, so I can’t.

Outside, against the blue screen we have a similar height problem. You can see my left hand goes above the level of the washing line and would have disappeared if I hadn’t had the bright idea of using chroma key to replace the green leaves with a close up of the same blue tarp.

This only barely works.

The angle of the washing line on a single central prop isn’t much fun to crop around either. It seemed like a good idea when I was in bare feet and just a t-shirt, but in boots with a cup on my head I was perilously close to the top at all times.

Because we still didn’t know what was going to happen between Iron Man blasting a few Cybermen and my daughter escaping her conversion, we shot loads of this sort of thing:

With the opposite reactions from the Cybermen thinking it might cut together into some sort of running Iron Man/sonic screwdriver/Cybermen battle as we fought our way back towards the TARDIS.

Ultimately, with only 140 seconds to get out of the TARDIS, rescue my daughter, get caught by the Timelords, get abandoned on a beach and meet her future self … well, there wasn’t time.

Besides, one of the many, many downsides of being a two-person team (with the occasional wardrobe help from my wife) is there’s no one behind the camera while I’m wrapped in cardboard or tin foil. There’s no one to spot when we wave our arms outside the green (or blue) screen or when your daughter undoes her dark blue coat to reveal shorts the same colour as the backdrop or when Iron Man’s abs rotate 90 degrees to the left … so most of the footage was unusable.

Despite the last minute change of story and the technical issues of filming yourself fighting yourself in two different costumes, I’m so proud of our final TARDISshorts episodes.

If I achieve nothing else in my life beyond Iron Man emerging from a TARDIS to shoot Cybermen then I’ll die happy.

Except, of course, this isn’t going to be our swansong.

It was going to be, but … hey, we’ve got nothing else to do so …

If you want to find out more, subscribe to our spanky new TARDISshorts Youtube channel.

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Mew Earth (Part Two)

Continuing on from part one

So we’d filmed all the car scenes, all the interior of our house and the TARDIS scenes … we just didn’t know how to put them all together.

I knew we were going to end with the Timelords shouting at us from inside a Superman the Movie-style cloud about interfering with human history because, after exhausting other options, we’d gone back in time and stopped the zombie outbreak from ever happening.

But what were the other options?

More pressingly, how do you place green screen zombies outside a car window when we’re moving in front of the window, the camera is handheld and your effects app doesn’t allow for tracking?

I still don’t know the answer to that one.

First thing the next day (about lunchtime which is as close to first thing as I like to get) we reshot those car scenes with green towels over the windows.

My solution was this:

Film my daughter in the car with a green towel covering the window:

She gets out, removes the towel and walks away while the camera’s still running.

So we now have a shot of the real view from the window. I found some free-to-use zombies on YouTube:

… and then layered them all together like this:

As you can see there are two layers of the front zombie to make it look like she’s behind the pillar. One is cropped horizontally, the other vertically. There’s probably an easier way of doing this … but I don’t know what it is.

Oh … I could add an image of the house cropped to just the pillar I suppose? Not sure if that’s easier or not?

So that’s all well and good for my daughter because she doesn’t weigh anything. However, as I discovered later, I do weigh a fair bit and when I get out of the car the car rises on its suspension. Since the camera is on our improvised tripod outside the car, that means the angle of the shot changes and the window mask doesn’t quite line up.

Bugger.

Still, never mind. Hopefully people are looking at the zombies and not the weird camera angle differences.

A happy accident here was discovering the green hedge across the road, the one visible through the rear window, acted as a green screen and allowed me to insert a zombie.

Although I’d love to know what this passerby (seen through the rear window) thought was happening:

This was Friday the 29th of May, by the way. A scorchingly hot day with sunshine so bright it in no way matches up to what we shot at about 5 in the evening the night before.

Shh! Look at the zombies! The zombies, people!

After assembling some of the zombie footage I began to think it was a bit scary for what we were doing. I have no idea how young some of our audience is so I decided to add the kittens meowing to lighten it up a bit.

I even added one to a passerby in part one because it amused me immensely and that’s largely the point of these things, to amuse myself.

So we had zombies! Hooray!

We needed a quick reshoot of my dialogue in the dining room in part one to fill a few gaps and episode one was pretty much done.

Episode two was still a problem though. I still didn’t know what we’d be doing between getting into the TARDIS and deciding to break the laws of time. Or the rules of time. Laws, rules, one of them.

What would you do? What did we need to do? We’re searching the present for answers, but can’t go into the future or the past. Who would you go to? Could I drop us into footage of The Nutty Professor and go ask Jerry Lewis? It felt like we had to go and ask someone … and then I remembered this footage:

It still bums me out that no one will ever see that. I liked the project, I liked the footage and I really liked writing for Sylvester McCoy.

So I decided we should go and see the Seventh Doctor during his ‘hiding in a shed and talking shit’ phase. It wasn’t really covered in the show but I’m sure Big Finish will do a series on it one day.

I dragged my daughter out to our shed to shoot our responses and hoped he wouldn’t be too cross if he found out we were using the footage. Surprisingly, out of the 5000-odd Doctor Who fans who saw the video on Twitter, less than zero of them commented on the fact he was even there.

We had two more shots we need to do before filming was done. One was getting my long suffering wife to stand in the shadows of the bedroom and pretend to be a zombie:

This was because there was no way to drop the zombie into the footage we’d shot the day before. Or rather, there was a way but it was rubbish and my daughter was never quite in the right place.

Not her fault, I hadn’t told her where the zombie would be or even figured out how I was going to put a zombie in there.

The second shot was to add me into the “Oi, Alien! Get off my planet!” scene because we’d just made a big thing of doing this together … only for me to hide in the TARDIS and let her get on with it.

I didn’t have a clear shot of the door we’re standing in front of either, so I had to build that out of snippets from the Mr Bean clip.

Given longer than 3 minutes to do that I would have flopped it all except the sign so it looked like it was actually in the same room. In my head it’s a different door across the room so it’s all good.

With that edited in, all we had to do was film a montage explaining that Sylvester was our last hope of curing the virus, therefore setting up how his inability to help drove us to angering the Timelords.

In order to stay below the Twitter limit of 140 seconds we had to do all that in exactly 6.5 seconds.

Once again I took to Google, this time searching for images of the TARDIS on different planets and then inserting less than a second of each of them.

The resulting montage made me feel sick, so I recut it trying to make the TARDIS appear in roughly the same spot each time. Hopefully your eyes will track it across the screen until it lands outside the Shed of Eternity.

I think we ended up achieving all the things we set out to do with these two episodes. If I had one takeaway from the experience I would say plan your chroma key shots out properly. You know, maybe actually have a plan before you start shooting.

If I had two takeaways, the other would be “don’t halve your shooting time whilst doubling your running time and assuming you can easily add in hundreds of zombies”.

Still, despite the stress this was a few firsts for us: our first car shots, our first cliffhanger, our first (unwitting) cameo from famous actors.

The end result is a bit of fun which was created entirely between the hours of 5pm on Thursday and 1pm (ish) on Saturday … so I guess at least I can’t complain about it being much of a waste of time.

With this done and the finale of the #DoctorWhoLockdown tweetalongs being announced we had a week to prepare ourselves for the #TARDISshorts swansong …

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Mew Earth (Part One)

I’m a little bit behind with this, our #TARDISshorts series being finished, but for the sake of completeness I thought I’d finish these posts in order.

On Tuesday the 26th May 2020 Emily Cook announced the next #DoctorWhoLockdown tweetalong would be a double bill of New Earth and Gridlock on Saturday the 30th.

This gave us four days to come up with the next #TARDISshorts episode, but for reasons I can’t quite remember we didn’t start filming until the 28th … and then decided to make it a two-parter.

This is what we came up with:

I loved the idea of doing a two-parter because cliffhangers are what made Doctor Who so terrifying as a child. Three out of every four Saturdays we went to bed thinking the Doctor was dead or dying. Not like you namby-pampy youngsters who get a happy ending nearly every week.

Life was tough back then.

And deeply, deeply upsetting.

So I knew we wanted a cliffhanger … but that’s about all. We made a list of things from the two episodes: viruses, cats, hospitals, the last human, cars, the beach where I proposed to my wife … and it seemed like a good opportunity to do a zombie story.

Now, I must confess I’m not great with zombie films. I think I like them but about halfway through I start hoping the heroes get killed because the whole world is so terrifying and hopeless that death seems like the best and inevitable option.

But these are Doctor Who themed shorts so they have to have hope and solutions. Plus I didn’t fancy shooting my daughter in the head in order to just get it over and done with.

We also found out that this would be the penultimate tweetalong, so it would probably also be the penultimate #TARDISshorts.

Probably.

So the second half had to hint at some kind of winding up of the series. Not that it’s really been a series or even had much of a story, but I guess I wanted to finish on something a bit more coherent.

And that’s what we ran with basically. Zombies, cars, ending the series.

The cliffhanger felt like a fun one so we built up to that and the final resolution came from something my dad said to me in the late seventies. We’d just found  out there would be a sequel to Superman the Movie and were speculating about its content. My dad thought it might be Superman getting into trouble for interfering with human history.

Not sure who was going to be cross with him since his entire race was dead but it sounded like a cool story.

So that went into the pot.

A vague idea about cars, zombies, a cliffhanger with us stuck in a car and Timelords being cross with us inside clouds was about as much information as we needed to start filming.

The first shots we did were the car shots … which meant I had to clean it first. There are a LOT of seagulls around our way and they hate cars with a moist white passion. By the time we’d done all our other jobs that day and washed the car it was about 5 in the evening so we were a wee bit behind schedule.

We did the inside shots first, some of which were easier than others. Shots of me driving are fine, my daughter just holds the phone.

Shots of us both in a moving car are easy because I have a vent-mount for my phone. Even if it does cut me off a little.

Shots of my daughter while I’m driving … not so easy.

We had to break out the trusty green towels for that one. I suppose I could have held the phone and driven with the other hand, but that’s both illegal and stupidly dangerous … so chroma key was the answer.

It was stupidly hot that day and we couldn’t put the air-conditioning on whilst the phone was on the vent mount because it would sound like we were in a hurricane, so for the stationary shots we just wound the windows down. After all, I thought, it would be easier to green screen the road without all those reflections.

Not sure that’s the right kind of thought to have at these times, but hey ho.

Dropping the travelling road in was a bigger problem. Initially I thought about getting my daughter to film the street while I was driving … but then how would I put the zombies in?

As I’ve mentioned before, these are all filmed and edited on my phone. The app I use, Kinemaster, doesn’t allow for tracking when layering on green screen effects. In other words, if I put the zombies into a moving shot, they would float along keeping pace with the car.

Pretty certain that’s not how real zombies behave.

I needed a stationary shot which I could then pan along. So that’s what I did … and then found out a single shot is in no way long enough to pan along. As soon as you zoom into one end it looks like I’m driving in people’s front gardens. Or scraping their houses with my wing mirrors.

That was a moment of despair late on Thursday evening as I was trying to cobble together the effects.

My solution the next day was to take a few panoramic shots:

That way I had plenty of time to pan along adding stationary zombies to the image. The mistake I made there was standing in one spot and turning to get the panorama. This resulted in the curved images you can see. What I should have done is start the panorama and then walk along the road in a straight line … but I’m not sure that would have given me enough distance from the superimposed car to the houses. Not sure how I’d deal with parked cars on my side of the street either, without shooting above them and making it look like my car was six feet off the ground.

The stationary shots of us being attacked by zombies were easier. We just filmed from the vent-mount and then from each side …

That’s me trying to be upset about zombies without upsetting the neighbours.

That’s her “Thor holding open the aperture in Infinity Wars” face, apparently.

I was horribly aware doing these shots that we had the windows open (to prevent death by boiling) and were in a quiet residential street. Hence my whispering my “Argh there are zombies!” screams.

A few years ago my brother moved to America, so I made him a Blake’s 7 teleport bracelet as a reminder to keep in touch.

I also took the opportunity to make one for myself and a spare for a friend I thought might want one. Which he did.

This seemed like a geeky way to teleport from the car to the TARDIS in part two.

Moving to the exterior of the car we set up a tripod … well, not a tripod, a selfie stick duct taped to an old speaker stand … on the pavement and then ran around trying not to look too weird to the neighbours.

The nose shot of us pulling up outside our house was done the same way. A friend expressed surprise that we’d just leave my phone sitting on the pavement while we drove off … but it’s a nice area. Or a crappy phone. One of the two.

Everything inside the house was simple, just point and shoot. The only time the towels came out were for the TARDIS interior so we could see an elevated view of Eastbourne out of the window.

At this point I still didn’t know what that view would be, just something high up. To be fair, I still didn’t know how we were going to do the zombies at all, but I assumed I’d just figure that out later.

Never approach filming like that. It’s silly.

For the shots of us looking out of the TARDIS we just filmed it in portrait …

… and then combined it with the same green towel model shot we’ve used throughout these shorts.

We can only film my office door from that one specific angle and although the model angle isn’t quite right, it’s close enough to not make it worth reshooting.

In Gridlock the situation is solved by visiting the government building and discovering the truth. Initially I’d toyed with doing something similar. I thought we might go to the zombie-infested Houses of Parliament and find the outbreak was caused by an idiot chemist called Boris Johnson. We’d go back in time and stop him becoming a chemist, return to the present and find out he’d become the PM instead.

Or something. As you can tell, it wasn’t a thought I entertained for long.

I looked for footage of young Boris, but not very hard and couldn’t really find anything useful so I gave up that idea.

Besides, intimating that the PM was the cause of a deadly virus seemed unnecessarily upsetting in the present climate.

Having Mr Bean cause the accident came about because I was just looking for footage of idiots and chemistry I could borrow and this came up.

Making him an alien … well, he is isn’t he? Isn’t that the premise of the character? Imbecile alien investigates Earth?

By the end of shooting on the first day I still didn’t really know how to get from the emergency teleport scene to this green towel shot of my daughter throwing Mr Bean off the planet:

Nor did I know how to actually put the zombies into the footage. I thought I’d figure it out.

I was wrong.

In the house, fine. In the street, no problem … but outside the car window while we’re moving around in front of them and the camera is handheld?

Not a chance.

When I eventually went to at stupid o’clock the next morning I was in a bit of a panic … but I’ll deal with that in part two.

 

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