Ballycastle Film Festival

April 14, 2008

Ballycastle Film Festival 2008Andrew Harrison and I spent a very enjoyable weekend on the north coast of Ireland at Ballycastle Film Festival. On Saturday morning we hosted a 90-minute presentation on doing special effects with little or no money. Using a lot of audience participation, we demonstrated how to produce see-through ghosts, fake punches, meat cleavers in throats, etc.

Later in the day we held the premiere of our latest Ballycastle Film Club production, Do Not Disturb, which went down a treat with the audience. Various filmmakers arrived throughout the day, giving talks and showing movies. Later in the evening, most of the movies filmed by the club in 2007 were shown, in anticipation of a special award for the Best Film of the Year. Our movie from October, The Siren, won, to the delight of the cast members who showed up. Andrew and I were presented with a fantastic Oscar-style trophy, and all the kids who took part in the movie were presented with a framed certificate.

Here’s hoping Ballycastle Film Club goes from the strengh to strength in the future. It’s great that a little seaside town has this activity for young people.

Ballycastle Film Club presents Do Not Disturb

April 13, 2008

On 1 March Andrew Harrison and I headed up to the north coast to make our third film with Ballycastle Film Club. In preparation, my mind had drifted to a memorable short story that I read about ten years ago in the pages of small-press fiction zine RQC (short for Really Quite Cosmic). The story was “Student Seance” by James A. Tucker. I decided to write it as a script from the ground up, without re-reading the original. I wrestled a bit, as a Christian, with a subject matter; it’s difficult telling a fantasy story featuring an occult activity that you believe is genuinely dangerous, but I found a balance that I quite liked. Sadly, I’ve no way of notifying James that we’ve made a movie out of his story, or of even asking permission. But it’s a non-profit movie, and I hope he would be delighted by our choice rather than offended. Maybe he’ll discover the movie one of these days if he Googles his name.

At Ballycastle Film Club, I was delighted to see the return of some old faces, as well as some new ones. Do Not Disturb was premiered yesterday evening at Ballycastle Film Festival, and received a hearty round of applause. Hope you enjoy it, too.

School of the dead

November 16, 2007

There’s just no getting rid of those pesky zombies, is there? It seems no matter what I do, I keep gravitating back to those lovable piles of walking pus. Well, this particular batch of undead hails from Clounagh Junior High School. Regular visitors will know that each year I run a filmmaking club with pupils at the school. Two years ago we brought you the tale of an escaped panther prowling the corridors (Cat Trap). Last year it was a spooky ghost story (The Survivor). Now we turn our hand to the living dead. Imagine a television station that keeps right on broadcasting months after the end of the world, offering survival tips to anyone still left alive out there. The working title is Channel Z. We just got things off the ground yesterday and we’ll be filming once a week for the remainder of the school year. You can expect the movie’s release in June 2008, as is our custom. Meanwhile, watch our other film club projects.

The Ballycastle sea monster arrives

November 6, 2007

On Friday evening Andrew Harrison and I travelled up to Ballycastle for the premiere of The Siren, a movie we made a few weeks earlier with the town’s filmmaking club. We had a brilliant turnout - over fifty bums on seats. The film went down a treat, generating a lot of (intended) laughter, and a hearty round of applause. It’s a wonderful feeling to see people get so much enjoyment out of something you’ve toiled over. Philip Henry, the man who wrote the novel on which our movie is based, also attended the event. I’ve corresponded with Phil online for several years, and it was great to finally meet him.

Aside from a few pre-production shots, the whole movie was shot in one day over a mere five or six hours. Amazingly, it’s about thirteen minutes long. I hope you enjoy The Siren as much as our little gathering did …

Chapter 1 of 2:

Chapter 2 of 2:

The Ballycastle sea monster - on camera

October 15, 2007

Andrew Harrison and I spent Saturday up at the north coast, where our friend Harry Hamill runs Ballycastle Film Club. Nine kids, aged ten to fifteen, showed up, and we filmed a short monster movie that I had scripted earlier in the year: The Siren, loosely inspired by Philip Henry’s novel Mind’s Eye. It was a hard day’s work getting everything done on time, but it was a whole lot of fun - especially watching Emma drag Alex into the freezing cold ocean on his back. Such enthusiasm! We also had a chance to use some excellent cameras, supplied by the Film Club.

The photograph (kindly supplied by the Ballymoney Times, who showed up to cover the event) shows Harry, myself and Andrew, with Alex, Emma, Lee and Alanna. If you look closely, you’ll notice the grotesque fingers from Don’t Look in the Attic. Those are actually the legs from a life-size model kit of a facehugger from Alien!

Andrew and I will be editing the film over the next two weeks. It will be premiered at a Halloween festival in Ballycastle on Friday 2 November. Right after that, we’ll be sharing it online, of course.

Welcome to The Dead Club

July 10, 2007

Last weekend, Midnight Pictures was invited to travel up north to the seaside town of Ballycastle, to do a one-day filmmaking workshop with the town’s already established Film Club run by our friend Harry Hamill (who stars in several of our own films). Only two people showed up to take part (maybe due to the rain), which meant we couldn’t film our intended story. Nevertheless, Andrew Harrison and I didn’t let that dampen our enthusiasm. A quick scout around an adjacent ruined building got us thinking along post-apocalypse lines. It really was a fantastic location (as you’ll see). And what post-apocalyptic scenario did we choose? Do you really need to ask? Well, for the first time since 1993, Midnight Pictures returns to where it all began … zombies!

I’m quite proud of how this movie turned out. We managed to record a complete six-minute movie in the space of five hours, complete with zombie make-up and blood (courtesy of some art paint we found on the premises). I spent yesterday and today editing the movie, and it was a real joy seeing it come together. I was especially pleased with the climactic fight scene, which felt genuinely tense to watch.

Hope you enjoy The Dead Club

Movie download: The Survivor

June 28, 2007

Here’s a little 15-minute horror movie for you. I’ve been making this since last October, at the sluggish pace of one afternoon per week, with some of the pupils at Clounagh Junior High (members of the school’s filmmaking club). Long time blog readers will know that one of these movies comes around each year about this time. Last year we released Cat Trap, the tale of a panther that wanders into the school ten minutes before class-change (still available for download at This year we’ve made a ghost story, one that’s a bit tricky to get your head around. But that’s something I like about it. The film went down a treat this afternoon, when we held a premiere in the school assembly hall for Year 8 pupils. I hope you enjoy it, too …

[Readers of Ulterior might like to know that one of the movie's scenes features the infernal elevator that played such a big part in the novel.]

Chapter 1 of 2:

Chapter 2 of 2:

Turn your actors into ghosts

October 14, 2006

You know the special effect I’m talking about: somebody walks across the room, and you can see right through them. It’s an easier effect to produce than you might realise. All you need is a tripod and some video editing software that allows you to layer two video tracks on top of each other whilst controlling the opacity level of each (i.e. how much you can see through the image). If that’s a bit of a mouthful for you, let me explain.

First, set the tripod up nice and steady. Tighten all the adjusters so that it won’t move during, or after, recording (this is very important). Now, have your actor walk across the room in front of the camera. When you’ve finished the shot, film exactly the same shot without the actor.

For editing, I use a great little budget video editor called Serif Movie Plus. After you’ve captured the two shots into your computer, position them each on separate tracks so that they will both play at the same time. Of course, no magic will happen yet; the computer can only play one video at once … until you adjust the opacity level of the shot with the actor so that the shot becomes partially see-through. What do you think will happen to all the bits and pieces of scenery in your shot? Absolutely nothing, becuase the shot behind this shot contains exactly the same scenery. But what will happen to the actor? You will see the scenery through him.

You can also experiment with cross-fading the two shots together, which will produce an effect just like the TARDIS taking off or landing.

Two other things are important for an effect like this to work. (1) The camera is not allowed to move, so you’ll have to live with a static shot; no pans or zooms. (2) Nothing (except the actor) is allowed to move. You may have trouble filming outdoors if there are plants and bushes blowing in the wind, or moving traffic. In the little video I’m about to show you, notice how carefully the ghost gets up from her seat.

Here it is, a little test movie made by the school filmmaking club …

[ Play Movie ]

Beating up school kids

September 15, 2006

For the fourth year running, the Junior Filmmakers Club kicked off this afternoon with a new bunch of kids. I think this is the only after-school activity that’s running on a Friday. A dangerous move, maybe, with the weekend looming. But then, I’m not looking for a high turn-out, just a dedicated turn-out. About eight pupils showed up, which is a good number. We spent the afternoon testing out various camera tricks, including how to fake a slap across the face and other forms of attack. See below; I’ve made a little video for you …

If you haven’t watched last year’s production, Cat Trap, don’t forget that it’s currently available for download over on the sidebar.

[ Play Movie ]

"There’s a panther in the school!"

June 27, 2006

Once in a blue moon, on the news, you’ll hear a story about a “big cat” (such as a tiger or panther) being spotted on the loose in the countryside somewhere. So how does an animal like that make its way into our country? Often it was illegally imported as a young cub by a foolish family who wanted an exotic pet. Unfortunately such people don’t have the foresight to consider how they’ll cope when the cute little furball grows up into a fierce predator. So, to avoid the authorities, they let it loose into the wild. But what if the beast wanders out of the countryside and into your town? What if it wanders into your school?

Over the course of 2005/06, the Clounagh Junior High School’s Year 9 Filmmaking Club met each Wednesday afternoon to produce a movie about the scenario described above. The film’s running time ended up being 18-minutes - twice as long as any previous school film.

This morning, the film received a hearty round of applause from all of Year 8, who watched it during assembly. Congratulations to the members of the Filmmaking Club 2005/06: Adam Gordon, Andrew White, Sam Cheung, Andrew Taylor, Eddie Quin, and Arran Stanley, James Knight and Adam Chambers.

I now present Cat Trap online for your enjoyment …

Chapter 1 of 2:

Chapter 2 of 2:

Coming soon: Cat Trap the movie

June 16, 2006

If you’re wondering why I’ve been quiet for the past ten days, it’s because I’ve been investing all my energy in editing Cat Trap, the movie I’ve been making with the Clounagh school pupils over the past year. After 50 hours or thereabouts of editing (I care way too much about every little detail), it’s complete. The film runs for 18 minutes - that’s twice as long as any other school film - and for the first time we’ve got a real, solid narrative going on. The movie will have its premiere on a big screen in the school assembly hall next week, and immediately after that I’ll be putting it online for you folks. It ain’t Midnight Pictures, but I think you’re going to get a real kick out of this. Stay tuned.

Two new movies for download

July 15, 2005

The two movies created by this year’s Film Club at Clounagh Junior High are finished and uploaded to the web. Head on over to the Film Club page and download them. You’ll get a laugh at me playing the part of a psychotic tramp!

Work on Snowball in Hell continues, with another thousand words flying out of my fingers last night. I’m going to try and stick to the old rule that got me successfully through the writing of Ulterior: write something every day, whether it’s one hundred words or several thousand.

Three films coming very soon

July 11, 2005

The premiere of Don’t Look in the Attic went ahead on Friday 1st July. A family emergency meant I couldn’t be there, but Andrew assures me the film went down a treat. Hard to believe we’ve done this premiere lark four times now. Rest assured, a DVD is in the works. Other film news: the lads at Clounagh Junior High School finished two films in June, and right now I’m busy encoding them for the web. You’ll be able to download them shortly. One of them has the very safe title Exam Stress, but don’t let that fool you; it’s even wackier than last year’s film. And in their second effort, the boys got stuck into the good old horror genre for The Curse of Clounagh. A special word of thanks to this year’s Film Club members, whose enthusiasm made it a great year.

Filmmaking update

May 4, 2005

Editing on Don’t Look in the Attic is now complete. It’s down to me to get the music composed and to sort something out for the title sequence. After that we’re pretty much done. It has turned out to be around 30 minutes; ten longer than expected - which is good, because I didn’t like the idea of organising a premiere for a mere 20 minute feature. This year’s Film Club at Clounagh Junior High is also going strong. The original band of about 20 pupils has narrowed to five or six regulars. It’s a pity, but it’s really more manageable. Also, one of the pupils in particular has heaps of enthusiasm and has taken it upon himself to direct. This is a breath of fresh air for me, because it means I can let them get on with it instead of having to drive the thing forward myself all the time. The movie will be available for download close to the end of term (June). This summer, the plan is to put filmmaking out of my head for a year and knuckle down to writing my second novel. I say this with some hesitation, because I’ve had a few false starts, but we’ll see.

The bombscare movie: Filming underway

January 30, 2004

Film Club at Clounagh Junior High has been running for a couple of months now, and yesterday afternoon we finally picked up the camera to began shooting our little “bombscare” movie. I think it’ll end up being only three or four minutes long, but it’ll have a spectacular finale. Yes, this is not a phantom bombscare. The device will get to do its thing. We got half the shots in the can yesterday, but we’re by no means close to being finished. I’m estimating five weeks to get all the shooting, editing and special effects done. And we’ve got some great bloopers to show you, too.