Director: Michael Waldron
Producer: Matt Pitcairn
Sound Producer and Editor: Jon Ellison
Music Composer: Roshan Sharma
When I began development on Placebo, I was in the second half of my first year of my studies for HND Digital Film-Making. Part of our assignment was to form groups with one another and create a short film of six minutes, within three months. This assignment was a follow-up to my previous film, From Grass To Grace, which was produced for a very limited time (only two months and we had the Christmas vacation in-between). Like From Grass To Grace, I did experience what is called ‘Development hell’. But despite that, and compared to other films I worked on during that period, I would personally consider this film my best project.
James and Lisa were once a happily married couple, until one day, they experienced a fatal car crash, which killed Lisa. James feels heavily bereaved following the loss of his wife. Later, whilst working, he discovers a special drug advertised on the internet.
During my first year of my studies for HND Digital Film-Making, I had recently completed two narrative films, Door and From Grass To Grace. A week after completion of From Grass To Grace, we were provided another assignment which involved production for a narrative film. This film had to run for a maximum of six minutes. The first thing we had to do was to form a group.
Originally, we formed as a four piece production group. Matt came up with the idea for the synopsis. The original synopsis not only involved James interacting with his dead wife, but also involved James experiencing financial issues for he is spending his savings on ‘Placebo’ in order to spend more time with Lisa. For a few evenings, I wrote a rough script for the film. Michael wrote another draft which was the same story, but elements differed. For instance, we had not yet decided the character’s names. When I wrote my draft, the characters were originally called George and Sharon. Michael’s named them James and Lisa, the option we eventually chose. The film and title drug was also originally called Magik Memories, but we wanted a more subtle title, hence Placebo.
We held discussions with our tutor who felt that to include a large amount of plot points in our film, including the financial issues James faces, was too excessive for a six-minute short film. Therefore, as we wrote the final script, we decided to scrap the plot involving the finances and replace it with the sequence where James discovers the drug is outdated and, due to the limited amount of liquid he has left, is given very limited time for a last interaction with Lisa. In-between, we added another character, Amy, a friendly single work-colleague of James’ and thought about ending the film with James saying his final goodbye to Lisa as the placebo drug runs out and calling Amy to ask if she would like to hang out with him. The reason was because in reality, many people who have lost their partners/spouses to certain deaths, feel the need to put their pasts behind them and moved on with life.
The development process took longer than the production and post-production. One reason was because the team originally consisted of four people, but one member who was originally the Director Of Photography and Camera Operator dropped out, due to subject preferences. Another reason was because we had a difficult time casting.
Production and Post-Production
Keiran Rowan played the role of James and Alina Nae was cast as Lisa. We required one more cast member for the role of Amy. This was a very small role, so Matt offered local student Emma Saunders the part. She was only required for one scene where she knocks on the door and asks James how he’s feeling due to his absence from work, then offers her contact details.
As a result of the DOP’s drop-out, the camera-work was shared between Matt and Michael. We used a digital DSLR to film the shots. The camera also came with a port for the boom microphone.
Because I was the sound producer, my role was to hold the boom pole into position for each shot we filmed. I had to ensure the microphone was not present on-screen each time and listen for any sound errors, such as crackling noises, that occurred. In-between shooting, I recorded extra sounds, including ambience and a sound effect for a boiling kettle. In order to create a realistic sound, I filled my kettle with water and boiled it. During the process, I recorded the sound.
At one time, we shot the opening scene in the cemetery and it was raining at the time. This was a hazard for the recording equipment and because is a poor conductor to electricity, we didn’t want the items to get wet in case they ceased working. So I brought an umbrella to shelter the equipment. Both Michael and myself were using the camera and microphone at the time needed to ensure the umbrella was held at a particular angle, depending where the rain and wind were blowing. This was one of the hardest processes we came across.
Another part of my role was to negotiate with a music composer to write a score for the film. I was preferably seeking a score with an orchestral and synthesized sound written in a minor score, in order to create the sadness within the film. I came across Roshan Sharma who was studying an HND course in music and who I knew from a house-mate at the university. He volunteered to write the music, though because we were studying different courses at the time, it took some time for the whole score to be completed.
Due to the extension we had on the Pre-Production process, we were provided very limited time to complete the film’s production and to finish the edits. As a result, I edited the footage we shot in-between shooting sessions. Each time we shot certain amounts of footage, I would upload the footage onto my hard drive and edit it via Final Cut Pro.
Despite the ‘development hell’ and limited time to produce the film, I personally consider this the best film I worked on during my first year of my HND Digital Film-Making course. The reason is due to the fact it tells a more structured storyline compared to Door and From Grass To Grace. I felt the film provided an extremely emotional value to the synopsis. Placebo demonstrates how difficult it is for one to lose a close friend/relative and to cope with the loss. Added to that, death in a family may be a haunting part of one’s past, but it is important to move on with life.
Often, production for a particular media project which proves a favourite to reviewers, audiences and/or its artists can experience problems. For instance, I remember when Fleetwood Mac produced their blockbuster album Rumours. Apparently, recording sessions were full of arguments and fall-outs. This was the same with the production to Steven Spielberg’s ET The Extra Terrestrial when the director once yelled at Drew Barrymore for messing around. Throughout production to Placebo, we did come across debates and periods of stress, but I feel we got over the negative sides and that Placebo was worth
Three years after completion for the first edit, I re-edited my copy of Placebo. You may notice some differences between that and the original. The latest reissue is slightly longer and I thought about using a different colour format to depict the sadness within the film. The inspiration came from Schindler’s List, one of my personal favourite movies. I admired its colour format and, considering that the film was based on the Holocaust, how it contrasted with the bleak experience of seeing the Nazis torture the Jewish prisoners. Although Placebo is less bleak, I felt the black/white format would increase empathy for the main protagonist.