Short Films and Comic Conventions
The Pros and Cons of Filmmaking on Location
Comic Conventions, Cosplay, Short Films, CMV's and Cosplayers
So you are thinking of filming a short film idea you have at a comic convention, not a standard cosplay music video but something that showcases cosplay costumes based on a narrative screenplay you’ve crafted. Does Fresh Crew Studios have any recommendations or advice?
That's a loaded question, and one we will endeavour to explore based on our past experiences of filmmaking, in particular our experiences of filming short movie ideas at MCM London Comic Con.
If you are heading to a ReedPOP MCM Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con, RTX (event), Star Wars Celebration, Walker Stalker Con, London Film and Comic Convention or any other convention, festival or event such as CosXPo, we suggest you consider at length the points listed below. Your narrative short film idea may truly be awesome and one you believe will make an amazing short film or movie to showcase cosplayers and their costuming talents.
A few points to consider
- How long is the event or convention?
- What is the cost of entry?
- Are there any major stars attending that have photo opportunities?
- Have the cosplayers you want to work with spent weeks or even months creating awesome costumes (most will have done so)?
- This is a social event for many and not just about showcasing their cosplay
- How established are you?
- How long do you need for each shot or scene to be filmed?
- How long will you need cosplayers for filming?
- Do the cosplay cast have any lines to learn?
- What’s the tangible benefit to the cosplayer(s) or individuals involved in the production?
- Will you credit people or will you not be crediting people?
- Is the story focused around a specific set of cosplays?
- Will you need extras or supporting players?
- Is this project going to make you any money or is it for something else?
- Will you be paying anyone for their time?
- Does the convention have any rules and limitations on what you want to achieve?
- How big is the event location and are there strict rules on entry and re-entry?
- Do you need to ask permission from the police or any other governing body for the film idea?
- Who else will be on the crew filming with you?
- Are there any other events happening at the same location on the same day or days you plan to film?
- Don't forget consent forms under the new DPA/GDPR which came into effect on 25 May 2018
- Have you thought through your sound requirements at the location?
- Is there an airport near the venue?
- Do you need lights on stands?
- Any props that may cause concern need to be considered. You don’t want to end up spending time at a police station like Kyle, and your actors most certainly won’t
- Has your story got any aerial shots that need pre-approval?
- If this is a popular event and there are many visitors how will you maintain continuity or manage the crowd(s)?
- Last in this list, but far from least is the impact photographers aka ‘Togs’ and videographers will have on the project?
Let’s explore some of the above points in more detail
If the convention is a one day event we would advise trying to organise filming the day before or after, or frankly on another date altogether. Why? Let's start to explore why based on a few of the points above. First and perhaps one key factor is the cost of entry for an event plays a major role, and of course this includes travel, hotels, entertaining and merchandise purchases. Costs for a one day event can add up to a lot, and for longer events the cost of entry, food, hotels and other extras come to a substantial amount. Some Cosplayers fly in especially for comic con from all over the world and air travel just adds to the cost.
Are there going to be beloved characters and actors from TV shows like Plebs or from major films like Star Wars or Comic Book creators like Stan Lee - the list is by no means exhaustive - offering photo opportunities, talks or main stage appearances? If a cosplayer has paid good coin to travel and be part of a convention added several photo opportunities to the list of things they want to do, which are often pricey, you'll be up against time, time slots and a loss of focus as the time slot looms closer. This could be an issue later in the day and it factors more as we go through the list.
Now, if a cosplayer has spent weeks creating a costume or several costumes to present over the course of the convention where they plan to change costumes during the course of the event or even change from something in the morning to something different in the afternoon, the expression 'Houston, we have a problem' comes to mind.
On top of costume changes we have the social element. This isn't just about seeing friends, it's about seeing the creations friends have made and a limited amount of time for some whose friends live far away or even overseas to catch-up. You can start to see how time is precious and a limited commodity. Cosplayers have to balance the time having their creations captured and showcased, against spending time at the convention, rehearsing for the cosplay showcase or championships (if applicable) seeing friends, and all while potentially recovering from a fun night the night before, as well as the unforeseen drama of a costume issue that only comes to light when worn during a convention.
The last thing a cosplayer needs or wants is to spend time locked into a commitment that means they can't showcase these amazing designs to friends or get as much exposure as possible via other photographers or videographers.
Think about this one. A cosplayer spends not only time, but a lot of money and effort into making something, which they rightly want to showcase and gain as much exposure as possible. It's part of the fun to see what us creatives can and will do with what they have created and the characters they are portraying. The last thing on their mind is to spend time learning (if applicable) lines or acting for take, after take, that might only be a few seconds on screen, or worse still, end up cut from the project.
Take inspiration from Sneaky Zebra. They make stunning cosplay videos that capture and showcase the work cosplayers have put into their creations. They film their short film projects outside of these conventions over several days with a crew and a well planned approach. Their Cosplay Music Videos are very well planned too but the focus is 100% on the cosplay, costume and aesthetic of the music they have chosen to showcase the convention through.
Thus, in short, I would say no to your initial question. I would say no if you want to make something good that will meets exceed everyones expectations. I would also say no if you want a lot of engagement. Basically, 'NO' don’t film a narrative project at a convention or event, unless you have the full commitment of the people involved and you can pay for their time, and they fully appreciate the laborious process involved in any film making project, which you know all too well is not glamorous. Also, you need 100% confirmation the cast of cosplayers don't have any plans to engage with the convention in ways that will negate their commitment, which would result in a loss of their focus, a loss of valuable time you might need for re-takes, and ultimately a loss for you.
Let's take a case study from Fresh Crew Studios very own fun short film Guardians of the Cosplay. A short film come music video project designed to showcase cosplayers and cosplay costumes with a great soundtrack to emulate the Guardians of the Galaxy film. The premise was based around cosplay is not consent, around how some photographers are unscrupulous in the way they take images, and how the cosplay and Tog (an affectionate name for photographer) community works together for mutual gain.
That was the idea! However, the reality was far from what we had planned or wanted to achieve. Some of you may have spotted the Galaxy Chocolate bar in the opening scenes. This was an easter egg and subtle nod to the actual name of the original film our short film was based upon.
Never, Sometimes, Always?
Always Ask How?
Thankfully we filmed the chocolate bar scene, as it became part of the change in narrative needed when we lost most of our supporting cast. This scene, as with most of the key scenes, had been pre-visualised and shot off location prior to MCM Comic Con, which enabled us to make quick decisions and changes on the day.
We broke the 180º rule, as a result of the stress of trying to get footage filmed. In post productions we agreed we wanted to achieve two things. First, not let anyone down who had been involved in the project, and second, to make something worthy of showcasing.
In post production there was a lot of upset and debate about releasing the film. In the end we created something different than planned. Despite weeks of planning (yep, weeks) we decided to us an old technique of cutaways to explain time passing. This was the only way we could cover the huge loss of supporting characters and try to salvage a lot of time and effort by a great cast. Let's be clear here, no one intentionally let us down. The time and factors outlined above were just to much and a huge learning curve for everyone involved.
If your production has budget you can call cast and crew back to a set to re-take shots if needed. This is not ideal of course but it does mean that after watching rushes any mistakes or issues the Director is not happy with can be rectified. This works for studios with large budgets or productions where time has been allocated for this eventuality. However, gorilla style filming on location does not often facilitate this approach and comic conventions most certainly don't.
Cosplay is a hobby like many others, which takes time, dedication and love. It is not a reflection on anyone in the cosplay community when they rightly want to engage with a convention or an event that happens once or twice a year, and you are asking them to give up more than 80/90% of their time for something you may or may not release, for something they may, or may not be seen in.
The image by James Bissett Photography was taken on location for one of our short films involving cosplayers. It features Danny Sharples as Cos-Lord fro Guardians of the Cosplay. We had major issues on the day with timing, re-takes, and people passing through the shots. This resulted in some drastic changes to the original narrative and almost resulted in the project being scrapped.
You will also have many photographers and other videographers wanting to capture still and moving images when you are trying to film. This might be fine if it fits within your narrative but is 99% of the time a real pain in the derrière if not, as it mucks up well lit scenes and causes production and post production issues too.
On top of this Togs will be wanting to take pictures of the costumes on hand and some cosplayers may be enticed away ruining the continuity of your scenes. Photographers and music video creators will want the exposure that capturing an awesome costume brings them and the cosplayer may feel torn by the commitment to your project and the opportunity to showcase their work via another creator. There are many good photographers, but also sadly equally as many bad ones, who do not respect the etiquette of other creators or the privacy of the cosplayers.
One last thought, which should have been in the list above. We can recall an occasion where we agreed to meet a set of cosplayers at a pre-agreed time and location. We waited with Nick Acott from Sneaky Zebra and a group of other photographers and filmmakers for close to an hour after the time agreed. The end result was positive, and produced some amazing shots. Although it did ruin everyones schedule for the rest of the day. Imagine if we had a specific slot to film in a given location and only had an hour!
So in summary, consider long and hard what it is you truly hope to achieve. Consider what your talent is going to get in return and if they have the time and or skills you need for the project. Also, do consider changes in the venue that may have a major impact on everyones scheduling not just your plans, but theirs too. For example at ExCeLL London the closure of a DLR stop makes re-entry into the building for MCM Comic Con a long and time consuming task. If you planned on filming a sequence - assuming you still could - at the East Entrance you might suddenly find it has barriers preventing you accessing the area desired.
Filmmaking is fun, it is an engaging medium that takes time, and time is often far too limited at an event or convention to produce something of merit. A better approach would be to work smart like Oisin and the team at The 86th Floor. They make fun content like their Lady Bug videos outside of comic conventions in collaboration with cosplayers to produce some fun and well received content.
Ultimately, only you can truly make the decision. Only you can learn from the way you film and we hope the points covered in this blog post will give you some ideas to consider before filming on location, wherever that might be.
Whatever you decide, have fun, keep creating and do share your experiences for others to learn from.