Serebrus Serum (GCSE film)

“Serebrus Serum” is a spy film that I made as part of my Film Studies GCSE. I was about 14 years old. It is supposed to be a short (less than 5 minutes) exert from a larger film. In this exert, Agent JJ is given an experimental serum that is supposed to allow him to read minds, but it goes wrong.

We start with a montage of the “Serebrus Serum” being made. We then see a scientist handing it over to the chief scientist “Dr Schneider”, interspersed slightly with shots of a red sports car zooming through the country side (to the strains of Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd) which we then learn is driven by the rather vain and cocky Agent JJ (look out for the number plate). When he arrives at the Serebrus Syndicate we see him walk down certain corridors, stopping to look at himself in the mirror (accompanied by You’re so vain by Carly Simon) then onto Dr Schneider’s office where he is injected with the “Serebrus Serum”.

However, the “Serebrus Serum” is not fully ready yet and when it is injected it goes wrong meaning that he goes mad as he hears all voices from all over the world. Then, a day or so later, we meet Agent Ashley, she is practicing her Martial Arts (filmed at my Martial Arts club) when she gets a phone call telling her to report to Serebrus Headquarters (to the words “open up your eyes” in the song Politik by Cold Play) and we see her walking the same corridors that Agent JJ walked and entering the same room – we are left wondering if the same fate will befall her as befell Agent JJ.

We allocated ourselves different roles for the Production and chose which of these roles we would be marked on. I chose Cinematography and Editing. As you can see from the credits at the end, Alice (teammate) and I were Cinematographers, and we each Directed the parts that we filmed ourselves. Then we all edited our own versions, to show off our own contributions best. I was the only one actually being marked on my editing. Alice and I split up the rough shot list we had created, and each developed a more detailed shot list for our own shots. We filmed over several days, in different parts of the building and at other locations, for example my Martial Arts Club, lots of different roads for the car scenes, and in a field for the going “into Agent JJs mind” scene.

I was responsible for Directing and Filming the following:

  1. All scenes involving the red sports car
  2. All Agent JJ scenes that take place before he enters Dr Schneider’s office (arriving at reception, walking down the corridors, looking in the mirror, arriving at Dr Schneider’s office, the eye scanner)
  3. Agent JJ entering Dr Schneider’s office, up to the shot before she asks Agent JJ to take a seat.
  4. I pick up again for the shot just after where Dr Schneider says (into the phone) “It worked”!
  5. I continue from here with Agent JJ going mad, then a match cut of Agent JJ falling…
  6. … matched to the Martial Arts Instructor hitting the ground, thrown by Agent Ashley.
  7. All shots of Agent Ashley at the Martial Arts Club.

Looking back with my current knowledge, gained on my College Course and by experience, I can see lots of things that I would do differently if I were filming it now, e.g. white balancing, using the slider track I now own for certain shoots, using the same quality of camera for all shots, getting all the focusing spot on, thinking carefully about which lenses are best for which shots. Also, we had a lot of problems with the sound, in part due to dodgy connections between the boom mics and our cameras and in part due to inexperience. Now I would record the sound in the same way as I did for my Neo Noir Interactive Crime film, for which Adam (on my course) was the sound engineer, when we recorded the sound separately to the camera audio on a different device to the camera, matching it up using the clapper board. In “Serebrus Serum” I did a lot of work to make the sound vaguely acceptable. I found work arounds and improved it a lot, but in the end I had to make the decision to live with it how I got it, since reshooting wasn’t an option and also the sound wasn’t actually my area so I wasn’t actually being marked on the sound. I was being marked on my editing of it, so as I say I did need to work on that, but I appreciate that cost/benefit type decisions have to be made all the time in the Film/TV Industry, so it was good practice. It does still grate though when I listen to it.

Another challenge was that my friend Cameron, who was playing the male assistant scientist who greets Agent JJ, decided to get his left ear pierced in the couple of days in between filming days. He said he realised as soon as he had had it done that it probably wasn’t the best idea, since I had asked him to keep his hair the same colour (it already had a green tint) and to keep the festival band on his wrist, for continuity. But I didn’t know he was thinking of getting his ear pierced. In a real production there would be all sorts of conditions, and the actors would know the rules. And Cameron was helping me out by acting. I overcame it by rejigging some of the shots, and on one unavoidable shot I got him to look to his left so you couldn’t see the tape over his ear lobe. It was good practice in coming up with solutions to unexpected challenges, and I think I overcame the issue successfully.

For some of the shots in the corridor, I had tried to make a homemade dolly to be able to film a smooth track backwards. I used 2 skateboards and fixed them together and fixed a tripod on top. However, the carpet wasn’t smooth enough to make this work, it was just bumpy. I now realise that I would have needed a track of some kind. I have been looking at the Distinction Example Website of Samuel Sellers that we were told about and I noticed that he made a homemade dolly using water piping as a track, which looks a good idea, I am thinking of experimenting with this for a future project.

Some parts I am particularly pleased with are:

The Car shots/edits  
I spent a long time (several days) getting all the car shots, starting filming at sunrise to reduce traffic on the roads, and I have a lot of footage that I didn’t use due to having to keep the whole piece under 5 minutes. There’s lots more shots that I would have liked to include, however I feel that this is the right amount of screen time for these shots. Much as I would have liked to include much more, I could see that overdoing the number of shots would make it drag on. This is what I felt was right, and when I showed audiences they agreed, which confirmed my thoughts. My tutor showed my edited car section to a friend in the Industry who said it was good enough to be in a professional film, which I was really pleased about.

Non-Diegetic to Diegetic Sound change in car
At about 0:41 I added an effect to the sound of the music to make it seem like it was at that point coming from in the car, just as Agent JJ turns the car off. I was pleased with this and got a lot of comments about it on my feedback.

Reflection of Building in Agent JJ’s sunglasses
I deliberately set up the reveal shot of Agent JJ’s face at about 0:56 so that the “Serebrus Syndicate” building is reflected in his sunglasses. I like this shot. I also positioned the car so that the shot at 0:59 showed the red car reflected in the building sign.

The Mirror shots/edits 
I wanted to make it look like it was switching between seeing Agent JJ fixing his hair in the mirror from outside the mirror and from inside the mirror. This was tricky, especially as I wanted to line his movements up. So, we practised a series of movements (taking sunglasses off, fixing hair, putting sunglasses back on) which I filmed several times from different angles, including Agent JJ looking into the camera as if it was the mirror. Conor, who was playing Agent JJ did get the hang of it very well, which helped a lot. In editing I also wanted to line movements up with beats of the song, for emphasis, for example Agent JJ taking off his sunglasses is on a beat, Agent JJ looking back up at the “mirror” (camera) is on a beat and so is putting his sunglasses back on again. Putting them back on was particularly challenging to edit since the action of putting his sunglasses back on (at 1:30) actually crosses 2 shots. This took a lot of careful shaving off of minute bits to get it flowing naturally and on the beat. I was pleased with this. I had also edited so that the line “You had one eye in the mirror as…” happens just as Agent JJ approaches the mirror. The song has already let us know about his character (which is expanded on elsewhere in my GCSE project) and the mirror scene “shows” rather than “tells” us this too.

Eye Scanner
The eye scanner was a device that I made with my Dad. It used a programable Raspberry Pi computer to create the LED light changes. I was pleased with the extreme closeup shots of Cameron’s eye approaching the scanner. I had to focus the lens on Cameron’s eye in closeup, then get him to move back a bit before filming him moving forwards again. It took a number of attempts, but I think it is really effective. It also ties in nicely with the edits of Agent Ashley’s eye approaching the scanner just before the end.

When Agent JJ goes mad montage
This was meant to be filmed in the same room as the injection but when we went back we found the room was in use and they had been assuming we could just use another room, which obviously we couldn’t due to continuity. So, I had to think of an alternate way to show Agent JJ going mad. I had the idea of us going “into his mind”. Initially I wanted a plain white room but that wasn’t possible. I had the idea of a wild field. I think that with the overlapping transitions, the added effect, and all the simultaneous and overlapping voices (friends saying random sentences in foreign languages/accents) it works well and is actually better than I could have done in the original room. I was really pleased with this section and got lots of positive feedback about it. This was a good opportunity to take an apparently negative situation (same room not available) and, by thinking outside the box, end up with an even better sequence than I think I would have done if the same room had been available.

Match cut of JJ falling with Martial Arts Instructor landing on a mat
I had this idea as soon as we thought of Agent Ashley doing Martial Arts training and really wanted to film both parts so of the match cut so I could match them well. I’m really pleased with how this worked.

There are lots of other bits I worked hard on and am pleased with too. I spent a long time trying to get the shots exactly as I wanted. Some still slipped through not quite as I would have wanted, but I was satisfied with most shots. I also spent a long time in editing on what may seem like small details, for example getting certain timings exactly as I wanted them, particularly when I felt it necessary when transitioning between different cuts to make an action feel natural. A downside of having lots of different takes is that in some cases it took a long time deciding exactly which was the best to use. I would rather have more than less though.

It was also challenging editing someone else’s footage, particularly the injection scene. I liked a lot of Alice’s shots. For example, the way she shot the injection meant I could edit it to look like a real injection, and some people have thought that it was either a fake needle (which it wasn’t) or that we really injected Agent JJ (WHICH WE DIDN’T!). However, there were others where I would have done it differently, for example when Cameron is putting the leather ties on Agent JJ, I would have included an over the shoulder shot to show Cameron’s face while he was speaking. Also, there was another bit where the visual shot of Agent JJ asking “So what are the risks?” didn’t tie in with where I needed him to be physically, so I used the audio of him asking over the visuals of Dr Schneider looking at the signed Waiver of Liability form. This was another good lesson in thinking outside the box. 

Huge credit to Conor (Agent JJ) who filmed the “going into his mind” scene in the field with a hurt and painful foot since it was the only day we could both be available, and even that day we had to start filming at 6 in the morning. He’s a star!

This was a very enjoyable and challenging project. There is a lot I am pleased with and other bits that I cringe as I watch because I’d do them so differently now. However, given my knowledge at the time, I am very pleased with this film, backed up by my mark of 95% for this film and an A grade overall for my GCSE.