In November 2015, we shot Lucky Chicken over 4 days in Frome, Somerset. Lucky Chicken is the story of a Butcher, Baker, Candlestick maker and a Magic Chicken.
Gulliver Moore directed with Nick Coupe producing the 12 minute silent comedy. It was written by Matthew Stallworthy. The project was commissioned by the now defunct creative body 'Ideas Tap', who ran a fund to commission six short films, one of which was Lucky Chicken.
Lucky Chicken (12m)
The Technical Stuff
As with most shorts, the budget on Lucky Chicken was pretty tight so we had to economise and choose a modest camera package; we shot on a Sony NEX-FS700 with an Atomos Shogun recorder in ProRes 422 and Carl Zeiss ZF.2 lenses.
Our lighting set-up comprised of:
3 x 150w Dedolight DLH4s
2 x Astra Bi-Colour LED Litepanels
1 x Kino-Flo 4ft 4 Bank
1 x China Lantern home made
Selection of bounce and flags.
Planning and Preproduction
Location and production design was very quickly established as a priority; Gully was keen that we shoot on location in Frome, a small market town in Somerset which also happens to be Gully’s hometown. Catherine Hill, a beautiful and picturesque cobbled street, became our setting. By chance, a shop front on the street had a temporary vacancy. After a Recce, it was established that it would be the perfect location for the bakery and that we’d build a set inside.
Knowing from the onset that we'd be shooting on location, we knew the biggest challenges we'd face would be working around the natural light without the ability to overpower it; we also knew early on that we wouldn't have the lighting power to compete with daylight.
For references, we spent a long time watching silent films from the early 20th century; looking at the well known influencers like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd for slapstick and visual humour.
The Look of the Bakery and Butchers
In terms of style, it’s hard to ignore the often well cited work of Wes Anderson; we looked at the production design across his films and drew inspiration from the strong vivid colour palettes, distinct styles and locations for characters.
The colour of the bakery is universal; from the Bakery walls to the cupcake holders and sunflowers
Anna Papa, the production designer, did an exceptional job turning an empty white shop front into the Bakery. The colour, vividness and aesthetic created in the bakery came from Anna's dedication to build a believable setting, her attention to detail and eye for props. This made finding compositions in the bakery a rewarding process. More than anything else, I'd say on this film, Anna's production design contributed most in producing the look and feel of the Lucky Chicken 'universe'.
Lighting in the Bakery (except the scene where the Chicken goes missing) was always meant to be warm and soft, creating flattering lines across the Baker's face. We wanted to make extensive use of practicals to make it feel natural - the style was to come from the action and compositions, not from kooky and obvious lighting.
For the Butchers, some of the work was done for us. We knew it needed to be the opposite of the warm, lively bakery and wanted a clinical and cold look to each of the rooms. Metallic work surfaces, white walls and dull coloured props helped to create the opposite of the inviting Bakery. We emphasised this with further work in the grade. All of the scenes in the butchers were lit to be dark and dingy with harsh shadows crossing Marek's face to help give the comic impression of evil-doing.
Dull, metallic colours helped to create a lifeless and dark mood in the Butcher's scenes
Gallery of Images shot by Alice Weston
Working with the Chicken
By far the most challenging aspect of this film was working with the Chicken Puppet. Jess Kay, produced, designed and operated throughout the shoot. The Chicken was operated by two main sticks; one in the body for holding and supporting it and one in the head for moving and controlling its beak.
Jess operates with the help of Joscelyn Webb (Costume Designer)
We shot the Chicken using the classic technique of filming the action with Jess in shot and then clearing frame to get a clean background plate. Then in post, the Chicken was cut out of the original shot and placed onto the background image. It's a very simple technique but in order for it to work, we had to make sure that nothing crossed the Chicken's body or the shot would be unusable. This would often mean Jess would have to contort her body and hands in challenging ways to be able to manipulate the puppet effectively yet not cross over the Chicken.
The soundtrack to Lucky Chicken was specifically composed by the extremely talented Jim Hustwitt of Larp Music. He has written up a small amount on Lucky Chicken on his website where you can also listen to the entire the soundtrack for free.
I'd also like to mention the work that colourist Tom Russell of Lipsync Post did on grading the film. Tom was a dream to work with and added a huge amount to the visual style.
Lucky Chicken has been a really important project to me and often receives a lot of love from audiences; I'd like to shout out to Dougie Benge, Charles Donnelly and Danny Germain for being a dream team to work with in making it happen.
Lucky Chicken has gone on to do well on the festival circuit garnering official selection multiple times and winning a number of awards including at LOCO Comedy Festival, Atlanta Film Festival and Clermont-Ferrand. It has also been screened by the BSC for their Emerging Cinematographer's event in 2016.
Lucky Chicken Behind-The-Scenes Film
Behind the scenes shot by Toby Trillo