Anatomy of the Best Loglines

Knowing where to start in the creative process of writing can be daunting for a first time filmmaker. I know it was for me. I’ve tried building a story around every possible thing imaginable, and I found Blake Snyder’s longline method from his infamous book, Save the Cat, to be the most effective.

His argument centers around starting your writing process by creating something called a logline (your entire movie summarized in a sentence). He would say, if you can’t do this in a compelling way from the start, then you don’t have a story worth telling.

Many of you more seasoned writers may find this approach “formulaic,” however for writers starting out, this is a great place to begin.  

Ingredients for the best logline:

  • One Character
  • One Goal
  • One Source of Conflict with a dash of Irony

In short what you will be creating is the following equation:

Your hero is going for their goal, but something ironic happens to stop them.

If you cannot put your story within this simple formula, then perhaps your story is too complicated, OR missing a crucial element.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Disgraced pilot, E. Ripley is left with PTSD after her encounter with the xenomorph and tries to rebuild a life for herself. However, when a human colony is overrun with xenomorphs, Ripley may be their only hope.

From the film Aliens

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Element 1: Establish Your Hero

The first step is to insert your main character into your logline. This isn’t a place to go into great detail on their backstory; all that’s needed are one or two descriptive words. Sometimes the scenario they find themselves in is sufficient enough information.

As Blake Snyder says, you want to paint a clear enough picture in the minds of those who will hear your logline. They need to be able to see where your story is going. This includes who your character is.

In my example, I defined Ellen Ripley as a disgraced pilot with PTSD. We know she’s an underdog, and it will be easy for the audience to get behind her.

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Element 2: Establish Your Hero’s Goal

The next step is to show what the character is trying to accomplish before they are confronted by the story’s major conflict.

In Vertigo, Scottie is investigating Madeline for her husband (his goal) before he begins to fall in love with her (the conflict).

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle wants more than what her small town has to offer (goal) before she is held prisoner in an enchanted castle (the conflict).

Sometimes the goal can be something more passive, or simply keeping the status quo. For example, in Toy Story, Woody isn’t actively trying to do something new, but is enjoying the “status quo” of being the toy on top.

Don’t just tell us WHO your character is, but where we find them at the start of the story.

For Ellen Ripley, I have her trying to rebuild a life for herself.

Warrior

Element 3: Conflict with a Dash of Irony

Lastly, we introduce our story’s major source of conflict into the logline.

This is where people tend to struggle the most, either because they realize they have no real source of conflict throughout their story. Even if they do it’s lacking the crucial element of irony which gives a story it’s hook, edge, or bite.

Conflict is truly what starts your story and what moves it forward. Without this element, there is no story.

In my example from Aliens, the conflict comes from the xenomorphs overtaking a colony, forcing the corporation to turn to Ripley for help.

It’s conflict, because it’s both stopping her from starting a new life, while giving her an opportunity to gain her old life back.

Irony?

Before I explain how irony comes to play in this equation, let me explain what irony IS. There are two forms of irony: situational and irony of fate. Situational irony is when events defy expectations, while irony of fate is when it seems the gods, fate, the universe, etc are toying with humanity for their own amusement.

Situational irony would be getting robbed by a police officer (an amoral act practiced by someone who is sent out to stop such behavior). Jesus being crucified by the very people he was to save is another great example of situational irony. Both examples play on your expectations and subvert them.

Irony of fate is when something occurs with lasting consequence beyond a specific situation. A former athlete who is now paralyzed is an example of irony of fate. Beethoven, one of the world’s greatest composers lost his hearing. He can no longer hear the beautiful music he puts out into the world. Irony of fate.

Irony is all about subverting our expectations in an effort to hook us.

The irony in Aliens is drawn mostly from the situation Ripley finds herself in; she was seen as a pariah and a liability by the company at the start of the film, and becomes the very person who could save them.

That’s irony.

There’s no right way to go through the writing process, but by beginning with a logline my writing has grown simpler and stronger. I hope it helps you on your own writing journey. For more great film advice, check out Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat.

Written by Brenden Bell.

 

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How to Decide if a Movie is Good or Bad

Written by Brenden Bell.

There are so many creative and wonderful films out there; some we love and some we hate. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. What makes a movie good? What makes it bad?

If you’re confused, this article is for you. I’m going to give you some practical tools to assess a film based on both subjective and objective factors, and then take you through a film so you’ll be comfortable doing this yourself in private.

Download the worksheet here as a PDF: An Objective Journey into Subjectivity.

Then, follow along as we learn how to decide if we think a movie is good or not. The analysis of the film is based on a point system. Each positive answer is given one point, while negative answers are given zero points. The final section asks you to rate your answer on a scale of 1-5; the point value is equal to this scale.

If a movie got more than 16 points it’s probably a movie you’re ok with watching, more than 21 then it’s probably a good film. More than 30?? Probably an all time favorite for you.

Let’s test it shall we?

I’m going to take you through it with one of my least favorite films: The Phantom Menace.

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Our first step is to fill in the information in the text box in the left corner of the worksheet. You’ll reference back to these as needed.

If you’re confused about how to tell who your main character is, it’s usually the character who is the most changed at the end of the film.

The theme/thematic material is the big idea behind the film; the idea the filmmaker wants you to take away from the film. If you’re still confused, check out this blog to explain it a bit more.

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Once this is done you can move on to the next several sections of questions; you want to answer as honestly and fairly as you can. They revolve around story, character and theme.

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  • the first question refers to your ability to write the story in a sentence from the previous section. If you’re unable to do so simply (as I was for this movie, then the answer is no). The rest are fairly self-explanatory.
  • The next two sections play fairly similarly, both with one question taken from the information you gave in the first written portion.

The next section of questions is a bit more objective, focusing in on the artistry/craftsmanship involved in the various departments involved in the filmmaking process. Movies you love can be made poorly, and films you hate can have good aspects to them. This section helps add a bit of objectivity to your subjective opinion of a film.

Rather than YES/NO the positive distinction is HELP while the negative distinction is DISTRACT. Ask yourself, did the following aspects of filmmaking HELP tell the story, or did they DISTRACT from the story and feel out of place? If you didn’t notice either way, then you can assume they were natural and helped tell the story.

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For this section, when I had mixed feelings (such as production design), I decided to go positive. Your levels of grace and compassion are totally up to you.

The last section, and perhaps the most important. There is always a part of a movie for me which is indescribable and separate from the story, and other elements of filmmaking. I call this… THE X-FACTOR.

Ultimately, this section is a way to measure how much this film resonates with you on a personal level. A movie can be poorly made but resonate with you, causing you to generally enjoy it as a result. A movie can be executed brilliantly from a technical standpoint, but if it doesn’t resonate with you, then it’s not going to become one of your favorites.

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  • Each section should be filled out on a scale of 0 – 5: 0 meaning not in the slightest, and 5 meaning absolutely.
  • For the final question in this section, the emotion I am referring to should stem from the story and the contents therein, and should be divorced from poor quality in filmmaking or storytelling. If you’re angry at poor quality, then the answer would be no. If you’re angry because of the subject matter or the character’s choices or how the story turned out, then this film had an impact on you and the answer is yes… and is something you should unpack.

Final score for The Phantom Menace? …5/32.

According to my scale this means I “absolutely hate this movie to the point of offense.” This test is pretty accurate.

Now you try; think of a movie you’re unsure how you feel about and run it through this test.

Perhaps you’ll learn it’s a good film but you just didn’t connect with it emotionally. Try out a few different popular movies or some not so popular ones and let us know what points you gave them in the comments below.

How To Dirty Your Actors Without Using Dirt

Written by Keaton J. Evans.

Across popular movies there have been teams of make-up artists getting the right look for characters who seem to never take showers. I’m talking Sam Neill in Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Matthew McConaughey in Mud, and Jack Sparrow.

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You get the point. Whenever a character rolls in the mud or falls off a pirate ship, there needs to be an authentic dirty look for the character.

I researched different ways to get the dirty look for any upcoming short films where I would need to portray a character who skips on the washing.

Here’s what I found.

Before I get into the steps of applying make-up, you’ll need to find these supplies:

Supplies needed:

  • coffee grounds
  • loose tea leaves
  • lotion (sunscreen)
  • brown eye shadow (I used Vino colour)
  • wet sponge
  • willing victim…er, helper

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After acquiring these supplies you’ll be ready to start with step one.

Step 1: apply eyeshadow

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In this step, you’ll use your index finger to apply the eyeshadow to the parts of the face where you think someone might get dirty. I noticed that the forehead and the upper parts of the cheekbones get dirty more than other parts, also the nose.

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty then you can choose to use a small make-up sponge.

Gently rub the eyeshadow back and forth over the surfaces you think is best. After doing this in all of the appropriate areas you’ll be ready to move onto the second step.

Step 2: mix lotion with coffee grounds

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For this step, first ground the coffee beans, preferably of a darker variety, and then mix with the lotion. I used sunscreen in this step, and it worked well. This step is quite messy.

You don’t need to use much of either. Small chunks of coffee and a bit of lotion should do the trick. After mixing the lotion with the coffee grounds, then move onto the next step of applying.

Step 3: apply the mixture

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As far as applying the coffee/tea and lotion to the person’s face, you’ll need to do step 2 a few times, as there may be a few spots to cover.

Do a little mixing, then a little applying. A little mixing, a little applying, you get the drift. Apply the coffee and lotion to the same places which you touch in step 1, to have those layers.

Add to any place where you think dirt would be, say if the victim fell down face first into the dirt. With the coffee grounds, you don’t need to apply heavily, just a few small chunks here and there, unless you really want you character to look like dirt was just caked on.

After doing this enough times you should get a result similar to this one. (For me, I was trying to get a “stuck-on-a-deserted-island-for-years” look).

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After you’ve gotten all the shots you need with your actor, wash the makeup and coffee off with warm soap and water. Once you’ve washed the coffee and lotion off as well as the make-up, be sure to dry with a clean towel.

And there you have it! You now know how to make your characters look as dirty as ever, and best part is, you don’t even need to use dirt!

What is nice is you can also apply the make-up in a variety of places on the face as well as a variety of thickness, to get a unique look for each character in your film.

Hope this makeup tip helps all you independent filmmakers out there who are trying to get that professional look.

Shank You for the Foley

Written by Keaton J. Evans.

A watermelon produces a million sounds. Well, maybe not a million, but pretty close. This was the realisation I had when I wanted to get foley of a guy getting stabbed.

What started out as innocent clean fun turned into a massacre of life’s bigger fruits. At the end of the project the watermelon was stabbed so many times that it was just a heap of red and green.

Below are the materials you’ll need to get some good stabbing foley for yourself.

  • A helper (to either make the sound or capture it)
  • A sound-proof room (or something of the equivalent)
  • Half of watermelon
  • A knife
  • A large plate with rounded edges
  • Two microphones: 1.) a Hypercardioid mic (“shotgun” mic), 2.) a large Diaphragm Cardioid studio mic
  • Task cam
  • Portable mixer
  • Headphones
  • Microphone stands
  • SD card

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If you don’t have access to this kind of sound equipment then you can also use a smartphone.

Here’s what I learned from my foley.

Step 1

After you have procured a quiet room, a helper, and the necessary equipment, the first thing to do is set up the two mics so they are about 6 inches from the watermelon. Simple mic stands can do this easily enough. Also connect the headphones to the mixer to monitor the best placement for the mics. Make sure to put the watermelon on a plate in order to avoid spills. Again, If you don’t have mics or a mixer, then set up your smartphone to record the sound.

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Step 2

Once the mics are screwed into microphone stands, make sure both are connected to inputs on the portable mixer, which is used to adjust the gain level for each microphone. The mixer I used has a line-level output which sends the two signals to a 2-channel portable audio recorder, which records Stereo Digital Audio files (in .wav format) to an SD Card. Your mixer may or may not have this.

You don’t necessarily need the sound mixer and could just use the mics directly connected to the Tascam recorder, if you have one, but the mixer has a louder headphone output and could also be used to adjust the sound mix between the two microphones to taste. Once you’ve turned everything on and made sure your equipment is working, you can move on to the next step.

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Step 3

Make sure before you make your incisions into the watermelon, you put it on a plate with edges that curve upwards. We had our watermelon on a plastic bag and when it leaked its juices went all over the place. So yeah, to avoid any spillage, best to have a plate, or even a bowl.

I found it was rather difficult to stifle a laugh when we went to town stabbing the watermelon. In saying that, make sure you are as quiet as you can so that the squishy sound from the watermelon is the only thing heard.

Now what we did is took turns listening and stabbing. We got pretty creative with the different ways we made sound with the watermelon. We would make stabs, stabs with twists, long cuts, stabs with the handle part of the knife, etc. The quick stabs made nice squishy sounds, and the stabs and twists created an almost bone-cracking sound. The stabs with the handle had a nice hitting sound to it, which could be used for a punch or a knife stab.

Here’s some different audio examples we created:

It’s also good to note that for the sake of simplicity, use different recordings for the different techniques you use to get sound. You’ll thank yourself later when you go to edit and sync it with a clip.

For instance, if you need a simple stab, have that on one recording, and the next one could be stabs with the handle of the knife, the next one being when you punched the watermelon. After you’re done getting the sound you need then turn off the mixer and the task cams and unplug the mics and the headphones.

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Step 4

In this step make sure to tear down any stands or equipment you used and clean up the watermelon carnage that is likely to remain, depending on how many stabs you made. After everything is cleaned up then you can simply upload the SD card to your computer and voila! You now recorded foley. The next thing to do is to edit the sound and sync it to the clip that requires the stabbing foley.

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Here’s some clips with the synced foley.

This clip is with the sound of a stab:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgip6MnRnwc&spfreload=10

This clip is with the sound of a stab and twist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joKgJ7H86Z0

This clip is with the sound of the blunt end of the knife stabbing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD7Z6SAFPrA&spfreload=10

This clip is with the sound of a rind stab and twist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT68XR18fGE

You can shank me later.

You talkin’ to me? …..no. Make your supervisors think you are a mind reader

By Jay Evans

This article is all about eavesdropping.

‘Wait, did you say eavesdropping?’

‘Yes, I did’

‘But isn’t that morally wrong?’

‘No….’

Ok. So sometimes (most of the time) this is actually frowned upon in many cultures, especially in western society. On set, however, this can be a different story, and sometimes it is actually essential to getting the job done.

On a film set there are many little things going on at once. Usually the line of communication starts with the director and eventually trickles down the pipes to the necessary parties.

If you have been on set you would know it’s important to keep quiet, stick to your role and do what you have to do to get your job done, and get it done well.

I would like to let you in on a little secret. You can make your supervisors think you are a mind reader.

Here is a step by step process on how to eavesdrop and in turn, convince your superiors that you are actually taking initiative. (I mean you are, but…)

1. Grab a cup of coffee so your brain is ready to concentrate on a day of eavesdropping.

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Picture this: You’re a camera operator. You are on your way to set. You have 10 minutes to spare (or 20, plan for 20). You stop by a local cafe – not McCafe because their coffee tastes like charcoal and blood. You get a coffee for yourself and maybe one for the DP because then he is sure to be impressed with your initiative skills. Drink your coffee. Give the other cup to your DP.

2. Once arrived, set up your gear.

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This is an obvious step. BUT. Stay in ear-shot of the DP and/or Director. Pretend you’re focussing on setting up – which you are – but use your ears at the same time. Listen to what they are saying about the shots of the day.

3. Go to location.

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As soon as you hear something along the lines of: “*mumble* *mumble* ….poolside…. *mumble* …. wide…east” You have a pretty good idea of the spot in which you are filming as well as the type of shot that it is. Meanwhile you can let your AC know what type of lens you are using and how to set up the shot etc.

4. Set up the shot.

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The DP will come to you and ask you to set up a Wide Shot of the pool facing the east and then realise you’ve already done it. He will either clap twice or three times depending on his personality.

5. Continue to not talk.

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The less you talk, the more you can concentrate on eavesdropping on your superiors. You may not be a part of their conversation but unless they’ve purposely hidden themselves from everyone for a private conversation you’ve got the inside scoop. It’s like gossip, but not destructive.

6. Repeat this process for the rest of the day.

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Besides step 1. You shouldn’t have to drink a cup of coffee before every shot as you might have a heart attack and be dead by lunch time.

7. Let your AC know he can do the same.

joker2If you have an AC that likes to ask all the obvious questions, then maybe it’s about time you tell him to follow your example and open his ears instead of his mouth.

8. Get a recommendation from the DP.

pr07703…and mail it to JJ Abrams.

2013 Winter TCA Tour - Day 3“Impressive” – JJ Abrams.

Shaken, Not Stirred: How to Make Drinks For Film

Written by Josias Jensen.

“I’ll have a vodka martini…”

Many memorable scenes in cinema feature drinks as an important prop. However, as some of you may already know, the actors rarely, if ever, drink the real deal. There are several reasons for this: it’s cheaper to make a replica, it is easier to access, and you don’t have to worry about your actors having a bit too much…

In this article I will show you step by step how to make inexpensive and photorealistic champagne and whisky substitutes.

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Black Tea is Your Friend

One ingredient that will help you make a lot of drink substitutes is inexpensive black tea or earl grey. Brew a cup or pot of black tea using several bags, making your brew much darker and more bitter than you would normally drink. Keep the bags in for at least 10 min to let the tea turn dark.

You will use this cup or pot of strong tea for colouring the whisky/champagne substitute. Find a small cup, jug, or anything else that is easy to pour from.  Set this aside so that it is ready to access later.

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Sparkle!

For the champagne substitute you will need to buy sparkling water or any other soda drink that has no colour.

If you need more than one glass, gently pour the sparkling water into a large glass pitcher or bowl making sure you don’t lose too much of the fizz.

Gradually pour small amounts of the black tea in the glass pitcher/bowl until it has just the right colour. Don’t rush it. If you end up putting too much in and the mixture gets too dark, you will have to add in more sparkling water to balance it out.

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If you need one or two glasses, you can pour the sparkling water directly in the glass and very gently pour in some of the black tea. You will only need a very small amount of black tea to colour a single glass of sparkling water.

If you want to make a white wine substitute the process is the exact same, but with water instead of sparkling water.

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On the Rocks, Please…

For the whisky substitute the process is similar. Instead of using sparkling water you will use water. To get the colour of whisky down you will need to use a bit more tea than for the champagne substitute. Gently mix it till it has just the right tint.

For both drinks, I would advise you to have a look at a photo of actual champagne or whisky to match it as closely as possible.

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Presentation is key

In order to make it truly believable, use the kind of glassware you would use specifically for serving whisky or champagne. Whisky in a normal glass looks very similar to many other drinks, but as soon as it is served in the right kind of glass, we believe it is whisky and not just apple juice or ice tea.

Dressing your drink the right way will add to the believability as well. For example, you would never fill a glass of whisky all the way to the top, but rather about one quarter or fifth of the glass.

You can also add a couple of ice cubes in your whisky substitute.

Black tea is a great and inexpensive ingredient that can be used in making many different drink substitutes. I encourage you to experiment with simple ingredients and getting the presentation right rather than spending lots of money on actual drinks.

Now That I’ve Killed My Character, How Do I Get the Blood Out?

Written by Hilary Dorst.

Halloween has come and gone. We’re all coming down from the sugar high, looking at our costumes and thinking things such as: “Ugh, maybe a vampire wasn’t the best idea. How the heck do I get the fake blood out of that shirt?”

Our wonderful make-up artist on The Umbrella and The Out of the Woods Project, Jennifer Holt, always says, “Don’t get it on your clothes, it is a pain to get out. Don’t get it on your clothes.”

So I got to thinking, how would I get it out? There’s the usual store bought stain remover and washing machine, but what else could work? Baking soda? Vinegar? Shaving cream?

Time for an experiment. The fake blood I used in this experiment was made up of red and green food colouring and 100% pure maple syrup. I used two polo shirts, one was 100% cotton and the other was a cotton/polyester blend, and one 100% polyester sports shirt. I also found a cotton t-shirt and the results were the same across all the shirts regardless of fibre content.

Option 1: Baking Soda

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Materials Required:

1 box Baking soda

Water (a sink or bathtub is the best place to do this)

1 old Toothbrush (or other brush to scrub with)

1 teaspoon (or measuring cup, depending on how much you are making)

1 small bowl

I thought I should use the magic cleaning product, that is, baking soda. It’s gentle enough and safe for the environment, so it was the first thing I tried. I use it to clean tea and coffee stains out of their pots so it should be good for red food colouring, right?

I mixed up a baking soda paste by combining baking soda and water at a ratio of 1:1, in this case I started with one teaspoon of each, and stirred. I thought it was too thick so I added a bit more water until it spread nicely.

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I made sure the fake blood was damp, not the whole shirt though to prevent colour running. The first one I did was the cotton shirt. I put some paste on a toothbrush and proceeded to rub it around in circles on the stain.

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The baking soda paste seemed to absorb the colour. I didn’t even rub it long. Then I rinsed the spot off with water and the fake blood appeared to be gone. I let it dry and there was still a pink tinge. I was slightly disappointed, but it looked promising so I gave it another try. It took more out, especially as the colour was rinsed out of the toothbrush from the first attempt.

The sports shirt was cleaner after I scrubbed it than it was before in that one spot. It didn’t just get the fake blood out, it got the dirt stain out as well. Note to self, use baking soda on laundry more often.

The cotton/polyester blend was the hardest one to get the blood out of as it required a few attempts and a lot of scrubbing.

Option 2: Vinegar

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Materials Required:

1 bottle vinegar

Water (again, best if done over a sink or bathtub)

1 old Toothbrush (or other brush to scrub with)

1 liquid measuring cup

A word of warning: Do NOT use vinegar on animal products, aka wool, alpaca, etc. This is what I used when I dyed my own yarn with food colouring to set the dye. It will set beautifully.

I used plain white vinegar and decided to dilute it to 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar (1/4 cup vinegar to ¾ cup water). I decided if that was not enough I would add more vinegar. Better to start weak and not wreck the clothing any more than it already is.

I dipped the toothbrush in the vinegar water and tried scrubbing. It didn’t really work, so I poured it on instead and rubbed it together with my hands.

The vinegar was too strong for the fabric on the cotton so it damaged the material, and it didn’t have any effect on the polyester. I even added a bit more vinegar to the solution just to make sure it was strong enough.

The vinegar result was disappointing. Maybe if I had let it soak in vinegar overnight or made it stronger that would have helped. Something I can try next time it comes up, as I’m sure it will again.

Option 3: Shaving Cream

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Materials Required:

1 can shaving cream

Water (a sink or bathtub is the best place to do this)

1 old Toothbrush (or other brush to scrub with)

I read from a costume designer that shaving cream works on fake blood, however I had no access to any at that moment. I ran to all the guys in the office, but since none of them live really close to here it wasn’t looking good.

Before I could despair too much, another guy I know had some with him and he kindly let me use some.

You don’t need much shaving cream for a small area, just a dab. I applied it and rubbed and scrubbed.

It turned out to be a futile effort. I don’t know if it was the type of shaving cream but it did virtually nothing, and the fake blood was freshly applied, too. I got more out of the shirt by pouring water on it than all the scrubbing. Believe me, there was a LOT of scrubbing. The toothbrush, my hands rubbing the fabric. It was to no avail, that blood was not coming out, just helping make the shirt a lovely pink colour.

Option 4: Washing Machine and a Stain Remover

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You can try a washing machine and a stain remover without trying any of the above, but it doesn’t always work; especially on gentle fabrics.

If you try this method, let the stain remover sit on it for a while to soak into the stain and help remove it easier. Then scrub it to rub the stain remover into the stain itself.

In my experience, with other stains, this method, while easiest and less time consuming, doesn’t always work. I tend to wash stains out by hand and then put them in the wash.

Definitely do NOT put it in the dryer until you have completely removed the stain as the heat will set it. You don’t want to run the risk of setting the stain. Once the stain is set in the fabric it’s not coming out anytime soon and is even more work to remove.

What have I learned from this experiment? The easiest thing is to just prevent fake blood from getting on your clothes unless you are intending to throw them out.

If you really want to use the fake blood on your clothes, the next best thing to do is use a baking soda paste and a softer brush that you scrub the stain with. Rinse and scrub again until it is gone, then into the washing machine to clean the clothes well.

So get out there, have fun, and don’t worry. It will wash out in the end.