So here’s how it went down:
At 7pm Friday night, my buddy Keith texted me: “Sci-fi”. I responded: “Ick”. He wrote back: “I’m sorta thinking ick also”.
I was about to embark on my sixth effort in a 48 Hour Film Project and Keith had pulled Sci-fi as our genre. I didn’t really want to make a Sci-fi film. Neither did he. We had the opportunity to throw it back and go for the “wild card” genre, but that could have been worse. As I continued driving to the studio that was going to be our home base for the weekend, I thought that maybe we could make it work and do something cool. So I wrote back (yes I was driving, but I wrote back at a stoplight) that maybe it could work. At this point, Micah, the director of our team who was with Keith, had started to generate some good Sci-fi ideas, so we figured we could make it work. I just had a couple rules that I wanted us to apply: no spaceships, no pointy ears, and no tin foil.
For the uninformed, the 48 Hour Film Project is a filmmaking contest in 76 cities around the world, where you have 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a 4-7 minute film. They give you a genre, character, line of dialogue and prop that you must include in your film. I always find it to be a good exercise in producing something quickly and my past films have ranged from decent to quite good (you can read here about the film I did last year). I like to use the opportunity as a chance to shoot something different than what I normally do day to day and this year was no exception. In fact, this was the first time in doing the 48 HFP that any of our pre-production ideas actually got incorporated into the film. In years past, any time we’ve come up with story lines or production ideas ahead of time, they were thrown aside after getting our genre and required elements. But this year after location scouting in the week leading up to the film we came up with some shots and ideas for the visual palette that actually worked in the film.
I think the key to success in the 48 is to think small. Small crew, small cast, small story, etc. We had a core team of just a few members who helped work on the concept and story Friday night and then let the writer and director go off and storyboard and script the whole thing. We planned for something with just one main cast member and minimal dialogue. I see so many teams get bogged down in dialogue-heavy films and on such a tight time-frame, and often with casts with questionable acting abilities, that can be a disaster in the making. On Saturday we came together and with the help of a handful of additional crew members shot the bulk of our film in one apartment (loaned to us by our art director/photographer Liz Linder). The biggest challenge initially was building our main set piece. Keith and Micah went to Home Depot early that morning and came back with a car full of tubes and paint and plants and such to create our character’s growing station.
The Tech Stuff
We shot the whole film on the Canon 7D (with the exception of some of the stills in the film that Liz shot on her Nikon D700). I hadn’t been using the camera too much for my day to day work so I was excited to use it for the 48, and I think it helped create the look we were going for. I wanted to shoot with prime lenses as much as possible (as they do tend to be sharper than my zooms) and I succeeded in doing that for probably 7% of the film (mostly my Sigma 30 1.4 and a Nikon 60mm macro). For some of the shooting we were able to solve the annoying monitoring issue by tethering the camera to a Macbook Pro running the Canon EOS Remote Shooting software. This allowed Micah to see the image on that screen and did not shut off the LCD that I was using on the camera. The display on the laptop was not 100% smooth and there were times we did not get it to run at all, but I think this is a viable dual monitoring solution (until I get my SmallHD monitor with HDMI splitter).
We shot very little of the film with sync sound, which made our lives much easier while shooting. Really only 2 short scenes had sync sound, and even the one scene with dialogue was done as ADR. Our production sound op, Colin Gallagher, recorded a lot of foley sounds on set and our composer and sound designer Jason Jordan and Jeremy Creamer created the soundscape in post. While it made things easier on set, it was definitely more time intensive in post. I think we could have made our lives a little easier by recording a little more location sync sound, but we also ended up with a super clean sound in the end which I think sounds great.
We did minimal lighting, and relied a lot on natural light and practicals. In the grow station, gaffer/animator Will Cavanagh came up with the idea to tape bare KinoFlo bulbs to the bottom of the glass table. This worked out very well and made the whole table look like a giant lightbox. In the kitchen we had a large window which we put a big piece of diffusion over and that was all we needed. I really am blown away more and more by what these cameras deliver with minimal light, even shooting at low ISOs, we were able to achieve a clean and dramatic look without much additional light. I got a chance to use my Kessler Pocket Dolly quite a bit. These “slider” type dollies are very cool and require little time to setup and I think can add quite a bit to certain shots. I definitely did not want to overdo it though as I’ve seen lots of films on line where every shot is a dolly left or a dolly right; it get’s quite redundant.
One of the highlights of the weekend was having Will send us his awesome visual effects. He is a 20 year old genius, in my opinion, and we’ve been joking that Steve Jobs has already hired him (because of this film) to design the next iPad. What he did blew us away and brought the film to a whole new level. While editing went pretty smoothly it was sort of a race to the finish. Even though we had picture lock by around 2pm on Sunday, Jason and Jeremy had a lot to do to get the whole score and sound design together (because they couldn’t do a lot prior to getting the final picture), and we didn’t receive the final mix until around 5:30pm. We had watched the film many times, but virtually silent so we were nervous and excited to download the final mix and see the finished film with sound. At this point we had no time for feedback, but what they sent us rocked, so we were thrilled. There was a lesson for us though, as this was the first time we were not editing in the same place as the composing team and that was a struggle, especially on a film like this. (We had opted to edit at Liz’s studio, close to her apartment where we were filming, but in hindsight we should have based our editing out of Jason’s studio.)
When it was all finished we realized that some elements of the story were pretty subtle, but I think it still works, and I think this is is the best 48 Hour film I’ve worked on.
So here it is. Enjoy!
(Photo Credits: Liz Linder Photography)