Thursday, June 20, 2013

How to make a no budget short and (hopefully) make it good

Ever since I started my own production company, I somehow stopped making shorts. Shorts were a part of my life once. It was the easiest way of doing something I loved, making imagery that would not only serve as a statement but somehow create a visual impact, at least on some people. It didn't really have to make sense, but it'd couldn't be one of those pretentious black and white movies with jump cuts involving some naked hot girl eating a raw egg either. I'm not crapping on these "art house" flicks, but they have never been my cup of tea.

I have worked on shorts after opening Damage Inc. (mostly as a DP), both here and in different places abroad, but they were produced and directed by someone else. This created somewhat of a mismatch. While some of the directors wanted something I cringed at, I still did it. I even wrote a short (and was the DP as well) and that project ended up in a total disaster. I wanted a Fight Club meets Girl Interrupted kinda flick, but thanks to the director it ended up being a Victoria's Secret TV spot meets some tourism advisory advertisement on YouTube. Ever since then I actually stopped doing shorts all together.

Recently, Robi Axiata Ltd. announced that they were hosting an online short film festival. I had seen the advert on Facebook, but my schedule prevented me from even thinking of making a short. I kept thinking though, what if I made one, where I would pretty much do everything, except act in it. I recently watched "Side by Side", a documentary about the digital revolution happening in the cinema industry (btw, I highly recommend that you watch it as well). One of the things they talked about was the Dogme 95 approach taken by Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinternberg. Let me first say that I'm not a big fan of either of them, but I really liked the initiative they took. The Dogme 95 had a set of 10 rules that filmmakers must adhere to. So, I decided to make my own "Dogma". The Dogma 13 if you will. These rules had to be followed for my short. They were:

1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. 
2. No ADR (i.e dubbing). If you can't get the sound on location, use something else.
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. 
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action.
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
8. No one gets paid.
9. No crazy SFX/VFX and relighting shots in grading with power windows are not permitted.
10. Down beat endings only (thank you David Fincher).

I had cooked up a few stories. One that included one about the Joker (yes, the Batman one), one that included a man who had a wild and crazy drug induced night and has to remember how he ended up being chased by Dhaka's mobsters (yes, the Hangover) and one which was an entire short done on one take. But, I decided to take things further. One of the best writers alive today is my buddy Lance Hobbie. So I thought I'd have him write the script without even knowing the Dogma 13. Whatever Lance wrote, I'd have to make but still stick to the rules. So if he wanted to show someone jumping off a roof, I'd literally have to shoot that, with practically 0 money in my budget. Thankfully, Lance's script didn't do anything crazy. It was a story about how a couple that met online "sees" each other for the first time. I know so many people who have met after dating online, yet what if when they saw each other and they ended up being someone completely different. You know you love the person inside, but do you really judge a book by its cover? I only changed a small (and yet big) detail. Lance originally had one of the couples be a paraplegic. I changed her to be a mute. It changed the dimensionality a little bit more, I think.

With my schedule being what it has been lately, I only had 24 hours to finish the 5 minutes or under movie. My friend Maleeha and I were talking about making the short and she suggested using two of her friends to act in it. They were only available for a few hours the next day. Somehow, I decided to shoot it anyway. My team was consisted of me, Maleeha and the two actors. I decided to shoot on my 5D MkIII and the Zeiss lenses (35/50/85/100 and the 21 for just one shot). We shot inside a local cafe, where we didn't even have permission, but the manager said we could do it before the owners came in for lunch. This meant around 2 hours. We paced through the entire indoor sequence within an hour. The outdoor sequence took about thirty minutes.

During post, this was the first time I didn't enter Davinci Resolve after a long time. I didn't want to change the color tone that was I had shot in, which was 5700K with a green channel shift. With the coolness from the Zeiss, this gave a me a very nice cold feel. Increased contrast, timed the exposure, saturation and brought back some skin tone using Colorista II.  I decided to use FilmConvert Pro, a new software I had just got that emulates film stock. I went with the Kodak 250D preset throughout. Originally, I also wanted some voiceover. But I find voiceovers boring. So I went with another way of getting the characters to chat to each other. Finally, I required a title. I had Ryan Adam's cover of "Wonderwall" on my head as the background song for the short. It worked so well, I decided to name the short that.

Here are some screen caps.

If you'd like to see the short in its entirety here's the link, just make sure you like it :)

(just in case the link doesn't work, lemme know and I'll look into it)

If you vote for it, I'll be your biggest fan.