We Finished Our First Short Film!

In August of 2016 my coworkers decided to start a small film group.  In September we pitched ideas and wrote a script.  In October/November we filmed it.  We finished all the post production in February of 2017.

It was an interesting experience working on this project.  I leveled up all my skills in production and post production throughout the project.

THE IDEA:

We started with the idea of creating a short once a month.  That didn’t happen.  We initially started pitching ideas for shorts that were Halloween theme.  That meeting was really quiet.  I pitched an idea about a genie that people thought was funny.

It was about a guy who finds a genie but had very low ambition so he’d end up not using the full potential of the wish.  Each time he found the genie, the genie would grant one wish then disappear into a new object.  These would be every day objects but containers that the genie could live in temporarily.  The objects would break after the genie would exit the object.  The guy that kept finding the genie kept wasting the wishes while people around him were jealous and tried to rub objects anywhere they could in hopes of releasing the genie.

Here’s a few scenarios I came up with:

  • Guy would be at work washing his tupperware after lunch in the break room and the genie would appear.  The guy would wish for the genie to finish washing the dishes
  • Guy would accidentally rub his bald coworkers head and the genie would come out of his co-worker’s mouth.  Then wish that the genie would cover for him so he could go home early
  • Guy would be driving home in his crappy vehicle and finds the genie in his glove box.  He uses his wish to get a good parking spot.
  • Guy would be eating a taco, rubs the taco and the genie appears, then wishes for two tacos.
    • Also had the idea here that if the genie would try to advise the guy to make a more useful wish.  The guy would get irritated, find another genie, and use the 2nd genie to force the 1st genie to fulfill his taco wish
  • Guy would see a pretty girl, find the genie, then wish for a date with that pretty girl’s less attractive relative with low self-esteem.

And so on.

Everyone was on board so we started production.  I just wanted to throw ideas out there and have very limited responsibilities on this project.  It turned out to be the exact opposite of what I had hoped for.

PRE-PRODUCTION:

We went through over a month of writing revisions as I co-wrote it with my co-worker.  She actually understands screenwriting so she turned it into a story.  I was hoping just for a Buzzfeed style top things not to wish for.  I turned down being the director at first since I have no actual production or director experience, but my coworkers made a strong push for me to take that task on.  I took on the challenge of also being the director/writer/visual effects guy.  Dang, this was getting overwhelming for something that we were supposed to be doing for fun.

The story evolved into something else as we kept getting closer to the shoot date.  There were many things I wasn’t aware of that we had to consider.  We had to get actors, props, locations and coordinate a schedule that worked for all of us.  A lot of the story changed because we didn’t have the location or it would be too difficult to shoot or would require too many people.  We had to cater the story to our available resources.

None of us in the group wanted to act in it so we got the help of friends who could actually act.  With more people in the mix, this added to the responsibility of not wasting everyone’s time with a poorly executed shoot.  I started doing research on video production.  A lot of behind the scenes footage of movies was helpful and I got a lot of my information from YouTube tutorials.  I really looked up “How to be a director”.  Some of it was useful and I created my own take on things.  Other tutorials included how to light a scene, camera placement, giving actors direction, crafting a story and much much more.  I had no experience in production so I did as much research as I could.

The channels I found most helpful on this project were Film Riot, Rocket Jump Film School, Lone Archer Films and most of all Video Copilot.  I find the After Effects tutorials the most fun.  As I worked on it more and more I could see my skills improving.  Some of the early VFX shots I did in the short I wanted to re-do later on once I learned more, but there would be no end to the effects if I kept doing that.  I’ll use what I learned in my future projects.

As our first day of shooting approached I did a production rehearsal with my camera team.  We mapped out our camera placement for each scene and divided up the smaller scenes into two camera units.  We had 6 hours of filming at our friend’s place and had to be really efficient. I’ve never been on set before but figured that 6 hours of shooting for a 5 minute short is way more time than we needed but I was warned to be prepared for the worst.  One day was not enough.  I also went through the script and divided up all the scenes by location, day and wardrobe.  That way we could film all the scenes we needed without having to set up our lights and cameras more than we needed to (thank you for that tip Rocket Jump Film School).

Production:

On the first day I was nervous to direct but jumped in.  I wasn’t really comfortable telling people what to do.  I kept thinking to myself, “Why would this person listen to me?”  But they did listen to me.  I got more comfortable with that throughout the day.

My divide and conquer plan with the different camera units was a disaster.  I wasn’t there for the first scene being filmed because I was outside setting up another shot.  I thought it was really simple but I should have been there since I needed to build everyone’s trust first (actors I met that morning).  Now I know.  I also learned, filming outside is tough!  If you’re doing a morning scene, you have all hands on deck before the sun moves!  We had to figure out ways of diffusing the light on the spot so the shots would match up.  Luckily, the homeowner had a couch delivered that morning which was wrapped in this BIG sheer white cloth.  We used that on sticks to diffuse the light as well as a black umbrella.

Some of the scenes we filmed went on for too long or started late.  That’s because I had no idea when to yell “action” or “cut”.  It was my first time being part of a production.

We ended the first day not being able to get all the shots we needed.  The short film was incomplete and we weren’t all able to coordinate again until the next month.

On the 2nd day of shooting, I was prepared…mostly.  I got to the shoot an hour late but that’s because I was helping some friends in the morning.  I went to sleep early the night before instead of partying with friends.  With a day of production under my belt and the drive to learn from my mistakes, the 2nd day of shooting went very well!  I felt more confident telling people how we should set up the shots, improvised a few new lines/jokes and the actors were comfortable enough that they threw in some too.  I was so tired at the end of the shoot but was very happy that we got everything we needed.

Post Production:

Pre-Production and Production had tight deadlines since it involved scheduling with people so I was very happy to be on the looser post-production side.  It was too loose though.  Our editor didn’t have much time for the project.  She wasn’t available on the shoot days so was unfamiliar with the story, especially since I threw in a lot of unscripted things.  It took over a month to get a rough cut of the short.  I ended up using that as a base for my final edits.  I cut out a few minutes, replaced a few shots, and created shots that didn’t exist (made from other shots put together).

I also worked on all the visual effects on the project.  There are a lot!  You probably didn’t notice because they’re soooo good.  There are the obvious magic effects, but a lot of video clean up was done.  I removed production markers, people’s shadows moving in the background, stabilized video, re-inserted backgrounds to fix continuity, created new shots that synched up the actors reactions and then I had to make up some magical effects.  That was the fun part (and most challenging) for me because it’s free-range on the creativity and a test of my capabilities.  Still limited but improving!

Our sound effects guy ended up not doing anything for the months we were in post production.  He did bring in his sound effect pack for me and I created all the sound effects over a weekend.  Yeah, just one weekend.  But really, if it took me one full weekend, it’s not that much work since I don’t have experience doing sound effects.  I started by listening to the sound effects I thought might be usable and placed them in my project.  The most useful tool I had in Premiere Pro was the Time Remap tool.  That, along with clever cutting and layering, made all of our sound effects possible.

DONE:

I’m very happy with how it turned out for our first project. We did the best we could and got a few laughs. There’s a lot of room for improvement but we’ll be more prepared for the future.  On to the next challenge!

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