I recently took part in the 60 hour MCM Comic Con Film Race challenge - Write, shoot and edit a film that is no longer than five minutes with a specific brief for our team. All done in sixty hours. This is an account of how we completed the challenge and what we learnt while doing it.
6th May - 7pm
The brief arrives via email for Team Shark Repellent Bat Spray:
TITLE: 'The Broken Dream
PROP/ACTION: 'A glow stick is used as a beacon'
DIALOGUE: "She's old, its about time she died"
As soon as I saw the theme 'Apocalypse', I was immediately worried. From previous experience of working on apocalypse themed films (as either a sound recordist or camera operator), they are incredibly difficult to make believable to an audience. Especially in regards to the choices of location and importantly sound design. I even said to myself that I would never make an apocalypse themed film because of the difficulties.
Pre-production began straight away. After researching for an hour on the theme 'apocalypse', Laura Hurkett, Lisa Alder and I started brainstorming ideas using the '6 part story method' which was incredibly helpful. A few hours later and the story we created was a combination of various ideas that we brainstormed. We were very cautious to make a film that was purely resource based, no over reliance on visual effects, just a very simple engaging story about survival.
While Laura and Lisa, mapped out locations, sorted out props and gathered friends (who agreed to help out a few weeks in advance of the challenge) into specific roles, I wrote the screenplay, using our story outline which included the line of dialogue and the specific prop action. I really wanted to make sure that the film (with the story we had mapped out) was going to work on paper first before we started shooting. The voicemails proved more difficult to script than I had anticipated. Therefore I decided to write something very 'loose' for now and later on would get the actors to improvise these voicemails.
7th May - 2am
I finished the screenplay and made a shot list ready for a 10am start. Normally I like to storyboard a film before I go out and start shooting but I simply didn't have the time and needed the rest. My final directorial decision I made before going to bed was casting Laura as the lead in the film. I knew she was more than capable to play the role. Laura was happy to do it, but I think she was nervous about acting again as it had been a while (this was her first acting role on screen since La Critique, a film we made in 2014). All I kept thinking that night was the theme 'apocalypse'. Questions like 'Do we have a story?', 'Will the story work?' 'Are we going to establish the theme of apocalypse on screen?' Needless to say, I didn't have that much sleep that night.
10am - The Broken Dream Shoot
Alec Alder was a life saver. He went out of his way to the super market really early to pick up some glow sticks for us, which was really great of him and for that I thank him. Before we had breakfast, we recorded the voicemail messages using Lisa and myself. After breakfast, which was provided by Lisa, we drove to the first location and arrived at 10:30. Filming started at 10:45, having already set up the kit at Laura's house. Daniel Hornsey was our sound recordist for most of day. Amy Bool was the clapper loader and Rachel Davis was the gaffer and additional sound recordist.
Everyone worked really hard that day. There was a lot to cover all in one day, with time of course for lunch. The weather, at times, was our enemy. Going from cloudy, to bright sunshine, to absolutely throwing it down with rain. Again, no complaints from anyone. We did have some sound issues, as expected, with the occasional cars, planes and a dog-walker passing by here and then, but we were able to work around them. From the advise of a friend, who has made a successful apocalypse film, we recorded a lot of wild tracks for the film which would be used in the edit later. Laura was a trooper, and delivered a great performance. The camera operator I initially had on board the project had to drop out unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts and I took it upon myself to shoot the film with a Canon 5D Mark ii. The night shoot with the glow sticks proved to be a very difficult challenge. I hadn't had any experience of doing a night shoot before and it was a big risk for me to learn and experiment during this 60 hour film challenge. I can safely say that I will not do a night shoot again unless I have an experienced cinematographer onboard. We wrapped filming at 9:30pm and we were all exhausted, but pleased with what we shot. When we got back to the house, I uploaded the footage and sound onto my computer. I was going to start editing that night, but Laura was insistent that I sleep. So as soon as everything finished importing onto my editing software, I went to bed at 1am.
8th May - Post-production
Post-production began at 8am. I managed to sync the sound with the footage and get a complete cut done by 2pm. The sound editing was very difficult and took a long time to get right. I decided also with the opening voicemail to include sound effects that hinted at a war had just erupted by a reckless decision by the president and thus we addressed the theme of apocalypse and therefore the film shows the after effects of the apocalypse with our protagonist. In addition, I added a phone battery icon when Laura's character (Anna) hears the voicemails, which I thought added to the importance of her mobile phone and seeing the 'battery life' decreasing would establish the level of stress for Anna to do something about it. The biggest problem I had in the edit was the finale of the film. It was filmed a little too bright and the glow stick wasn't bright enough to see in shot.
9th May - Post-production Continues...
So at 1am, I had finished grading the film and I decided to use the after effects program to track and brighten the glow sticks. However at 4am, the program had crashed and I lost some of the work I was doing on the glow sticks. At that point, I wanted to hurl the computer out the window. I had lost a few hours of work, trying to make a glow stick brighter! It was again another mistake I made. Trying to learn a new skill, in this case a more technical program in a challenge in which time is everything. Luckily I remained calm and managed to save some of the shots I had been working on and added them to the final edit. It was now 4:30am, the glow sticks were slightly brighter. I decided that the film was at a stage where I was happy enough to upload the film to Vimeo.
At approximately 6:07am, The Broken Dream by Team Shark Repellent Bat Spray was uploaded and sent to MCM Comic Con. The challenge was officially over for us with 2 hours to spare. In 58 hours, I made a new short film, with a great team of friends, on a theme I thought I would never tackle. The challenge gave me the opportunity to experiment and develop my skills as a filmmaker.
The following week, it was announced that Shark Repellent Bat Spray's entry had been selected as one of the top 10 films made in the challenge - which was a delightful surprise. The selection guaranteed a screening at the MCM Comic Con, London on the 29th May. I was so incredibly proud of the team for their hard work and it goes to show that filmmaking really is about having a successful collaboration.
29th May - Screening
MCM Comic Con, London. Excel Centre, Bronze Theatre, 3pm. The Broken Dream was the last to screen in front of an audience.
We were then announced as one of the top 3 films of the challenge and we are now finalists in the whole Comic Con Film Race competition! The Broken Dream will now go on to screen in the October MCM Comic Con along with a new selection of films made in the October Comic Con Film Race for the overall title of the MCM Comic Con Film Race 2016.
Team Shark Repellent Bat Spray at MCM Comic Con, London, May