Wednesday, 30 September 2015

From #2wkfilm To AirNinja Movie Method

Talking with co-conspirator Evil C about our next January film production, I was reminded about how AirNinja germinated from the tactics used filming and completing "The Original Soundtrack" over a two week period in 2009.

The project was a success, here's a brief trailer:

One other output from that project was an essay entitled "Giving My Movies Away For Free" (reproduced below) which was first published in 2009 by the Royal Baronial Theatre.

I thought I'd dust it off, and see if any insights still stood today. I've reprinted my essay below, but do check out the others that were part of the same project.

The full length version of "The Original Soundtrack" can be viewed for free on YouTube.

--Begin Essay--

A Short Essay: “Giving my movies away for free”.

We live in interesting times. Avatar reportedly is the most expensive film in history and is the culmination of 10 years work. It’s projected to make $1 billion globally. Cameron is advocating 48fps and stereoscopic acquisition. The film is almost three hours long.

How on earth do you get to make films on such a scale?

Let’s start by paraphrasing a piece of Cameron’s advice to filmmakers yet to have made a movie: “Start by making a film. Complete it. From then on you are negotiating budget for your next one”.

But that quote’s probably two decades old or more. From a by-gone era - it’s from the era of scarcity when not everyone had access to the means of making a decent movie. We now live in an era of abundance where punters will accept anything from shakycam smartphone footage to 4K RED, or anything inbetween. Shooting at 1920 x 1080 (the same resolution the Star Wars prequels were acquired at) only requires a modest investment with the huge advantage that you can also go tapeless.

In the era of abundance you need to be able to stand out from the clutter. Cameron largely does this on reputation (“From the director of Titanic, Terminator, Piranha II”, etc). How can you hope to match that reputation? Do you even need to? Zen Buddhism has a good piece of advice, “begin by beginning”, in other words get out there and do it, make a fool of yourself until you’re comfortable with the process. With the technology abundant (therefore affordable), it doesn’t make sense to hold back if all you want to be doing is running around out there making movies. If you want to raise finance and stay warm and dry, study accountancy, wear a suit, go to meetings and act conservative. 

It wasn’t really until April 2009 that I’d realised how things had progressed with the technology - and how affordable moviemaking had become to outlaws such as myself. Having just signed up to Twitter I was invited to take part in the first #2wkfilm aka two week film challenge - shoot, edit, finish a feature length movie in a two week window before the end of May ’09. Up to that point I’d basically been spinning in neutral since the completion of my mockudrama ‘Crooked Features’ which was shot standard definition on miniDV tape with the Canon XL1 and a Sennheiser K6/ME66.

Seeing #2wkfilm as a way to get the fire started once more I started looking around for a means of acquisition. I already owned a Panasonic Lumix TZ which could record 848 x 480 and a bunch of professional boom mics with a Sound Devices 702T. All I needed was a script. And crew. And actors. And locations. Etc. I only had about two weeks to sort all this out if I was to meet the deadline of the end of May ’09. Oh, in that time I also upgraded my Lumix to a TZ 3 which shoots 720p (1280 x 720).

Well, we did it. The result was ‘The Original Soundtrack’ which screened on home turf alongside the other completed #2wkfilm entries at the Portobello Film Festival. The intent was never to make money from this particular venture. It was to make connections with local moviemakers, test a cheap SDHC card tapeless workflow, and chalk another one up in the IMDb. Secondary objective was to promote the local musicians without whose work the ‘Soundtrack’ part would not have been possible.

In aggregate the two versions of ‘The Original Soundtrack’ (700MB and 2.5GB version) on mininova have been downloaded 5,500 times. Somewhat predictably, DVD sales have been anemic (though to be fair it’s not like I’ve given the product any marketing push whatsoever). It was never meant to make me a profit though (the DVD is sold at cost), but it has added considerably to my wealth of connections and experiences.

In comparison I’ve had short film work on for several years (always the progressive, me) and the most downloaded there is  ‘Adult Contacts’ at 60,000 times. It’s been there so long I can’t remember when I uploaded it. It’s also my directorial debut (well, with real live actors anyway) if you’re interested in my take on “two people talking in a room” from 1995. The final cut is just under seven minutes but funnily enough I remember the original cut was almost 15 minutes long. Yet, now, I can’t remember what I cut out. I do remember cutting between a Video8 deck and a NICAM VHS deck and some crappy Sony LANC protocol which was not frame accurate; being really jealous of my mate who was editing on Media100 NLE. Anyway, I digress.

Part of my “problem” is that I am a part-time moviemaker. Like many outlaw filmmakers I have a day job, a family, and a life. I just don’t have the energy for self-promotion and I don’t have the bravado to go full-time freelance. I like to eat, and so do my kids. Taking part in the first #2wkfilm has enabled me to re-engage locally and led to my enrollment onto the second #2wkfilm. That, however has turned out to be an entirely different kettle of fish.

‘The Fix’ is my second #2wkfilm effort although currently I disqualified it: although we shot the rushes over just five days, the remaining time was not enough to complete the movie to fine cut (though I did get it to a very rough cut and survive a bout of the ‘flu). The big difference here was bringing a production designer on-board and having access to Rennie Pilgrem’s back catalogue as well as a commitment for some scoring. The production locations were also more ambitious, everywhere from an autumn forest to a small studio space at Ealing. I also shot using a Xacti at 720p and recorded sound single-system (poorly but mostly adequately, the horror) with my recently acquired used Neumann RSM-191 M-S mic. Lesson: my next movie really must be shot double-system and that pretty much precludes it from being a #2wkfilm. It’s expected that ‘The Fix’ will be completed by June ’10 (some way off from the #2wkfilm target of October ’09) but that’s the great thing about being an outlaw - no rules, no deadlines, all my own terms.

To conclude, Hollywood finds itself at a juncture, similar to that when the printing press arrived in Europe in the 15th century. The printing press was a revolution for many reasons, and it put many scribes out of work. The advantages of the printing press were obvious to almost everyone and production costs were 700% less than employing scribes. I guess the scribes weren’t too happy about that.

In the 21st century is it a necessity to spend $300 million to tell a story on celluloid? Will outlaws become organised and create a parallel industry leaving Hollywood to wither on it’s own sick vine. Or perhaps efforts like Paramount’s to keep a slate of $100,000 movies will appease the masses and put the outlaws out of a job. One thing’s for sure. No one can predict the future. Everyone can sidestep the little bits of history repeating. Me? I really enjoy home cinema.

--End Essay--

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