This edition of the blog comes from a guest blogger in the form of Sci–Fi –London’s 48hr film challenge winner. Clement Gharini in this blog he describes his winning formula and how independent film production is quietly closing the gap between small and big budget.
Making 'FREE ZONE', Sci-Fi London 48Hr Challenge Winner 2013.
The truth behind FREE ZONE is that a week before the contest I came very close to cancel the shooting. To make a film in 2 days was already enough of a challenge indeed but an other project came across at the
same time with deadlines only a week apart. So the week-end of the Sci Fi contest I also had an other film to complete and deliver. It was a bit of madness really but I suppose it forced me to go straight to the point, I took short-cuts that I would have never dared taking before. It did hurt a bit my meticulous and control-freak nature but all for the better finally. Beyond the competitive event, the 48Hr Challenge is for that reason a great lesson of film-making, and by now I think I understand what 'state of emergency' really means from a creative point of view, what's positive about it and what it does for you.
I eventually decided to go on with the contest mainly because of the people I had involved in: the two actresses and the make-up artist. I felt I was owing them the film, despite the pressure I had stupidly managed to put on my shoulders with 2 nearly simultaneous deadlines. The team size is actually an other case of weaknesses turned into strength. My team was only composed of 4 people, me included, and 2 of us were in front of the camera! But it doesn't prove that's the right thing to do systematically. I suppose your crew should only be as big as your production requires it to be.
Saturday around noon the festival send you a message with a set of constrains and you must submit your film the next Monday before noon. The only thing you can prepare is your crew, cast and location. So basically you only know half of the equation and the rest comes in this little text message. I like the process and the feel of it. You're ready, you have your people, your place, you are in standby... Then suddenly someone you don't know send you a very awkward list of cryptic guidelines. It feels like being in a spy movie. Then the actual thing begins. You have to put together the pieces of the puzzle.
First thing you have to do is to find the requested props. The people who were suppose to help me with that just dropped out the evening before so I had to improvise and finally asked the actress if she could grab the items on her way to the set. Shooting was pretty intense and focused but not as long as I though it would be. Annabel and Katrina, the actresses, were spot-on, it was absolutely fantastic. The chemistry really worked well between the two of them and I could see that right away. I spent the next day editing, mixing and grading. I knew I wanted to keep things simple, not only because of the time frame but also because simplicity is an other motto of mine. 'Simple' doesn't mean 'cheap', on the contrary. A 'concept' for instance is by definition something quite simple, which you can express in very few word, but which contains very powerful ideas. I believe that somehow you can nest very complex and sophisticated things into simple terms. I'm not quite there yet but that's what I aimed for.
The Jury was composed of very eminent personalities (Guillermo Del Toro, Benedict Cumberbatch among others.) We didn't have the chance to meet with them but we got some notes and feedback. That was really interesting. Having your work being assessed by that kind of people is a real confidence booster. The results were announced at the end of a screening showing the long-listed and short-listed films. That evening was a truly humbling experience because the quality of the productions presented was really high and sometimes intimidating with massive crew and resources.
I guess the statement behind the 48Hr Challenge is precisely that it is now perfectly possible to make proper Sci-Fi films with very limited money and time. Sci-Fi is often synonymous with vfx-heavy productions, stratospheric budgets. But today the democratisation of the tools available to film-makers really levels the playing field and we see an amazing increase of production value over the whole spectrum. Even the most basic wedding film can rival with Hollywood imagery nowadays. Set aside the archetypal home-made YouTube clip, it doesn't take much money and knowledge to reach a good standard. Ironically the immediate consequence is that technique doesn't matter much any more. What makes your film stand out is not really the gear you use or the amazing effect you put in but just and simply what you have to say. Isn't it the most important after all?
I have a technical background, I used to be a cameraman before shifting to vfx. But I came to the conclusion that your best cinematography is your location, your best vfx is your actor, and your best production value is your idea. Characters and narrative first, technique second. It might sound obvious but I have to admit it was not to me up to fairly recently. Vfx should only serve the production, give a hand and disappear. I like visual effects when you can't see them at all. Gattaca by Andrew Niccol and Solaris by Tarkovsky are amongst my best Sci-Fi films of all times, and that's because they put story-telling as well as characters first and don't rely on gizmos and vfx gadgets to fill the gap. Those films are good stories first and foremost before being Sci-Fi products. The opposite of that for me is Star-Wars (oops too late, I said it!) I know it's blasphemy but I find the epic battles and intergalactic stuff utterly boring because emotionally nothing much happens really. They did pioneered a lot if thing technically but story wise I find it very basic - That's it now Lucas will never produce my films... Oh well, he retired now.. :) -
In my previous professional life I had the chance to be part of big productions where the second unit alone was composed of hundreds of people. That's great, it feeds many families, but honestly when you look at the final result, be it amazing, it's not necessarily hundreds time better. In other words, when you compare a very good 1 million dollars film with a very good 200 millions dollars film, in most cases the later is hardly 200 times better. Big money is no guaranty of quality. Plus the advantage of the 1 million dollars film is that it only takes 1 million to start making profit. The film industry has been known since ever for its whimsical excesses and waste. I've witnessed those things. Now the indy film-makers really push the boundaries and prove everyday out of pure necessity that it can be done in a more efficient and smarter way. When you don't have the money you have to find other ways. And again I am convinced that in 2 years time Spielberg and the wedding video guy will use the exact same camera.
I love what's happening at the moment. The combination of internet and the democratisation of film tools is a complete game changer that shakes the old elitist model. If you're prone to nostalgia it's frightening but if you believe that the higher the number of guests the better the party then it's a wonderfully time for film-making and I feel that's very much the spirit of the 48Hr Challenge.
Watch 'Free Zone' here.
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