Big Shorts - Filmmaking Challenge


When I read about the STILLMOTION "BIG SHORTS" contest it came to my mind how much my memories were always anchored by sounds - equal to pictures and odors. I chose some examplary sounds / memories, tried to connect them in a way that they made a story, wrote my thoughs down for a voice over, collected the props, packed some equipment and took it along on our holiday trip - the only chance to get the film done in time...

The film was guerilla-recorded in Portugal, the homeland of my girl-friend. Her friends helped a lot with their adorable kids joining the film. We shot at the beautiful bay of the PRAINHA resort and two private houses, all in Portimao / Algarve / south of Portugal. I doubt that I could capture the amtosphere I was looking for without these kids and beautiful locations...

Because I traveled by plane I just packed a minimum of equipment. Tripod and Glidecam went to the suitcase (without the heavy parts). Camera, lenses, monitor and heavy parts went into a camera bag into the cabin... it felt like 10kg... the airline fortunately didn't check it! I carried the computer, batteries, charger etc. in a computer bag... felt like another 10kg).

• CANON 7D (for 50fps) with CINEMA picture style
• CANON 24 mm f1.4 for most of the scenes
• CANON 50 f1.2
• CANON 100 f2.8 macro
• TOKINA 11-15 f2.8
• SmallHD DP6 (one of my most important tools for focus and light checks)
• Glidecam HD 2000
• SLIK photo tripod (well, not actually what people are looking for in a film production but light enough for the flight...)
• small table dolly from EBAY
• Studioclamp to attach a wooden board to the tripod as a "surface" for the table dolly, in order to use it as a slider
• Tascam DR-100 field recorder
• no light bouncers or lamps... we had to use available light / the right times of the day. Exception: the Super 8 player intro which was recorded in advance at home with a big photo LED light for the background
• Macbook Pro 17" with a SSD and FCPX (I know, I know :-),... but this this software became really serious with the latest version and is -to me- great for very fast editing) :-)

The first production step was editing the beautiful song of WESLEY JENSEN and my early voice-over-text at the same time, until the two elements worked together well. This made an inspiring "soundtrack" to listen to, while working out the story. You can say that I imagined "not-yet-existing-film-scenes" for the soundtrack I was listening to; love to work like this. Many of the ambient sounds were recorded during or right after the film-scenes. Others were recorded separately. Some are from music sample libraries. The voice over was supposed to be done by 3 irish people: a young kid, an "almost teenager" and and an adult, matching the story chapters like "my voices of the past" are speaking. Unfortunately I couldn't manage it on time - now you have to suffer my voice-over-performance and accent. It was done in 20 min. speaking directly into my TASCAM field recorder, sitting in front of the Macbook and performing it live while watching (and listenting to) the final edit to get the timing instantly right...

I tend to write detailed scripts in a NUMBERS spreadsheet with exact defintions for every scene: a scene description, neccessary equipment, camera movement, suggested effects / transitions in post, neccessary props etc. Because of the short amount of production-time I couldn't stick to all the details in the script - also, because the kids wouldn't be patience enough for such an effort. It's interesting though what you can get from a "live performance", if you think in advance what pictures you are looking for. The dancing scene is an example; it was shot in two minutes in one go instead of processing exactly previsioned scene defintitions. In contrast: doing the short Super 8 recorder scene took all together almost an hour! Filming with kids is really an extra task: it's great fun and it's rewarding to see their pleasure to do it, once they become confident - but it takes time, appreciation and your skills as a host! ;-). As a slider workaround I bought a wooden board from a local DIY market in Portugal; a real slider was too heavy for the trip. Sounds cool, but in reality it was not easy to handle - certainly really just a workaround; next time I'll smuggle a slider ;-). The scenes at the beach were a little scary: the 7D was boiling after 60 minutes, I was melting after 5 minutes, the lenses were tortured by the salt and sand in the air. After a beach-experience before I was at least smart enought to wrap the lower part of the tripod legs in plastic bags to avoid the sand and bring anought plastig bags to wrap up unused equipment instantly. I planned to use film grain in post but found the 7D "delivering" enough grain ... ;-)

I could finish the recordings only so close to the deadline, that I skipped sleeping the night before the contest ended (= early morning in Europe) and editied it within 4 hours. The film was done about an hour before the deadline ... without a working internet connection in our appartment! I had to decide to "miss our plane back home to Germany" at same morning or go to a place with an internet connection to upload the film for the "BIG SHORTS". I went sadly on the plane and missed the deadline, but STILLMOTION was so kind to post the film here anyway. It is not eligible for the contest anymore, but I am very happy to share it you! THANKS A LOT STILLMOTION!

- a songwriter / music producer
- a film dude (doing coporate work, weddings with my girl-friend as a photographer, starting with documentaries; yet filming solo but hoping to join / build up a team)
- photographer (people, wedding, architecture, corporate)
- graphic designer (unscientifically trained by my grandfather)

My focus is on films and photography in these days but I don't want to miss any of these playgrounds and find them very much related, "technically and dramaturgically": you try to tell stories, you develop an emotional journey for the listeners / viewers, you might think about questions like "hifi" or "lofi" elements, to create the right mood, colors (in pictures or music) etc. - I would love to do more films in the direction of this contest here. The contest certainly motivated me to offer films to business-clients more consequently in a narrative style...


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