Point Break in 6.0 Steps
So we made the shortlist for the Empire Done in 60 Seconds Film Competition [Hells yeah!]. The challenge was to remake a film in 60 seconds. So I thought I’d make a little guide to how we made our short film, and a little bit about making short films in general [caveat I know nothing about anything].
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/35321098 w=400&h=225]
1] Pick a film, and watch that film
When making a short film, which is very unlikely to make you any money, it’s important you don’t go overboard on expenditure. Sure you want some exploding helicopters? Don’t we all, but unless you work for some kind of ballistics company with a penchant for expensive team-building exercises, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to film one.
You may, however, be doing something cool or weird which you can film. Maybe, you’re uncle trains Killer Whales, perhaps it snowed and you love Scandinavian vampire films, or perhaps you just got fired and want to push your bosses computer out of a window. NOW IS YOUR CHANCE, GRAB YOUR CAMERA. You must take advantage of these natural situations to help work efficiently, and make the best of the other activities that make up the time of your life
We were planning on going surfing so naturally we thought of how we could incorporate it into a film. We immediately thought of Point Break, despite no-one being able to recall having seen it all the way through.
We all sat down, watched the film, laughed, threw ideas around, joked and made notes, and ate pizza, naturally.
2) Write a Script
Sam Wong took the bull by the horns and started a google document throwing down the ideas we’d discussed the day before. We shared the document with everyone who was to come surfing, and added jokes, vetoed jokes, and started to get a bit creative with our ideas.
The main thing about scripting is that it’s the best time to be editing. The more you shoot, the more time it will take to edit, the more stressed you get about decisions, and the less fun the process becomes. A wise man said if you have a shooting ratio of more than 80:1 you’re effectively a CCTV camera, not a filmmaker.
Not everyone likes to storyboard, and it’s by no means essential. Some scenes I storyboarded and some I didn’t. I think it helps loads when making a short film that needs to link together super-smoothely; to think about how your shots will connect to each other. The more times you do this, the more you understand the grammar of film, and how different shots work their way into the narrative. Every decision you take as a filmmaker should have a reason. Kurt Vonnegut said, start as close to the end as possible. I think that’s a good way to look at things. Does this bit need to be here?
I cannot draw for toffee, and not even one of those expensive classy souvenir toffees, I’m talking some kind of Chomp of something. But this doesn’t have to hold you back. See Exhibit A.
A storyboard is a great way to show actors, other camera people, editors, etc, and even stick men will go some way to help.
The advent of Digital SLR cinematography is, if we were wanky-media-types, what we could call ‘a gamechanger’. I have a Canon 550D which set me back around £550. And you could legitimately do everything on that basic kit if you wanted to, it films in full HD. Realistically you are going to want to spend a bit more on some sound equipment, something like a Zoom H4N will work great and is around £200, then you might well want some more lenses to give you a few more options. I love my 50mm prime [fixed] lens it lets in lots of light and allows you to have a really nice cinematic shallow depth of field. I wouldn’t actually have bothered getting the kit lens if I knew what I know now, but it certainly is adequate for the purposes of a short film.
You don’t need to have a DSLR though, this brilliant short film [Thrush] by was made using just a stills camera, and you could get the same results using any decent level compact camera.
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/4131811 w=400&h=225]
I personally think ideas are way more important than the equipment. These DSLRS are great, and really allow you to tell a story which looks pretty professional to most people’s eyes once squeezed down into Youtube or Vimeo.
I bought a 55-250mm (telephoto zoom) lens, because I like Wildlife photography, and it’s good for filming gigs and things at a distance. It also works great for shooting something like surfing, for when you don’t want to take your shiny new camera too far into the sea…
If you are looking to get started in the world of filming I really recommend nofilmschool blog, which has an awesome free DSLR cinematography guide. There are also loads of cool instructional and educational videos on Vimeo which can help guide you. Most importantly, get out there, film something, make some mistakes, as Beckett said, fail again, fail better. You’ll learn about composition, depth of field, focusing, aperture, lighting, sound etc as you go along. Take each trip and play around with one setting until you feel like you’ve mastered it.
We shot the surfing stuff first as we were going surfing in October, it was really fun, we only needed a little bit of surfing so we just tried to get some shots for the montage, and some shots of good surfing. It only made a few seconds in the film, but it gave it a bit of something extra because it had some bona fide action. We then cheated by faking two different parachute jump scenes, with cheeky replacement activities; including one in the doorway of a Sainsbury’s.
The deadline wasn’t until January, so naturally we kind of forgot about it for a while until we had a few weeks left to spare, then gathered everyone together to film the rest of the scenes. We storyboarded, then just improvised around what we had in the local area.
I think it’s a good idea to keep a diary of places that you might one day want to film in, with some pictures and moods or genres. They say it’s all about location location location, and whilst that’s probably a bit excessive for filming, choose the right location, and you have to work much less hard to make things look interesting, and struggle against unwieldy logistics.
Get friends to help you too, my flatmate/ TV researcher Nigel Alred, came and operated the camera and sound when the rest of us where acting. It’s a big help to have people around, and it should be pretty fun so you it doesn’t have to be a massive chore. We basically nailed it in one afternoon.
Once you’ve got all your footage you have to start piecing it together. I recently bought a 2nd hand iMac of Gumtree, which came with software included. The latest version of Final Cut Pro [Industry standard Video Editing Software] is £199, which is incredible considering what you can do with it. You can download a free month trial of most softwares, long enough to experiment with different programmes, see whether you like them [or whether you like filmmaking at all]. And, if you work smartly, long enough to cut your short film. Final Cut [Mac] and Adobe Premier Pro [Mac and PC] are the two main choices here.
I did a first edit of the surfing footage we did, which was helpful in framing what we shot on the last day. You start to develop a pace, and style which informs how the rest of your movie should feel. You become attached to certain shots, and sometimes you have to ignore that, sometimes you have to embrace it, there’s no certainty behind it. But if it’s your project, back yourself to know what you want.
I watched my footage through and decided if it was worth keeping or not, and whether is was A grade material or B grade material [in relative terms…]. I would raise a note of caution here: if you are doing a 60 second film, the shots will be so quick that even if it’s not a perfect take all the way through; there may be enough there for it to be the best one. So if something has a bit of magic to it but someone muffs a line or laughs; don’t necessarily bin it. That slightly less magical, yet perfect, take may be trimmed to a half a second. I was actually guided by those laughs, and pretty much every scene in the rough edit was one that had me or someone else laughing at the end. Normally very unprofessional and annoying, but in this case it marked it out as having a viscerally funny quality, if we didn't find it funny at the time, chance are the audience won't, and vice-verse. Something it gets hard to appreciate once you’ve seen something 100 times.
Get it down to the size you want, and remember our old friend Kurt, you may feel it’s impossible to cut anything else out but you’ll soon find that you can trim scenes here and there, overlay dialogue, just plain old DELETE. This is where we are really glad we didn’t film way too much, and subsequently have to kiss goodbye to complicated scenes that just will not fit.
An important lesson going back to the writing, is the importance of conveying things using everything that isn’t dialogue. It’s a great skill to learn as a filmmaker, and one that probably develops later in normal film making. In short filmmaking it’s non-negotiable. Everything has to drive the narrative; because there just isn’t time to explain everything in words. Every look, prop, bit of music, sound effect is an opportunity to help you tell your story more effectively.
Sound is crucial, we had to redo the beach sounds, because of noisy wind and waves and there are probably some slightly dubious dubbing bits, but it’s really important that people can hear what the actors are saying. This is not a mumblecore film, [though I actually like those films] it’s a film equivalent of a street fight, and each blow has to land.
Music helps loads, it tells the story, covers any dodgy recorded-sound, and gives you another avenue for comedic expression. Sound effects are really important, you may have to redo footsteps so they’re not affected by the wind, find some sound clips of waves, or atmosphere. One of the funnest bits of the whole process was having all of us attempting to recreate the sound of a cat being kicked. We wanted to ensure no cats were harmed during the process… I think we used Geoff Marsh's cat sound in the end.
Finally when you’ve chopped it and smoothed it, send it to a friend or two, upload it privately to vimeo and send people links, take feedback. If you want to be in a creative industry you’re going to have to get used to criticism. Bear in mind that you may be blind to the film having watched it so many times, and maybe slightly hate it a bit too [don’t worry this feeling will pass]. Take people’s suggestions if they have them. Think about them, they are more like your audience than you are [Most people will only watch this once, and you could probably reenact it word for word]. You’re decision is final, just make sure you can justify these decisions, even if just in your own mind. You’re always unhappy with your last project because you are a better filmmaker for having made it! As The genius Stephen Wright says.
‘Experience is something you get just after you need it’.
6) Upload and spread the word
This is probably the bit I’m least good at, there has never been a better time to make amateur movies. There is a massive potential audience out there, hungry for good content. YouTube is like the 2nd largest search engine in the world. We’ve tried to spread the word through Twitter, and Facebook, forums and various other bits of internet, and hopefully lots of random people will have stumbled across the website and enjoyed what everyone has done. If you like the film please spread the word, but the important thing is that it was really fun to make. There are some other really cool entries too, making use of varied tools from animation, to mobile phone footage. The most important thing is that it’s fun to do, it’s great to make things, and a competition like this is a really good way to learn some lessons, make some mistakes and practice the art of telling good stories.
Mad props to the following people
And Nigel Alred
Special thanks to Charlie Hall who inspired me by doing this last year.
Hopefully you’ll feel you can have a go too, and if you need a second opinion or some help get in touch.
Thom - find me on my website thomhoffman.co.uk