Indie Film

Spotlight on Shorts: The Fly

No, not that Fly, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous.

On the surface, ‘The Fly’ is a British gangster flick in the vein of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but with a twist. Directed by Ollie Williams, it won Best Comedy at the Plymouth Film Festival and garnered a Best Actor nomination for Jack Doolan at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival.

The plot of ‘The Fly’ is easy enough to recognize from the very first line of dialogue. A group of bank robbers are attempting a heist while the lonely getaway driver awaits their return so they can make off with their score. Simple enough, but he finds an obstacle in the most insignificant of creatures.

We get that this particular fly is going to be a problem from the dire way the title of the film is introduced. Loud and in big, bold, seizure inducing red letters, the four-second title sequence might as well be introducing  fire breathing King Kong. At first the insect is but a mere nuisance, but as the film goes on it becomes much more; an antagonizing force hell bent on ruining this heist.

Jack Doolan’s performance is done well, but it’s the camera work that really stands out. Many of the shots gives us an almost voyeuristic view of the action, with some shots taking place outside of the car looking in and some that make you feel as if you’re sitting in the back seat. The cuts between these angles come frequently. As the driver becomes more irritated with the fly’s presence, the cuts come more and more rapidly giving the film a chaotic feel to accompany the mayhem going on inside the car.

It’s a one joke movie to be sure, but at a little under five minutes, it never overstays it’s welcome; a byproduct of keeping your shorts, you know, short. ‘The Fly’ shows what you can do with a short if you keep the idea simple and the running time low.

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Indie Intros: Tim Miller’s ‘Rockfish’

Before the recent success of Fox’s Deadpool, Tim Miller had only directed two animated short films. His debut ‘Aunt Luisa’ won him and co director Paul Taylor a Jury Award at the Ojai Film Festival. His second film, ‘Rockfish,’ won an honorable mention also at the Ojai Film Festival for Best Animation and came in second for Best Animation at the Palm Springs International Shortfest.

Since then, Miller worked his way into Hollywood, namely for visual effects, as an Assistant Director for Thor: The Dark World’s opening sequence and as a Creative Supervisor for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Miller’s career proves that just because you specialize in other areas of entertainment, such as animation, doesn’t mean you can’t transition those skills into live action film as well.

In ‘Rockfish,’ we follow what appears to a miner and the first incarnation of Puppy Monkey Baby from this year’s incredibly disturbing Super Bowl commercials. All of this takes place on Tatooine or maybe whatever world the video game Borderlands is set on.

Miner and Monkey-Alien are blue collar guys doing their blue collar thing, digging a large hole and running a long metal wire down it as space miners do. Everything seems to be going according to plan until the wire hits a snag and the entire crane contraption attached to it goes for an incredibly destructive ride.

‘Rockfish’ attracts audiences with this vagueness; luring audiences by their curiosity and slowly answering their questions through visuals rather than exposition. As we hope for our heroes to survive this dangerous predicament, we are also hoping the outcome will reveal a little more about their characters. In this case, we find that the miners aren’t actually miners at all, but hunters of a different sort. I won’t give away the ending, but all is made clear in the end.

Although the animation probably looks dated by today’s standards, the low-res shouldn’t undermine the way the story is revealed. For any of you that have seen Deadpool, this might have actually worked out in his favor, as the kind of bare bones animation used to make Colossus kind of works to reinforce the tongue in cheek feel the movie manages to create so well.

Spotlight on Shorts: ‘Timelike’

 

Found footage films have gotten a pretty bad rap as of late. The genre has been a mainstay in horror since the popularity of The Blair Witch Project, but can be seen as far back as the 80’s with films like Cannibal Holocaust. Since then we’ve been given a slew of found footage films, such as Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, VHS and REC.

Often seen as an overused gimmick by some, “Timelike” proves that you can still use an old trick provided you do something new with it.

“Timelike” is written and directed by Richard Boylan, a cinematic designer for video game developer Bioware where he worked on the Mass Effect series.

“Timelike” starts off like most found footage films, with a cameraman who, for whatever reason, never shuts off the camera and insists on filming everything. The first character we are introduced to is Madeline, who has just been accepted to college. After receiving the good news, she and the cameraman, her boyfriend Rich, decide to celebrate with a bottle of wine. In the midst of their celebration, a stranger knocks on their door delivering a mysterious message. From there, things begin to go awry as time and space seemingly begin to unravel.

It is here where “Timelike” separates itself from other found footage films. As time begins to go out of whack, the footage we see begins to reflect this, repeating over and over as we the story is slowly revealed. It’s a simple technique that proves to be used to great effect, both telling the story and letting the audience experience the discombobulation associated with time coming unglued. What results is a film that entertains through the use of suspense rather than scares.

Those of you familiar with physics can probably decipher what happens in the film by the title. For those science lovers out there that are curious, you can try to make heads and tails of it here, but I would suggest watching the film first to get the full mind fuck effect in all its glory.

Indie Intros: Tim Burton’s ‘Doctor of Doom’

Tim Burton is one of those directors whose talents were immediately recognized, yet difficultly placed. After studying at the California Institute of Arts, he was immediately given fellowship by Disney where he worked for a short time. This led to the short “Frankenweenie,” which was never released by Disney, but was nonetheless still seen by Paul Reubens who wanted him to direct the cult hit Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. From there Burton’s story is fairly well-known, going on to direct Beetlejuice and becoming one of the most unique and in demand directors of the 90’s.

“Doctor of Doom” is one of Burton’s early shorts which he directed along with partner Jerry Rees. Burton also stars in the film as Don Carlo along with a variable who’s who from the Disney roster. Brad Bird, who won two Oscars for Disney/Pixar first for The Incredibles and another for Ratatouille, provides the voice of Don Carlo. Another Disney Oscar winner, Chris Buck, is most recently famous for directing the animated hit Frozen and plays the character of Pepe in “DoD.”

If you’re expecting some cross between the Burton style of filmmaking and Disney’s signature style like A Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ll be disappointed. “DoD” is more like something Burton’s hero Ed Wood would have devised. “DoD” is an homage to old B movies, possibly influenced by the 1963 Mexican horror film of the same name.

In it, a mad doctor is invited to dinner by a group of people who have clearly never eaten tacos before. He is shunned and decides to get his revenge by creating a creature that is a cross between an elephant and Greedo from Star Wars. The group manages to stop the creature, mainly because it’s worthless at terrorizing and because they’ve studying the fighting art of the WWE.

At first viewing the short appears to be plagued with problems. The dialogue, recorded separately, is almost incoherent. Everything is spoken as if a chipmunk on speed was called in to do ADR. There is even a moment when the cameraman attempts to shoot through a mirror, but is clearly visible for a good two-seconds. But now knowing Burton’s influences, it’s clear that many of these “mistakes” most likely done on purpose.

“DoD” does give us a sense of the filmmaker that Burton would become. The title font alone screams Burton, with that “it’s always Halloween” feel to his films. The film also combines horror elements presented as comedy which has become Burton’s signature.

Indie Intros: Ron Howard’s ‘Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death…’

Some people are just born to be filmmakers, I guess.

It’s common for a child to want to pick up a camera. I remember my father filming every Christmas at the house. He would simply set our VHS camcorder onto a tripod and let the thing roll, totally static, no need to get tricky. I always wanted to get my hands on that camera, but my father wouldn’t let me even touch the remote to our TV let alone a camcorder. Still I often wonder if I had the foresight to do anything worthwhile with it. I mean, I was only a kid. Still, had I been able to get my hands on that camera, the world might have had a video record of The Great War of 1986: Greyskull vs. Cobra.

One thing I can guarantee is my film probably wouldn’t have been as good as “Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death…” by a young Ron Howard.

By the time Howard had begun shooting this film he was already well established as child TV star. Shot in 1969, The Andy Griffith Show had already wrapped and he was taking roles on Gunsmoke.

I’m not going to pretend like “Cards, Cads, Guns, Gore and Death…” is some sort of amateur masterpiece by a fifteen-year-old phenom. It looks pretty much like what I kid that age would shoot if you gave him an 8mm camera. Still, it’s clear that he possesses some early film skills that aren’t common at that age that I would like to acknowledge.

The film centers around three kids dressed in western attire reenacting the famous saloon poker game. In one particularly high stakes hand, one kid lays down his cards and attempts to celebrate an early victory before another player stops him and lays down a stronger hand. Being ever suspicious (or just a sore loser), the first player calls the other a cheat and shoots him in the chest. The third player, played by a young Clint Howard who looks pretty much the same as he does now, decides he having none of it and proceeds to shoot the first player. It all seems like Clint has come out the victor till a kid in a black hat shoots him from behind because he hates gambling or is just an asshole. What we’re left with is a gory scene of bodies and blood-soaked poker chips.

Some of the interesting things to not e about this film is how Howard uses some fundamental film techniques to tell his story. The opening shot is your standard establishing shot, a close up of the poker chips as we tilt up to a shot of the first player. It’s elementary, but advanced for a fifteen year old and a better opening than some indie films I’ve seen from much older. The rest of the shot is done in one take as it pans to the second player, then back down to the chips, then to a bottle that we see the third player take a drink from and finally back to first player who shoves some chips into the stack. What results is a kind of tracking shot that introduces the characters by their interactions with the props.

The first cut we see is the smiling face of the first player as he is certain he has the best hand.

The special effects are clearly lo fi, but effective. To be honest, when the players are shot, I still can’t tell if the actors are in control of the blood or someone is shooting them with a water gun filled with red liquid from off-screen. I want to say the latter, since Clint Howard is shot in the back and doesn’t seem to be at an angle to spray himself.

The film ends with a shot of a lone poker chip lying in a pool of blood, which, even in its simplicity, is pretty cool final shot that symbolizes what the whole film is about.

I got to give it up to Ron Howard for releasing this film. It was apparently a bonus feature on the special edition DVD release of The Missing. It’s rare to see a filmmaker of Howard’s status to release their very early work, which is a shame because I believe aspiring filmmakers can learn a lot from them, even if they’re horrible.

Indie Intros: Robert Zemeckis’ ‘The Lift’

Last week Robert Rodriguez had on filmmaker Robert Zemeckis on his excellent show The Director’s Chair. Seriously, if you love hearing filmmakers talking about their craft, this is one of the best programs (imagine Inside the Actor’s Studio for filmmakers).

Piggybacking off of that show, we’re going to take a look at Zemeckis’ first student film, “The Lift,” a film shot in black and white, much like last week’s Christopher Nolan flick “Doodlebug.

The film is about a man going through his normal day-to-day routine until he meets his arch nemesis in the form of his apartment’s elevator. The elevator is either broken, possessed by The Devil, or maybe just hates him like your cat hates you. I don’t care if he’s cuddled up next to you right now purring his little heart out, that cat hates you and plots your demise daily.

The elevator seems to have a life of its own as it escapes him, shuts on him and sometimes traps him as he desperately tries to get to work. No matter how unpredictable the lift becomes, the man seems dead set on using it despite the hassle it causes him. Perhaps he’s trying to break it the way a trainer breaks a horse, or perhaps he’s just an idiot.

The black and white stock provides a strong level of contrast, as the film is not always lit properly. I wondered if he was using the same Kodak black and white reversal stock we used in my film school days that always managed to be overexposed or underexposed, sometimes even in the same frame. Still, Zemeckis manages to do some interesting stuff with the lighting, especially later in the film. Some of his usage of shadow seems to come right out of a film noir, with hard shadows being casted on the ground by light passing through the elevator’s grates. It kind of gives the elevator an ominous feel, further giving it a kind of sentience.

Other shots are precursors to some of Zemeckis’ later work. The opening shot of “The Lift” is a series of pans and close-ups, often focusing on appliances and clocks that furnish the main character’s apartment. Any fan of Back to the Future will recognize the similarities between its opening scene and the one seen here in “The Lift.” Either that, or Zemeckis took the DeLorean, travelled back to his film student self and told him to add the shot, forever changing the course of his life to make him the powerhouse director we know today.

Spotlight on Shorts: Punisher: Dirty Laundry


It’s been a kind of good last few weeks for comic book fans. Last week marked the release of Daredevil on Netflix along with, what I’m sure was, a spike in people taking sick days and pizza delivery sales. Then of course there was some extra Hulkbuster footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the long-awaited teaser for Superman vs. Batman (along with a leaked trailer, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Going with the trend, I’ve decided that for the rest of the month I will be devoting the Spotlight on Shorts section to comic book based fan films.

We start with “Punisher: Dirty Laundry”.

This film first screened at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con and wowed audiences with the return of the best Frank Castle (sorry Dolph Lundgren fans), Thomas Jane. The film was produced by Adi Shankar who’s made a name for himself producing such films as the survival thriller The Grey and most recently the much talked about “Power/Rangers” fan film.

The film has what I assume all Punisher fans are looking for, a large dose of violence as the cure for criminality. Witnessing a gang of thugs terrorize a city block, Castle begins the film hesitant to don the skull again (for whatever reason), simply looking to hit up the local Laundromat, grab a Yoo-Hoo, and get back to watching the final season of Dawson’s Creek. But we all know it would be a pretty disappointing Punisher film if Frank didn’t reach his breaking point, and I mean “breaking” literally.

As a non-profit fan film, “Punisher: Dirty Laundry” can take a few liberties. The most obvious one is this film didn’t appear to have to be ok’d with Marvel as their name is nowhere on it. Secondly, the entire soundtrack was brought to you by Hans Zimmer and his work on The Dark Knight, which means Shankar managed to steal from Marvel and DC in one fell swoop.

I’m sure all you Punisher fans out there have already seen this and probably chimed in on whether or not this is a fitting film adaptation to the comic. I’ll leave that for you to discuss since the only experience I have reading The Punisher is when he shows up in Spiderman comics and when he steamrolled over Wolverine. From a film lover’s perspective I think I speak for most when I say that 2004’s The Punisher starring Thomas Jane is probably the franchise’s best and “Dirty Laundry” does a good job feeling like a sequel to that film.

Indie Intros: Jay Duplass’s This is John

I’m back after a bit of time away from the keyboard. I apologize for my lack of posts over the last few weeks. I had to take a bit of time to devote to some other projects of mine that should be just over the horizon. This includes a new short film from yours truly as well as a foray into some audio entertainment.

With that, back to some discussion on short film.

I’ve been recently addicted to HBO’s Togetherness which just finished its first season and was created by filmmaking siblings Jay and Mark Duplass. If you haven’t seen this series, I would highly recommend it, especially if you’re in a relationship or marriage and want to simultaneously laugh and cry at the idea of long-term monogamy.

Jay and Mark have both directed such indie fare as Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Mark you may have seen from such film and TV as The One I Love, The Mindy Project, The League and this year’s The Lazarus Effect. Many of their films deal in similar territory as Togetherness, focusing on the hazards and roadblocks found within relationships and the neurosis that stems from them.

“This is John” really caught my eye for the clear lack of production value. It really looks like this film could have been shot on a Sony Handicam using only its in-cam mic and ambient lighting. Still, a simple plot combined with good acting manages to make this a smart comedy despite its low budget. In fact, Mark Duplass said some great things at SXSW about getting out there and shooting your ideas, budget be damned.

“This is John” starts off simple enough. A guy gets home and decides to record a greeting on his answering machine. He goes on erasing and re-recording, seemingly never pleased with the message, a still a relatable thing to everyone who has had to set up a greeting on a new cell phone. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that this message isn’t as simple of a task as one would think, as it becomes clear that John has some very deep-rooted issues that are now deciding to surface.

This film is a really good example of the type of films that I like to cover in the Indie Intros section; one that shows that you don’t need money, fancy equipment or know some VIP to start a successful film career. Despite all the canards claiming it’s who you know and not what you know that garners success in film, it’s good to see that hard work and establishing a clear voice can open up just as many opportunities.

FOCUS ON FILMMAKERS: CODY EVERETT

 

For my first interview I really wanted to cover someone I felt really embodied the type of filmmaker I want to speak to. Someone who’s just starting his film career, but knows exactly what direction he’s headed. I couldn’t have asked for a more representative and entertaining subject than Cody Everett.

His directorial debut, “The Greatest Lie Ever Told“, which he also wrote, premiered at this year’s Phoenix Comicon. It was also an official selection at the 2014 Jerome Film Festival.  He was also a producer on the short horror film Dust Jacket.

You can watch “The Greatest Lie Ever Told” on YouTube or make your life easy and click play on the embedded video above.

Friendly Neighborhood Filmmaking: Why did you get into film?

Cody Everett: That’s actually a really good question, because I never really thought about why I did it, I just always wanted to do it. I mean, part of the reason was to prove that I could, to the group of people I make movies with. That was the [biggest] part of it, to say, “No look, I can do it too,” because I didn’t think I was taken seriously. That was the main reason. I’ve always enjoyed movies from an early age. It’s fun for me to do. I love working on a set. At first, I wanted to be an actor in high school. Then I wanted to learn both sides and I just kind of gravitated more towards telling people how to act, because I was better at picking out shitty acting than I was at acting.

[A smile creeps across his face]

I wouldn’t mind being, what’s his name, Renny Harlin.

FNF: Who?

CE: The guy who’s directed everything. He directed Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. Also one of the Exorcist sequels, one of the newer ones. This guy, he did one action movie and people were like, “Fuck it, he can do it. He does everything!” He did a horror movie and now he’s doing all this other shit, but no one knows it’s him because he’s not a great director, but he works.

FNF: Are you saying Harlan’s an influence or just, “Well, if he can do it…”

CE: It’s kind of both. [laughs] I mean, [Hollywood] will throw anything at him. He’s made a career at making mediocre movies. His claim to fame is he made the worst Die Hard.

FNF: I wouldn’t say that, have you seen the new one? With the son?

CE:   True.

FNF: Unfortunately, that guy had to wait twenty years for Hollywood to make a worse Die Hard than number two.

CE: You know Renny Harlan was just sitting there, hands clenched, saying, “Please suck.”

FNF: Well, other than Renny Harlin, did you have any other influences?

CE: I’m mostly influenced by comedy. My mom was really into old movies. I grew up with Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges, The Carol Burnett Show, but also Dean Martin, straight men like that. I’ve always like over the top physical comedy. That’s where my humor started.   I found humor as a way to deal with things and situations in life. If you can make a shitty situation in life funny, it doesn’t seem so shitty. I feel I went through some weird film stages, but also some of the same film stages as everyone else. As a kid I was always drawn toward the darker, macabre stuff. It started out with what I call Baby Macabre, Tim Burton stuff, but then I started watching Troma stuff, which is weird because Troma had always been in my life.

FNF: Yeah?

CE: Yeah, I remember my dad taking me to the grocery store, back when you would rent movies from the grocery store, and they had me pick out a movie. Toxic Avenger had a cartoon on at the time and they let me rent Toxic Avenger 3, the one where he fights Satan. I got that one, where he knocks Satan’s head off, there are tits in it, all this crazy stuff. Total B movie. I watched it by myself, because [my parents] thought it was a kid’s movie. They just popped it in, like it was the babysitter. I watch that movie still to this day, and it’s like, “A kid should not be watching this!” I was eight years old. It’s weird, [Troma] was my phase through high school as well. I got into the kind of grunge way of filmmaking by watching those movies. [Troma] kind of said, “Alright, well make your own damn movie.” I would read or watch whatever I could from Troma. A few are some of the worst movies you’ll ever see, but I like a lot of terrible movies. There are people that will think certain movies are just god-awful and I’ll love them. I want to be the Uwe Boll of America.

FNF: Really?

No, I’m kidding, I want to be Renny Harlin. [laughs]

FNF: Tell me about the first film you worked on. “Return of Mothra”?

CE: Yeah, “Return of Mothra” was a high school film. It was a remake with Chris Wilembrect. The story was pretty cohesive. We had this moth we made in ceramics class and we had it attacking this Matchbox car. It was stupid, but we put it into the Phoenix Film Festival. It was just this stupid comedy, but we got a letter back saying “Return of Mothra” got in.

FNF: What year was this?

CE: 2003.

FNF: So you were, what, seventeen, eighteen?

CE: Yeah, something like that.

FNF: Wow, and you got a film into a film festival. What was that experience like?

CE: It was weird. It was the high school portion of it, so no one gave a shit, but I met Brian O’Halloran there from Clerks who was amazingly nice. John Waters was also there, who Chris was a big fan of, so that was the big thing to do. We have to go see John Waters!

FNF: So why did you pick “The Greatest Lie Ever Told”? What spoke to you about this film made you decide to make it your directorial debut?

CE: My goal was not to be a director. I didn’t feel I was that far advanced yet. I was trying to find a way to get respect from the group of people I work with. I felt I had to do something, so they could say, “Ok, he’s done it before. I’ll listen to him.” I mean, just because someone hasn’t done something before doesn’t mean their ideas are bad.

FNF: Agreed.

CE: Eventually I decided [directing] would make me a better producer, which is what I really wanted to be. So I was thinking, “What can I do that’s kind of easy?” I see everybody do these overcomplicated short films. I just wanted to do something easy, to show these guys I could do it. I was going to write this story about a father that shows up on his son’s doorstep. The son hasn’t seen him in years, but the father is expecting him to take him in. I was going to try and make it a comedy…

FNF: That’s pretty heavy for a comedy.

CE: [laughs] Yeah. So I did this Google search, like, “Ten Things A Drunk Father Would Say” and what came up was a list of things not to do in front of your significant other and I said, “That’s a movie.” I don’t why that clicked with me, but I knew that was the movie. It just fit perfectly. It was easy. I could shoot it at my friend’s house. I had to get a restaurant, but it was [just] two locations. My goal was to make, what I consider, a commercial film. A commercial comedy that you would go and see Seth Rogen in at Harkins, but do it in five minutes, and I did that. I know I did that.

FNF: So since this was your first time on set as a director, what was that like?

CE: I felt a little nervous with the time restraint. The first half of the night, the restaurant shoot, I bullshitted my way through that just trying to figure out what my style would be. What am I going to say to the actors? What do I want them to say? Kind of figuring all that out. Once I got through that portion of it, it was pretty easy going from there. Having fun was important, but also knowing when to work was important and having a great crew was important. I had all that, so it wasn’t hard.   But, if you ask the crew, they’ll probably tell you it was the best catering they ever had.

FNF: Do you feel there was any mistakes that, if you could do it again, you would’ve rectified?

CE: Oh yeah. Taking time, not rushing so much. Being quicker on reshoots. Time restraints, learning not to try and shoot everything in one night so you can get the best out of your actors, so they’re not so tired and ready to kill themselves. But also getting them tired and ready to kill themselves is great for some [scenes].  The editing process was a huge learning experience. We had three or four final cuts of that film. Also, how important it is to have good makeup people, because they saved our ass a lot on that movie.  I feel it was more experience stuff and feel of things, rather than, “Oh hey, I learned this real technical shot. Learned this perfect angle.” I really hadn’t learned any of that stuff, but the feel of a set, how to run a set, getting a feel for the actors, yeah. Were there a lot of things I’d change? Yeah, but I didn’t have the budget.

FNF: Are there any tips you’d like to give to any other first time filmmakers?

CE: Tons. First, be like Renny Harlin. Set yourself to a mediocre level, but crush that mediocre level. [laughs]

No, there is one problem I’ve noticed with short films. Everyone tries to be a superstar on their first short film. Look, if you’re independent you probably don’t have the budget. You’re probably not going to have [the best] script because you can’t afford a great scriptwriter writing it for you. Simple can be hard to do, but there’s a reason simple is hard to do, because it’s probably going to be your best shit.   Sometimes I see films and say, “Man, if you hadn’t tried so hard [to capture something big], you would’ve knocked it out of the park.”

FNF: Exactly, I just covered a filmmaker that said something very similar. That there are many beginning filmmakers that try to capture a big idea they know nothing about.

CE: Right.

FNF: Like someone doing a film about being fifty when they’re twenty-one. What can you know about that?

CE: Exactly. What do I know about being thirty? Everything in my film is somewhat grounded in reality. Yes, one day you’ll have to take a drunk girl home who’ll just ruin your whole day. That will happen. It’s all very relatable stuff. That’s what I mean when I say it’s a mainstream comedy. Then again, you’re always going to get that guy that says, “Oh, film is not meant for dick and fart jokes.” Fuck that, it’s meant to make somebody feel something. I mean, one of the biggest genres is comedy. When the market crashed, people went to the movies because life sucked so bad. Personally I didn’t go and see Twelve Years a Slave. Why, because sometimes I don’t feel like going to the movies and crying my eyes out because white people are so terrible. Don’t get me wrong there’s a place for that shit, but it’s not my shit.

Spotlight on Shorts: Factory 293

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/92579604″>FACTORY293</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/meaningmakerfilms”>Meaning Maker</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

This week I really wanted to focus on cinematography in film and how nailing it effectively can add to the production value of a film without necessarily adding to the budget. Although having a top of the line HD camera and a large budget certainly will increase the look of a film, I’m always impressed by filmmakers that do a lot with fairly little by taking the time to study shot selections and how they translate to an audience visually. I was lucky to find a short last night called “Factory 293” that’s a fantastic example of this.

“Factory 293” is a period piece written and directed by Roderick MacKay. Set in WWII during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, it follows a factory in the middle of the Russian tundra that produces artillery shells for tanks, really big guns or Soviet era Jaegers specifically designed to take on Nazi Kaiju (how the hell am I supposed to know, I’m not an artillery expert).   Grigori runs the factory and is having an affair with Yelena, a factory worker. From the outset we know that something is clearly bothering Grigori. He rejects Yelena’s advances and glares menacingly at the picture of Stalin hanging on his wall.

When the power goes out, Yelena is charged with turning it back on. In the attempt to restore power, she finds a lone soviet soldier out in the tundra on the brink of freezing to death. From there we learn more about Grigori, the mysterious soldier and the extent of Yelena and Grigori’s relationship.

I think the most surprising thing about this film is that it’s shot far, far away from the frostbitten lands of Russia in sunny Perth, Australia. Even more impressive, is that despite clearly looking like it took place on the planet Hoth, it was shot in the middle of summer. Through the use of fans, fake snow and some incredibly impressive green screening and digital artistry, they managed to turn Perth into something out of Kris Kringle’s nightmares. All this was done within a relatively small budget estimated at $100,000 dollars.

For those of you interested in the process of how MacKay managed to pull this off, it’s chronicled in a Behind the Scenes video below:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/88841934″>FACTORY293 Behind The Scenes</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/meaningmakerfilms”>Meaning Maker</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Despite the impressive digital work in the movie, what really struck me was the choice of shots MacKay went with to tell his story. One specific shot is an overhead angle capturing the portrait of Stalin ominously overhead of Grigori. The shot hints to the ever-looming presence of Stalinist Russia, mimicking the paranoia the dictator was so well-known for, his eyes constantly on the lookout for dissenters to the Soviet cause.

MacKay also does some impressive work with camera focus, specifically while shooting down the barrel of a gun, many of the shots seemingly coming from the point of view of the targets.

All of this excellent cinematography enhances the film further, giving it a very polished look for, relatively, pennies on the dollar. This demonstrates what good shot selection can do for a film, drawing the audience further into the film by making the framing and movement of the camera just as much a part of the storytelling process as the dialogue spoken by the characters. This is a lesson I feel a lot of beginning filmmakers can learn greatly from, that camera position is more than a matter of just getting the actors in frame. Let’s not forget that films are moving pictures and not just a collection of static shots.