Disclaimer: Before I begin, if you didn’t know, last year I released my very first short film to the world (or the internet). I had never been so nervous in my life, but I was proud of my incredibly amateurish piece of work. In the end, it was really a learning experience of how not to make a short film, but all of that will be covered in the following blog entries. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it before reading any of the material.
My very first short film, Like A Complete Unknown, will be celebrating its first birthday on November 24, 2016 (coincidentally, Thanksgiving day). To celebrate, I’ve decided to write a four-week behind the scenes/making-of blog series leading up to the date. These blog posts will consist of four parts: conception, pre-production, production, and post-production/release. These will be blog posts that I should’ve written during the actual production, but didn’t. However, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the one year achievement than making myself commit to writing about it and revisiting something I’ll never truly get to experience again: making my first film of any kind.
Nothing, not even a slightly pretentious blog post from a wannabe filmmaker who only has two mildly adequate short films under his belt, can fully prepare you for making a film. And anyone who is the slightest bit associated with film will tell you that. A successful career in film, from what I understand, means you need connections, talent, and a lot of luck. But really, that only applies if you’re interested in a successful career in film. Of course you need talent to make any kind of film, and a few connections also wouldn’t hurt. But if you’re just a beginner who has little to no knowledge/resources on how to make a film and you want to make one anyway, this is honestly the best time to do it. For almost as long as film has been a respectable art form, it has been made with highly expensive cameras that the average layman (like me) would never be able to get his hands on. However, it’s the twenty-first century. We have incredibly impressive cameras on our cellphones. As the great director Stanley Kubrick once said,”the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.” So that’s exactly what I did (adapting it to today’s technology).
I had wanted to make a film for about two years. One effort almost got off the ground: the script was finished, characters were cast…but it didn’t seem to go anywhere after that. Finally, around late August/early September 2015, I became fed up with merely watching movies. I wanted to make one. But what could I do? At the time, I had no equipment. I only had one potential actor, future business partner and best friend Seth Henry. I had no script…yet. To do anything, I had to take what resources I had (and maybe save a little bit of money to upgrade equipment).
What particularly inspired me was reading an article on Sean S. Baker’s Sundance hit, Tangerine, that was filmed completely on his iPhone. Yes, you read that right. He got a film submitted into one of the most prestigious film festivals ever just by filming with his own cell phone. This was when I realized that the kind of camera a filmmaker uses does not matter at all. What matters is what he films with it. I immediately did research on Baker’s project, discovering he had some help along the way: additional lenses made just for iPhones, recording equipment, and editing software. The closest thing I had to any of those was the iMovie app on the family iPad. However, I found a lens online that would be perfect for my phone that came at a more affordable price than Baker’s. Still no recording equipment. I decided I would have to challenge myself and write a short film script that could be filmed locally, with one key actor, and no sound. Soon, Like A Complete Unknown was born.
Writing was the difficult part (well…the first difficult part). First and foremost, I needed a script that could be easily filmed with the few resources I had. Secondly, I didn’t want to write something that had been written a million times before. I wanted something that was different, original, unique. I knew from an early start that was the approach I wanted to take toward filmmaking. The problem was, there are so many stories out there, it’s hard to be completely original. That being said, I had to draw inspiration from other works. I had recently seen Spike Jonze’s Her, a film about a man falling in love with the automated Siri-type voice on his phone. Though it sounded like a silly plot line, once you watched it, you were so invested with this character that you forgot that the second lead actor wasn’t a phone. I was truly amazed at how Jonze could make someone feel that way with a story about an inanimate object, so I suppose I stole heavily from that. My script would be about a lonely college student who found solace in his pet rock.
I can’t remember exactly how I got the pet rock idea. When I did, of course it seemed silly and almost unfeasible. Could I really craft a story so masterfully like Jonze did and make an audience actually feel for this character and his rock? Even at this point, I’m still not even sure if it worked. But I felt like it was at least a little bit unique and worth a shot. I came up with a basic outline: the Loner has no one to hang out with at college. His anxiety keeps him from successfully completing schoolwork. While taking a walk in the park to clear his mind, he finds a rock and immediately is comforted by it. He can do his work, he’s more confident, etc. He even carries it around campus with him. One morning, he wakes up late, and hurriedly gets dressed and ready to leave for school. He grabs the rock as he heads downstairs and out to his car, places it on the roof of his car while he puts his back in the backseat, and forgets it there. He drives off, leaving the rock to fall off and roll away somewhere. The Loner doesn’t notice it’s gone until he gets back to his car after class. Devastated by his loss, he returns to the same park to see if he can find another one. While he is searching, he runs into a girl who looks like she’s doing the same thing he is. Their eyes meet and the film ends. I soon took out the part where the Loner loses the rock while driving and changed it to a scene where a bully taunts him for carrying a pet rock around school. Humiliated from being ridiculed, the Loner drives to a nearby river and throws the rock into it, but immediately regrets his decision. The story would then conclude the same way as the first draft, with the Loner returning to the park looking for another rock.
I was happy with the story treatment. It only required one key actor (along with a girl playing a minor role in the end), due to no recording equipment, I did without dialogue so the film would almost have a silent movie quality, and it was relatively short and seemed easy to film. I sent the four-to-five page script to Seth, explaining my intentions and hoping he would be interested. Of course, he was excited and willing to play the main role, but he offered some suggestions, remarking that the Student character (the bully) didn’t have enough character development or even much of a role in the story. While I initially argued that the character’s sole purpose was to ridicule the Loner, Seth did have a point. We ultimately decided to nix the ending where the Loner meets a girl and develop the Student’s character further, turning him into something more than a bully. In the final draft of the script, the Student was someone that the Loner occasionally ran into on campus. Later on when the Loner is walking on campus with his rock, he accidentally bumps into the Student, causing the Student to become angry and knock the Loner over. When the Loner drops to the ground, he loses his grip on the rock, sending it crashing to the concrete and leading one of the glued-on eyes to fall off. Witnessing how devastated the Loner is when he sees the rock, the Student flees the scene. The Loner becomes angry at himself and at the Student, and proceeds to throw the rock in the river like in the previous draft, and again, regretting the decision. He then searches for another rock, but with no luck. He has trouble with his homework, he cannot sleep at night, etc. He decides that he cannot take it anymore and considers jumping off the top floor of the campus library. As he heads into the elevator, the Student happens to join him. After an awkward silence, the Student reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out another pack of google eyes for the Loner’s rock. The Student gets off on his respected floor as the Loner stares at the gift he had been given. As he reaches the top floor, the Loner discovers he doesn’t need the rock, for he already has a friend and a reason to keep living.
Seth and I were both happy with the final treatment of the script. Now we had to start planning, scouting locations, and most importantly, filming. I also needed equipment to start filming. But that’s another blog post for another day…
*Check back next week for Part 2!*