Like A Complete Unknown, Like A Rolling Stone, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Film on my iPhone, pt. 2

Introduction: 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.

Like A Complete Unknown – A Short Film from Coffee Whale Films on Vimeo.

If you’re back from last week, thank you so much for reading.  If you aren’t, please read the first article in this series here.

Seth Henry and I had a script for a short, silent film that could be feasibly filmed on my iPhone (my only camera) with what little budget we had.  There was never even a fully set amount.  If something was needed, it came out of my bank account.  We couldn’t film until I had better equipment, which would include: a wide-angle lens for my phone that would shoot clearer images and add more depth than the actual iPhone camera, a tripod, and a cell phone mount for said tripod.  The equipment would ultimately add up to around $112, which is about as “shoestring budget” as you can get.  I ordered the equipment off of Amazon and would wait the couple business days it would take to deliver to further continue production.

Though filming was halted until the equipment came in, production was still going.  I intended for the film to be silent, inspired by Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, directed by F.W. Murnau (at the time the only classic silent film I had actually seen), and The First Days of Spring, Noah and the Whale’s cinematic counterpart to their album of the same name.  The First Days of Spring, which was directed by lead singer/songwriter Charlie Fink, completely changed how I viewed music being synced with film.

The First Days of Spring – A Film By Noah And The Whale from Charlie Fink on Vimeo.

The visuals complimented the song structures perfectly, and that was what I set out for my short film.  Unfortunately, though I do play a couple instruments, it was impossible for me to compose and properly record a soundtrack to the film.  This would mean I would have to use previously recorded music, disqualifying us from any film festivals (which I was perfectly fine with as I knew this was a work purely for experience and did not even imagine it worthy for inclusion in a festival).  Upon making this decision, I had to start finding music that would fit the storyline – and I had to find it before filming began so I could properly sync the scenes with the music in my head.

From the start, I knew I wanted instrumental songs – nothing with lyrics.  If I chose songs with lyrics, then those lyrics would have been the focal point of the scene rather than the actions of the Loner.  I also knew I wanted the genre of music to stay the same throughout the film, meaning they would all be acoustic songs, all jazz songs, etc.  I ultimately decided to give it a post-rock soundtrack, favoring music that Explosions In The Sky had composed for films.  However, I didn’t want the entire soundtrack to be compiled of one artist’s songs, so I started immersing myself in different music by various post-rock bands over the course of the next few days.  I envisioned each scene in my head and tried to find a song that complimented it best.  What resulted was a collection of five songs that would intertwine with each other throughout the entirety of the film.  You can find the playlist I made of all the songs (including one that was used in the film’s trailer) here.

After a couple of days, the new equipment arrived in the mail and an immense excitement came over me.  Now, with equipment in hand, it truly felt like this project was on its way to being made.  I immediately set out to find another crucial part of production: the actual rock that the Loner character would find.  At the time, there was a large park a short distance from my house (at which I planned to film the Loner finding the rock).

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“The Rock Johnson”, our third leading man.

I rode my bike there in hopes to find the perfect prop, as well as maybe a few extras to serve as “stunt doubles” in case anything happened to the main one.  I found at least three candidates in the park, ultimately choosing the one that was large enough to be easily seen on camera as well as having a flat surface on its side which the eyes could be glued onto.

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For location scouting purposes: the park.

The discovery of the rock also let me visualize the location where two key scenes would be held: the Loner’s discovery of the rock and his later search to find a new one.

At this point, the script was finished, the equipment was acquired, the songs were chosen, the main prop was found, and our friend Jonathan Vo had been contacted and agreed to play the role of the Student.  The next step was to find a day where we were all available to start filming.

Be sure to check back next week for part 3!

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