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Spending 3,000 USD on 48 frames

When an idea plants itself inside my head, it’s hard to let it go. For weeks, the prospect of turning a kid’s face into a ferocious monster and snap into the camera biting our protagonist’s head off just wouldn’t go away. It seemed to fit the direction of the contest Beyond the Still run by Vimeo and Canon USA perfectly.

The contest purports to be the first ever user-generated HD Video Contest where filmmakers continue a story onward, starting from the final image of the previous chapter. So for example, Vincent Laforet who created the contest on Vimeo as a promotion for Canon HDDSLR cameras (7D and 5D mark II), created an example 4 minute film which ended on a final still image (a trunk). The contest was then opened to other filmmakers with the only rule being that their film must begin with the still of that trunk, although the story/plot/narrative does not have to be continued.

A great idea in principle, although it was criticised for being a US-resident only contest. Chapter two had approx. 150 films submitted (The Mob was my entry for chapter two which finished in top 10)

Due to other commitments, I couldn’t enter chapter 3, but when The Beach won that phase, I felt the story needed to be brought back into touch for chapter 4.

So sure I was that The Beach would scoop the overall prize before it had even been announced as finalist, I had The Mob written the week before chapter 3 closed. I needed a head start because pre- and post-production time had to be maximised. View The Mob Original Script (PDF): The Mob

My vision for The Mob was ambitious, perhaps overly so. I felt I wanted to resolve all the loose strings from earlier chapters. The bear being pulled out from the sand underneath the random spot the cabbie was standing, for instance. How the security guard happened to bump into the cabbie purely by chance… So the idea of the cabbie going to bed after giving his daughter the bear and dreaming everything in between seemed to resolve a number of fundamental problems.

  1. Strange occurrences such as the bear being plucked from obscurity were solved. Random events happen in dreams, right?
  2. Many filmmakers were becoming disillusioned with the contest. The title of the contest is ‘Beyond the Still’ and not ‘Beyond the Story’ – Up until this stage, it had become the latter instead of its namesake. The numbers of entries were dwindling – 150+ at the beginning, only 50 or so now. The key twist to my film is that it still continued the story, but allowed filmmakers, should my entry win, to take the story in any direction they pleased. Everybody’s happy!

I had already decided I was not going to shoot this on the RED One camera again. Not this time. The film will never reach the big screen, I saw no requirement to go through the process of a huge rig on this shoot. So I opted for the Canon XH A1 and Letus Elite DoF adapter with prime lenses.


Sent to Primal Screen

I got in touch with a couple of Motion Graphics productions companies. I needed a specialist in modelling and 3D human transformation techniques. The two companies I went to were Red Giant Studios in San Francisco, California and Primal Screen based in Atlanta Georgia.

Connor Transformed!

Sample we got back from Primal Screen

The way it works is that you send them shots of the pre-test footage and tell them what you need. The motion graphics companies then create test samples to give you an idea of how it will look. Primal Screen were closer to my vision of how I envisaged the boy’s transformation, so I went with them.

The 48 frames they produced were incredible, jaw-droopingly good. For bigger budget features, what they usually work on, my shot would have cost in the region of 15K USD, but of course I don’t have that kind of money. But they did do it for a fifth of their normal price.

Composite Sample

Unfinished Composite Sample from Primal Screen

One more thing – ‘Fate’ was shot in Cinemascope aspect (2.35:1). The 48-frame shot of the boy-into-monster transformation went to 16:9 aspect. Completely intentional. I figured the ‘scare’ factor would be greater if we jumped from 2.35:1 to 16:9 just for that split second. Psychologically we have become accustomed to seeing the black bars left and right, top and bottom… I decided to take advantage of that ‘normality’ by almost creating a ‘3D’ effect of the monster popping out of his frame for just a moment…

I was happy with ‘Fate’ – Although next time I will work on the sound engineering a little more.

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