Monday, 14 March 2011

In Post Production

The solemn winter months rolled along as the next phase of the Shadows of a Stranger project started: post production. Gone was the daily fun and excitement of cast and crew getting together each day to shoot scenes – now us producers isolated ourselves in the edit suite as the long task began of putting this film together.

A couple of months into the new year and we're now three quarters of the way through the initial edit of the blue screen material, and a much smaller way through the special effects work. There's still a long way to go, but the point is it's moving along.

The conscientious stitching together of each frame of video, and the solitude of the edit suite seems to have inspired a bit more reflection, an introspective look into what this film is really about, what we intended when we set out at the beginning.

One thing we'd wondered about as we were filming was whether there was anyone else out there who was making a film in this way. Were there any other micro-budget filmmakers who'd taken inspiration from the Sin City method of filmmaking, shooting it all in the controlled and comfortable environment of a digital backlot, then creating the environments in post production?

We thought we were the only ones, but we were wrong. Last year a film was released that strongly echoes our approach. Called Snowblind, the film was made in Germany, a futuristic spaghetti western shot through self-finance. It was all done on a green screen, made by passionate filmmakers who evidently didn't want their ambition and vision to be hampered by a poverty of means. The film is really worth checking out and can be seen in its entirety on Youtube.

It was fascinating to watch Snowblind and I was full of admiration for what these filmmakers had set out to achieve. I wasn't convinced that their audience truly got what it was all about – some people seem to take things a little too literally. It's something that worries me a bit with our film; it's not supposed to be real! We're not following the same rules of reality. Yet, I suppose it is the skill of a filmmaker that will encourage the audience to suspend their disbelief in order to be drawn into the film.

It's probably a very fine line. One, for example, that I think was crossed between the original Star Wars films and the newer prequels. The originals made everyone want to be Luke Skywalker, the prequels had us asking… midi-what?

The George Lucas of the original Star Wars is quoted as saying that a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing. In an interview with Irvin Kershner (director of The Empire Strikes Back), he talked about how he was going to follow up one of the most successful films of all time, and said: "I was just supposed to make a terrific film, one that was better than the first one. But how do you make a terrific film? Do you put in more action than the first one? No, action is not what it's about. It's about characters, and caring about them. And that's where I wanted to put the emphasis - on the people."

When we followed the blue screen route with Shadows, we did so because we wanted to make the story that I'd already written. It wasn't an attempt to 'make another Sin City'. In fact, my script really wasn't an action film, not supposed to be a visual spectacle. It was about the characters, about the story. It was about trying to communicate relevant emotions, another exploration of the dimensions of the human soul.

This is something we've had to remind ourselves of as we're in post production. What excites me most about the film is that we're using these production techniques that wouldn't normally be used on a film of this nature, but we're not using them as an end to themselves.

It's exciting, but also daunting, when I wonder how the world will receive our film. It feels a bit of a gamble in some respects – our originality, if we have any, is not that we're trying to be groundbreaking with either our visual effects, or the humble way we attempted the sort of project that the Hollywood guys take on. It's more that we're taking things back a bit, putting emphasis on what we're communicating, not just on how we're communicating it.

Rich – March 2011

Introducing... Shadows of a Stranger

This blog originally appeared on Myspace in September 2010:

It's been, quite simply, an amazing past twelve months for the Shadows team.  September 2010 and we sit with our hard drives full of video footage, a feature length film that we'll be putting together over the next year (or two), and memories of an exciting whirlwind of a summer that saw us filming with Colin Baker and other famous actors.  So how did this journey start?

It was around the spring of 2009 when I presented Chris with a script I'd written, and the two of us tried talking to people 'in the biz', asking for advice, asking if maybe these people we knew could possibly put this script in front of other people, all the while fueled by a compulsion that this film somehow needed to be made.

Things started to look promising... but, to cut the story short... they eventually fizzled out.  We always knew that the film would be too difficult to make on our own at the level of filmmaking we're at, we always knew that we'd need some help... but then sometimes you come to the realisation that maybe you don't need the help you think you need... that perhaps with determination and bullheadedness, that 'if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything' as George McFly would say.

And that's what we did.  After watching Sin City one evening, Chris came to the conclusion that we could actually make Shadows of a Stranger as a blue screen production, that we could inject an interesting stylisation to the project, and something of an unusual technique.  The script already lent itself a comic book style.  All we'd have to do is film the performances, the many performances, and then we'd fill in the environments afterwards.  And 'all we'd need' to do that was... to build our own blue screen studio.

With Brad roped into the project, the three of us filmed a test scene in a pub in Swineshead one late summer's day in 2009.  Brad had a portable green screen which we set up for the day, Chris had some storyboards, I watched with eagerness to see if this would all work, and all three of us played little roles in the video, what would become our Shadows of a Stranger Showpiece:

One thing it showed us, which we knew already really, was that we were gonna need a bigger blue screen.

The search for somewhere to construct our own studio was one of the most difficult challenges, but through a lot of fortune and a lot of misfortune we eventually wound up in a remote farm on the Lincolnshire fens.  Yes, we had a lot of difficulties ending up where we did, involving building our studio twice, but that was probably a test... to see how much we really wanted to do this... to see if we were going to roll over and play dead or we'd just pick ourselves up and carry on.

It was around this same time that we had our other major setback, the passing of our friend James Aubrey.  Jimmy had been with us during our audition process, had helped bring together all the local actors we brought into the production.  He himself was set to play the main role, a character that he was perfectly suited for.  But it wasn't to be.  One of the actors who came to our auditions in early 2010 was Ian, and even from the beginning there was curiously something a little 'Jimmy' about Ian... 

Within the tribulations of finding our studio and finding our leading man, we somehow came through it all, pure commitment and belief carrying us through it all.  It was this same belief, and maybe a bit of boldness and opportunism too, that made us start approaching various well known actors.  Doors were opening up, and things were going our way.  It felt that the universe really wanted this film to be made, and we were honoured to add such actors to the cast as Colin Baker, Sarah Jane Honeywell, Malcolm Lord, and Jane Tucker.

With camerman Alex joining the production, completing the core production members, we gradually and meticulously put our cast together.  If we could pull this off, we knew we'd be having the filmmaking time of our lives.  And somehow the plan did come off.  Despite making this film with a budget of next to jack shit (sterling), things came together like clockwork.  I think it pays off sometimes being a bit of meticulous Virgo planner.

We gave it our all and we all felt that we'd done something truly special, and something quite unique.  There's still a long way, but we know it'll be with the same inspired passion that we put our film together, a deep excitement for when we get to the point where we can finally put this film out there into the world...

Rich - September 2010