I Thought a Desktop Movie Would be Cheaper…
Thursday May 16, 2019
I have been obsessed with the ‘one room drama’ for a long time. It is a way to control a film project’s budget by finding a story that can exist entirely in one setting. This may seem simple on the surface but without the freedom of visual variety these films can become very tedious for […]
I have been obsessed with the ‘one room drama’ for a long time. It is a way to control a film project’s budget by finding a story that can exist entirely in one setting. This may seem simple on the surface but without the freedom of visual variety these films can become very tedious for the audience very quickly.
economics of independent film practically dictate this approach as few first
time writer / directors get anything more than a couple hundred thousand
dollars for their feature. I’ve experienced
film friends struggling to get larger budgeted, multiple location features off
the ground. I’ve worked on independent
features with many locations and no money; every moment is an epic struggle
between quality and schedule. There is a
feeling the entire project could fall apart at any moment. It’s rare these productions allow the writer /
director to capture the story and performance they originally envisioned.
low budget features allow the teams to grab simple visual variety by sending
their hungry cinematographers out to film the surroundings. This can be both a blessing and a curse; you
can get quick ‘filler’ for your shoestring feature, but if the primary performances
and visuals are not up to par these lovely exteriors will not save your movie.
will say from experience that writing a ‘one room drama’ is very
difficult. You are essentially writing a
play; if as a writer if your characters are not full of personality and you do
not know them inside and out you will fail.
There is no place to hide when the story, plot, and drama starts to put
your audience to sleep. The good news is
there are hundreds of well-written plays and film scenes to inspire and teach
you. I took it as a challenge to find
stories that can be told in a smaller setting while still having the emotional
impact of larger films.
also understood for a long time that a horror film is the easiest genre to get
off the ground and sale. Many of my film
heroes, like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, got there start by creating fun and
innovative independent horror. I do
not come by this genre naturally but over the course of writing and studying
horror films the genre has risen to the level of the western genre in my book. Both are stripped down morality plays where
the settings allow the audience to mainline adrenaline and escape the real
drawers full of uncompleted treatments for ‘one room dramas’. There are stories that take place inside a
mega nightclub, a hostage cell, and the ubiquitous haunted house… All of them
are good but none of the ideas excited me.
I have been tooling with ‘micro horror’ for some time; the idea that
universal fears primarily existing within and around one’s body and there are
untapped stories to be told.
soon as video chat became ‘a thing’ I was fascinated with how this new
communication device could be use in micro horror. I have files on my computer that predate all
the major desktop / video chat films that have been released over the
years. Many of the ideas in these films
are in my discarded file. I’m not being
braggadocios, the ideas were just not me. After many years, and many debates
with film friends, I settled on pursing my version of a desktop video chat as
my independent ‘one room (horror)’.
I developed the characters and
surrounding mythology for ‘The Book of Faces’ property. A feature length screenplay was created along
with comp art. (I like to work this way moving back and forth between the
written and visual worlds) Once I felt
the feature length screenplay had ‘enough meat’ to pursue its production I
selected a few of the feature’s ideas to be developed in to a short version.
Again my logic side comes in to
play here, I have donated and been involved in many independent film fund
raising campaigns; I’m a strong believer that a proven proof of concept is a
more powerful generator of funds than the common ‘promise videos’. I decided to follow the great Damien
Chazelle by producing a short version of your feature as a way to gain interest
in the longer version.
I got the short screenplay
together and assembled a crew. I moved
heaven and earth to find the right cast and one home that could work for
multiple bedrooms in different locations.
I spent the extra money to shoot my video chat film like we would the
feature version. I knew having the
actors reacting to each other in real time through seamless microphones and
monitors would gain us authentic performances. This more expensive direction goes
back to the ‘one room drama’ dilemma were you have nowhere to hide and must
capture authentic performances to keep the audience’s attention. Furthermore,
you need to maximize the ‘one rooms’; your limited locations better have
top-notch art direction and lighting.
So I pulled it off (I don’t know
how I pulled it off) in one long January weekend we got our short version of ‘The
Book of Faces’ captured. I was exhausted
and elated, scared and relieved.
Then the editing began and I CAN
FINALLY GET AROUND TO MY TOPIC, lol!
I’ve come to realize that the choice to do a ‘one room drama’ as a video
chat film is not as cheap as I originally thought. All the capital saved during production, both
monetarily and time, has been added to the postproduction phase of the film. I completely under estimated the amount of
time and RAM a video chat films takes up.
Five video strings on the screen at once require a ‘beefy’ editing
system with solid state drives. The
level of precision required in crafting the desktop environment, with all the associated
bells and whistles, in this genre is tedious.
I relate to the director of the desktop film ‘Searching’ stating in a Q
& A that he, “Never wants to do a desktop film again!”
Live and learn, as we finish our
short version of “The Book of Faces’ I still believe it is a great story and worthwhile
project. I am now aware that the budget
for the feature version will need a more realistic postproduction team and
equipment. A more traditional ‘one room
drama’ with one camera would not need this added expense. Live and learn.