Ben Mitchell

Time Renegades

27 Nov 2015 by Ben Mitchell
Production title Interlude
Directed by Savvas Savrou
Cinematography Edgar Dubrovskiy
Produced by Joanne Michael

Some might say producing an engaging, and original short is more challenging than doing so in the feature format.  Saying more with less is extremely challenging.  Saying more with less AND with a clock literally ticking away adds an exhibitional spin.  It’s a platform to sink or swim. 

The 48 hour Sci-fi challenge is a hugely satisfying competition that’s attracted massive fanfare since 2002.  With over 800 films submitted since 2010, it’s a coming together of both rookies, old masters and everyone in between.

We had the pleasure of being involved in the production of ‘Interlude’- a savvy and intelligent snapshot of a man on the brink of both madness and breakthrough- out of love for his long time unconscious daughter. 

We caught up with director Savvas Stavrou and cinematographer Edgar Dubrovskiy to offer some insight into the challenges of making a film in a hurry.  But first, please turn up the volume, click full-screen and get a look for yourselves:

Did the time restrictions help you in any way?

ED: Yes and no.  The decisions definitely get harder and you start to struggle mentally as the hours go by.  Sav didn’t sleep for like, 40 hours…

SS: (laughing) Actually it was 58!  But Edgar, I feel that if you put aside the actual production of the film, when we needed to make decisions like locations…the fact we had these time limitations, made us think: “right okay, these are our two choices- which one do we go for?”.  Had it been a ‘normal’ shoot we might have spent 48 hours deciding between locations alone, and that might be considered a hurry

ED:  Oh yeah..in that sense I agree.  The quality of the production in terms of how polished it is could take a hit, so no in that sense the restrictions don’t help because it’s such a short time to prepare.  But choosing coverage was most different.  Because of the time limitations you are very conscious of the editing process as the guys can only digitise, look through and sync so much material.  You almost approach it a little like shooting film where you select your shots and takes carefully so we don’t choke in the edit.  We shot only in Prores HQ to keep the transfer time down  

What were your key principles in approaching the script?

SS: Well, essentially when I first met with Nathan to discuss the project we talked about what sci-fi means to us, and what interested us the most in the genre.  It wasn’t long before we decided to make the most anti sci-fi film we could, avoid using any special effects, and stay true to the essence of the genre

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ED: It was surprising to me to see how much time went into the scriptwriting.  Nathan D'arcy Roberts our scriptwriter did an awesome job and it was great to see the team participate in feeding back their thoughts on what did or didn't work in order to improve the story and the world. Throughout the day, Nathan would listen to the team's thoughts, step into a separate room, put on his headphones, and type the great story up

SS: Yeah, throughout the first 24 hours we were doing a lot of script development.  Some films may rush in and shoot with the worry of not filming it in time.  We locked down the script at 2am.  I had been trained in script development in the past so I wanted to ensure we got the story right and get the core of the film solid first

Edgar, you had very little time to light.  What was your strategy?

ED: We planned several locations in the hope that the brief we received would fit.  And of course - it didn’t. So we went and scouted flat after flat from everyone we could get hold of and was able to lend their living space for a day. So the logistics of banal stuff like parking, coupled with the position of the windows/sun was what did it for us.  Nothing was shot on the first day as we spent the first 24 hours refining the script and finding locations that worked for us practically.  We restricted the locations to avoid a logistical nightmare of having to rig and de-rig more than necessary.  The lighting package and setups were very simple and I chose deliberately very basic and small sources; a few dedos a 1.2k HMI, a 4ft kino.  I only had a gaffer to help me with everything but in a way it was fun 

SS: Yeah we had to cut it all down!

ED: It was an extreme case of “no” “no” “no”.  The location was so small anyway so this all worked out fine.  And in a way, was great to just get back to basics, almost like being back in film school. "5K?  What 5K?! kinda attitude

What influenced you to choose Amira?

ED: The look was the biggest thing.  I love the look of the Alexa, or Amira sensor, the skin tones are beautiful, stability of the highlights and so on.  But a key for this project was the Prores native recording with the editor sitting in the next room and just constantly copying every take as we shot

SS: And already cutting…

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ED: Yeah and cutting.  We’d finish a scene and he would have an assembly of the scene previous.  But then again I would have probably chosen an Alexa or an Amira with or without the time pressure.  Knowing, that most probably we would shoot handheld, just because of the time restrictions solidified the camera choice

What were your lens considerations and why?

ED: On this kind of project, because you don’t know what your going to shoot, I went for superspeeds because of the uncertainty about the lighting package, locations.  To be safe I wanted to have that fast stop if I needed it, as exterior night stuff was a possibility, whatever the script 

The film has a hazy quality to the images.  Did you use any filtration?

(both laugh)

ED: That’s actually quite a funny story!  We used a hazer which was borrowed from Michael Winterbottom’s production house.  What worried me and my gaffer when it arrived was it was this obscure Chinese make, this odd e-bay style hazer.  We were like “okaaaay” and pretty distrusting of it.  We connected it and of course it didn’t work, it was trying but it was just blowing air and no haze

haze

SS: The gaffer was able to break it apart and re-connect it all up.  I walked in and the thing was in bits, I was fretting and asking “what the hell are you guys doing?  Come on let’s go!”

ED: He had to rebuild it from scratch.  I have a photo and there’s this motherboard and stuff around him.  It turns out that it was pretty new but at the factory they seem to have forgotten to connect some wiring inside.  It wasn’t even connected.  It caused a painful 40 minute delay.  But the room erupted when the haze came

SS: And then I wouldn’t stop using it after that!  I was like “more, more!”

ED: I also shot the stuff where his daughters asleep at a higher 3200 ISO deliberately.  I wanted to make the image a bit less slick and actually have some noise.  The idea was to reflect the main characters memory and mental order.  So in short I did not use any filtration!

With time parameters removed, what would you both have done differently?

SS:  As a director I would have been much more visual for sure.  I wanted to use bizarre framing and frame slightly off to create a disjointed feeling.  The story and the film is solid but don’t think it completely hits the mark for me visually.  With a bit more time I would have focussed on finding visual metaphors and composing sequences of shots that can convey more than what the characters are telling us

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ED: I guess every department would do a whole lot more visually.  I would maybe rig lights in a more complex way, maybe work with lenses a bit differently even change the lenses for something that flared a lot more.  I think it’s the details that each department has to sacrifice.  There’s much less refining time

SS: Yeah our production designer definitely needed that bit more time, even though he did the most incredible job with limited resources.  It was harsh because we just had to cut him off and shoot and he would say “but I only need x more time”.  I remember I arrived there are he’d been up all day and night collecting all the materials and creating this machine as part of the set.  Everyone pulled together to dirty the place up and we made it work

What advice would you give to directors entering the competition next year?

SS: Okay, I really don’t feel I’m in a position to give advice, but reaching out to other previous winners and going for coffee and discussing their process was amazingly helpful.  Not being afraid to ask questions was very important.  Also making sure you have a super strong team that all trust each other.  This is all about teamwork, and we would have never been able to pull it through if it wasn’t for the invaluable input of every single person.  Me and Jo Michael our producer made sure we all got together two or three times before we started, so everyone knew each other and built some familiarity.  It’s important for these people to like each other!  Most importantly I spoke to the writer a lot and went thorough what I like and what I wanted.  If the story is uninteresting or fails to capture an audience, then it doesn’t matter about incredible cinematography and the most impressive production design.  That all becomes unimportant  

ED: Approach this competition as something fun.  You will have to spend 48 hours non-stop with these people, bounce the ideas with them, have lunches and dinners, some sleep.  It’s gotta be fun.  Also as a test of your abilities…how quickly can you make decisions, light, choose lenses, figure out coverage.  It’s fun and at the same time it’s very refreshing

SS: The competition happens because it’s something fun that also challenges your abilities, and I feel that’s the way to approach it.  You get to spend 48 hours bouncing ideas with a wonderful group of people, learning from them and working towards creating something you’re all proud of


For more information on the Sci-fi 48 hour filmmaking challenge please check www.sci-fi-london.com/48-hour-film-challenge

P.S  Literally at the time of posting this article, Interlude has been selected to show the the London Short Film Festival- a BAFTA qualifying event.  Congratulations to the team!