As part of our long-running, From the Mouths of Filmmakers… feature, we’re giving a voice to two young filmmakers who have something to say. In this article, you’ll learn some methods for last-minute filmmaking and what to do when filmmaking with constraints.
Filmmaking is a constant process of problem-solving. Sometimes, when you’re working with constraints and time pressures, you can find your creative edge.
Take it away Lexy and Ben!
Filmmakers starting out all seem to have the same limitations. But for us, these limitations aren’t problems. In fact, if you accept them, the answers become pretty clear, pretty quickly.
What camera do we use? The one that we’ve got I guess. How do we gather crew? How many favors can you call in? What’s a worthy script look like? Well, do we like it…?
We (Lexy Anderson and Ben Murray) are a filmmaking duo based in London, regularly collaborating a number of short projects written, produced, directed, and edited solely by ourselves.
(Left to Right; Filmmaking team, Lexy Anderson and Ben Murray)
Our most recent film has just launched online, “Reality Bites” – a short mockumentary following the marriage of a young woman and a zombie, and the challenges they face in that relationship.
The main challenge for “Reality Bites” came during pre-production, for which we had a luxurious prep time of….24 hours. YES! 24 Hours. (cue “24” theme music).
So how can you pull off a shoot with just one day’s preparation? We’ve shared all our secrets below!
How To Co-Write a Script
The trouble with writing is finding the motivation to power through the trenches alone. Vise-versa, the trouble with co-writing can be powering through the trenches together.
Your visions can clash, you disagree on plot points, on style, on workflow. In some cases, doubling up can seem like doubling your problems.
Bu the most important thing to realize about co-writing is that, like any relationship, it can’t be forced.
You have to find someone that shares similar ideas and qualities as you, that you’re willing to work through tough disputes and writer’s block, to get to the other side.
Separately, we are both writers and filmmakers in our own right, and it was only by chance (and in part, boredom) we ended up co-writing. But that wasn’t our intention from the get-go, it merely began as an opportunity for two writers to hang out and talk about scripts.
After a few hours bouncing ideas and talking nonsense, we felt our styles were pretty synchronized and gave co-writing a go.
“Reality Bites” was a really significant test in terms of collaborative filmmaking. Having experienced writing alone, sharing ideas, and building a story was a joy. But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.
Co-writing is about compromise. Being open to another’s ideas, maybe some that you know won’t work, but still indulging in the discussion of “What if…”. In short; resisting the urge to argue just your point, and working together to find the answer.
So if you want a co-writer, we’d suggest finding someone you enjoy talking about films or books or general ideas with, and see what happens when you ask, “What if…”
How To Do One-Day Pre-Production
The preparation for “Reality Bites” was all done twenty-four hours before shooting. We’d initially planned to shoot another script, but a last-minute actor cancellation threw a handbrake on that production.
But we had booked the day off work, had crew on standby, and cast ready to shoot. Giving up wasn’t an option. We decided to turn to our archived scripts, and landed on Reality Bites as our best option.
We had to ditch some ideas from the original script, but we saw that as a challenge to adapt the scenes, getting down to the core of what was really needed and important for character.
Thankfully, our incredible actors, Bridgette Wellbelove and Jorge Andrade, were game for a last-minute-switch-a-roo.
We knew our actors were putting a lot of trust in us, both as writers and directors, with this late change; we assured them to ask us when unsure of any material, and we’d work through issues together, rather than putting pressure on them and their performances.
With some quick sourcing of props and minor adjustments to the script, we were ready to shoot…
(Actress, Bridgette Wellbelove, slating a scene)
How To Keep a Shoot Simple
Considering the last-minute preparation, the shoot was very relaxed. We shot in one of our own flats, and in doing so had no restrictions of location use.
Our schedule was spread out nicely across the day and accounted for our inevitable slowing down throughout the day.
We brought both actors in at the same time to give make-up an hour to prepare “Michael’s” zombie-look, while we cracked on with shooting “Jane’s” talking headshots. This gave us plenty of time to encourage Brigette to go off-script, and from that, we could plan other ad-libbed scenes from her improvised dialogue.
(Ben’s incredibly “fierce” collection of batteries)
We restricted ourselves to using only the equipment we had and kept everything modest. That included a C100mkii, four LED Lights, a tripod, and a heck of a lot of batteries!
A really simple and lightweight shooting kit made it easy to do more flexible, improvised work.
We paid our cast’s travel, our make-up artist, and set catering, but aside from that, nothing else. We had such a generous cast/crew who dedicated their time to us for the absolute bare minimum.
(Top to Bottom: Street gear set up using ambient street light on actor Jorge Andrade, screenshot from film)
As stressful as shoots can be, “Reality Bites” was an interesting exercise in last-minute, low-budget, indie filmmaking and an interesting way to try alternate-styled productions and keep our creativity fresh.
As well as that, we both studied filmmaking at a University that encouraged you to be a jack-of-all-trades (to a degree) so roles on set were quite interchangeable. Our philosophy is if it needs doing and you’ve got free hands, go and help.
How To Handle The Edit
The challenge of the edit was, much like in an actual documentary, dealing with unscripted and improvised moments. Structuring the material around the original script became almost impossible.
Instead, it became about rewriting it in the edit. We sifted through footage to identify shots and moments we could use to build a story with a similar-ish structure.
This was actually the slowest part of production, as we had to balance post-production with our working lives. It took around six months to shoot, cut, grade, and sound design the entire short.
Filmmaking With Constraints – To Conclude
Some final points in conclusion:
Shoots can be stressful if you let them be. If you’re focused on enjoying the process, playing with the performances, finding funny moments with actors, it’s a breeze.
So what if we’re 2 hours behind, that last take was hilarious. Just shoot, shoot, shoot and you’ll find yourself gathering enough footage to make a strong edit without even realizing it!
Get out there
As painful as promotion emails can be, you have to put yourself (and your work) out there and on display. However, you should approach it as an opportunity to share your experiences, as well as get feedback from others, rather than spam people.
Keep an archive of scripts if you can. That way, if actors/locations pull out, you have alternative material to potentially use and not waste a day booked off work.
Be open to adapting material away from the written page – especially if you’re working on a last-minute project.
Being flexible allows you to find moments you didn’t expect. Still, it’s absolutely necessary to plan, so when you start improvising, you’ve still got something solid to remind you of your goals.
No matter how much time you think have, you’re wrong. Tech fails. Actors fluff lines. Pigeons fly through shots.
Plan your shots across the entire day and be prepared to fall behind, catch up, then slow down again. Shoots are notoriously long and inconsistent in progression, but just power through to that last shot.
We had so many ideas we originally wanted to do, but restrictions meant they’d take too much time, or cost too much. We embraced our limitations in regards to location, cast, and resources, and concentrated on exploring performances.
So, What Next…?
You can see “Reality Bites” and make up your own mind here!
Ben’s in the middle of post-production on a new fantasy short, “Taboodisobis” to be released later in the year, and Lexy’s in pre-production for a new comedy “Kill Norwood” about a gamer-obsessed kid.
Short-form filmmaking is always a tricky beast to tackle, so we’re keen to hear what reader’s reaction to “Reality Bites” is. To find out more, get involved or just get in touch, feel free to contact us on our respective social media accounts: Instagram: @lexy__anderson and @benthemurray