This is the story of how filmmaker Luca Paris created Denkraum, an interactive film. Take it away, Luca!
Denkraum is an 83-minute feature film shot entirely at no cost.
To give an idea to those who are not experts in the sector, to shoot a short film of ten minutes often costs even more than thirty thousand euros.
Denkraum is a type of film that lends itself to interactive editing, the process of making it on a very low budget was thought out from the very first draft of the screenplay.
The protagonist coordinates the movements of the others from his computer and in turn, is controlled by the Denkraum in a voyeuristic mockumentary mechanism that allowed me to justify some defects in staging and photography and to divide the film into fragments to be repositioned in the montage as a puzzle.
Some parts of the connection between the scenes of the film were lost after shooting and post-production, due to the normal problems arising from the absence of a budget, so the project lacked linearity.
The first idea to solve the situation was to use Denkraum’s instant messages as an obsessive interface during the whole film.
So I proposed to Movie Logic and Bluecinematv to make an interactive film of it when the producers talked to me about the possibility of using the LOGIC [script] ® software.
So we studied together with the choices that the user would have made in the study of the protagonist Alex, played by Manuel Melluso, to follow the stories of each of the characters who had entered the Denkraum and then reconnect with the main story.
In this way, the film has regained its full potential, for now, it will only be available in the linear version on Amazon Prime, pending the completion of the interactivity project.
Let’s retrace all the most important phases of the making of the film:
Where to find volunteers who lend themselves to acting?
I searched among the theater schools in my city, among street artists, and then singers and musicians accustomed to performing, and finally boys and friends who wanted to try to stay on a set, even if only as a background artist.
About a hundred people from the province of my small town Frosinone took part in the film, all of this was possible because many of them only came for one day and stayed for as long as they wanted.
I was the only one who actually devoted all my time to the film because you can’t expect more from those who offer you their participation for free.
On the set of Denkraum, there were never any constraints, the time to devote to the film was like that to devote a weekly hobby.
Shooting in this way is an incredible training ground for a director and it helped me to find my original style, in the editing I rewrote the story several times until I found the solution that would adapt to the changes that took place on the set.
No actor has many lines, because I knew they wouldn’t have time to learn them. Music, noises, and voiceovers play a fundamental role in this genre of psychological thriller or social thriller.
The protagonist himself recited most of the off-screen lines so that he could simply read them on the script for a few hours, without having to remember them.
Most of his scenes were shot in a few days in a warehouse he owned, this method was also adopted with the other main actors.
2. Filmmaker, Photography And Equipment
An essential figure of the crew was a filmmaker with his equipment, often Alberto Fertillo or Pierfrancesco Nalli, sometimes Riccardo Rocchetta, and at least five other guys from the province of Frosinone took care of the shooting for a few hours.
Alberto had a Canon 5D and several lenses available:
- a Samyang video series, 24mm t1.5,
- Samyang 85mm t.1.5,
- Samyang 14mm t 3.1,
- classic Canon 50mm f 1.8 lenses initially and Canon 50mm f1.4,
- Tamron 70-300 f 4-5.6.
So we were able to make many variations in the recovery plans.
Pierfrancesco Nalli had a Canon 7D and in general, all the other guys had similar equipment available.
We shot in the HD 1080p 25fps standard in Cinestyle, knowing from the start what our goals were.
For much of the film, we made use of the blur and numerous scenes that obstruct the clear vision, often within the walls of a cramped room, which the long focal lengths help to make claustrophobic.
The boundaries of the frame seem not to be sufficient to enclose the existential reflections of the characters, also for this reason much of what happens is said off-screen or noted in the messages of the Denkraum.
There are a few long shots, mostly close-ups, medium, and full shots. Wide-angle lenses were used to warp the image in the most delusional sequences of the film.
Then Alberto had a flycam for image stabilization that works well but does not leave the frame fixed as when working with a Steadicam.
However, the fluctuations were consistent with the psychic crisis situation we wanted to tell, in this way the camera often follows the characters while remaining attached to their bodies and faces, accentuating the feeling of control.
We also had a handcrafted crane but we didn’t use it much because we had to optimize the time available.
Instead, we often used the tripod in the interior spaces, when the protagonists are in front of their computers, to counterbalance the more lively shots, playing on the different levels of the story and ensuring a more usable structure for the viewer.
The diversification between the levels is then underlined with color correction and VFX in post-production.
It must be said that the film was shot a few years ago, today with a phone you could get a similar quality, Canon 5D and 7D are almost vintage in 2021, but everything falls within the allusion to the false documentary triggered in the story.
For the interiors, we had a construction site spotlight and an 800-watt halogen lamp that cost less than 20 euros, in addition, we used the light sources we found inside the locations.
It takes a lot of creativity when you don’t have an adequate budget.
For the exteriors, at night we used, for example, where possible, the lights of the street lamps, and one of the final scenes of the film was illuminated entirely with the headlights of a car.
An acting school in Frosinone, in addition to supporting us in the artistic cast with different actors, provided us with the audio equipment, a Tascam, and a directional microphone with the boom, the minimum necessary to record the voices of the actors.
Several students from the Frosinone Academy of Fine Arts helped me in the creation of the props. For the rest, I used cheap materials, such as broken televisions, aluminum foil, and lots of blueberry juice.
3. Fluid Crew
It’s not like in big productions where there are always thirty people on the set, in general, the important thing is that there is at least one other guy with the camera or microphone, the rest can vary.
Furthermore, some horror scenes would have been impossible if I did not find several specialists who offered to come to the set for a few days, alternating with the usual fluid work pattern.
I used many locations, restaurants, pubs, bars, discos, apartments because in this way I was able to shoot for no more than two days in each place, never disturbing too much those who offered me their contribution, avoiding paying any rent and realizing this makes a very dynamic film in the succession of sequences.
In the exteriors, we tried to steal as many shots as possible, while always remaining in the rules, like real ninja filmmakers.
Where there is more traffic, a tripod clearly cannot be used, much less a crane, with a little cunning you can still turn everything around.
For example, there were often people who stayed to disturb the shooting. In this case, my strategy was to offer them to participate in the film and they almost always decided to leave.
In the end, we were able to complete the shoot after a year and a half, from which the complex editing work began.
I had never used professional software yet, so I started with Sony Vegas and then moved on to Adobe Premiere and continued with it.
6. Find A Production Film Company
After more than a year I still had not completed the editing. In the meantime, I dedicated myself to other works and I won a call from the Lazio region to study directing for five months in New York at the NYFA.
Here I shot some short films that have won awards and I deepened my technical knowledge.
After this experience, I returned to Italy and got in touch with Bluecinematv and Movie Logic who helped me in post-production, in the last phase of editing, VFX, and soundtrack.
7. Last Phases Of Post-Production And Festival
In post-production with Movie Logic and Bluecinematv, Matteo Accurso, the visual artist, collaborated in the creation of the animations and graphics necessary for the film.
He gave me an After Effect template which I then adapted in every single part, with the assistance of another guy who was doing an internship at Movie Logic.
Thus I wrote all the messages of the Denkraum to fill in the gaps that otherwise would have existed, even here the budget has remained very low so the work is very conceptual and not very diversified.
Until the 1990s, independent films had the characteristic of graininess, but today, even with the cheapest cameras, a clean image is obtained.
I, therefore, wanted to do the opposite procedure in post-production and smudge the image behind Denkraum’s interface to give the feeling of a return to that type of cinematic art.
The beauty of shooting a film in full freedom is that you don’t have to stick to the standards of big investors.
The sound designer, Michele Fiori, used the defects of the audio recordings, the noises, and the overlapping voices, to experiment with a composition of concrete and noise music.
The work is very interesting, even if the initial idea was to go deeper to give greater importance to the signifier rather than the meaning, it would have required a more important commitment from a production point of view.
In festivals, we have won several awards in the United States for my first direction, for the best sci-fi film, and for Matteo Accurso and Michele Fiori’s post-production work in special effects and sound design.
8. Find Distribution
After participating in the festivals we came into contact with Amazon Prime which is distributing the film in the United States and now Troma has also taken an interest in it, which defined Denkraum #TROMAzingly odd, uniquely interesting & right up Troma’s Dark & Seedy Alley.
On my own Denkraum was a great feat accomplished against all odds, and now I’ve met new producers who are interested in making other films from other scripts I’ve written.