Action Manu – 48hours Short Film

This year I once again took part in Ant Timpson’s V48hours Short Film Competition.

But this time with a difference, instead of suffering once again under the benevolent[1. Zoppicantevolent is probably closer to the mark, just quietly. I’m still frustrated that he doesn’t recognise the problem with last year’s ending. Which you’d be right to call ironic given that the ending of my short this year is a bit weak.] dictatorship of my dear old friend Dylan in his team Fractured Radius, I grabbed a dozen or so friends and formed a team of my own – Team Ladies, oh ladies[2. Named after the song I “wrote” for Darren and Amanda’s wedding time lapse video. It was going to be that or Team Sausage Party, which actually got more votes for, but also got votes against. there’s no sense being split from the start, and now we have the added bonus of LOL as our acronym. And no mustard.].

The product of our sweat and tears is now available for your viewing pleasure.
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I’m interested to know what you think of my short, good or bad. This was my first time directing other people, and it’s something I need to work on, so I’m eager for any feedback on my work. I’ve been told by some of the folks on my team that I should have been firmer, which is certainly better than being told the opposite.

I think I wrote a bit of a weak ending, it needed either another scene with the interviewer, or at least some narration that really spelled out what had just happened with Sydney’s realisation about the negative world of criticism and failure he’d fabricated in his mind, and why he now realised that reality was far more positive. (He’s walking into his bright future, you see?) Anyway.

If you’re not familiar with the 48hours model, teams are given a genre (we had biopic, which isn’t a genre I particularly enjoy), character (Sydney Manson, a fabricator), prop (broken toy), and line of dialog (‘when you look at it that way’) at 7pm on Friday night, and must deliver a completed short film in that genre, with those elements, before 7pm on Sunday. This is a big ask, so there are necessarily corners cut, and any mistakes made – even if you’re aware of them quite quickly – will often make it through as there’s simply no time to resolve them.

The usual breakdown (and I don’t really know how you’d do it any differently) is to brainstorm and finish writing your script on Friday, shoot all day Saturday, and edit all day Sunday, then do a dash to the finish line, which was at the Freeman’s Bay Community Centre again this year. A handy location given that we’d set up our production office not far away from there in sunny Grafton.

There’s usually a couple of dozen teams who don’t make it in on time, but as you can probably gather from my delighted expression in the photo, we were not one of them. I really expected that, as it was our first year competing as a new team, we’d probably be in late, as it turned out we had it in with perhaps 15 minutes to spare – some of that time, in hindsight, would have been better spent fixing a couple of small but annoying sound problems. Bygones.

As well as the usual required elements, there were a couple of new hurdles to jump this year, one was a required technical element (which I think took everyone by surprise), which was a particular kind of camera shot called a contrazoom or dolly zoom, which involves dollying the camera in or out, while simultaneously zooming out or in, with careful timing and smooth movement your subject will stay the same size and location in the frame, while the background will change perspective – this can be a hugely effective shot, and we knocked it out pretty quickly and easily by just putting John on an office chair, while Matt pushed him up and down a corridor. It’s near the end of the short, I really think ours was one of the better contrazooms I saw at the heats, even with a couple of little bumps.

We were also told that we had to produce a 30 second team intro, this is for just in case our short was selected for any of the TV showings. I hastily cobbled this together on the Sunday afternoon, shot on a tiny little Sanyo Xacti HD2000 camera (everything else was shot on Canon 7D or Canon 550D DSLRs), then cut it up in a few minutes in Sony Vegas.
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I don’t think it takes a very critical eye to see that I was pretty much running on fumes[3. Though I’d gotten 5 or 6 hours sleep the night before, on Friday night I only managed about 30 minutes of sleep, as I was rudely awoken by a giant crab in my bed, thankfully the crab later turned out to be dead, and later still turned out not to exist, but my sleep is fragile at best so real or not, the crab kept me awake. Maybe a good thing, as it meant I could make it over to Louise & Karl’s for delicious pancakes, before heading to the rally location at Matt & Catherine’s beautiful house (more of a compound in some senses, but a wonderfully stylish compound), where Catherine & her sister had generously given over their meeting room for production for the entire weekend.] when we shot this, so perhaps didn’t have wonderful judgement, instead of writing a few lines, I just did what I do. I like it, but I would.

I’ve cut a slightly extended (it’s still under 20 seconds long) & recoloured version of the incredibly misleading Action Manu opening sequence  – from which all of the equally misleading marketing stuff has been developed.
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I really love that trailer, Karl’s great on camera.

Composited in After Effects, final cut and sound effects in Sony Vegas, and there’s obviously some (intentionally) over-the-top processing, courtesy of Magic Bullet.

There’s a few things that we need to do differently, mostly little technical things not worth talking about much, but here are a few key things I’ll do differently with my next 48hours short.

  1. Get more sleep on Friday night, I wrote until about 5AM. This is no good when you need to be back up and running, leading an entire team, and making important creative decisions quickly all day.
  2. Sort out a better clapper, we started off using iSlate on an iPad which is a lovely-looking application that doesn’t live up to its promise, and ended up not clapping at all, or literally just clapping our hands.
    1. Failing to reliably slate and log all of our shots meant that we had to go through the takes to find the good ones, as well as making it a pain in the arse to match up the pristine sound Mark recorded using a really sweet high-end Sennheiser microphone into his Zoom H4n to the video track. An actual physical slate, and logging on a piece of paper, would have done much better. I actually tried to get one the week before the shoot weekend, but the place was sold out.
    2. As well as slating, throwing PluralEyes at the problem would have helped a great deal, but as far as I know it simply isn’t available for FinalCut.
  3. I’d really like to have edited the short[4. I’ve been working towards a long-term goal of making narrative films for several years and have made editing one of my hobbies to that end, so I do it quite a lot. I like to think that I have very good timing, and work quite quickly. Regardless of this, it would have been impossible this year, as I had so many other things to do on the Sunday, so it’s really bloody lucky we had Matt, who is pretty good with Final Cut. I think Final Cut is quite inferior to Sony Vegas for many reasons, most notably for editing sound but also with general speed of use, but he drove it like a champ. I don’t know that there’s anything I’d have done very differently from Matt, but at some stage I’ll do a director’s cut and find out.]. I think that in general it’s probably impractical to be both editor and director of a 48hours short, though it makes a great deal of sense for that to be the role of one person when you have more time for post production – as long as that person has a powerful creative vision.
  4. Don’t hesitate to redress sets if I think they’re wrong.
  5. Either have less locations, or have locations that look more different from one another. Two of our locations look like they could be in the same building, but are on opposite sides of the city, so what’s the point?
  6. Don’t write scenes for small children. Everything worked out great, but it was touch-and-go for a while, and meant we had to split into two shooting units, which is fine, but wouldn’t have otherwise been necessary.
  7. If there’s any narration needed, don’t even THINK about not using Mark, he was fucking great.

Regardless of any should-haves, I had a great time with a bunch of my friends, and now we’ve all made a(nother) short film, which is truly a wonderful thing.

Thanks to a wonderful hook-up with someone who works with AdShel, one of the companies that handles Auckland city bus stop advertising, we managed to arrange to have our misleading poster printed out and placed in a CBD stop… How great is this?

Super great. That’s how great.

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