Why Short Film? Why Horror? Why, How, When ... What???
Yes, we have had friends and followers asking a lot of quesitons, because this film was never discussed with anyone, nobody knew we had something cooking, and to be honest, even we didn't until 2 weeks before the launch.
The "why" is a little deep. You know how kids believe everything they see on TV? We wanted to burst their bubble and show them how it really works. We wanted them to know that even in the sadest, lonliest and scariest moment on TV, there is a camera, few people behind the lights and a crew that is helping out, but bottom line is everyone is being recorded with a camera.
Secondly as kids get scared because of what they see, we wanted them to see how they can be on the other side by being a part of the experience on getting on TV so they can find art and human effort behind even the most scariest things one can see on TV.
And finally, I wanted to take my passion for photography into something that was more expressive than pictures, so put all these together and Rachel was born
Why Short Film?
As a photographer, I have spent over a decade trying to capture "pictures that are worth a thousand words" but sometimes, you need to be more expressive and talk more than that :) So the next step up from being a photographer seemed to be a film maker, where you have a lot more control on how things are represented, plus honestly, more brains, hands and effort as well. I am actually hooked now, and already thinking about what to produce next.
Why, How, When?
One of the best thing about shooting Rachel's Halloween was that we already had the equipment to put together a short film including the cameras, lenses, lights, location and best of all, a crew.
Basically, what really happened was that Isha came to me and said I am not sure what halloween costume should I get. So I jokingly said, well, just keep your hair open, and you'll be a character in itself. She opened her hair and gave me a look (which was meant to be a funny look), and coincidentally, the light was kind of dim, and her look actually looked somewhat spooky. So I clicked a picture from my phone, and looked at it, and the story started coming to me.
We were gonna buy Ronit a costume anyway, so thought what if he gets ready in his room and as he goes to get her from her room, she is actually dressed in white, and has her hair open, he will think she is ready for trick or treating and drag but he doesn't realize she is her own soul ... and as I told her this, her eyes lit up. And we started talking about giving it a shot.
I explained how I have been wanting to make a short film, what is a short film, and if she would like to play the role and act. We got enough excitement together and the plan was on.
The story line was simple, we would establish that Rachel and Ron are close to each other, it is Halloween Day, and have some normal home routine before the kids go to their rooms to get ready, as that's when the real action starts. So we decided to drive around town and capture some Halloween action of kids going trick or treating, decorated homes, etc and then drive home.
There was no limit on how many scenes we could shoot on one day, but we knew once we get Rachel ready with her costume and makeup, we have to do all the scenes on the same day, as without a professional makeup person, it would be hard to replicate her look and it would look unprofessional if she looked different in different scenes.
We needed a few actors to play various roles, so for the mom's role, my wife said she doesn't want to do it, and rather help me with everything else. So I spoke to one of my friend, who is also a client of mine and runs a radio show called Make Shift Happen Show. I have worked with her before and she is quite comfortable in front of a camera. When I approached Fran and talked about this, she got excited and said she would love to play mom's role. Before meeting Fran I had written the script on Celtix and also recorded a rough draft of the film on my camera (specially the part that the kids would play at home). I showed her both, and we sat down and made some changes to it. After that, we decided to shoot the scenes with Mom on one day.
I went through my equipment and decided to shoot using my Canon 5D Mark 3 and also record some motion shots using the Samsung S8+ since I already have the DJI Phone Camera Gimbal OSMO MOBILE. For lenses I used the Canon 24–105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens and the Rokinon 14 mm wide angle lens.
For lights, I used whatever I had at home from my photography kit. Along with a Glide Gear DEV 1000 23" Camera Video Stabilizer Tripod Slider which came in handy as it gets mounted on my Manfrotto tripod, so I could have stills as well as sliding rolls from the same setup.
With all that in place, I needed some help controlling the Samsung S8+ with the DJI Gimbal, so I requested two boys from my neighborhood who like to create videos (Jaden Lanfrank and Mark Colacci). The boys were a big help with the shoot we did with Fran and the kids.
With the little crew including my parents and my wife, we picked a day and shot the first part. I have to be honest, I may not be the best photographer in town, but what you see in the film does not reflect any of my photography experience other than struggling with the camera and lights and focus. I wanted to take my time to shoot each scene, but as soon as we got into action, we had time limits in place. Jaden had to leave in one hour, Fran had to go in 2 hours and we did not rehearse anything and went with the flow to avoid having to re-shoot another day. I would say we got lucky as we got enough nice footage for the film, but next time I will plan each scene better, and put my energy into setting up the space, and lights exactly how I want, before even inviting the actors and before rolling the camera.
We shot the first scene (van pulling into the driveway) from 2 angles, using two cameras, then family getting into the house, and a few scenes inside to establish the kids having fun, but they were removed from the final cut as they were going to add a couple of minutes to the film, which I felt we can do without. Third scene was the kids running up and mom going to answer the phone, so we had two different cameras in that scene, one followed the kids upstairs, while the other followed Fran into the kitchen to take the call.
There is a thud sound in the film which is when Rachel falls in the bathroom, and both Fran and Ronit hear the sound and react differently. I feel it could have been represented better, but since we got only one day to shoot with mom and kids, we took what we had and stitched it together.
The fun part was shooting Fran finding Rachel on the bathroom floor as by the time we got to the shot we didn't have any fake blood. So while Fran rehearsed her walk, my wife and my mom put together some blood that was supposed to be on the floor and we got that done in one go. However, a problem with Rachel and Fran was that since this wasn't rehearsed, when Fran screams her signature scream, Rachel actually started smiling. So we had to do a retake of that, but the scream had to be pulled in from the first take.
We captured about 1 hour of footage, and had to pick scenes to make about half the film (about 3.5 minutes) from this. Post editing tools help a lot, wonder what film makers used to do without such sophisticated software.
Actual Halloween Day Shoot
Now the second day of shooting was when the kids actually went trick or treating, and even though the movie was less than half shot, Isha decided to be Rachel for Halloween and went out trick or treating with Ronit and her friends. It was nice because a lot of people complimented her on her look, so that got her and us even more excited about the rest of the movie.
We managed to get some footage, which plays at the very beginning of the film. Thanks to our neighbors who did such an awesome job at doing up their homes. The only problem with the footage was that I forgot to take my DJI gimbal and ended recording the moving scenes from the Canon, and it was very shaky. So had to do a lot of post editing work to make it less shaky, and tell you the truth, I am still not happy with how that looks. If I had the gimbal, that scene itself would have put a lot of life in the shot.
I wanted to take advantage of Halloween day and do a test run with the kids, but didn't want to take away their fun of going trick or treating. The only thing I didn't realize is that once they start eating all that candy, things won't really work as we plan :) The sugar rush just took their energy to a whole new level and we weren't able to do controlled rehearsals. We had fun irrespective and I got to click some pictures and get ideas about how to setup the lighting when it's dark outside to a) get the right expressions on Rachel's face, and b) make sure the feel is such that it builds up and doesn't look "normal".
Then it was time for the actual shoot, and for that we picked the day after Halloween.
The final shoot starts when Rachel gets ready. We had to shhoot the entire film, on the same day, but since it was a working day (school day) and we had to shoot towards the evening, we only had a few hours to get it done. We started around 4:30PM and got done around 11PM. We needed two more actors, and two locations for this shoot, so I spoke to my beautiful neighbor Elizabeth Colacci (who knew we are going to shoot one day) that we must do it today. She agreed, but was a little hard pressed on time. Originally Jaden was going to do the last scene but he wasn't going to be available for the whole week, so I had to call another friend, Ruben A Martinez, to do the scene of the angry neighbor. He obliged, and another friend Payel Kathuria and Neil Martin, allowed us to shoot at their house.
We did the shot, luckily I had my dad and my wife helping me hold the lights as we took the moving shots, I focused on keeping the focus straight and composing the shots. Rachel was into the role so much, we didn't have to take any retakes for her roll, but Ron needed a few redos, specially since he is young and we didn't brief him well, so it's actually my fault more than anything. Elizabeth and Ruben were amazing and did their parts literally in the first go. However, that helicopter that showed up just as we began to roll, messed up a little, but I thought it was kind of natural because as it is we were not able to capture any Halloween spirit, it was way too dark and all, so let that flow. Loved the shot from inside Liz's house where Rachel is standing outside and staring at her.
Ruben was so natural, Ron refused to do a retake as he felt that Ruben was angry at him :). We spent a decent amount of time convincing him, but finally he agreed and did it with a smile (which was the opposite expression than what we had requested him to do). It was actually quite funny, but that's what we go.
When we got to shooting the last scene, we discovered that Rachel was taller than the refrigerator door, so we had to change the setup and make Ruben sit and take out the beer from the fridge. It kind of worked out well, however there was another problem, Rachel kept getting scared when Ruben screamed, so we didn't get a single take where she didn't freak out. That's one of the reasons, why we cut immediately after he screamed.
The biggest challenge we all faced during the shoot was time. We were so focused on going from one scene to the other, that we were not able to check what we had shot, if the lighting was perfect or not, if the scene was set right or not, just go, go and go. We got lucky for the most part, but I do not wish to shoot like this again. Will take my time, make sure the film represents my work as I would like it to. Also getting the entire crew together for the scene they are not a part of, is something I would like to avoid. It only adds to tension on the set and chaos, as it's quite hard for everyone to stay quiet all the time, so you have to constantly play the role of a captain.
Lighting, is another challenge, as with even the slightest change, you have to make lot of changes to your camera settings and make adjustments everywhere. I think it would be nice to have a set of professional lights where you can set the color and temperature as well as the brightness of the lights.
Children are usually hard to work with, specially if you don't invest your time in explaining them what this scene is, how it should be and what exactly do you expect from them. I thought of going from one scene to another, tell them what to do, and keep moving, but since time is against you, that wasn't a great idea. Ron did the roles he had rehearsed perfectly, but all the on-the-fly shots took many retakes because we were trying to shoot and tell him what to do and expecting him to do it right in the first go. This was more of my shortcoming, and I will make sure I do things in order and do them right as that will end up making the whole experience more pleasurable for everyone.
I can write about editing in details, but since I am also fairly new, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me or visit my websites www.rasesolutions.com | www.raakesh.com for more information.
Hope you enjoyed this section.