Year 6

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How To Make A Seven Minute Film In Just Eight Years

Year 6
Ashburton, then Bendigo, then Camberwell 2003-04

The quest for a catchy tune began. With a big orchestral score in mind, it quickly became apparent that my sound collection, particularly the brass section, just wasn't going to cut it.  I experimented with synthesizing sounds and searched for free samples. I pumped out numerous 4 and 8 bar ideas but a worthy theme proved elusive.  What might have sounded fine on its own just wouldn't meld with the picture.

Two scrapped musical ideas, composed on my old gear.  The melody in the above example dragged on too long to fit comfortably anywhere before the action changed.

Too slapstick...?

   I've since decommissioned the sampler (left) which now occupies a space on the wall, but still use the synth (below) mostly as a controller keyboard.

Meanwhile, I had assembled a presentable version of the film and began researching funding options. First on the list was the Australian Film Commission.  Having called and confirmed a few things about rights and obligations, I began preparing an application for post production funding.  The forms were quite extensive, and were geared toward traditional reality-based productions involving a complete crew (as opposed to computer-generated ones with no crew), so I drew up my own form.

The deadline was near and I was somewhat underequipped and inexperienced in such activities, so this involved a frantic two weeks of pretending to be a producer; gathering quotes, cobbling together a detailed budget, production schedule, project details and finding a means of making a VHS copy of the film and printing out the documents (my printer was dead).  If I missed the deadline, there would be a six month wait for the next round of funding. 

On the way to deliver the application package it dawned on me that I had left the application form itself at home. I sat in the AFC reception filling one in again, and made it with 10 minutes to spare.

Back to Bendigo.  Getting a bit sick and tired of all this moving now.
Soon after, I repeated the amateur producer routine for another week after my first sad attempt at drawing up a budget had proven inadequate. Finally I could resume work, except that I had to move yet again. After a temporary stay back home in Bendigo I shifted to Camberwell.

On my arrival I discovered that the AFC had been trying to contact me, and seemed particularly interested in the project...

After an interview at the AFC and a subsequent third budget revision, I was notified that I had been granted the maximum post production allowance of $50,000.  Meetings, research, paperwork and stress ensued, and because I had omitted a marketing component to my budget, they added a further $5,000.  The tracks were laid - I was going to be a "real" film maker.

I started researching film festivals and GST, and visited an accountant to find out about setting up funds and other businessy things. With all these new obligations it was becoming clear that this wasn't free money at all - it was a job.  I was scheduled for completion in December, but production had taken a back seat to "producing". When the pressure had eased off slightly, I inserted a new "peeking through the fence" scene into the film to help ammend a nagging weakness in the narrative.  This, along with credit(s) would bump the final running time up to seven minutes.

I began some render tests at Swinburne University's Astrophysics and Supercomputing department which were successful, but ultimately unaffordable.

Now that I had a budget, I decided there was nothing for it but to get a decent orchestral sample library.  There were only two serious options for convincing symphonic realism at the time; Vienna Symphonic Orchestra and the as yet unreleased EWQLSO. Both were in excess of $4,000.  I opted for the latter, and while waiting for it to become available I bought Cubase SX and a new soundcard.  

At this point it transpired that not only would I be required to share gross proceeds from the film but also that I would have to share the copyright, contrary to what I had been led to believe.  At least I was given the assurance that this would exclude ancilliary rights (sequels, spin-offs, merchandise, websites... etc).  Another downside was the ongoing revenue documentation I was required to submit for the next 8 years.

When the contract arrived, I found that there would be a 50/50 share in both the gross proceeds and the copyright - somewhat alarming considering I had already payed for seven eighths of the project myself.  What's more, this included anciliary rights.
I voiced my concerns and was "reassured" that short films don't really make much money anyway, and that those minor details like... rights and things... aren't really important.  They said the contract was negotiable - which of course, it turned out not to be.

I never signed the contract.  I didn't need the money that badly.  Now untethered, and still unfunded, I was at last able to resume production, and actually enjoy it. I reconsidered the sample library.  It was expensive, but the recent events had realigned my priorities, so I bought it. When it arrived, my ancient PC crumpled under its enormity (19 DVDs!), so off to the shop I went to get a Pentium 4. 

An  early messy test with the new software based setup. 

Rendering assistance came in the form of local effects and animation company Iloura, but unfortunately Lightwave wouldn't cooperate with their renderfarm. There was nothing else for it but to buy my own. Back to the shop for another two P4s.

Now with my own four PC render farm cranking out the frames, and the virtually boundless possibilities offered by my new sample library, I was unstoppable - except for the fact that I still, inexplicably, couldn't come up with a tune that I liked. I shifted focus onto something more maddening: colour grading. Should it be darker? Lighter? Less saturated? Is there enough contrast? browner? Bluer? 2% greener???! There was no point of reference. 

Raw unprocessed renders (position cursor over images for a few seconds to see final processed frames).  Since I didn't have any dedicated video effects/processing tools, every shot was meticulously graded and doused in effects using Painter and Premiere.

Since we're talking about final frames, it's also worth noting that I chose the narrower 1.85:1 aspect ratio because it lent itself better to framing those tight, boxed-in environments, rather than the wider (and normallly more appealing in my opinion) 2.35:1 "Scope".  I further enhanced the claustrophobic effect by adding some slight vignetting (darkened edges) to many of the shots.

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