Year 8

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How To Make A Seven Minute Film In Only Eight Years

Year 8
Camberwell, 2005-06
At long last I had all the sound components to complete the effects mix I had been working on concurrently with the rest of the project. Several more months of editing and fine tuning and it was ready for surround mixing.
I wasn't picking my nose - honest!

I had bought a soundcard for the purpose of creating a surround mix a year or two earlier, but it turned out that I had been poorly advised.  I had to get another card.  This turned out to be an ongoing pursuit, as nobody seemed to be doing budget 5.1 mixing at the time, and the only professional advice I could get was that it can't be done with a consumer setup and should be left to the professionals.

Well this didn't seem right...  Why should someone else have all the fun?  I wanted to do the surround mix, and all my research pointed towards a consumer soundcard/speaker combo that would let me do just that, for less than $1,000 what's more.  I bought them both, and surprise surprise, they did.

Some friends offered to include the film in their private film festival at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, so I decided this would give me a solid deadline that was, for once, achievable - as well as providing a chance to gauge audience reaction and assess the 99% finished film in a theatrical environment.  My fears of an inadequate pixel resolution were put to rest after a test run at the theatre.  While the picture was clearer than expected, the sound wasn't quite as meaty as I'd hoped.

The remains of the ACMI building, after years of excess polygon reduction damage (geeky computer graphics person joke).

The festival screening took place in November 2005 to an audience of about 170.  It was fairly successful, though it left me feeling strangely numb.  Perhaps I had put so much time and energy into the film that it could no longer be adequately compensated for with mere audience reaction.

Following the festival I made some more colour corrections, replaced some music and made some other minor adjustments, and came close to running out of money before taking on four and a half months of emergency games employment. I exported the final soundtrack on the 16th of March, 2006, marking the completion of the digital version of the film.

After a failed Cannes submission (I found out afterwards that the DVD may have been a dud...not that it would have made any difference anyway), I almost abandoned the concept of film festivals, but decided to give it one more shot.  I lowered my standards and focused on a more modest goal:  the ACADEMY AWARDS. I submitted it to the LA Shorts Fest, one of the final remaining qualifying festivals for the year, and was selected. Now the race was on to get the "film" onto film with a Dolby Digital soundtrack.  One of the requirements for Academy eligibility is that the film has to win its category in a qualifying festival.  Another is that it is to be screened at the festival in 35mm or a HD cinema format.  Nobody seemed to have facilities for transferring to the latter, so 35mm it would have to be.

I needed to get the audio fine-tuned for theatre sound systems as well as have it Dolby Digital certified (requiring a $780 licence fee), so with two weeks to spare I ran it through Soundfirm for a four hour mastering session ($1,000), and then off to Cinevex for the 35mm transfer ($4,700).  Total cost of the film excluding living expenses: ~$20,000.

Mastering at Soundfirm, Chris Goodes at the helm.

With just enough money left over to get to LA and back, I picked up the Best Animation award and returned home where I typed out all this waffle.

35mm screening print
The Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood - home of the LA Shorts Fest.

And there it is up on the big screen.  I snapped this during one of the encore screenings because, well, I could. The photo doesn't quite do it justice, even though I remembered not to leave the film in the camera for five years this time.

The spoils

And there you have it.  So was it all worth it?

Well, it was up to a point.  Unfortunately I passed that point somewhere around year four, and after that the odds of any kind of worthwhile return increasingly diminished.  I tried to salvage the situation by piling even more of my eggs into the one basket, and eventually I could no longer even imagine an outcome that would justify such a densely packed basket of eggs.

When I set out, my goal was simply to improve my job prospects.  I had enough material for that within the first couple of years.  After that it was a matter of following through and finishing off what I'd started.  It became an exercise in extreme patience and endurance, in which I pushed all my gear (and some might say my sanity) to near breaking point.  I remain hopeful that one day the film's true purpose will be revealed, but whatever eventuates, the simple fact is that I just needed to get this thing out of my system.  I had already seen the film before I even started - I just wanted to show everyone else what it looked like.

Find out what happens next in the ongoing saga that can be found in the blog which I began shortly before the LA Shorts Fest.

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