e’re coming at you with something different this week. We tried our hand at making a short narrative horror film!
This project was both the most fun and exciting thing we’ve tackled yet AND the most stressful… coming right down to the wire.
Watch the film below. Then read on to get a behind-the-scenes look at how our concept became reality and what we learned in the process.
This poster was made in about an hour after I realized the online submission system’s profile page has a spot for a poster. I think it came out pretty cool.
This was the most intense project we’ve taken on. We’ve never tried to do anything spooky, moody, or horrifying. Plus this was also our first real attempt at narrative.
We’re both HUGE fans of film, with Adam big into horror. So, when I came across this tweet from Arrow my thinking was pretty much “Whoa…. Arrow’s having their own horror film contest. I buy so much stuff from them. Let’s enter!”:
Put your creativity to the test! Only 2 weeks remain in the Horror Lockdown Short Film Competition - with one lucky winner bagging a £3,500 prize to finance their next short film! Submissions end July 19 - Get involved: https://t.co/VihW0LrEaH pic.twitter.com/YWTJH4iRaG— ArrowFilmsVideo (@ArrowFilmsVideo) July 5, 2020
Behind the Scenes
Coming Up With the Story
We only had two weeks to do everything from planning to post work (where we tend to spend a LOT of time). So it had to be very short and concise. And due to COVID-19 we probably needed to film everything on our FoodDoodz set.
We kicked around ideas trying to figure out what kinds of stories could be told with only two people. Having only two characters is really limiting.
What if we played other people in costume? What if we modified our voice? What if the other characters didn’t talk? What if we didn’t see them either? What if they were just a chat window?
That’s how we came up with the concept of a 3rd character being the chat. People entertain others for hours by having a one-way audio/video conversation with chat all the time on Twitch.
Once we sounded out a decently plausible story I sat down to mockup shots. I did this mostly so I didn’t forget our story (since we didn’t write anything down). Yup, all dialog is improvised. :D
When we started filming I had everything storyboarded up to the Scene 8/9 text slide. I turned these boards into an crudely animated video that was used to figure out if everything would work.
The boards after the Scene 8/9 text slide were done later. I didn’t get to put them into an animation until after we finished the short (what you see above).
No boards were created of the final death scene. We just worked from our imagination.
Adam and I were the only people involved with creating the film (we also acted).
Made for $70. We bought chain, mayonnaise, and baby items. We had t-shirts, the hat, and glasses from another production.
Made in two weeks.
All visuals, graphics, music, and sound effects are original creations by the us for this film.
We had 2 weeks. The first we nailed down the story, storyboarded, did some lighting tests, and filmed the opening up until Adam’s drug inside.
The second week we filmed everything else, edited, created all the graphics, and made the insert composites. We worked around the clock right up to the deadline of Sunday July 19th. Our final cut was uploaded about four hours before submission closed.
What Changed as We Filmed
We initially had viewership numbers as the motivation for my kidnapping. This faded away as I didn’t really have time to make the animated charts. Plus, we ended up having to trim nearly two minutes of the initial cut to make our 5 minute runtime. So there really wasn’t room.
We really wanted a change of clothes for the Delivery character. We wanted to dress him in custom Let’s Eat This Bread Bruh logoed gear. The Streamer character and Delivery Guy would both be wearing these shirts when he woke up. Making it obvious his clothes had been changed for him. Creepy! We ended up scrapping this because it takes about a day for me to etch a screen and print a custom shirt… Didn’t have time. Maybe the next film.
Simplifying the Escape
I was supposed to abduct another contestant when I hear the doorbell. You were supposed to be fixed on Adam’s character’s face while he hears this whole episode playing out through the floor. This is what was supposed to motivate his escape.
Adam’s directing audibles while filming really helped finish the film under the deadline and under alloted runtime.
- Adam thought we could simplify everything by making Streamer just do this on a regular basis because he enjoys it (abducting people for the show). The character doesn’t really need an intrinsic motivation. That helped remove a bunch of other graphics I didn’t have time to make (trending charts).
- Likewise Adam made the audible to cut the whole “body hitting the floor and Delivery guy getting freaked out” sequence right before we start filming that scene. This turned out to be the right decision. We really didn’t have the extra runtime needed to pull this off. Plus it would have required recording a bunch of sound effects and voiceover…
Adam wasn’t sure if he wanted to post it to our channel publicly because of how weird it ended up… I took this as good sign that we accomplished what we sat out to do.
Other feedback we’ve received:
- “I hope your neck is okay after having a chain wrapped around it!”
- “It was really creepy the first time. The second time I realized it was funny.”
- “OMG. The film is freaky. I enjoyed the heck out of it, but I’m a little weird.”
- “That wasn’t real mayonnaise, was it? It was pudding, right?”
Was it pudding? Nope. Every prop we used was real.
When it looks like Adam’s gagging… it’s real. Because we used real mayonnaise LOL.
We used real heavy duty chain. I think it was rated to tow boats. It was SOOOO heavy that Adam’s feet fell asleep while filming those shots. He was worried about bruising, but I don’t think he got any.
He DID fall asleep with beans still in his hair though! What do you know about waking up with yesterday’s beans hardened in your hair? ahahahaha
I wore the Macho Man glasses so long I ended up with a bruise on the bridge of my nose. It lasted two or three days. So… I guess I’ll keep that in mind if we make a follow-up film.
Things I Wish We Could Have Fixed
- You can hear a gust of air as the door is opened in the first scene
- I apparently missed a few frames of hiding buttons on my phone while it’s being raised.
- I need to work on acting more evil.
- Adam reaaaaally wanted to leave in more suspenseful buildup before he’s drug inside.
- There was a lot more hilarious humiliation of Adam that we had to cut to make the runtime limit.
Things We Learned
- How to cut tighter. No tighter. No super duper tight. “Trim 28 frames off here and I think we’ll make our 5 minute limit is one of the notes I gave Adam after his 2nd cut.
- How to scrap ideas that just distract from the core story (removing the trending charts and my character’s reaction to them). Pretty much just simplifying story to be as basic as needed.
- You can make a amazing variety of sounds using just a steel pan against random objects lying around our studio.
- Rotoscoping is a gigantic pain in the butt. There’s supposedly a new v2.0 tool in After Effects Beta that’s better at automatic detection of boundaries. So, I’ll have to try that in the future… But, OMG was replacing my phone screen with a rendered one painful.
- Don’t use real chain if you’re planning to wear it for long periods of time. Wow, does it get tiring. AND it hurts!
- We need a new 50mm equivalent lens. Ours is showing its age (not in a good way). Comparing footage from our other lenses it’s just blurry, discolored, and kind of terrible.
- Slating. A slate w/ dry erase marker would help tons when trying to figure out what a clip is later. We’ve never filmed something with multiple takes like this before.
- Timecode. Might not totally be necessary now, but we see how it would be extremely helpful with a larger production.
How We Improve Next Time
Other than taking actual behind-the-scenes photos of our setups. Here’s what we came up with:
- We need to work on when things can be funny and when they need to be serious/scary/creepy. We’re big fans of Jordan Peele. But, Like he mentions in the features of Us and Get Out, it is really hard trying to find that balance between comedy and horror.
- Do less. Less story and leave more time for suspense. Stop trying to cram so much into this short of a run time.
- We need more lights. We need lighting modifiers like flags, diffusers/bounces, barndoors, gobos, etc. We could really use some mountable RGB lighting too… wish these weren’t so expensive. We might have to settle on using colored gels until programmable RGB panels and tubes get cheaper.
- We need a camera movement system. AND we need to design shots around movement. I’ve been planning out a motorized movement system for a while… since systems that do everything I want cost $30k.
- Wireless focus pulling system. Potentially one that’s programmable to hit marks after some delay or when a button is pressed. Also, this might need to be custom made.
- We need to try pre-planning character movement in conjunction with camera movement to better convey what we want a viewer to feel from each scene.
- There were a series of shots we cut (due to various reasons) with Adam in the foreground of a long lens and me in the background doing various things. We really like this setup and want to leverage it with focus racking (and deep focus depending on the scene).
- We wanted to experiment with color tinting different scenes and adding artificial grain. Maybe next time.
- Using light other than white and yellow. Colored lighting of subjects and backgrounds either through gels or fancy RGB systems is something I really want to try next time.