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Getting the basics right

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inorbit spends 4 weeks at Objectifs digital filmmaking course and comes away with his first film and fresh thoughts about the technicalities of filmmaking.

I love watching movies and occasionally, I write about them, but the thought of actually making one never really crossed my mind. Still, when the opportunity to do so came along with the digital filmmaking course at Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Filmmaking, it was just too tempting to pass up.

This also seemed to be the case for my fellow coursemates, who included a home-maker, teacher-to-be, student, TV host, as well as someone who was already working in the industry. Everyone had some degree of passion for film, but simply had never had a chance to fully explore it.

So there we were, at a full-time, four-week course on HD filmmaking. I wasn’t quite prepared for how intense or rewarding it would be. The course covered every aspect of filmmaking: scripting, directing, camera handling, lighting, sound, casting, acting, scheduling, budgeting, editing and even marketing.

We also watched a lot of local short films spanning the gamut of genres from drama to comedy to experimental to music videos to animation. At the end of each module, we would rethink our films — and soon arrived at the conclusion that the perfect (i.e. easiest to complete) film was one with no actors, no dialogue, maybe a voice-over or subtitles, shot only with ambient light, with no complicated camera-work, all wrapped up in a pretty DVD box for distribution to festivals.

Not that we were about to make the “perfect” film, of course.

We had the privilege of learning from instructors who were in the business of making films, and we enjoyed their anecdotes and inside stories as they strove to impart the technical aspects of movie-making to us. Without a doubt, these had to be some of the most accommodating and patient people we’d ever come in contact with! I wondered if it was the fact that nobody seemed to have gotten into the business to make money but rather, had done so because film was a passion that could not be denied. This passion shaped their attitudes and sensibilities and their dealings with others. Well, either that or they had worked with far more unreasonable people and dealing with newbie filmmakers was, by comparison, a walk in the park.

The fact that we would be using HD equipment was something of a coup since most filmmakers start off shooting on digital tape (as opposed to film). Though we all appreciated the beauty of the final footage, the import of working with HD was also lessened for us somewhat simply because as first-time filmmakers, we had no basis of comparison.

At times, the inconveniences and technical complications hardly seemed worth it. Shooting on HD meant storing data on P2 cards, with a capacity of only 4 minutes per card or 8 minutes in total when using the two slots. Gone was the luxury of a 60-minute tape and nearly limitless takes.

On the other hand, it helped to instill a certain discipline in shooting. Also, the limited capacity of the P2 cards meant that data had to be transferred to a P2 store. It made us feel very vulnerable, to have our precious footage sitting in an external drive and open to corruption and/or loss during all the transfer of data.

As our debut film productions got underway, we realised that, counter-intuitively, shooting turned out to be the shortest part of the entire filmmaking process. Pre-production (including location-scouting, prop-gathering, casting, etc.) and post-production (mainly editing) took up much more time.

But in a sense, everything was geared towards the shooting process. Pre-production was all about ensuring a smooth shoot, while post-production was all about salvaging whatever had been shot into a cohesive that’s-what-I–had-in-mind-all-along final product. (Note to self: Never ever use scrolling credits again.)

Filmmaker Robert Bresson said that a film is born three times: in the writing, the shooting and the editing. It was immensely satisfying that I’ve been equipped with at least the basic skills for all three forms of birth, not to mention being able to type out the credits “Written, Directed and Edited By.” Of course, this also meant that a three-headed monstrosity could not be blamed on three different personalities but was the sole responsibility of one.

Now that I’ve experienced first-hand the sheer amount of work that goes into a (short) film, I’ve certainly a fuller appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes of a film, even as I’ll continue to pass summary judgment on what I watch. It may not make a filmmaker out of everyone — that takes a certain personal vision and drive — but it certainly makes the technicalities of filmmaking more accessible and doable for all.

Objectifs will run Introduction to the Filmmaker’s Journey, their digital filmmaking course, February 1 – March 22 (every Thursday, 7-10pm). The course will be taught by Ric Aw from The Creative Room. Register now.

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5 Comments

  1. superoldgranny
    25 January 2007 at 2:35 am

    and i still have your anime!!!!!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA O_O

  2. superoldgranny
    25 January 2007 at 2:35 am

    hi bOON!!!!!!!!!!!!! i’ve read your article!!!!!!!!!!! im not a student im a delinquent!!!!!! ^_^

  3. 23 January 2007 at 2:45 pm

    What? And risk being flamed? 😉

    I suppose this sounds like a cop-out, but one of the problems with having a small community of film and media professionals is that it’s difficult to comment on anyone’s work. Very hard to tell how a person will take criticism, even if it’s constructive.

    Anyway, the description in the main article is pretty clear.

  4. 22 January 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Really? Which filmmaker?

  5. 22 January 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Wow you got to work with HD!

    Your description of the “perfect (i.e. easiest to complete) film” matches a certain filmmaker’s to a *T*…

    *ahem*

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