Behind the Scenes on an EPIC Short Film, 'Canis Belli'
This is a guest post by filmmaker Robin Schmidt a.k.a. El Skid.
A couple of weeks ago I shot what I hope will be my last short film. The shoot began on the 4th of November, which ought to be significant for this readership in landing the day after those double announcements from Canon and RED. While the blogotwitosphere was declaring war on itself over which camera was bestest, we were going to war producing a film about war, on the camera everyone is now keen to get close to: the Epic. Suffice it to say, our interest in what the Epic could offer us was more than a little spiced up by these announcements. These are great times for indie filmmakers, or maybe they’re not so good — I’d rather see filmmakers invest their cash in their productions than in the tools they make them with, but then I would say that, since that’s exactly what we’ve done.
But before we get into all that, why bother making a short film in the first place? Lots of young filmmakers are choosing to go straight into features, learning everything they can in over-stretched budgets, over-compressed schedules, emerging battered and bruised the other side but energized by the fight. The honest truth is this: all but the tiniest fraction of these indie features are utter crap. Fine efforts given the circumstances but utter crap nonetheless. For a long time the accepted truth was that it was better to hire a director who’d done a feature than one who hadn’t, regardless of how bad it was. Having the experience of a feature behind you is invaluable. I will never dispute that. However, there are more and more of us around these days, more competition for money, less money around and I’m pretty sure that what’s going to matter now is accolades.
I’ve worked in production for ten years and with my long-term directing/producing partner Gez Medinger, touched nearly all the spheres of production it’s possible to work in. We’re highly experienced, highly diverse and, apparently, highly unfundable. Firstly, funding bodies discount any work you might have done outside of drama as evidence of nothing more than an interesting sideline. Secondly, they have no taste in the UK (a cursory glance beyond the headline triumphs reveals that they clearly haven’t got a clue). Thirdly, we direct as a partnership, and that is as appealing as genital herpes to a funding body. The fact that film is a collaborative business relying as heavily on relationships as money seems to completely elude the good people of the funding mechanisms. They’d rather invest in a lonely soul toiling for bread in an attic garrett, pounding the keys of an old typewriter, than a solid, proven, directing partnership that has made a success of every genre its turned its hands to. In other words, it’s tough right now, very tough, to get funding, of any kind.
Gez and I made the decision to commit hard to drama last year, working on a number of ultra low budget, fast turnaround projects to work out the kinks of what we did, try out a few things, and get crucial experience of working with actors. Don’t kid yourself, drama is hard, very hard. We don’t just want to be there or there abouts, we want to be really good. And we know the kind of work we want to be known for. And that brings us to Canis Belli, a script initially written in 2006 and then brought to life, mainly by Gez, in Spring 2011. We wanted to do a festival film, the kind of piece that would set us apart from the myriad DSLR indie filmmakers now popping up everywhere. We wanted to do a piece that demonstrated the kind of drama we value which is this: drama which delivers a nuclear payload of emotional destruction. We like films that really stick the knife in and make you feel something.
Canis Belli is a period piece, set in the trenches of WWI:
Instantly alarm bells start ringing. How on earth are we going to do this? And that’s good. It’s hard to do period and that’s exactly why we wanted to do it. Short films always suffer from needing to establish a huge amount in a very short space of time which is why you invariably see films about breakups, holdups and kids. We didn’t want to do any of that, but most people have seen a decent number of war films and, by a singular stroke of luck, Gez happened to find the perfect location in Ipswich. And he managed to find it for the perfect price. In terms of making an impact at festivals, shooting a period piece set in the first world war is probably not going to hurt us. As close as just four weeks before we actually shot, there was no guarantee that we actually were going to shoot. We had to decide on what camera we were going to shoot, who we were going to cast, what lenses we were going to use, how much we were prepared to spend on it. And much much more…
Stay tuned for more posts from Robin on the production of ‘Canis Belli.’
I’m Robin Schmidt, also known in music video circles as El Skid. I’m a freelance director, editor and latterly cameraman, as well as doing all sorts of other bits and pieces like graphics and voiceovers. I’ve been working in music video, corporate and extreme sports up till now but my big love is drama, which is easily the toughest directing game to gain any kind of foothold in. Earlier this year I won the Bahamas 14 Islands Film Challenge and earned the right to work with Canon as a pro envoy for video and convergence (a fancy term for shooting on DSLRs). I was also named one of Moviescope Magazine’s ‘One to Watch.’