Hacking the Feature Film: Can You Get Two Shots at Once Using a MōVI?
Having a two-camera set-up can have many great benefits. It can cut down on your production time/cost, streamline your work and make it more efficient, as well as provide much-needed continuity to the final product, which will ultimately raise your film's production value. If you're working with a skeleton crew, a multi-camera rig might be a good solution to having to hire more people, but be forewarned -- there can be pitfalls to that set-up (e.g. Tommy Wiseau's multi-camera/multi-format frankenrig that he used in The Room). Filmmaker Rubidium Wu puts this set-up to the test, mounting a Blackmagic Cinema Camera and a Canon 5D Mark III to a MōVI 10 gimbal stabilizer to see if he can cut down on costs, time, and even permit applications!
This is a guest post by Rubidium Wu.
A few months ago I was putting together a budget for a million dollar 'low budget' feature film and something struck me. Some of the numbers were big. Really big. This got me thinking: is all this stuff really necessary to make a good film?
Over the past decade, film production has gone digital, but many of the practices (and subsequent expenses) of filmmaking have been carried over from the celluloid age. The size of crews, how sets are built and lit, the way scenes are blocked and shot, are all time and cost intensive. I'm not saying that 100 years of film technique is obsolete (I've shot some big budget commercials on 35mm,) but I wondered if with the right story and connections, I could utilize the last decade of technological improvements to make a feature film for half, or even a tenth, of the normal cost.
The central question here is, "How far can filmmaking be stripped down and still retain its narrative power?" In other words, what's the cheapest you can make a good film for? After all, a good film that gets made is better than the perfect one that gets stuck in development hell and never produced.
I set out to make a thriller that draws strength from its constraints. I looked to the horror genre: a swath of films have succeeded (and spawned countless rip-offs) because they used their inherent limitations as a stylistic choice, such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. The "one room feature," where the fewest number of actors interact in the fewest numbers of locations, also appealed to me. This sub-genre includes movies big and small, such as The Killing Room, Exam, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, and Hitchcock's famous Rope.
After watching a couple of these, I realized that my main challenge would be to keep the story moving when the characters cannot. The same four walls get very tedious after a while, and we still needed to build and light a set that would be worthy of the time we'd spend it in, with wild walls nestled within a sound stage.
The polar opposite of the "one room feature" is to keep the characters constantly moving. In New York City, you do not need a permit to film in the street unless you put down a tripod, or block traffic. And then it hit me: if we could come up with a film that consisted of mainly daylight exteriors, and if we moved fast enough not to attract attention, we could get the texture and beauty of Brooklyn's streets for free.
With all the disclosure of the NSA's domestic spying program, and the continuing revelations about cyber warfare, a gritty urban thriller emerged in my head. With a script in hand, I brought collaborators on board, and a production plan of our feature began to take shape.
In the past couple of weeks we have been testing a two-camera rig mounted on the MōVI 10 in order to shoot both wide and close up shots in one take. With surveillance as our subject matter, we will incorporate CCTV-style GoPro footage and longs lens "private eye" shots into the film and get extra coverage. As we plan to capture less stylistic camera work than a typical feature, we are excited to showcase our actors' performances.
Because the cast lives near and has access to the "set" of the Crow Hill neighborhood streets, we plan to rehearse the film on location for weeks leading up to principal photography. We could even shoot these rehearsals, edit the videos, and refine the scenes before we start official production. We are excited to expand upon the experiences gained during my last project, The Silent City, a post-apocalyptic zombie web series shot in abandoned locations around New York City.
Ultimately we arrived at the plot of Crow Hill by working backwards from the usual method. We started with what would be cheap to shoot, and crafted a story around those limitations. Will it be a success? I don't know. I'm more interested in telling a good story than I am in making the next Paranormal Activity. More than anything, I hope we can try some new ways to make a film and help other people make theirs. We'll be doing detailed behind-the-scenes videos about the problems we face and the solutions we come up with. We'd love to hear comments and feedback from anyone who has undertaken a similar project.
We're currently running a kickstarter campaign to raise the $22k cash part of the budget. If you're interested, please check out the video and consider coming on the journey with us.
Rubidium Wu trained as a painter, but became fascinated with the potential of film to unite art and technology. Over the last 17 years as a filmmaker, he has produced the art documentary 'Portraits of Silence' and directed commercials for Nike, Playstation, and Nintendo. His web series, The Silent City, was crowdfunded on Kickstarter and has been watched over 2 million times online. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.