Winner 2009 Best Film
New Zealand, 2009. 4:41 mins.
Team: Aleeza Stettner and Jeff Sayer
With the ever increasing usage of visual technologies in our heavily mediated society, our society has become more and more dependent on its reliant relationship with these types of media, for determining basic rules implementing certain restrictions and freedoms. It was only to be a matter of time before a unique condition surfaced in the form of interference with regard to these technologies and rules.
This is a short film about one such sufferer ‘Cameron Birnie’, afflicted with the unique condition known as ‘Nebulism’.
In a candid interview with Cameron Birnie, he describes how this condition affected his life in unexpected ways. From when it was first recognised, to the present day. He predominantly describes his loss of certain freedoms – freedoms that most of us take for granted.
This production was not what we had initially proposed in the semester. As we were not entirely happy with our first idea (and we still needed to do the bulk of the work: location scouting, story-boarding, script, and casting). We then came up with the concept for this film – three weeks out from deadline. So we were effectively back to square one.
Once we had our new concept we checked with Ralf and Dell that we had their support for our change of mind. Ralf then introduced us to a Woody Allen film Deconstructing Harry, which explores a similar theme of someone who cannot clearly be filmed. We were not aware of this movie when we developed our concept but decided to still go ahead with our idea. Since becoming aware of Woody Allen’s film, we considered using his quintessential font, but decided against it because we wanted to be original with our movie.
Due to the last minute change, as well as the limited time available for us to complete the project in, we had to use our initiative and be prudent. We did keep one cast member from the preliminary preproduction work. We narrowed our cast to one actor and one narrator. We also reduced the number of locations to two:
- The design studio in the CApSc building at the University of Otago. This was used for the opening, closing credits and also for the shot of the blurred x-rays.
- The other being Aleeza’s flat. There we shot the interior kitchen scenes, and the interview. As well as the exterior scenes; of Cameron lighting a cigarette and of him cycling away.
We filmed the main segment of the film in two days. The first day we filmed a lot of the exterior scenes. We were hoping for Cameron to do some dialogue outside, but the sound was too affected by strong wind. We then thought it best to concentrate on the external action shots rather than waste our time. After which, we moved inside to attempt to shoot some of the dialogue scenes as well as some throwaway shots.
The second day was important in regards to the interview segment of the film. Turns out the recordings from the first day (of the interview scenes) did not have any recorded sound. This was our own fault as we had forgotten to turn the microphone back on (after turning it off so we wouldn’t have to listen to the wind from the exterior shots). Unfortunately for Cameron but possibly fortunate for us we forgot to turn the mic on for the first hour of recording his interview scenes. Third time round we got it right and it had now been well rehearsed.
Originally the script was more of an idea of what we wanted the actors to say as well as portray, rather than an actual script. We had constructed the questions but not the answers for Cameron’s character. To make it more believable we asked Cameron the questions and gave him the key points we wanted in his answers. Hoping that the answers given would be more natural (an adlib approach). Cameron found it difficult to adlib some of the answers and after a few (too many) wines with Aleeza and the help of the bottle, a script was formulated.
The script for the narration was pieced together while we were editing. This helped ensure that narration was the correct length and suited our piece. It also meant that we could easily cut and/or re-word as necessary.
Editing was not too much of a problem for us – we enjoyed it. We believed we had some good footage and a good concept (second time round). Once we had a rough edit that worked, it was time to add the blurring effects to the footage of Cameron. This was not easy due to a number of factors.
We had filmed in high definition widescreen which meant any change or effect we initiated required more time to be rendered (necessary for us to view the effect and determine whether it sufficiently lived up to our expectations). This was very time consuming.
So we made a stacked double of the footage edited footage. Then on the top layer we then added masking, which required we edit frame by frame to assure that the mask only covered Cameron’s exposed flesh and nothing else. Due to the unusual shapes that make up a moving body, we had to make numerous masks for each clip which we manually changed frame by frame. This had its own problems as final cut kept playing up and some of the masking was a bit buggy. So we then had to repeat the process of re-masking these areas. Underneath this was a layer of the same film footage, to which we applied numerous blur effects. The end result with the two layers combined, was blurring only where Cameron’s skin was visibly exposed.
The default transitional filters we tried to use ended up removing our masking and blurred effects. This was not up to our standards because it would give the game away. Which resulted in us manually creating our own dip to colour transitions by changing the levels of all the footage necessary and placing white slugs underneath. Producing the desired effect.
Aleeza Stettner & Jeff Sayer
The originators of Last Minute Productions:
As two creatively opinionated design students, we found that having two sets of ideas and justifications required constant discussion and compromising to come up with a result we were happy with as a team. In hindsight this really worked to our advantage. Everything that is in our film was considered and used with rationale.
High school friend of Aleeza. Proved to be exceptionally malleable and helpful with the enticement of wine. Exchanged in return for time, scripting input and filmic presence.
Aleeza’s brother in law. Bribed with babysitting hours, Olivier re-recorded our original narration with his apt french-american accent.
Behind the scenes
A few wines later, one room pungent with stale smoke, some tired lungs and many editing hours later we had a movie which elaborated on the bleak out look of a downtrodden soul (Cameron) affected by Nebulism.
And for our audience amusement, here are the funniest bloopers we captured:
(insert video here)
In hindsight we were both glad that we changed our topic (thank you Jeff – grand idea!) and know that our final production is definitely much better for it.
One of our original concerns was believability so we focused on this throughout our project. However by the end our own inability to encapsulate a clear photo of Cameron became uncanny. The following is the clearest we managed to capture on the evening: