Forsaken Short Film: Writing the Script

Written by James de Paula Hanika

I then set about writing the draft script. Incidentally, the entire script was written and developed on an iPhone using a combination of Scripts Pro and Celtx script apps. It’s incredible how much you can get done on a smartphone these days. I have a busy working life, but I get a lot of script work done on the train or in a warm coffee shop. Being able to do this work on my iPhone means I can do it at all sorts of odd moments throughout a day. Scripts Pro has a great set of features that allow you to write and format the many parts of a script in a very concise and simple interface. Celtx, along with the free account and Mac desktop software, is a little more involved and offers many other features for planning a film. Both allow you to export the scripts for printing, but Celtx has a very good backup ability to your free Celtx account. You can also download the script to the desktop software on a Mac.

The outline I had on the single sheet had laid out all of the key moments in a very simplistic way, and the draft script would join these moments together in a sort of post apocalyptic road movie. I had some very specific ideas for this journey that come out of the many conversations we had had together. Our main protagonist would be on a journey that would take him from a country safe house to a potentially dangerous city location. During this process, it was important to see that our man was damaged in some way. He has fled a raging city, lost his family and had gone to ground, making a point of not meeting anyone. The opening scenes would introduce him and his situation, as well as some details of his past and torment. All of this would span a single 24 hour period.

Locations were a big concern, because a number of the scenes involved car chases, gun play and the occasional stunt. I discussed these issues with the local Police, who put me in touch with the Police Film Unit (Yes, there is one). In the UK, and I suspect that it’s not much different in many other countries, it is now illegal to go outside with a real or lifelike gun. In the UK we can buy electric or gas fired BB guns that are very realistic, but come in bright orange or blue. The very act of painting them black or to be realistic looking, immediately renders them illegal. The idea of a squad of CO19 (SWAT, to our American readers) descending on our unit was worrying, to say the least.

An alternative was to hire the Police Film Unit to cordon off roads, have a presence during gun play scenes, and generally support the production. For a low or no budget film, this was clearly out of the question, and we developed the story with this in mind. A number of shots would be filmed against green screen and motion blur, background and additional affects would be added in post. We could do this with only a few shots, and the final gun battle would be shot on location. The finale had to be something more than a modest shootout, and we needed a private location that was not overlooked and suitably out of the way to film it. This would become our most difficult sequence to film, but it can’t be allowed to drag the rest of the production down.

A car chase involves breaking a number of rules of the road: Driving too fast, on the wrong side of the road, or in a generally dangerous way. Clearly, the Police would frown on this, but with a little preparation and clever editing, a very realistic sequence could be created. Given that this stage in the film would be out in the countryside, I drove out to find a reasonably long road that would not be too busy early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. I took a number of photos as I went, which would help to plan the scenes later on. Not only would we shoot these scenes early in the morning, it was important to make sure that we had the cars and actors in place to complete the shots, which we knew would take a good few hours to achieve. With a number of possible roads in mind, I could then refine the script to cater for the locations I had found. During this time, we included some shots or scenes that we designed for a particular reason and to insert a number of links that directly related to the Depleted lore.

Once the draft script was completed, we read it through and worked out how long the film would run to. The old formula for scripts is that one page equals one minute of screen time. This is not entirely accurate, because some staging notes can last a while longer than the three sentences on your script, but it is a good gauge, all the same. Certain scenes would play as scripted, but on a few occasions, additional effects or stagings would make these scenes longer or shorter. We had already agreed that even though we set out to make a 10-15 minute short, we would allow it to expand a little if the story required it.

Forsaken Short Film: Getting Started

Written by James de Paula Hanika

Getting started with a new film project is an exciting time. As much as we would all like to get out there with a camera and an idea, there are some important stages to go through before we get out into the street. Pre-production is all about preparation. It’s about defining the rules and planning the shots. It’s getting creative so that the shoot goes along at a reasonable, but sensible rate and making sure that you get everything you need to tell the story. Planning includes involving the people you will need to make the film. Actors need to know where they have to be at what time. Locations have to be arranged, along with any insurance if the location is a private one. Of course, taking a camera and a couple of actors out in to the street is all good and all, but what are you going to shoot and will you remember all of the shots you need? Low budget film making should be no different to multi-million budget epics. Planning is important, because you will finish up with a much better quality product, which people will appreciate more. It is also about learning the craft and getting better at what you do and the films you make.

Sometimes you will need to shoot a test of a particular shot or effect, if only to prove that an idea will work. This is an important stage on the project. YouTube is full of poorly staged and executed mini movies, and most of them are a couple of kids in a backyard having fun. These films are unlikely to end up on a film festival roster.

Many years ago, and I really do mean many, I was involved in a small group who made war movies in the woods with a couple of 8mm cameras and a belt full of plastic weapons. Our first movie was really poor, and probably not worth the cost of the film. We made it up on the spot, and what great fun it was. Our second film was a little more involved, and we would start to plan a few scenes which had in-camera effects. [No After effects in those days.] We didn’t know it then, but this was our first experience of pre-production.

The Forsaken short came about from a number of visual effects tutorials we had made with effectsportal.net and submitted for use on the Microfilmmaker Magazine website. This suited us well, because most of our projects included a great deal of ingenuity and little money. We were contacted by Jeremy Hanke, at MicroFilmmaker magazine, in late January 2010 who asked if we would be interested in the new franchise they were developing, called the World of Depleted. A post-apocalyptic world in which a series of mysterious attacks trigger governmental overreaction and radical civil uprising.  The chaos and mob mentality that make up this uprising leads to the destruction of health and technological networks, the breakdown of modern society and, in the resulting year, a global deathtoll of nearly 90%.

This was an exciting opportunity. We agreed to produce a short film of approximately ten to fifteen minutes that, over the coming year, could help to support their project, have some fun ourselves, as well as be up for consideration for inclusion as part of the official marketing canon of the World of Depleted.

The biggest initial obstacle for a film is a story. You can’t get very far without a subject matter and, ultimately, a script, Our immediate need was for a good base storyline to develop. Our first approach was to come up with five very short outlines that could work, and which fitted the limited resources we had, both in terms of actors and locations available. Sometimes only a sentence or two, these outlines gave us something to discuss and to spark ideas.

  • An attack by a gang of looters results in a quest to find medical supplies.
  • A man makes his way back to his former home to find a picture of his family.
  • The life of a family as they avoid the perils of the surrounding city

We decided that the story should follow a single person, allowing us to make the majority of the film with a very small crew of two or three, with key action sequences that could be filmed in a single weekend. We also needed to devise ways of showing a largely empty, damaged world, and we would do this with the help of digital effects software like After Effects and Photoshop, or by getting up extremely early in the morning. It took a week or so to settle on a particular arc, and the outline script was written on a single sheet of paper.

Continue reading... writing the script

Forsaken Short Film: Storyboarding

Written by James de Paula Hanika

Storyboarding is an important stage in pre-production. In fact, storyboarding is probably THE most important part of this initial creative stage. A script will indicate both staging and action. It describes the content of the scene, the characters in the scene, the dialogue, and the general atmosphere of the film. Storyboarding takes those elements and to them you add the audience’s point of view. Storyboarding allows you to plan each shot and each sequence in some detail. This stage is vital to work out camera angles and how to accomplish certain effects shots. For instance, the above mentioned car chase will require a ix of medium and close up shots, but the action and suspense of the sequence will require you to design the shots and how they go together. The action of the chase will be combined with the action between the characters, and the wrong edit will slow a scene down and render the sequence uninteresting.

Storyboarding does not require you to be a fabulous artist, only that you can sketch a reasonable image that your team can understand for the framing and angles required. A head can be an oval. A car can be a box. If you can find someone with the talent, a well drawn storyboard can be a vital addition. I began to storyboard the shots and to work out how we were going to film each one, what the treatment should be, and if there were any effects required. At times, you will have to go off and create a few test shots to make sure that a specific effect or staging will work, but this can be really good fun and put some energy into the project.

Storyboarding allows the low budget filmmaker the opportunity to mould the scenes to the restrictions in place, and to let creativity and ingenuity bridge the gap. I rewrote a number of scenes from the discussions we had over the staging of a scene during the storyboarding stage. This largely involved adding additional shots for more closeups or long shots. Sometimes, we added a very specific dolly shot to make a point or to get an important feel to the scene. Every shot is storyboarded. It is also a good place to start that important props list, location list and actors in a scene.

We started filming the opening scenes in April 2010. In the next article, we discuss cameras, dollies and the importance of a clapper.

Forsaken has been submitted for review

Forsaken, our latest short film, has been submitted to the World of Depleted panel for review. Created specifically for the Depleted franchise, the last few weeks have been long and busy. The film script was started almost a year ago, and the production has taken a touch longer than we originally planned. The 16 minute short follows a lone man who travels back to his former home after the devastating collapse of society and the basis of civilisation around the world.

Now we wait to see if the film is taken up as part of the Depleted franchise and to what degree. More than anything, we hope the film is enjoyed. We put a great deal of effort into it. In the coming week, we hope to put a 15 minute version on our YouTube channel.

Forsaken- editing well underway!

We are working hard on the editing and doing the effects for Forsaken. After all of the principle photography over the summer, we are now left with only filler scenes that may be needed. These are important close ups, long shots or specific actions that help to make the scenes more involved or clarify a certain action or reaction.

We are editing in Adobe Premiere, which has its benefits, not least the ability to preview render and export preview versions of the film from time to time. We do this when going out to shoot any incidental shots, and we can compare angles and continuity with the shot we are getting. So, multiple audio tracks, multiple video tracks and the application of colour correction and music.

The majority of the visual effects have been completed in After Effects. Some of which require some pretty heavy tracking to hand-held camera shots. Getting to grips with the production pipeline of these applications is part of the learning curve, and Ben has been refining the way we do things on a weekly basis. Everything from how to manage your folders in the Project list, to rules over what gets dome in AE and what is better in Premiere.


Needless to say, we are working hard and the short will be released soon!

Forsaken Short Film: Fight scene crew and actors

We would like to thank all of those involved in the recent filming of the finale fight scene. Forsaken has been an interesting journey. A week ago, after a great deal of trouble finding a location, we shot the major fight scene finale. This included five crew, six actors and 40 bullet holes.


After a lot of pre-coreography ideas, we arrived at the factory about 10:30 on the Sunday morning. We had to dress the set a little for the key sequences that would include four deaths and an exploding oil barrel. All digital, of course.

Before we got on with any of the filming, we walked through the scenes with everyone, so they all knew where we needed to be and at what time in the sequence. This also allowed the actors to understand what their characters would be doing individually before they were systematically killed off. Aarh, the joys of post-apocolyptic movie-making.

Star Wars Uncut

Last year , just for fun, we signed up to the StarWarsUncut project. This was a great idea where the whole original film was cut up into over 400, 15 second segments. Anyone could set up a Vimeo account and pick a segment, recreate it, and post it for all to see. Who wouldn’t?!

Well, Ben and Jim couldn’t resist, and they ended up making three segments between them. No budget was allowed, so sets had to be either digital or made from what was about their garages. Plenty of green screen, deleted attempts at hand-held motion control [!] and a lot of fun trying. Needless to say, even in 1977 LucasFilm had a lot more tech than we did. Personally, I’m waiting for The Empire Strikes Back and that asteroid scene!

Here are our scenes:

The important thing is give everything a try, be very creative and learn something each time.

Forsaken Short Film: Poster

In recent months we have been busy with our latest film: Forsaken.

Based on the World of Depleted, a project concept originated by the team at MicroFilm Magazine, it charts the journey of a damaged man as he travels back to his former home in a future where society has collapsed. Taking on such a project immediately presented some very real problems. Clearly, we were going to need the help of our friends at effectsportal to create a damaged and empty world, where only 10% of the population were left, and lawlessness was widespread.

Here is the main poster for Forsaken.

Forsaken Short FIlm: Background Notes

Forsaken is based in the World of Depleted, the result of a collapse of society from a combination of biological terrorist action, financial and economic breakdown and massive population unrest. The premise is open to a whole host of situations, action sequences and really bold story-telling. It was decided to construct our story so we could introduce the audience to the aftermath, and introduced one man to take a journey through a landscape he knew well. All of this would span only one 24 hour period.

A number of key sequences were developed initially that gave the short film a strong start, a middle, and a dramatic and exciting end, with secondary scenes to bind these sequences. We aimed to develop a 10-15 minute short, but were open to allowing it to be a little longer, if needed. There were some interesting problems we would get to, but the initial script developed quickly, with regular meetings throughout April. We also storyboarded the script, which allowed us to plan where the effects shots were going to be and what camera angles would work best. Storyboarding doesn’t have to be very accurate or beautifully drawn, but it made a big difference when we got out to do the filming.

We had written a short car chase into the story, and introduced another character. Technically, a car chase involves a bit of dangerous driving, as you have to break the highway code to make anything remotely exciting. In order to fit these important sequences in, we decided to start our story out of the city and away from the normal populated areas. This fitted in with our idea that the main character had fled the cities after the attacks and violence reached their peak.

In the UK, it is now illegal to use realistic guns and weapons in public. If you paint a toy gun black, it is immediately against the law if you take it out onto the streets. All toy guns are now garish orange or green or transparent. The film and television industry hire Police help to block off roads, hold back on-lookers and to manage the use of replica firearms in the open. This, of course, can cost a small fortune, which is fine if you have a reasonable budget and a full crew. Having contacted the film support unit of the police, they informed us that we would be better to find some private location, not overlooked and out of earshot if any shots were to be fired. The alternative, it would seem, was to have a Police armed unit descend on our crew and maybe even be shot!

With our friends at effectsportal.net, we decided to see how far we could go to create a deserted world of guns and gangs. We were using fairly basic airsoft guns and rifles, but decided early on that no shots were to be fired and that everything from muzzle flash to bullet holes would be either physical or digital and, sometimes, a combination of the two. This ended up as being very creative, and we will be sharing a few of these tricks in later entries.


SLUMP- 48 Hour Film- Introduction

We collected the film brief in the walled herb garden of Park Hill park. After an introduction from the organiser, we were each handed two boxes; one we picked the genre, and the other we chose two 'items' that had to  feature in the story. Our genre turned out to be comedy, and the two items we ended up with were Blanket and Skip.

We now had 48 hours to script, film and edit whatever idea we came up with.

We headed off the the nearest coffee shop to come up with ideas. That has to be one of the most creative walks we have had in weeks. Jules, who is only 11, came up with a couple of very interesting ideas that we worked with and expanded on. Ben is a passionate effects creator, so it was important to come up with a number of scenes that stretched his creative needs.

It was fairly obvious that Jim was going to star in this production. Firstly, he was crazy enough to do some pretty daft things and, secondly, there wasn't anyone else! A strong coffee, or chocolate in Jules' case, and we had the basis of the 5 minute movie. On the walk home, Jim found the huge skip at the side of the Nestle building, which was remote and out of the way enough to keep our small crew out of people's way. Ben sourced a few of the things we needed, like a kitchen cupboard!, and Jim wrote the outline script based on the ideas and draft we had put together in the coffee shop.