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