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The making of SoulMatrix
It didn't take much discussion to realise how utterly creepy this could be. We had to decide in which direction to take the story in terms of tone, and that direction would be heavily influenced by our mutual love of 80's movies (and an obvious comparison with 'Weird Science'). We wanted an underdog and not a creep, a main character our audience would sympathise with despite the clandestine way he explored and expressed his feelings. Choosing to simplify the way in which he gathered information, taking photos of the object of his desire instead of collecting samples, would help but it would really all come down to the actor playing the part.
The decision to go without dialogue had pros and cons. In practical terms, not having to record synced sound during production made life a lot easier. Other than some atmospheric tracks to include, there were no lines to get wrong, no takes to be spoiled by outside noise and it would save us a lot of time. Another big plus was that without using spoken language we would be able to show the film to non English-speaking audiences, so it could travel even further a field. The challenge, however, would be to put across the characters and tell the story without the benefit of dialogue. We couldn't 'tell' the audience anything. Everything we wanted them to feel about both of these aspects had to come from an entirely visual perspective. As a director this was the biggest challenge.
In addition to the performances of the cast, we also needed locations and props that would put across what we were trying to do in that visual way just as quickly.
Then we needed the 'Holobox', the gadget that would make the magic happen. Leon Mook is a very talented craftsman who had helped us with a key prop on a previous short called Fishcake. This time round we explained that we wanted something that would look like a piece of kit people would buy, like an Apple product, rather than something someone builds at home. Leon took our brief and created for us exactly what we were looking for. It even lit up!
To continue this Apple theme, we decided the 'Holobox' would be operated with an app. Originally, we thought we would have to cheat this in post-production, but to our delight Dave Folan and Nick Lanng actually created a working SoulMatrix app that we shot being used in the film. It added a layer of authenticity the likes of which would have been hard to achieve with computer effects in the edit.
With our cast assembled, locations sorted, props and software ready to go and Wimbledon on the telly it was time for our weekend shoot. As with most shoots, it wasn't without its hiccups.
On the Saturday we first filmed Paul's bathroom/bedroom scenes and then moved on to the pub to shoot him using 'SoulMatrix'. To do this, a light-stand was put in place with a post-it note denoting what would be Lauren's approximate eye line. It was against this that Paul had to act out his side of the entire hologram scene. At the key moment of the film where Paul gazes into the holograms eyes and decides he's going try actually speaking to the real thing, in reality he and Lauren had not even met yet.
In fact, once we finished shooting this scene with Paul in the pub, we headed back to the kitchen of Pork Chop HQ where Carl set up a green screen backdrop. In front of this is where Lauren would perform all the holographic variations of herself. While eating, drinking and listening to music we filmed all of Lauren's incarnations for the rest of the Saturday evening. Myself, Carl, Lauren, make-up artist Sarah Jayne Gilly and production assistant Seb Hall all agreed it was the easiest and most fun shoot we've ever done.
Of course, the main office shoot was the following day and the contrast to the night before was rather striking.
Our first big problem was a distinct lack of extras after being let down by a number of people on the day. We thanked the heavens that Elliott James Burns, Jenny Mitchell and Peter Bradley were kind enough to come along, suitably attired for a day at the office. However, it was a large office! As a result, there are various shots in the film where you will see all the crew in various outfits appear in the background as workers at some point. One shot in particular actually has everyone who was there in frame while the camera was locked off and filming. In fact, it's a shot from Paul's point of view while sat at his desk looking out across the office - and the very eagle-eyed among you may see Paul is actually in that shot too! Continuity fans will have a field day with that whole scene.
After putting a rough edit together of the material we shot, Carl then got to work on designing how the hologram would actually look on screen.
It was important for the interaction between Paul and Lauren that her hologram looked as human as possible. If he was to feel a connection towards her/it, and by extension the audience to recognise that connection, the hologram had to appear life-like - for example, not too many people would be taken in by the static-ridden blue hologram of Princess Leia at the start of Star Wars. At the same time though, this is still a hologram - so there needed to be a layer of effects used as a subtle reminder of that throughout her time on screen.
Once the video edit was finalised and married with the completed hologram shots, we then had to add a music track that would reflect the 80's style of storytelling we were going for. This would be the final piece of the puzzle and musician Stuart Smith kindly got involved, composing several pieces of score which helped to perfectly cement the retro nature of the film.
Making SoulMatrix was a brilliant experience, with a team of wonderfully generous people behind it. We would all like to thank the BIAFF and the IAC for their response to the film, glad that it was as much fun to watch as it was to make.
Mark Brennan for Pork Chop Pictures
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