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The making of Selfie

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At BIAFF 2015 Geoff Harmer won a Diamond Award with Selfie.

Still from 'Selfie'.

It was an incredibly long day, and we wearily left the house exhausted and bleary eyed. As soon as I got home, I immediately backed up all the data files, both sound and vision, then immediately started an assembly cut.

Inspiration

Back in mid-2014, a short film was virally circulated called Light’s Out.  I watched it like millions of other people, and just like those millions of people… it terrified me! The idea is a very simple one, yet ever so effective in its delivery and only 3 minutes long too!

I felt inspired to see if I could do something similar, to make a short film that was both scary and open for viral distribution.

So what currently was a viral trend? We had the Ice Bucket challenge in the summer of last year, then there are those viral showings of solidarity by wearing items of a specific colour, or taking selfie photos with no make-up. But which of these could transfer to a horror setting quite easily? I quickly realised the potential of making the art of taking Selfie photos into a creepy/scary experience. The seeds for the film quickly took hold and the story pretty much unfolded in my head quite naturally.

Still from 'Selfie'.
Still from 'Selfie'.

Writing the story was a very easy experience, I knew the film would be short from the outset. Keeping it short would give the ‘viral’ potential of the film more of a chance to happen, but mainly, I wanted it to be an exercise in creating tension and scaring an audience. Looking at some of the basic horror conventions, you often have the scary moments start with a woman alone in her home. So this was my stating point, but I didn’t want to completely stick to convention and have a woman who couldn’t defend herself, I’ve always rooted for stronger women roles in film. Before too long, I had an outline of what my film would be, so I went off and started collecting my team together.

The Team

Selfie of 'Selfie'. I first got my lead actor in place, which was Stacy Hart. We had worked together on a number of other films and she is just an amazing talent. I knew she would be able to pull off the range of emotions that I wanted the character to portray and was really happy when she agreed. I then set out to get a crew together, calling on the award winning editor Carl Austin (one half of Pork Chop Pictures) to do the edit on this. He was going to be busy with the latest Pork Chop Picture Tea for Two, so we had to be careful with the timing. I had met Tom Allen (a DP) at a Red Carpet Screenings event previously and we had kept in touch. His work on the short film Audition sold it to me that he could handle the lighting and camera work on my Horror flick.

The rest of the cast and crew were made up of talented friends, or connections, or introductions. The internet brought a lot of the people together, and I managed to assemble a fantastic team of people from all over the UK.

Between myself and Tom, we worked out we could shoot this whole film in a day. It would be a long day, but we could do it. So I planned the production out meticulously with a shooting schedule and some badly drawn story boards. I ran over the script with Stacy and we did a couple of run throughs so that we knew how it would play out.

Still from 'Selfie'. The film contains a discussion via text messages between the main character and her boyfriend. I sat down with our special effect’s Guru, Angel Zamora and asked how we would best be able to handle this. I didn’t really want to show a lot of close ups of the phone screen, so we had to come up with an alternative solution. Angel suggested that we have the text messages appear floating in the air next to the character, so that whole conversation would be played out without us having to keep cutting away. These messages would be tracked to the main subject, so that they would appear as though they are in the room with her. We decided that we had to leave enough room to the side of the character to allow the text messages to be displayed correctly and clearly. This sat well with me as I have a fondness for having my subject aligned to either the far left or the far right, leaving lots of empty space. I had already decided on a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, so with this aligning of the character to one side, it would make the film just that little bit more cinematic.

Behind the scenes on 'Selfie'. The Shoot

The day of the shoot arrived and we all turned up at our location at around 8am on a Sunday morning. Our host Tina, whose house she kindly agreed for us to take over for the day, had bacon butties ready for us on arrival. The kitchen/dining area was our breakout area. We used this for eating, drinking and for our make-up artist to setup.  We set up one room to store all of the kit, and another room was setup for Stacy to get away from it all. This was very important, the character Stacy plays in the film gets more upset as the film moves along, and for an actor this can be physically draining. As we were doing this all in one day, I needed a quiet space for her to go to rest between takes and help maintain her mood in a controlled way. 

The film is set during an evening, yet we were in a brightly lit house for the day. We decided to black out all windows using tin foil. This was very effective, and the Production Assistant Marie had blacked out the house within an hour of setting up. We started shooting at about 10am. Things moved along very smoothly until we started to record sound, Milos (the sound recordist) could hear a crackling in the background at various moments during the shoot. It turned out to be the tin foil moving with the air flow through the house. We had no other way to block the light out, so we decided on one of those “let’s fix it in post” moments. Milos did what he could and called out whenever the sound interfered with the dialogue.

Make-up for 'Selfie'. Playing our mysterious character in the film were identical twins Milly & Poppy Richardson. We needed a variety of different shots with this character, so to help save time, we made one of the twins up for the long shots and the other for the close ups. We shot the wides first with Milly and whilst we were doing this, the MUA (make up artist) Chloe was working on the make-up for the close ups on Poppy. This saved us lots of time! The character had a number of people behind its execution. The overall look was something I put together, that was inspired heavily by a certain series of Japanese horror films. The costume was hand made by someone I had worked with briefly before, Ross Matthews, and once he had made the costume, we had to distress it to look very old and lived in. This was done by staining it with a mix of coffee and tea and generally rubbing it in the dirt on the street. As well as Chloe on the makeup, the final look for the character was designed by an artist who goes by the name Steelgohst. I had seen his artwork via a website called DeviantART and it had given me nightmares! So I contacted him through the site, and was very happy that he was up for joining our team.

We ended up over-running on the shoot slightly and didn’t complete filming until about 11pm. It was an incredibly long day, and we wearily left the house exhausted and bleary eyed. As soon as I got home, I immediately backed up all the data files, both sound and vision, then immediately started an assembly cut. I should have gone straight to bed, but I was so excited by the shoot… I just couldn’t stop myself.

Post-Production

I sat down with Carl Austin a couple of days later, screened him my rough assembly cut of the film, then handed over the notes and files. I sent a copy of my quick cut to Daniel Fallon, who was composing the score for the film. It wasn’t anywhere near the final cut, but I wanted him to start thinking about the tone and the feel. It was at this point I got on to Carl Harries to do the Sound Editing and Mixing. I got in touch with Carl by placing an ad for the role on the Mandy.com website. We had a couple of Skype chats to discuss the sound edit and Carl seemed very enthusiastic and on the same wavelength as me. Sound is 50% of the experience when watching a film, yet so often gets forgotten about or neglected. The sound is even more important on a Horror film, as its used to assist with those scary/jumpy moments and really does set the scene. I had a clear idea of how certain sounds would be used and we both agreed that a 5.1 surround sound mix would be the ultimate way to experience this film. We know that not every festival will be able to screen the film in 5.1, so we made sure we made provisions to put a stereo mix together too.

The next couple of weeks involved a number of Skype chats, emails and meetings with all the various Post Production people. Once we had picture lock, we could then ensure the visual effects, sound and music could be finalised. The score from Daniel arrived in parts via email. I would lay the track down over an MP4 file of the film and watch to ensure I was happy with the way the music was going. I followed the same process for the sound mix too. Whenever I wanted something changing, I would call/email the person working on it and within days I would have my alternative version. Luckily both Daniel and Carl got the film very early on, so there wasn’t an awful lot to change. We only ever really had minor tweaks to make, an additional whispering voice here an extra bit of low synth there.

Still from 'Selfie'. When making a Horror film, sound is so important to set the scene. The moments of complete quiet are just as important as the louder moments and are all carefully considered and mixed. Through the first half of the film, the main character is watching TV, we lowered the volume and muffled it just enough to not distract the user from what was going on in front of them. I didn’t want them getting interested in the TV she was watching, we just had to know she was watching something. There are some moments of loudness during all the quiet, subtle and creepy noises, which were specifically designed to make the viewer jump. The noise that was used for these moments, was a Japanese Style drum, paying homage to the style of film we were replicating. In the 5.1 mix, we also made good use of the .1 track which looks after the Bass. I wanted the bass to really kick in and almost shake people’s stomachs in the audience. We also used the 5.1 mix to control the location of the whispering voices and the creaking of the staircase. I wanted the sound to come from all around the viewer.

A final cut with the complete audio and fx was ready by early January 2015. We had a small Cast & Crew screening at my house in both the 5.1 mix and Stereo Mix. We all hid behind cushions and jumped at all the right places, which was a good indicator that we had done our job.

- Geoff Harmer

Links:

Lights Out - https://vimeo.com/82920243
Tea for Two website - www.porkchoppictures.com/tea-for-two
Audition - www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwR-3AzzoXE
steelgohst gallery - http://steelgohst.deviantart.com/gallery
Mandy's Film and TV Production Directory - www.mandy.com/index.cfm
5.1 Surround Sound (Wikipedia) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5.1_surround_sound
Selfie website - www.fraught.net/selfie






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