By Stu Greenfield (@Youvegotfilmon)
I was recently asked to review a short film called ‘To Live’ which watches a male protagonist struggle to live with a life he is uncomfortable in. An unusual visitor inspires him to change the way he thinks and acts in order to improve his existence. What was interesting about this movie is the fact it was part made as part of the 48 Hour Film Competition where filmmakers make a short film within 48 Hours. In this interview the director of the short, Chris Hanna, discusses working to such a tight deadline and how that affected the over all production..
First, and most importantly, did you read my review? And if so, did you like it?
Yes, I did read your review and I liked it very much. I actually shared it myself and on our ZGN Page. It’s very important to me to reach out to other filmmakers around the world. My film network is very important to me both on a business and professional level when it comes to filmmaking and making it in this competitive industry.
Networking, especially online and in social media, appears to be the way forward in the days of iPhones, iPads and iEverything else. Speaking of networking and developing within the industry ‘To Live’ came across as if it were made by people ‘in the know’. How long have you been involved in film making?
I have been involved in filmmaking since 2012. It has been 3 years since I started getting involved with the film world. I began by writing movie reviews and being in touch with the characteristics of filmmaking by watching and studying Hollywood films. It wasn’t until 2013 that I decided to pick up a camera and begin making films myself. My first camera was an old Fuji-film and I began making a movie review page on Facebook called ZGN Critics and Movie Informer where I would post movie and television news along with my own reviews of Hollywood movies. Our love for the YouTube critics show got bigger and bigger, more people were interested in joining, and soon enough we became a small production of shorts and sketches. We started learning and realizing how to make successful shorts and soon enough we had become storytellers. We were making good stories that people were actually interested in and they were loving our short films. It wasn’t until Fall of 2014 that I enrolled in Film School in Santa Fe leaving my home city of El Paso. It was there where I learned the amazing theory of film, and more techniques on how to write better stories. I analyzed the proper use of the hero’s journey in order to implement it into the stories I was trying to tell and I also became a better editor. When I came back this summer I felt like it was time to do bigger things in film. I felt ready, I was ready.
That sounds like it was an inspiring experience. As this course probably demonstrated, it can be stressful enough making a film with no time restrictions. What made you decide to enter the 48 hour club?
I live to compete. I’m a competitor by heart. In high school I was part of Speech & Debate competitions in which I would do different acting monologues for 4 years straight, so competition is a lifestyle for me. When I heard from the Ghost Light Creative 48 Hrs. Film Slam I was ready to be a part of this journey. I had been training and learning about film and different techniques for close to 3 years already, so it was about time we should get out there and gain some recognition; especially in our home town. We wanted people to get to know us as ZGN Productions and to see what we got to offer when it comes to telling stories with the camera.
Teamwork must be important in this scenario. Have you and the people you made the film with worked together long/before?
Yes my whole production team of To Live and I have been working together for more than a year now. We are more than just a production team, we are family. I believe that the chemistry and trust we have acquired by working together in the past year has really shaped us into who we are now as independent filmmakers and it really showed on-screen with our film entry for the 48hrs competition. I strongly believe that the love and passion we have with film and each-other as a team, really helped us overcome challenges and setbacks during production for To Live. The fact that we not only finished the competition but were able to tell a beautiful story of redemption, happiness, fear and hope really says a lot about the inner beauty and strong relationships we have built-in our production team and family alike.
The protagonist in the ‘To Live’ displays a fair amount of frustration and stress. As you stated, there were setbacks during filming, it would be interesting to know if any of the team struggled with stress during the process. Who was the most stressed?
No one in particular on my team was stressful. I believe the lack of sleep and the short amount of time we had to complete an 8 minute short film was the most challenging factor in the whole competition and yes it did cause lots of stress during production but our game plan was simple: “Let’s make a movie” and that’s all I said to the team prior to the competition. “All we are going to do this weekend is tell a story, we are not competing, we’re just making another movie”.
That sounds like a good way of approaching the competition. With such a short time frame it must help to approach it with as little emotional stress as possible. Did the 48 hours include the entire process? From idea conception until the final edit?
Yes, during the 48 Hours competition we had to develop the writing and concept idea of our script based on the genre we had received from the production briefing. We then had to make a location list and scout all the locations, develop a props list and add the line of dialogue and place setting that was given to us to add to our story. Then we needed to head into production and film the entire film and finally begin post-production right after filming. It was intense.
Intense seems like an apt word. It would have helped if you could have hit the ground running. As the start of any project is always the hardest, did the team already have ideas or did you have to come up with something from scratch?
We had just discussed the rules of the competitions and the elements that we had to be ready to add once given to us, however, we did not know what genre we were going to end up with. According to the association planning the 48hrs film slam there was no pre-production allowed before the initial competition begins. Therefore, once we received our genre we went to the writing-table and dropped our ideas for scripts; and we began to realize how beautiful our script was turning out to be.
Was the concept a joint concept or did one person take the lead?
I certainly took the lead with the core idea of our script. I always wanted to tell a story about an ordinary artist struggling in life to be inspired or even lose the will to live. When we received time-travel, my writers Daymond Roman, Rebecca Garcia, my director of photography Angel Rodriguez and I, came up with the idea to have our main character’s future-self travel back into the present as an eye opener to his present-self to remind him how it’s very important to learn how “To Live” happily and enjoy the real but beautiful aspects of life. Just because you breathe does not mean you are living and that’s the strong message we wanted to tell. This remained in our script from beginning to end.
Was there anybody on the team who didn’t like the concept? Did anybody need convincing?
Everyone loved the script idea from the moment I brought it to the table. After the initial proposal, the whole team pitched in key ideas and different linked concepts to make our story: Intriguing, beautiful and with a strong heart.
That theme is definitely evident throughout the film. Were you given any guidance in terms of running time? If so did this help or hinder the process?
We certainly had Rebecca Garcia as our Script Supervisor to keep us on track with time when it became time to film the entire movie. It was very important to have a strong-willed individual tell us when we were wasting time on useless shots or when it was time to move on. She was certainly our mentor who provided help when it was obvious we had to kill our darlings with certain elements on different scenes of our film.
It must have been hard to not over develop what you were doing. What were the biggest drawbacks to having such a short and strict time frame?
The biggest drawback was to kill off other big ideas we had for our script. Initially, we had a strong idea to show Future Tyler come back at the end of the film when Present Tyler and the girl are walking out of the bus stop. We wanted to show Future Tyler looking at them from a distance in which he would look closely at them and smile from a distance; his face would be clean-shaven and he had more color and life to him. This would be to symbolize that their future has changed, he has achieved a happy and healthy life, and they have achieved happiness for their own selves. However time did not allow us to film this beautiful added shot to the ending. There would be makeup and costume changes and we realized we had to kill it off because we were already behind schedule and we had to move on to the next location. It certainly hurt to kill such a beautiful element to the script but we had to move on and keep working with what were still allowed to do with the little time we had left.
It must have been difficult to cut parts from the film that you thought were so important. Did you find there were any positives to filming in such a short time frame?
Absolutely, the whole idea behind competing on such an intense 48hrs film atmosphere is you do not have time for the waste that always circles around a film especially during productions. Because we had such a small gap for success we must work together as team and completely focus on telling a story and nothing else matters. Working under pressure certainly helped in realizing we had to work efficiently and avoid mistakes to the best of our ability if we wanted to make the deadline and have an audience to tell our story to.
Did you need to cut any corners? Was there anything that you were not happy with that you didn’t have time to change?
I would have loved to eliminate some discontinuity regarding objects on one particular scene but I realized that’s the only way I would have learned to keep growing as an editor. The most important thing to take from a 48hrs competition is there’s no time to aim for perfection, you just have to do your best and hope for the greatest end result you can hope for by using the set of skills that we each had to the best of our ability.
The films concept is an intriguing one, would you develop it further now that you are able to invest more time?
Possibly. There are other powerful script ideas I have for future films and if there is something I have learned in my young film career it is to make a movie and move on to the next one. That is the only way you grow as a filmmaker; to learn from the good and the bad of your previous film and improve yourself in order for your next story to be equal to or better than your last.
Finally, would you do a 48 hour film again? And why/why not?
Absolutely! We were honored to receive 10 nominations and a 2nd Place Overall Film Award on this years competition by beating out 26 film teams. Therefore, our plan for this coming year is to invest and upgrade on better equipment, along with improving ourselves by becoming better filmmakers in order for us to come back next year and compete once again!
The review of ‘To Live’ and the film itself can be found here http://www.turnaboutmedia.com/films/review-to-live/. We look forward to their next 48 hour offering. Watch this space for another review once it is released. And remember To Live, not just breathe.