ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
This was my Junior Thesis film at USC (aka my 310). The thing about 310 is that it's the class that everyone looks forward to as soon as they set foot in the cinema school. It's the one "required" film that every single SCA production student has taken and will take. With that said, there is a bit of pressure that comes about once the class is upon you. The class had recently gone through a bit of a make over during the previous semester. Instead of duos as it had been for years, we would be working in trios. This also entailed that we would be making 3 films within one semester. Fast paced was an understatement. On top of that, I was assigned to go first. I found this to be an advantage knowing many who had taken 310 before me telling me that the first project to go is usually the one with the most energy. Yes, it is the buffer film that may make the most mistakes for the other two to learn from, however, I was confident that we were in good hands. After all, I had been DP on a 310 the semester before and at least knew the limitations and workarounds with the technical side of things like the camera and equipment we were given.
My partner were Sean Wang and Elizabeth Petersen. Sean I had worked with before and was good friends with already. It was basically an alignment of the stars to have me and Sean paired up. This was super encouraging especially already knowing that Sean has a very similar eye for camera and cinematography as I do. (He was DP for my film) I did know Elizabeth before starting 310. Shortly before winter break began, we all met up to talk about my film since I technically had the least amount of time for pre-production. We got the ball rolling fast however, I didn't have a completed script yet. I didn't even have a full concept yet. All I could tell them at the time was that the story revolved around a guy stuck in a world where time is frozen.
It was the middle of winter break and I was Skyping with Josh. I had just sent in my first draft of the script (which was called Snap-shot at the time) to my professors. Shortly later, I receive paragraphs of constructive criticism from each professor. Directing, Editing, Sound, Producing. I was a bit embarrassed to be honest, but mostly amazed and pleasantly surprised how in-depth all of my professors went into the story in trying to figuring out the problems and diagnose them. My directing professor, Mark Rosman (Director of Life Size, The Hillary Duff Movie, etc...) requested that I call him. This was a tiny bit concerning as I don't do well on the phone usually. The call wasn't too long, but a lot of ideas came from it. Again, Mark was very in-depth and involved with trying to figure out the issues with the script.
So I had some new ideas, but nothing to connect them together. Back to Skyping with Josh. We chatted for a while until Josh said, "The first thing that comes to mind when I think of frozen in time... is loneliness." Suddenly I had a theme. Loneliness. It was perfect for the concept and as soon as I established that as the theme, all the ideas I had lingering in no-mans land aligned. It was suddenly extremely easy to write. We hung up and I started to write and didn't stop until about 2 or 3 hours later. My script didn't change that much after that night.
Meeting my 310 class for the first time. Another "meeting your group mates" kind of thing. A strange thing to think back on knowing how well you know the people that were around you compared to how well you know them now. Crazy. But I came into our first few 310 classes not knowing half the faces that were around me because most of them had transferred into the film school last semester. We did a read through of everyone's script for P1. My script was read and at the time I still had it so that the final shot of the film would reveal that he was just imagining the girl who was unfrozen with him. It certainly created a response in the room however I still held a quick poll to see who was in favor of the sad ending and who liked a happy ending where I didn't include the reveal. Most said to keep the sad ending.
The casting process went very smoothly and a surprisingly large amount of people came in to audition. We used CAZT for their casting facilities which was very new to me and the usual "reserve a room in Taper Hall and pull some chairs out into the hallway for the actors" route. It came down to two actors. What really convinced me to choose Christian Broussard was his wonderful improvisation and the way he was able to think on his feet. Yes, he had a very different look than what I had originally pictured, but he was really great to work with and in the end really brought a energetic cartoonish character to the film. Brianna Rapa was my pick for the unfrozen girl at the end of the film. A bunch of girls came in that day for auditions, but Brianna definitely had the most naturalism to her performance. It was also suppose to be a bit of an awkward role. Definitely saw that in what she showed us. Again, another great person to work with.
The next few weeks included a great yet brief directing class with Mark, me going to the cinematography classes with Jason Inoye (Sons of Anarchy, etc...) even though I wasn't required to as director, and figuring out locations. Locations felt like a pretty easy task in that I've seen the process done before, however never in my life did I have to deal with what was to come. Locations became the bane of my existence during this particular film. Elizabeth handled it really well and I applaud her on basically calling every coffee shop / restaurant in Los Angeles asking if we could film there during their off hours during the day, however, none would agree especially for a day shoot.
We rented out a steadicam which I was so very desperately wanting for this shoot along the oh-so-important with a depth of field adapter. The cameras given to us are the Sony EX1s aka the camera with the worlds smallest sensor. In other words, getting shallow depth of field is next to impossible with this camera in tight spaces. I immediately knew I needed a DOF adapter and bought one off of Ebay but it was scheduled to come After the first weekend of shooting. I scrambled to find someone who had a DOF adapter and found one within SCA which was like another rare aligning of the stars. NOBODY uses DOF adapters anymore these days. In the end it was worth it and in my opinion very necessary for the story in that it was a film about loneliness and isolation. How could we not make use of shallow depth of field to emphasis the theme.
The first weekend of shooting began and things went extremely smoothly. Our producing professor was shocked at how short and little we had to shoot for each day. In fact, we weren't even using all four of the days we had available to us to shoot. We shot at Jackson's house for the first day. We didn't even use the DOF adapter that day. everything was steadicam. To get the golf ball floating in the air, we taped it to a sheet of glass which was suspended by a C-stand in front of the camera. This made it possible for Christian to pluck the ball out of the air and for us to continue with the shot without cutting. This same shot went outdoors and was meant to reveal a mushroom cloud frozen in time in the distant sky. Yes. I changed that to birds.
The reason we got that scene out of the way first was for Josh to start working on the VFX as soon as possible since the picture lock deadline also included any VFX shots. As soon as I started looking at the footage, I realized this might be an issue. There were a few cars that passed by in the best take of when Christian walks outside. Josh had a lot of trouble removing them and there is some tracking issues partly because the shot was so overexposed. The birds didn't stay locked in the sky as I had hoped. We experimented with several variations. Eventually we found the best spot to put them. Super small and in the distance between two trees but never touching them since the stillness of the trees around the birds would probably give away the imperfect tracking.
The next day was the park scene (aka the grassy area next to Norris Theater). Enough extras showed up. But barely enough. Either way, everyone was super great at standing still. EXTREMELY still. It of course helps that it is a steadicam shot and the imperfections of people trying to stay still was masked by the constant camera movement. I still get comments to this day asking how we did the frozen people effect in the steadicam shots. There was no effect!
Here comes the location rant again. So after McKay's Bar didn't let us shoot at their location, Elizabeth called all of LA to ask if we could film at a restaurant. No luck. But she did end up finding a barber shop that was open to letting us film there. I didn't really like the idea. The whole point behind what Christian's character was doing leading up to the final scene was that he was preparing for a date. And his final monologue was to his "date" at a restaurant. A barbershop would just be another "preparing for the date" location. But I kept it in mind.
It was the night before the final day of shooting and we were still looking for locations. I don't remember being very nervous. I don't know why. I figured that something would happen tomorrow and we'd be able to make it work. Suddenly, the actress who was suppose to play the "date" called me and told me she couldn't make it tomorrow. dun Dun DUNNNN. This was probably the worse thing that could happen at this point especially since we had already shot her picture taped to the bathroom mirror in all of Christian's close ups for the previous scene. I made the executive decision to call off the shoot tomorrow. There was no way we'd be able to shoot knowing that we had no location and no actress. Except... Elizabeth didn't get my message about calling off the shoot. dun Dun DUNNNNN!
I wake up the next morning to Issac shaking me awake. "Brian, wake up, we have to go to set right now." First off... How the heck did you get in to my apartment. Secondly... WE'RE SHOOTING TODAY?!?!? Elizabeth already had sent out call sheets to the actors and they were on their way to set. Panic Panic Panic. We jump into Sean's car. I didn't even know what location we were going to at this time. Turns out Elizabeth secured the barbershop location. We were off.
We get there. I step into the barbershop. Immediately I step out. This was the first time I saw the location. I go back to the car where Sean is. "How is this going to work" I mumble to myself. The barber shop was smaller than the car we drove in to get there. Immediately I re-evaluated the space and the scene. I still wanted camera movement, but the track that we had brought with us was definitely not going to fit inside the shop. Okay. Just the doorway dolly then. We can have Christian sit and talk to his barber. Yeah, that would work. And the barber could already be sort of cutting his hair in mid-chop. Yeah... okay that works too. Wait, this place is full of mirrors... Lets just keep moving that small wooden shelf around every time we have a new set up to block our reflections. Christian walking into the shop was such a different exposure we had to rack iris mid shot drastically. I doubled as a dolly grip as well when Issac couldn't.
By this shoot day, my Ebay DOF adapter came It was pretty similar to the one we rented out except way jankyer. It worked wonderfully when we shot the opening wide for the bathroom scene where we had a great big lens flare produced by putting a plastic pen in front of the lens with an iPhone light on a C-stand slightly out of frame. But as soon as we were done with that shot, the DOF adapter pooped out. It just stopped vibrating. The point of the vibrations is to keep the texture and imperfections of the ground glass from being seen. Not that we weren't getting an image. It was just that all the out of focus areas of the image had this ground glass texture to it that didn't move at all. To make matters worse, there was this great big piece of dust or some sort of black scratch in the middle of the frame that now stood out like a sore thumb without the ground glass vibrating. Upon showing dailies though, nobody really noticed which very much surprised me.
Back to the final day. After the initial improvisation with setting up the whole scene, everything actually went quite smoothly. Aside from the one extra who came late and halfway through Christian's monologue moved her hand to fix her hair in the background. We cut. Turns out she had no idea the story was about a world where time is frozen. Anyways. The final footage of the barber shop turned out great. Better than I could have expected thanks to Sean's cam oping, and Elizabeth making the executive decision to go ahead with shooting whether or not that was intentional by me haha.
Editing was a very smooth process as well. Getting it under 5:30 minutes... The first cut was about 7 or 8 minutes long. But in the end Sean maintained most of what was already there. Music came into play a this point. I wanted something quirky and fun. I don't know why or how I came to think of Monsters Inc, but I'm glad I did. The song "If I Didn't Have You" by Randy Newman got stuck in my head that week. We inserted it into the film and suddenly the film became something living. It was the exact tone and visceral feeling I was going for. Getting the rights to that song was going to be impossible but I knew I could turn to the one and only Vincent Lee to recreate it with his own spin on it. I had worked with Vincent once before on Prebirth: The Eternal War. However, we never got to finish with his score unfortunately. This would be the first official time we had worked together as Director and Composer. All I told him was that I wanted a jazzy, lighthearted score that was in the style of Randy Newman. I knew I didn't want to tell him the song otherwise it would probably be tough for him to find his own voice in the music. I left it as that and he came back with a wonderful score that honestly stood out among everyone else's scores since it was such a distinctive Pixar tone. It got me and Sean humming it for the rest of post production haha.
It came down the picture lock day and I was still debating whether or not to keep the final sad reveal shot at the end showing that Christian was actually alone still. Josh messaged me out of the blue and said he gave it a lot of thought and came to the conclusion that I should keep it happy and leave out the reveal. The whole decision really boiled down to why I made this film and what I want the audience to feel after the film is done. The truth is, the most memorable 310 films I knew about were usually lighthearted and fun. On top of that, I support the idea that we go to the movies for "escapism". We don't need to pay to go watch a movie about how sad and depressing the world can be. We see that everyday on the news and around us. It's time we started making films that told us that yes, there are tough times in life, but don't forget about the happy and uplifting moments.
Sound was quite intense since the whole world of this film basically called for perfect sound. Everything was foley and ADR. Yes, the final monologue was completely ADR. A huge good job to Christian who nailed the ADR. We were even able to change a word in the film since his mouth kind of looked like he said that. Our version of a bad lip read. As for creating ambiance for this "frozen" world, I grabbed an H4n and ran upstairs to one of the classrooms and recorded my breath for a solid 5 minutes. I just did a bunch of weird breathing out sounds and maintained it as I fluctuated from the indoor scenes to the out door scenes. It was a vision for the sound I had from the very beginning and I'm glad it worked out. Our sound professor, Chuck Michael, was a great support during the process, and then of course he got busy and had to leave to work on Batman Vs. Superman, or so we've heard.
It was the first time that P1s were screened separately from everyone else's films for some reason this semester. It was a bummer because not many people knew about the screenings. They were usually all at the end of the semester and screened in groups. I didn't let that bug me. I was just really glad that I could say that I had done my 310 at USC film school and to add to that, I was proud of what I had done with such a supportive trio and faculty. Depth of Field adapters then suddenly became all the rage at USC after that screening. Both me and Sam Davis had used DOF adapters for our films and now everyone else wanted them. I guess you could call that our legacy haha.