Category Archives: Science Fiction
During the shoot, I had one free day so while the rest of the team worked hard on set I took the opportunity to interview the people behind the lo-fi-sci-fi film Ghosts With Shit Jobs. I was really excited to meet these guys because a) they’re also from Toronto, and b) I had seen what they did with a $4,000 feature production budget and a huge amount of passion.
I met with Jim Munroe and Anthony Cortese who make up part of their production company No Media Kings. Jim, an avocate for DIY media and a well published sci-fi novelist, is behind the film’s concept and script. Anthony is a producer on the film and the long-time partner of Jim. They both took part in the film’s direction as it has several storylines directed by different people.
Jim and Anthony have worked on several short films together and one feature film in 2007 called Infest Wisely, which was made with a mere $700 production budget, but none have seen the response that Ghosts with Shit Jobs generated.
Here’s the synopsis of Ghosts With Shit Jobs:
“The film is set in the future, jobs still suck — but in whole new ways. By 2040, the economy has flipped and North Americans are a cheap labor pool for wealthy Asian markets. A Chinese documentary show focuses on the “ghosts” (Cantonese slang for white people) unlucky enough to have been born into the slums of Toronto in a special report that translates as “Ghosts With Shit Jobs.”
The film follows the story of several relatable characters; including a baby-robot-making couple and two brothers with family issues looking for rare giant mutant spider silk. It’s a non-traditional sci-fi in the very best of ways. See the trailer HERE.
The film premiered in Toronto to a packed house at the Royal Cinema and is making its way across the globe in various festivals and invited screenings, including Berlin, London, Poland and at MIT in Boston. It should also be noted that the film won the “Best Feature Award” from the SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival. The Grid wrote an article on the movie with Jim’s tips on low-budget filmmaking, and as Jim explains, “…the writer really got the spirit of the thing, with phrases like ‘happiness is the only real currency exchanged on an all-volunteer set.'” Volunteer indeed. This feature was made on a mere $4,000 production budget. When I asked if that was the planned budget from day one, Jim answered, “Well, the goal was to spend nothing.”
They got permits and insurance on the city locations as there are many recognizable scenes in downtown Toronto, including Young-Dundas Square, but all the other locations are favours from friends of the director/producers. The actors were auditioned, but the crew was volunteer. Jim preferred that if some crew were working for free, then everyone needs to work for free. This ensured there was no resentment, but rather a unifying love for the project. Of course he would prefer to be able to pay all involved, but he claims that the best part of making this film was the collaboration of the whole cast and crew; the magic that is created when people with no ego and solid focus come together to tell a story.
When asked what’s next, Anthony said he’s nudging Jim to get another project brewing (Jim is the writer and idea generator). I found out that Jim prefers to work a feature with a clear beginning and end rather than a never-ending web-series, and the genre of his next film won’t be too far off from his six published books and two feature films already under his belt. They are committed to unifying the film community by collaborating with other likeminded filmmakers (like us at Dangerous Dust Productions) and screening other filmmakers’ shorts before their films. In fact, exciting news is that they are planning a 48 Hour Film Festival August 17 – 19, 2012!
As an actor, I can only hope that people like Jim and Anthony will continue to make these fascinating projects a reality, and that these lo-fi-sci-fi films will continue to grow in popularity, not only on the web, but perhaps even in the “not-so-mainstream.”
Take a look if you’d like to find out more about Ghosts With Shit Jobs:
Ghosts With Shit Jobs production blog
Who knew that 7 days in a row of filmmaking would be so exhausting? Well, it is. There is no doubt that this is a real marathon that we are running. But it’s also a sprint as we run like hell every day to try and get all of the scenes that we’ve scheduled shot with enough coverage. The good news is that we’ve “made our days” every single day but one and we made that scene up the next day. Today was no different – we got our day and finished right on time.
But, damn, I’m tired. I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s also difficult because we’re shooting primarily inside of our house, so at the end of the day there’s still no escape from the film because the make-up and wardrobe department are in our bedroom and the camera dept’s gear is in our office. And craft services is in our kitchen. Etc. Not to mention the fact that half of our house is a dressed set. But we’re soldiering on and have no intention of stopping, come hell or high water or childcare challenges (Bea has been with her grandparents all weekend but we have to figure out childcare for Tuesday evening, when we shoot till midnight). We’ve come too far to give up now.
We’ve now shot in almost every room in the house (except for Bea’s room, which we’re trying to keep as a “sacred space” so that she doesn’t feel her whole life has been thrown up into the air). We shot in our backyard last night (and the garden got trampled badly, which breaks my heart a little bit, even though I knew that shooting a feature film in our house would lead to some damage). We’re even going to be shooting in our roommate’s bedroom. She has been very gracious about it and is staying at her sister’s place this weekend. I just realized tonight, however, that we didn’t tell her that we’re shooting a sex scene in her bed. Surprise, Lyvia!
Edsson Morales was on set today, playing the role of Phil, Santiago’s lawyer. Those scenes were shot in Spanish and he did an admirable job of speaking complex scenes in Spanish legalese with a delivery that was naturalistic and convincing. Kudos to you Edsson! Murray ran outside in his underwear and scared our neighbours as they marched in the annual parade of saints put on by the Catholic Church next door. They may not speak to us for a while – but I’m not sure if it will be out of fear or disgust. Or some combination of the two. Lord knows if they heard Murray’s potty-mouth on the set, disgust would win out.
The lab is now struck and April and Joffre rolled the main floor back in time to the arrival of our hero, Santiago, and made the place look like a total dump. It was very convincing, including leftover take out food in styrofoam containers that we’d kept in the freezer so that it wouldn’t start to stink while we waited to use them. It’s a bit surreal to move back and forth in time viz the time stream of the movie world. We shot the beginning, then the end, then the second half of the second act, then the middle of the first act, and so on. In the midst of all this we have to try and remember when we are and what has transpired in order to sustain consistent performances and even keep the characters in the right clothes.
We also did a lot of block shooting today, which means we set up our camera and lights and then shot several scenes in that location from that angle. Then we moved the camera and the lights and shot the same scenes back to back from another angle. Then we did the same thing again, for a third time. Our sound recordist, I’m sure, hated us. Every time we shifted to a new scene, she had to re-mic the actors to suit their new clothes. But it sped up the shooting and allowed us to get much more coverage than we might have otherwise. It was worth the effort.
Tomorrow morning we move the whole unit to a location for two sequences at Lula Lounge, which is being dressed to look like two places. 7 am will come early! So, it’s time to go to bed.
Photos by Sharon Mendonca
BY SHAWN WHITNEY
When you have a lot of money to make a movie – and by a lot of money I mean hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, you can construct realities as you see fit. You can hire exactly the people you want when you want them and get them to do what you want. You can hire crew with tens of years of experience and you can pay for extras, musicians, special effects supervisors, and even stock video imagery as you see fit to meet the demands of your film. But if you don’t have the money everything becomes a challenge, most especially getting all the shots you need to “make your day.” You must rely upon the enthusiasm of your cast and crew, the kindness of strangers and the occasional “happy accident.”
Let me provide a couple of examples.
Our story involves a cloning procedure. I searched far and wide for a video of the process whereby nuclear material was transferred from one egg cell to another, like when they made Dolly the sheep (more or less). You can see how we might be interested in this. After an extensive search, I found on Getty Images (a stock photography and video company) and the BBC (which also sells stock footage) the images we needed to use as inserts. Trouble is that to get those inserts – literally five seconds of footage – was going to cost us about three grand. Three grand for five seconds of footage times three different shots. That equals almost our entire budget to pay for professional cast. It’s not only outrageous because we can’t pay that much. It’s also outrageous that five seconds of video footage ought to cost that much.
Luckily we found a pair of video owners who were willing to give us that footage for nothing more than a credit. I’ll come to the utrasound footage of an egg extraction in the future, if we use it. But for the cloning footage we received the kind (and free) permission of Dr. Michele Boiani, a German scientist from Berlin, to use his footage of the transfer of nuclear material (ie. DNA) into an egg. We hope to interview Professor Boiani in the future about his work but in the meantime he has saved us a lot of money to add some texture to our story. We used that footage yesterday so it was on my mind.
Just as significantly yesterday was the bonus that visited us in the form of a hassle.
We discovered about a week ago that we were shooting our film in our house at the same time as our neighbours were planning a backyard concert as part of NXNW known as the SOFAR (an acronym for Sounds From A Room.). As Natasha Pasternak of Hands & Teeth announced, SOFAR is a movement to have concerts in residences (backyards, living rooms, etc) as an alternative to expensive and alcohol laden club concerts (not that I object to being alcohol laden from time to time). At first, the coincidence of this event seemed like a huge disaster – with their concert interfering with our ability to get sound on our shoot – but we moved our shoot an hour earlier to six am and Natasha moved their concert an hour later to accommodate us. In the conversation that ensued, we decided to film Hands & Teeth’s set with a scene involving Laura and Santiago digging the performance by Hands & Teeth. It was awesome and has added some musical texture to our story. Who can say no to that? Thanks, Natasha!
This was an example of turning a tough story element into a positive one. We shot the band with Zoe Mapp, our sound recordist, picking up as much as she could from the band’s mixing board to provide a guide track that we will be able to lay over a musical track from the band’s CD during post production. And Alex and Sue – our temporary cam operator while Gayle & Reece are away (see the photo gallery) – made sure to get lots of coverage of Santiago, and Laura dancing and playing. It was some awesome stuff.
The actors were again awesome and we were excited to have Vanessa Burns, our Natalie, for the first day. She faced the challenge of an unexpectedly long process of putting on fake tattoos and was then thrown into a very heavy scene in a cramped washroom with our Laura. She shone as Laura barfed with enough convincing sounds to make everyone else on set gag (and enough of a convincing look thanks to April’s rice, cooked vegggie and pureed carrots recipe – ugh). Alex filmed it all as he, Zoe and Kathryn huddled in our bathtub to get the shot. We’re looking forward to looking at the footage tomorrow that we got today. Kudos also go to Freya for “throwing up”, not once, not twice but at least a dozen times in two different locations.
This appeals to the sci-fi geek and (critical) follower of the Singularity movement in me. It’s a funny poke at the idea that exponential technologies will lead to endless freedom and bounty. Probably it will just as much lead to another revenue source for another corporation (Apple perhaps? iUpload?). It’s also a good demonstration of how it doesn’t need to be expensive to make science fiction.
Previously we had only a sketch from Len Rydahl, our set designer and builder. But Len’s fast and he’s pulling together the components that will make up the lab where our cast will clone a dead woman and implant her into the womb of a surrogate mother. As we wrote previously, we’re VERY excited to be working with Len, who, besides being a highly talented and experienced set builder, also helped to revolutionize playground design in North America and beyond with what became known as “soft play” (like all those ball pits at the IKEA daycares where you drop off your kids so that you can spend too much money). This is just a peek at what’s to come but we’re already super-excited by what we see! Tell us what you think.
BY SHAWN WHITNEY
In many ways things are coming together quite smoothly, especially since we have no money to pay crew. Our 1st AD, undergoing some personal challenges with living space and the need to get freelance film work, has made an enormous effort to get us a preliminary shooting schedule under a tight deadline. We have our DP, at least one camera operator – who is also a gaffer and happy to do more than one role – and we now have a 1st AC. We met yesterday with Len Rydahl who is building our laboratory set to bat some ideas and give him a deposit to start construction. I’m particularly excited about this, not only because Len’s other work is fabulously creative and looks amazing. But, it turns out, he was one of the designers, along with Eric McMillan, of the Ontario Place Kid’s Village. The Kid’s Village was a favourite place of mine back in the day and it was a revolution in the design of playgrounds for children. You know those pits of balls kids love to play in? Ikea has them in their nursery where you can drop off your kids. Well, Len and Eric et al came up with that idea and designed the first one (apparently finding balls the right size was a real challenge). Now they are everywhere. He literally helped revolutionize playground construction. And he told a funny anecdote: they designed the playground to be sturdy enough for children AND adults to play together on it. But the parents were so out of shape, particularly when it opened in the 1970s before the fitness craze, that adults were always getting injured. So, they had to ban adults for their own good! Anyway, we’re very excited to be working with him and his ideas are fabulous – we can’t wait to show them to you.
We also had our first out-loud reading of the script in our living room. I’ve been hearing the script in my head – I suppose we all have – for the past year. So it was awesome to hear actors saying the words. It revealed some weaknesses – the dialogue in the final scene made me cringe – but overall I was quite pleased with how the whole thing flowed. Of course, there’s a lot of space between a script and a final film but a good script is an important foundation. We also had the whole thing filmed by Carlos Bolivar. He’s working as our videographer for the “extra-diegetic” material (the behind the scenes stuff) that we will use in our promo material. He did an awesome job and has a great energy. I’m looking forward to working with him some more.
It’s not like there are NO challenges. Don’t get me wrong, there’s enough to give me stomach flips and anxiety. We have still to get approval from ACTRA (the actors’ union) to work with their actors through the TIP program. This is turning out to be more of a challenge than I expected. That’s not entirely bad – it has forced us to be more professional and serious. We had a meeting this morning and were given some “homework” – nothing very serious: we need more detail on our plans for post-production and to demonstrate we have money in our budget to deal with overtime that might arise. But we have to have another meeting with the program coordinator next week. This could go on and it’s holding up casting!!
And speaking of transparent and streamlined, what’s up with Nikon?!? The D800 has turned out to be wildly popular – not surprisingly. It’s a full frame camera with 36 megapixels and video capability that puts it within spitting distance – if not equal to – the Canon 5D, which has dominated the HDSLR video space since the Mark II came out. The reviews for the D800 are saying that it has the resolution of many medium format cameras that cost upwards of $15,000. No wonder they have been flying off the shelves. It probably didn’t help that a battery problem forced Nikon to recall some cameras. But the back order delays are sometimes months long. In Britain Amazon.co.uk sent out order cancellations to everyone who bought a D800 through their site because Nikon couldn’t guarantee delivery within 90 days (I’ve heard that they’ve reinstated the sales after an outcry but who knows when the camera will arrive). We’ve gotten on some waiting lists (Henry’s has 500 people on their list and only receiving a few cameras a week!) but this could force us to reconsider shooting on the D800. We have access to a pair of D7000s, which also shoot 1080HD but just don’t have the quality of the D800 and which are partial frame sensors at 16.2 megapixels, less than half the D800, and which doesn’t output raw to HDMI (which means having more image information to work from in post-production). Shooting partial frame sensors also complicates things for the DP, figuring out the conversion for lenses from a full frame sensor. Yipes.
But, we will survive this and I feel confident that we’ll get ACTRA’s approval in the end and a camera package that we can work with. Even if it’s the D7000, it will still look better than most indie films shot in the 90s and for most of the first decade of the 2000s. And if it ends up online (let’s be honest: there’s no major theatrical release in our future), it will be more than enough resolution. We just need to stay calm and continue doing what we’re doing.