Taj’s Tips for Filmmaking in COVID-19

Hello to my filmmaking and screenwriting friends! With the Microflix submissions for writing in, who’s keen to dive into some new adaptations?!

For today’s blog instalment we’re going to be looking at a few of the Microlit submissions for this year’s upcoming Microflix festival with the theme of IMAGE and I’ll be running through a few possible ways they could be adapted. The three incredible texts we’ll be looking at are Fragment from a Western by Mark O’Flynn, Mona Lisa by Susan McCreery and Valencia by Banjo Weatherald. To get the most out of each text I’ll be identifying the key theme and the best visual moment, as well as where there’s potential to run into problems with budgeting and ways to overcome those. An important issue to think about this year is the current climate surrounding COVID-19 and how social distancing measures may affect filmmaking when working in teams. Most of the tips I’ve given below are tailored towards non-pandemic situations, but since I know you’ll want to get cracking right away I’ve also included some COVID-19 safe alternatives so you can keep creating while staying safe. 

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Fragment from a Western by Mark O’Flynn

Fragment from a Western explores the inner thoughts of both a failing horse and its rider after an exhausting police chase out in the dry and unforgiving Wild West. It’s the end of the line, and while one reflects on what life could have been the other curses his bad luck and his partner, forgetting all the times the horse came through for him. O’Flynn really captures different reactions to the realisation of time being up. 

Narrative theme: When the race finishes.

Best moment: The description of the horses ‘better life’.

Main budget problems: Horses, sheriff car and location.

Overcoming budget problems: Instead of picturing this played out in real life, think a bit smaller. Literally. You could use miniature plastic toy horses, cars and play house toys to set your scene, potentially using stop-motion animation techniques to ‘act out’ the story. Collect sand from a beach to use as the dust, or just use dirt, and a small grassy hill could become your horse’s lush paddock with ‘a gentle incline up which to gallop’. You still want it to feel authentic even with plastic figurines. This interpretation would require no actors! Only voiceovers if you decide to include dialogue and sound effects such as galloping, church bells, wasps buzzing and a horse’s sigh.

COVID-19 alternatives: In this scenario, as long as your team is separated (one person films the figurines on their own, files are sent to an editor who puts it together on their own, etc.), you’re good to go! If you do choose to use voice actors, however, try to use someone in your own home or send your actors a script via email and ask them to record their lines on their own. If you must get together because of equipment needs, remember to keep you distance (1.5 metres) and thoroughly sanitise all surfaces post interaction.

Mona Lisa by Susan McCreery 

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Mona Lisa captures two art lovers in a quarrel about one of the most talked about paintings in the world. It really highlights the subjectivity of art and that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ opinion to have, even with highly praised and widely acclaimed artworks.

Narrative theme: Tradition vs. change.

Best moment: The humour in the dialogue.

Main budget problem: Location. 

Overcoming budget problems:

Option 1 – You could recreate the space using a room, a wall, and a handful of people. Set the room in your re-imagining of the Louvre; think bright ‘art gallery’ lighting, high ceilings and large rooms with various sizes of paintings evenly spaced along walls. Cut between extreme close ups of the ‘crowd’, a tight shot of two actors with extras behind them taking photos, and shots of the Mona Lisa. Use printed versions of the artworks (you could use a home printer for these, the works that are in the background of shots won’t need to look like professional quality), but make sure you get the sizing of the Mona Lisa right.

Option 2 – If we’re thinking outside the box, this scene doesn’t need to be gallery based at all. Change the location to either a library setting with the characters in the aisles looking at art books, or the characters seated at a desk on their laptops and Graham is showing a photo of the Mona Lisa. In these two scenarios, focus more on the actors and their dialogue; really play with their relationship and reactions to each other’s opinions.

COVID-19 safe alternative: In both of these options, you will need at least 2 actors. In order to overcome social distancing hurdles, do not film the actors together, but instead film actor A from actor B’s perspective and vice versa during conversations. Make sure that the camera operator is keeping his/her distance too! Recreate the scene of a gallery or library in your own home, and instead of having extras to make a crowd, add in a background sound that mimics the hubbub of a crowd during the editing process.

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Valencia by Banjo Weatherald 

In Valencia we see a more lucid and fluid form of storytelling, with images drifting in an out attached to conflicting emotions. The narrator attaches a faded love to an orange tree, and in the blooming of the fruit he sees moments from their past, both sweet and haunted. Weatherald’s text is an exciting opportunity to play with depiction and movement between scenes, with the driving form of the story being how feelings reside in objects long after the person has left us.

Narrative theme: Going through the seasons and the same changing nature of relationships. Best moment: The description of oranges in each season.

Main budget problem: Orange tree.

Overcoming budget problems: Instead of finding a whole tree, use oranges that have already been picked. Take single shots of an orange differing in its ripeness, and contrast each stage of ripeness in the orange to the stage of the characters’ relationship. This contrast could be done through ‘flashback’ moments with actors or even as the story progresses; an orange in the early stages of ripeness in the grass by a picnic rug as two actors blissfully in love eat watermelon, then later yellow and almost ready to be picked cut open on a plate and discarded by a man in a purple scarf sitting alone with a cup of tea, and again a fruit bowl piled high with perfectly orange fruit maybe with the man making a dish from a few of them. He has to find a way to eat them all himself after all.

COVID-19 safe alternative: Here, you can get away with using mainly one actor, and if you choose to include a second for flashback scenes film them from the perspective of the main character. REMEMBER! Keep your distances and sanitise regularly. Another completely different way to approach this would be to use animation in place of actors. This way, multiple team members could work cohesively by sending files back and forth via email, googledoc or any other preferred file sharing method.

These are just some of the many ways each of these texts could be translated onto the screen, and I hope they inspired some fresh interpretations for your 2020 Microflix submission! You can find all of the details on the do’s and do not’s here (link: http://microflixfestival.com.au/microflix-entry-regulations/), and most importantly remember that the deadline is midnight August 1st. So get your creative cap on and peruse our selections of Microlit (link: http://microflixfestival.com.au/2020-microflix-image-texts-excerpts/selected-2020-microflix-microlit-texts-image/) for this year. Good luck! From Taj Luksic

Microflix Special Screenings Night

By Bridgette Sulicich

With its elegant and unique architecture, Green Square Library was the perfect setting to capture the theme of the evening: a celebration of innovation. Not only were the UTS students’ Microflix films shown for the incredible pieces of artwork that they are, they were deconstructed and built upon by a myriad of installations that showcased both the filmmakers’ talents and highlighted the microfiction that they were based upon.

Guests were invited to explore three levels of the library tower, where they would experience three different explorations of select Microflix films.

The Anything Room

On the top floor, the Anything Room hosted the Page to Screen Adaptation session, run by Deb Szapiro, where she invited the filmmakers to discuss their inspiration, motivation and the process of creating their shorts. Each film was shown twice – sandwiching the discussion so that viewers were able to first experience the raw emotion of the pieces and draw their own conclusions. The second viewing was then coloured by the filmmakers’ aspirations and intentions.

Some filmmakers were also lucky enough to have their microfiction author in the audience, allowing the writers to share their feedback about how they thought their piece would translate to the screen and what it’s like to see new interpretations of their writing.

I loved hearing students discuss the process of making the films, and the thought that went into their decisions. They were so articulate and the films were top-notch.” – Shady Cosgrove (Author of ‘Self Medication’ and University of Wollongong teacher of Creative Writing

Still From ‘Die Like A Kelly’, adapted from Dorothy Simmons ‘On The Hour’

The Music Room

Here, we were treated to Sound in Microflix which showcased some incredible sound improvisation by Stephen Adams and Will Hansen. A projection of eight Microflix films ran continuously, showing each piece twice in a row. The first play was accompanied by an array of piano, bass and percussive soundscapes designed on the spot by the two performers, which was then contrasted by the short’s intended soundtrack on the second play through. Experiencing the almost overwhelmingly intense life given to each film by the live music was, in the most literal sense of the word, awesome. To hear how the Music and Sound Design students had envisioned the films’ soundtracks brought new light to the limitless interpretations that are possible in an event like this.

“The musicians improvising their own soundscapes were innovative and just as the films reinterpreted the source stories, these new sounds created a fresh interpretation of the images in the microflix.” – Brenda Proudfoot (Newcastle author of ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’, whose story was the basis of the Diversity Award.

The Computer Lab

Our last installation was Frame by Frame Microflix, conducted by George Catsi. Here, two films were played through and the audience was given the opportunity to shout out ‘STOP!’ at any point. Wherever the film paused would lead to a discussion from the filmmakers about their specific vision for that frame or scene. This room gave us an opportunity to understand the creative and technical processes that go into making a Microflix film, and really delve in to the minds of the creators. John Carey, whose work ‘Aurora Australis’ was adapted into the microflix film ‘Sweet Dreams’, stopped by to lend us his thoughts when writing the piece. Kezia Suryaputra was the filmmaker for ‘Sweet Dreams’.

I was impressed by the talent on offer and by the efforts of everyone involved” – John Carey (Author of ‘Aurora Australias’ and ‘Left Out’, which was performed during the Multi-media Performance)

Still from ‘Rabbit Hole’, adapted from Brenda Proudfoot’s ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’

The Main Event

Each floor’s session ran through twice, giving guests the opportunity to explore all that the night had to offer. After the second session had wrapped up, everyone was invited down to the Main Auditorium for refreshments and a multi-media performance that gave a new perspective to some of the films we had already seen throughout the night, as well as some new pieces. Actors Grace Naoum and James Thomasson gave voice to an array of incredible microfiction before a backdrop of a still taken from each piece’s film adaptation. Some performances were accompanied by pre-recorded soundscapes that transported you into the heart of the story. We also had readings from three authors, Alana Hicks, Debra Le Nepveu and John Carey, who captivated the audience and breathed life into the words they had so expertly written.

What a lovely experience, to be handed your work back in another form, interpreted creatively by people who are working in another medium!” – Christine Howe (Author of ‘Sea Womb’ and University of Wollongong teacher of Creative Writing)

Still from ‘On the Hour’, adapted from Debra Le Nepveu’s ‘End of Days’

Being a part of a night that celebrated such an amazing array of talent was an experience I am not likely to forget in this lifetime, and it could only have been designed by the visionary that is Bronwyn Mehan. Her impeccable eye for exciting approaches to presenting short stories could only have been realised with the help of Debra Szapiro, George Catsi, and James Hazel, whose video, audio and emceeing expertise made the night flow so smoothly.