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