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FILMMAKER: Carl Mason
STORY: The Rocky Journey of a Personal Short Film, & What It Taught Me
Hi, I’m Carl. I’m the Director & Producer of ‘Revival’, a post-apocalyptic short film exploring a life without music.
Here it is.
This film was deeply personal to me.
As a musician myself, I wanted to explore what life would be without music, and what it would feel like to rediscover music again for the first time.
And, as a big fan of The Last Of Us, I thought it would be interesting to explore this concept in an apocalyptic landscape, and see where the story would take us.
With it being such a personal story, I made the decision to develop the screenplay myself rather than working with a screenwriter like I had done in the past.
However, I always had the issues of how we were going to fund an apocalyptic film in the back of my mind, and ended up rushing the first draft in an attempt to reach the deadline of a screenwriting competition.
After the first rejection, I soon came to the realization that the draft only really touched the surface of the story I set out to tell, with major pacing and character issues which were a direct result of rushing the writing process.
I decided the best course of action was to share the screenplay with a mix of people; friends, fellow filmmakers and even a script doctor to hear a variety of perspectives on the story.
This feedback would prove to be an invaluable resource for me in helping to shape the screenplay into what the film is today. It was vital to iron out these story issues as early as possible, as story is king and financially I would not be prepared to face these sort of issues later on down the line during production, as I couldn’t risk reshoots.
Once I had completed the screenplay I was still faced with the major issue of financing the film.
I tried reaching out to film funds and sponsors, but as it was an independent short film no one was interested. The next step, like many independent filmmakers was to try the crowdfunding route; so I spent weeks researching successful campaigns, developing graphics and concept art, traveling across country to film campaign trailers and yet still, only raised a quarter of our goal.
The fundamental element that was missing? An audience! Campaigning blindly to friends and family can only go so far.
By this point I felt like I had reached a dead end, but knew I couldn’t let the project lose momentum, otherwise it would be put on the back pile and forgotten. I did, however, finally have a completed script and a range of concept artwork which could help us visualize the story I wanted to tell.
So I decided to take a chance and send over the script and concept art to a few crew members whose work I had been following, to see if they might possible be interested in the project; namely our casting director, costume designer and cinematographer.
To my surprise, even though there wasn’t a budget in place, they all connected with the script and wanted to get involved. This was a breakthrough, and after weighing up the costs with the head of departments I decided to bite the bullet and try and finance the film myself.
This would prove to be quite a turbulent experience, trying to balance my freelance career with free time developing the short; jumping on-board as many projects as I could in order to save up the money in order to get the film financed.
Looking back now I appreciate the risks of funding the film this way and how unpredictable it was, but when I think back to how effective short films can be and the impact my previous films have had on my career in the past, I always feel the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to the experience and networks gained.
The biggest hurdle I faced during pre-production was finding the perfect ‘apocalyptic’ location which gave us the flexibility and accessibility to shoot on-location with a crew whilst on our tiny budget.
I spent weeks scouting locations across the country, in talks with location agencies to try and make something work within our budget but had no luck. So I decided to compromise, and adapted the screenplay so it was less ambitious so we could film in just one or two locations, rather than having multiple unit moves.
This worked in our favour, and after updating the script came across a farm in Lancashire, North England which offered acres of woodland, desolate countryside, abandoned cars and derelict buildings all within one location.
Compromising in this way not only meant we could save on costs, but this new location really became its own character in the film. Our patience paid off in the end!
Despite the wet and cold weather conditions production went off without a hitch. We made the decision early on to shoot on two cameras so we could work as efficiently as possible; one camera primarily on steadicam and the other handheld which meant we could get double the amount of coverage per scene allowing us to move faster, which was essential when shooting in winter without much light.
The next challenge for us came during the post production process when we were faced with the edit.
After we had worked on assembling the first few drafts we felt the original ending in practice wasn’t as effective on screen as it was on paper.
I was faced with a big decision, so we edited two versions of the film, restructuring the footage to produce a cut that felt more ambiguous leaving the film more open ended, and a version with the original ending like it was written in the script.
I sent off both versions to a test audience of friends, family and filmmakers to hear their opinions and the consensus agreed the ambiguous ending worked better for the film, despite not being as it was in the screenplay.
This was the biggest lesson for me during the production of Revival, not being afraid to rewrite and rearrange the story during each stage of the production process, being comfortable enough to make compromises in order to get the film made and being confident enough to make myself vulnerable to feedback, taking chances despite what others may say.
The experience you gain from going out there and producing your own film really is a masterclass in filmmaking like no other.
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