Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sophie’s Fortune, Action Adventure On a Micro Budget

It is sort of an adventure to write about and get to know indie film makers. I would equate it to the classic version of Doctor Who where the Doctor, (Tom Baker people) would pull a lever and would not have a clue where he landed his ship until he stepped outside. I get sent links to check out all the time. Sometimes it is to a trailer and other times it is a short film or even a feature. About a month ago someone was good enough to send me a link to Sophie’s Fortune. They said it was the best micro budget action adventure short film that they had ever seen. After watching the film that makes at least two of us.
What I would like you guys to do now is to watch the complete short below. Share it and then read my interview with the film maker Chris Cronin about the making of the film.

Q) When people think low budget short film most envision a story set inside a house with two to four actors involved. They do not imagine an eighties style action adventure.  What is Sophie’s Fortune about and what made you think that it could be done on a micro budget?

A) Brendan gets involved in a 'Fathers only' treasure hunt for the sake of his 7 year old niece Sophie and the parents imagination get the better of them as they go on an epic adventure. Sophie's Fortune is about fathers pride and the fact they are still big kids with imagination. It’s a kids film for grown ups in a weird way.

The main aim of Sophie's Fortune was to not play to the restrictions of the short film format and the expectations that come with short films. We didn't really know at first if we could pull it off and that was half the fun of it but I was confident. I've been told a few times that you get to make the films you want to make when you get the big budgets, you definitely need a budget to make films like 'Jaws' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' but we thought what the hell let’s see what we can accomplish on our own. With short films you always have to worry about budget restraints, time restraints, festival requirements and even though I can appreciate that it' good to work to restrictions, with this one we just threw caution to the wind and made something we'd like to watch.

Q) I am from the home of the mega budget block buster while with the exception of the James Bond movies, (most of which are actually filmed around the world) the UK does not produce these types of films?  Is this just a trend or are these kind of movies not well received there?

A) If I look at it realistically I think it’s because adventure movies require a certain amount of distance to travel for it to be an adventure whereas the UK is a lot smaller so it’s easier and cheaper to travel coast to coast in just a short car ride. Plus there are certain restrictions on the use of weapons in public and the gun laws are much different. I think we’d love to make these kinds of movies but there definitely doesn’t seem to be a big need for them right now. The idea of making a summer blockbuster style UK action/adventure appealed to us, in part, because we realised no one was doing anything like it (fan films aside) and also because it would be something we'd personally really like to watch.

Not many short films have attempted the adventure genre, especially here in the UK, but we didn’t believe that where we came from, or what budget we had, should define how we use our imagination in film. Why can’t someone from England go on a glorious adventure with mysterious treasure and dangerous puzzles?

Q) I guess I should get to the technique film making questions.  First one that has to be asked is what did you shoot with? Also would you have selected a different camera if you had it all to do over again?

A) This was made over 2 years ago so we used a Canon 7D with no prime lenses at the start and decided to see it through. It was an outdoor shoot so we didn’t require lighting other than hand-held LED’s and reflectors for the actors faces. The glide track was the greatest weapon for creating that cinematic movement and it saved a lot of time laying down tracks. I think we’d all have liked to shoot this film on something a bit bigger like an Alexa or a RED but post-production would have been an absolute nightmare with all the visual effects on 4K. The 7D was pretty good for the run and gun shooting style that we utilised when bad weather was creeping in on us. I'd love to shoot a more refined story with a Red Epic now that I've had the chance to play with one. That would be a lot of fun.

Q) What was budget on this film and how long did it take to shoot?

A) The budget was £2,000 and that was used to feed the cast and crew and cover expenses. Some of the guys chipped in and everybody involved was really supportive with helping to cut financial corners where we could in the aim to make a great film. It was a massive collaboration and couldn’t have been achieved without the support of everyone. The fountain head in the film was a huge prop build and should have cost a fortune but Joshua Michaelson believed in the project and wanted to be involved so that was his contribution. Same with the amazing post-production visual effects team. Everybody wanted to make an Indiana Jones film so they jumped in. The first block of filming took two weeks but we had to stop due to the Autumn weather so we picked it up again in Spring for another 2 weeks. It really felt like a feature production but with a short film crew. Some of the action set pieces took all day, like the running along the wall scene and it’s very difficult to get the entire cast in one location when they are not being paid up into the hills for 10 hours. From pre-production to post-production it took us about 2 years to complete the film, that was mainly because we were making the film as we were going along and it kept expanding.

Q) You pulled together a great cast. Where did you find your actors?

A) This was a bit of a self-indulgent endeavour so I pulled in all of the actors that I had worked with or wanted to work with in the past. Some roles were written specifically for the actor such as Steve McTigue’s character the Great White Hunter. Whereas for others I had to find actors to suit the role such as Adam Baroni and Donald Standen who have action films written in their DNA. I was really lucky to find those two specifically in the UK and as a bonus they have on-screen fight training which was a big win. Simon Hardwick, who plays the lead, has been a good friend of mine for a long time and he has gone on to do some big things in the West End but wanted to sink his teeth into something a bit different and with his training he was brilliant at choreographing the fight scenes with Adam. Simon’s dedication to the film is the reason we were able to finish the film. I joked that he was Bruce Campbell sometimes as I put him through hell like Sam Raimi did to Bruce on 'Evil Dead'.

Q) One of the draw backs of shooting an action adventure film is the size of the cast and crew required even on a low budget production. How did you deal with feeding everyone?

A) We just kept things as simple as possible, it was mostly sandwiches unfortunately, nothing fancy. And on the long days the cast would chip in themselves. This project was our film school and we realised the importance of feeding the cast and crew regularly to keep the energy and morale going and everybody happy. Everybody realised the mountain we were trying to climb and were happy to contribute where they could so we were pretty lucky in that area.

Q) The action part of action adventure gives many film makers nightmares because of the stunts that are required to make it look realistic. Every guy from the age of five to sixty five thinks that they can do it better than Jackie Chan, but reality usually comes crashing in after the first strained wrist. How much training went into getting the cast ready to do stunt work and did everyone do their own stunts?

A) Yes, they did, and there were a few bumps and grazes but not in the scenes you’d expect! It was just being a large group out in the countryside with rough surfaces etc that did it. We were very lucky to have a healthy cast with a level headed approach. I had to be pulled back sometimes but I managed to achieve the wall slam after a bit of reworking the wires. Simon is a dancer so he has a lot of strength and stamina and a great ability to remember choreography which made him incredible for action sequences. Adam has a professional wrestling background too so he knew how to fake a punch and be safe at the same time. He and Donald also had on-screen combat training as I mentioned which was a very useful thing to have, everyone else was able to follow their leads and with the use of a bit of camera trickery, we were able to pull off the fight scenes. I think. The rest of the cast focused on shooting the crap out of things and throwing out one liners.

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 Q) Clearly there are a lot of visual effects in this film. Who did the effects and what type of software was used?

A) Numerous people were involved in the visual effects, again it was no budget so only those who were interested in showing off their skills contributed and t was mostly done in Adobe After Effects. Even I edited quite a few of the scenes as did the Producer and the DOP. Daniel Buckle was the magic man who did the CG fountain in Maya/3D Max and that was because it was part of his final major project at university. We were very lucky that we had a good group of visual effects people wanting to flex their creative muscles. Some of them work on hollywood blockbusters, but given that they usually work as part of a massive team they may have only been responsible for smaller effects such as dust, whereas in SF they were responsible for all of the effects in a shot so they could fully own their work. We had to wait for Jupiter's Ascending to finish to get Sophie's Fortune done!

Q) Having grown up during the eighties I loved this film at first sight.  Clearly I see a little Raiders of the Lost Ark in this movie. What other movies were you influenced by?

A) Thanks Rodney, that's really cool of you to say. The list of inspiration is as long as my arm, some of them conscious and others subconsciously. I grew up on films like that too so I share the love. There are some old and some new. It was meant to be a grown up Goonies meets Indiana Jones but there are elements of Jumanji; The Mummy; Romancing in the Stone; Predator; Commando; and the more recent stuff being Uncharted and a list of anime, believe it or not. Everything I’ve ever made has influences from Cowboy Bebop, sometimes without me even realising it.

Q) I miss the days of films that featured good old fashion guy on guy violence with the clever one liner thrown in at the perfect moment. Forgetting the Expendables, do you think that we will ever return to movies like that minus robots and aliens and guys wearing capes?

A) Oh yeah, I think film trends are like swings and roundabouts, when we get fed up of the serious stuff there’ll be a need for these type of movies again and then after that we'll want the serious stuff. Dark Knight was so successful because it took comic books to a darker place and so there were copycats and the answer to that was Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy who had fun with the material. The action adventure genre will be back when it's needed but the type of hero is likely to adapt just like what they did with Sherlock Holmes. The modern adaptation of Indiana Jones, in my opinion, is Nathan Drake (Uncharted) I’d be happier to see a trilogy from that than another Indiana Jones film. It was a perfect trilogy, goddamnitt.

Q) Was there ever a moment during film or watching it later where you thought that this could have been expanded to feature length?

A) I think instead of making a feature version of Sophie Fortune I’d rather make something with the same tone, the story for SF was never the main focus, it was just a MacGuffin that allowed us to go to the jungle in the UK. I think if it was a feature film the audiences would be annoyed that it was all in their imagination, we would have to adapt it to be more in the real world to pull it off effectively. I think it would have to be a different story set in the UK without guns, maybe a crazy old Grandad leaves heritage to a grandson who goes on an adventure to find it - something like that would be more fun and realistic for a feature adaptation. The producer of SF is definitely considering a feature adaption as he’s a big fan of the genre too. He's keep a close eye on Tomorrowland to see how they do it.

Q) I am asking this question as John Williams begins work on the score to the new Star Wars film. I wish more films had orchestral film scores, who did the music for the movie?

A) We were very fortunate to have Carlos Rubio on this film who shared the same passion for this style of score, which you don’t hear much anymore. There’s a great story about Robert Zemeckis on Back to the Future where he told the composer that the film is simply a kid with family issues who travels to the same place over and over. He said the score needs to sound like Marty McFly is saving the world and holy crap it's probably one of the best themes to a film ever. I spoke to Carlos in a similar way with SF as really I just made an action adventure film, Carlos made it into an epic. He did an amazing job and it shows because he's already nabbed two awards for it.

Q) Is there a feature film in the future?

A) Yes there is actually, it’s a supernatural horror that is in the final stages of development with a studio. If my producer can get an adventure film off the ground with a great story then we’d happily do that! But for the rest of this year I’m sticking with shorts - the latest being 2AM which is a creepy thriller set in a diner, again something more likely to come from America than the UK.

Q) Who are the film makers that influenced you?

A) The only real inspiration on SF in terms of directors is Steven Spielberg - this really is his playground. I'd really like to shoot an action film with John Mctiernan also in mind in the future. All other inspirations are from other genres really like Ridley Scott, Rian Johnson, Park Chan-Wook and David Fincher. Do the best you can, try to live it down.

Q) Any advice for the beginning film maker?

A) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, experiment and enjoy doing it. You're not going to figure out what kind of filmmaker you are by playing it safe. Also, you won’t learn by somebody telling you what to do, you learn from your own experiences. As Mr Sunscreen said "Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. …But trust me on the sunscreen."

Thanks again Chris for doing this interview. If you would like to visit his website click here. I would like to end by showing the trailer for his upcoming short film 2 A.M.

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