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A year ago I was completing my first short film. It was something I had always wanted to do but I thought it was out of reach. Film are complex entities. They are a team effort requiring artistic and technical knowledge and skills, equipment and of course a budget. Completing and releasing a film is a feat in itself, creating a good film is even harder. I only had a strong desire to tell a story best I could with my own resources. I had taken film courses at UBC and I've always been a film buff I felt confident I could at least have decent cinematography. Sharing that aspiration with my good friend Michel Duran, he kindly offered his services and time as well as his home to help me realize that goal. Then I started thinking what kind of story I could tell with what was available to me.

I knew I wanted to keep the story fairly simple but yet compelling. It was going to be one character to make scheduling easy. I first had this idea of a "message in a bottle". It's classic and romantic. I had to figure out who, what, where? For that process I taught myself how to write a script with proper formatting using a free online script writing tool. (

I knew my story had to have a twist. Any good story may set up expectations but the interest is when the viewer is surprised by the turn of events he or she did not see coming. In that quest, I quickly realized I needed a second character that my friend Miles Ellis kindly agreed to portray. I had my story! I went on to create a shot list and started visualizing the film in sequence and shots. Thinking of camera lens, angle, lighting etc.

Page 1 of my script for "Speechless"
Page 1 of my script for "Speechless"

I had my Nikon D810 which can do video albeit not really designed to shoot film. I also had a Go Pro type camera (my daughter's) that I wanted to use for some effect shots. My multi-talented buddy videographer Fred Goldstein lent me with a couple LED light panels, a slider, a solid stand and a steadycam (used to minimize camera movements when doing traveling shots) and all the audio equipment to record location sound and dialog. I remember how he showed me how to use the slider and told me I'd need to practice. I had no idea what he was talking about until I tried it. How clueless I was! Moving a camera is an art. Even on a slider the start, speed and end of the movement must be silky smooth. I now know what a skilled camera operator brings to a set! Then of course when you move the camera you have to worry about focus. I discovered that on standard movie sets there is a focus puller. That is the person who focuses solely on...focus! With a remote control in hand they sit in front of a monitor off the set and control and adjust the focus when the camera moves. Something I had never heard of. That too is an art in itself. I wanted to do those kind of shots so I found a technique using tape to mark start and end points on the lens and using a silicone jar opener to adjust the focus. Talk about multi-tasking when moving the camera on the slider and at the same time adjust the focus equally smoothly to a precise tape marking! Needless to say some scene required many re-takes and still it wasn't perfect.

Silicone jar opener for follow focus for DSLR
Silicone jar opener for follow focus

I had my shooting schedule done and finally day 1 finally comes. I bring all the gear at Michel's house and start setting up and it took me no time to realize I was not going to be able to direct, handle the camera, focus, worry about lighting AND record audio all at the same time. That's when my film became a silent one! It was fine since there was no dialog to begin with. I would let the music play an even bigger role in telling the story and setting the emotional tone.

Shooting was going well but for the big scene on the pier after reviewing it at home (that's another issue where I did not have a monitor when I was filming, I had to review takes on the tiny screen on the back of my camera) the scene didn't have the right look. That day turned out to be bright and sunny and it just wasn't right for the intense drama that was going to unfold. So much for being in Vancouver, just where are the cloudy grey skies when you need them? Michel being professional as he is did not mind having to get up again at 5am and drive 45min to the location I had chosen for that scene. Not to mention it was the most demanding scene of the film for him to play. I did end up keeping some shots of the original day as there was this magical moment where the morning sun came out about the hill and a goose swam by behind Michel after his breakdown. I thought it was very poetic and was the spirit of his loved one coming to comfort him.

Screen capture of "Speechless". A goose swims behind Mr. Martin after his breakdown

Then came the editing. "Movies are made in the edit room" I read or heard that somewhere while I was studying and researching how to edit. Even for a 14 min short film it was a giant puzzle to put together. Lots of decisions to make in evaluating the best take for their performance and technical merit and deciding what's really needed to tell the story. I also had to learn the software itself. I used Da Vinci Resolve for that and thanks to Youtube I was able to learn what I needed to get it done.

Then it was time for colour correction and colour grading. In my case the colour correction was a bit of a nightmare. The quality and temperature of light changed a lot between shots as I didn't have full control of it. Sometimes it was natural light, sometimes LED lights, sometimes a combination of light sources. I did the best I could and had my friend Marco Abraham who is a professional colour grader help me on a few tricky spots.

The post production was my favorite part. I wanted to create an evocative soundtrack with a European film sensibilities to it, using strings and piano but also use electronic sounds for an atmospheric touch but also to echo the cold and disconnected mood the character goes through. The score evolves from more electronic sounds to support the character's journey from the sheer shock, anger leading to depression to his healing process back to his true self. Through this process the music gradually becomes more melodic and instrumentation changes to warmer acoustic instruments (piano and strings) . There were several scenes that called for a more sound design approach and more experimental sound treatment, those are always a lot fun to create. I also wanted a song for the credits and was able to convince my friend Stephanie Rose to co-write with me and record it for the film.

It was a lot of work and a learned a ton. Being the perfectionist that I am, I tend to focus on the flaws in my work and rarely find true satisfaction. I know what top-notch quality is and sets that as my bench mark. I always aim to excel and expect myself to reach that level of expertise in pretty much everything I do ( photography, music, cooking etc.) Rather naive of me but that's how I constantly push myself. While I recognize the abominable flaws and shortcomings in my film I am nonetheless proud of my accomplishment. I certainly hope to do more films and I have great stories waiting to be shot but I will wait until I will have a crew of collaborators to help me bring those stories as good as I possibly can.

You can watch it here!


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