It's been about two months since I finished the cut on my new short film, "VR". The edit was exhaustive and indeed exhausting, but I am extremely happy with the end result. I'm hoping to document this to give other filmmakers an insight into my process and hopefully give readers something interesting to take away!
I was approached to make a film for a horror anthology around Summer 2016, by Producer Sam Mason Bell. I'd been meaning to get back into short films for a while, however was busy trying to make a living with the odd freelance jobs I had at the time. I decided a deadline was exactly what I needed, so I set to writing a script.
I love the writing process. Getting ideas down onto paper and shaping it into a unique story is one of my favourite things about filmmaking. One of my biggest influences in the last few years of my career, aside from horror, is Korean and Japanese entertainment. I love iconic J-Horror such as 'The Ring' and 'Dark Water', and I decided I wanted to pay homage to this genre, by incorporating a creepy backstory into a technology- focused film.
The story came easily to me. I really wanted to explore virtual reality, and I already had a tonne of research on Japanese urban legend Kuchisake Onna, so I wrote a concept that would incorporate both of these themes.
Up until this point, I had worked on a lot of online content, and was used to working on my own, with a bit of equipment. I knew that tackling a script like this in two short shoot days would require some help.
I was introduced to Harry, our DOP, a couple of weeks before the shoot, and it was an awesome match. I had worked with our SFX Makeup artist, Andrew, on some shoots before, and the cast signed on shortly afterwards. I was lucky enough to get a crew and cast full of amazing talent for this project, and I think it really shows in the film.
One thing I have struggled with in the past is getting the preparation just right for filming. I often draw some storyboards and always make a comprehensive shot list, however I felt I needed something more for this project.
I opted to download the ShotPro app onto my iPhone. The app allows you to create basic environments and characters, and move them around as you would in a programme such as The Sims. By using cameras in-app, you can create movements and cut them together, to give you an idea of what could work and what won't. It's quite basic, but it is just what I needed to prepare myself for shooting on a tight schedule.
The script for VR called for something unique, in that we needed to shoot with both a traditional camera and an action-cam to give us the POV shots we had planned. I looked to the Xiaomi Yi 4k Action Cam, which I had recently added to my equipment collection, and it didn't disappoint.
My main challenge was finding a mount for the camera. We knew that we would need to mount it to our actor's head, but didn't have the time nor money to purchase a head mount. In the end, I bought a Head Torch from a local hardware store, and a selfie stick from a joke shop. After a little bit of sawing and heavy handed tinkering, we had something that would work on the day.
Whilst building it, I had to keep a couple of tools handy to tighten and loosen the DIY rig, and of course when it came to shooting, they were the two things missing from my bag. Ever an optimist, I made do with some chewing gum to keep the screwmount and camera in place against the strap, and quickly got the shots we needed.
Sound was another huge challenge whilst shooting VR. We didn't have a sound recordist on-set, due to a couple of crew members having to drop out at last minute. Luckily, I own a Tascam recorder and a decent Rode mic, so I was able to record the dialogue when filming. However, this did make post-production a little challenging, because I wasn't able to capture as much audio as I would have liked. More on the post-production sound later.
Another really important aspect of the film to me was costume and makeup. Our reveal towards the end of the film relied on a "slit-face" effect for Kuchisake-Onna, and having never done this kind of SFX before, me and Andrew (our MUA) got to work researching. There are some really cool videos and pictures of the Kuchisake-Onna legend online, however one of my favourites is True Monsters: The Kuchisake-Onna Legend by The History Channel. From watching this, we decided to keep Onna's traditional long jacket and face mask, but change a few things about the SFX makeup to suit our production.
For Tom, we decided to keep him in a grey tracksuit, very comfortable and plain. He is stuck in a depressive rut, and wants fantasy and excitement, not to face reality. His costume choices help represent this characterisation.
The editing for VR took a few weeks of full time hours to complete. Aside from cutting the picture, which was pretty straightforward, I had to create the soundtrack from scratch, aside from the dialogue I had captured on-set. I utilised a huge amount of stock audio I found for free on the internet, and I think it really helped to make the soundtrack feel complete. I went back to visit the locations a couple of times to get atmos and various other sounds I felt were needed, and teamed up with an awesome musician, Elliot Robertson, for the score.
RELEASE AND THE FUTURE
I signed up to a number of festivals with the film, and was lucky enough to be an official selection for Winchester Film Festival and win a couple of awards overseas. The film will make up a part of the 'Maniacal' anthology alongside other horror films from other UK filmmakers, available soon.
-- Rob Ulitski