Film. The expression of heart. The exploration of idea. The discovery of purpose and feeling and connection. Me… An explorer. A friend. A filmmaker. We… can build all of this together.
Is what I said in the voice-over of my video application for the LUMIX 72 Hour Challenge, where I fit my past work into 36 vital seconds, leaving 24 seconds to tell LUMIX that I appreciated the opportunity to apply and ended with “that’ll do”, hoping that my voice-over and showing of past work were enough to hook them.
Fast forward a couple weeks and it turns out it was. I was one of 10 chosen nationwide to participate in the 72-hour filmmaking challenge hosted by LUMIX.
We were then sent the LUMIX S5IIX camera and lens kit with a week to learn its workflow before the highly anticipated zoom meeting where we learned what the theme and object of the film challenge was before the challenge began.
Now, a week doesn’t sound like a lot of time, which is why I don’t think this challenge is suited for absolute beginners. You should have a pre-existing understanding of cameras and settings if you want to make the most out of it.
The S5IIX was an easy camera to get the hang of, and you could customise buttons to match whatever other camera workflow you’re used to. Not only that, but the staff at LUMIX were also there to provide advice and answer any questions I had about the camera and the challenge itself.
Doing test shoots was vital, too. Real practical learning helped more than anything for me. Thus, I came away from the challenge being able to say, “I know how to use LUMIX cameras now, add it to my resume!”
So, once the theme and object were revealed to the 10 teams—theme: broken; object: egg/s—the 72 hours begun. Let’s. Go.
“BROKEN AND EGGS,” I shouted in obvious caps lock to my team’s group chat, then: “Wtf”
Furthermore, in that same minute—10:18am to be exact—I say “Okay I have an idea.”
I called over a trusted friend, as well as my soundie (Aref Rashidan) and gaffer (Tana Glassock) to bounce ideas, which turned out to be redundant because by the time they’d all arrived, I had written the first draft. First and only draft.
What made the writing process so seamless, almost as if the idea was ready, waiting and meant to be, like a word that’s stuck on the tip of your tongue and finally remembered, was the fact that I’d already decided before knowing the theme and object what genre and style I wanted to pursue, as well as having established a mood board.
Once the theme and object were revealed, my initial idea, like most of my team, was fertility/pregnancy. It seemed like the obvious choice. I saw the risk in sticking with that, quoting “If we all thought of it, so did the other teams. So we need to find a point of difference.”
Make it dystopian.
And so it was.
My film, SHELLS, is the story of a woman recounting her experience with being forcefully sterilised in a dying world 70 years from now. It blends the styles of documentary, experimental and spoken word poetry.
Letting the audience draw their own conclusions and build the world in their heads is one of my favourite tactics as a filmmaker. I don’t like to spell the story out for them and hand them every piece of plot on a silver platter. People are smarter and more imaginative than that. I like to give them a half-filled plate with a buffet of options and say “Here, make of this what you will; relate to it in a way that suits you—or don’t.”
I thought making a film that was clear but had an interpretative/experimental edge was best, whilst sticking to my personal style as a filmmaker.
That first night, I met up with Aida Bernhardt, the lead actor, to go over the story and further deliberate if I made the right decision. We spent about 4 hours going over this, just for me to decide that yes. Yes, I did make the right decision. I had to trust myself.
And that, my dear friends, is the biggest takeaway and advice I can impart on anyone willing to take on a challenge like this, or any creative pursuit where collaboration is necessary. Trust. This whole process for me was so fun and so easy because I had trust.
First and foremost, in my team. There were only 5 of us including cast, but it was the strongest team I could have asked for. I didn’t have time to mess around, so I called the people I usually call for every other project.
You need to find your people. Those that just get it. You don’t have to waste your time explaining, and you don’t have to feel insecure around them when you can’t find anything to say at all. It really feels like a collaboration. It’s not my film—it’s ours.
Secondly, I had to trust myself… Heh, this was hard.
I’m confident as a writer/director, and even editor at times, but this was my first time being a cinematographer for a narrative film. Everything else I’d done prior was for documentary or for the web. I was scared. I was insecure. But at the end of it all, I had trust. You know what you’re doing, and where you don’t know, pretend like you do… Or ask the team.
And so, on the Saturday, after maybe 3 hours sleep, Aida and I set out at 4am to get our first scene. We didn’t need sound or lighting and we got it done quickly. (This is where my experience with documentary helped, using natural lighting to my advantage). Aida then went home to sleep, and I continued on with prepping for the shoot later that day. Buying eggs—a big ask for a vegan—and then setting straight off to our next location. We had 5 in total.
Thank God I have experience as an assistant director, because I scheduled this shoot perfectly, dare I say. Ignore anyone that says short films should only have one location. No, you just need a good producer and assistant director.
We got the shots in enough time, no mucking around, because I trusted that we got what we needed. No “that was a great, but let’s get one more for safety.” What does that mean? The actor can’t do anything with that information. Just own that you got a one-take-wonder and move on.
Having Aida Bernhardt and Joseph Baldwin as talent was an unequivocal blessing. I’d worked with Aida many times before and I trust her dearly. She recommended Joseph to me to play her counterpart, and I trusted again that she made the right suggestion (she did).
Both actors were and are so easy to work with. I’m a very lowkey director. I don’t like to explain what I want in paragraphs. I like to hand it over to the actors to play with and then redirect them from there with minimal words and small analyses of what the characters’ circumstances are and how we can best play to them. But again, I trusted in the cast so much that multiple times all I could say was “I don’t have anything to say, you just did it.”
You also don’t need to rig the camera out with all the bells and whistles. I used what we were given, nothing else. Minimalistic. I shot a mix between tripod and hand-held—which looked ultra smooth with the stabilisation in-camera, so I didn’t have to muck around with an easy rig or gimbal. And the more hectic handheld shots—where I wanted it to grungier—didn’t look like the camera was thrown in the washing machine. The shake was minimal, and it looked like the movement of the shot was a choice (it was).
The S5IIX’s ability to shoot straight to SSD was a game changer, too. No expelling vital seconds or minutes changing SD cards or wrangling data in the middle of the shoot. This also made it easier in post-production. We didn’t have to wait minutes or hours copying media assets to another drive. Just straight into the render and edit.
I drove to Aref’s house where his post-production setup was ready and waiting, and then slept for a couple hours while the footage rendered, and he set up the project for me. Waking up at whatever o’clock in the morning, starting with a shock of anxiety at the possibility I slept through the deadline, I launched into the edit suite and got to it. I clacked at the keys like Bruce Almighty—unblinking and relentless—and got the picture edit done in 6-8 hours—I can’t recall. But I did not stop. I maybe had 3 sips of water. Looked up at the ceiling—or God (“Give me strength”)—a total of 4 times. Cracked my knuckles about 7.
Then it was onto sound, and I could rest—but not really, because here I was, trying to explain to Aref, with inhuman groans, what sounds I wanted for the composition. “Like a HMMMMMMRRRR, you know?”
It was fun. At this point we were losing our minds a little. And Aref sure did it. The man completed a full sound edit and music composition in about the same time it took to cut the picture together.
FIND. YOUR. PEOPLE.
At around 3am I started the grade. Taking advantage of using a LUT and then making minor tweaks saved a lot of time. I got it done in 2 hours, though this was arguably the most trying part of the process, simply because colour grading is by no means my forte.
The export and delivery, alone, took another 2 hours—realising things that I’d wanted to change or fix after the fact, and then we delivered the final film with a couple hours to spare.
Sure, we could have spent that extra time finessing the film further and I could have torn my hair out trying to get the colour grade to a point I was 100% happy with (if that’s even possible), but with little sleep and blurry eyes, I didn’t see the point. Nor did I want to take the risk of cutting it fine with time and missing our opportunity to deliver it within the allotted 72 hours.
And so, we sat back and watched the baby we conceived, held in our wombs, then birthed within 72 hours, and subsequently said “this looks like something that took months to make.”
We did our job and did it coming away proud of what we made—one of the best feelings as a filmmaker.
It was EXHILARATING. The whole process force-eliminated any opportunity for second-guessing and procrastination—something I fall victim to often. You just had to get it done. Now this might be my favourite way to make films. Maybe not with a hard and fast delivery time where you can’t make further tweaks after the fact but giving yourself a strict deadline to deliver a solid first draft. You’re not allowed to overthink—there isn’t time for that. Just trust your instincts. Then give yourself a week, come back to it, then set another strict deadline.
I’m so thankful for this challenge and that lesson it taught me. True art and expression and storytelling doesn’t need to be pulled apart and dissected and analysed until you’re paralysed. It just needs to be felt and trusted. And, you need to have good instincts. I don’t have all the experience in the world, but with trust, a good team, and good instincts, we made a film that we could humbly puff our chests out and say:
“Yeah we did that, and in 72 hours no less.”