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Making a short movie - Return Tickets
The protagonist through the 'ages.'
Why and how we made the movie
My son, in his final year of Visual Communication, was asked to do a short film for his college project. He asked me to do a screenplay. I agreed to do it. That's why we made the movie.
But what resources did we have? We proceeded to count our blessings before I wrote a ski chase on the Alps or a copter trip over the Amazon. We had very little money, an amateur camera that also shot videos, a home, furniture and family members. And cute cats.
I had to write a script using these resources. I could forget the hero-walking-away-from-an-exploding-building sequence. Or the intergalactic battle. We had to keep it simple and make our resources do. Then I had two ideas, one after another, a rare occurrence, and I went out to celebrate before I revealed my plans to the Junior.
"Son," I said, "You may not remember, being so busy propping up the wall of your college, but you have a kid brother. And you may also recollect how unthinking outsiders always comment on how much I resemble you and your brother, or the other way round, though we always spot the six differences. Why don't we use that to advantage?"
"Also my boy, while we can't beat them with Hollywoody treatments, let's slug them with sentiment. If high concepts are not within reach, hit their hearts. No, not college romances. Babies and pets. That's what people who write television commercials do. They show cute babies and pets if they can't think of anything new to say about their products. Let's show your cute bro and our cool cat, and mix in some emotion."
"She's cool and cute, but we have here only this old baby."
"We have to manage with existing resources. I don't want to borrow the next door drooler."
We had an antique table that my grandfather had bought for my father when he was a boy. When my Dad was a boy, of course, not my Grandpappy. The table became the anchor, the symbol of our sentiment. That was the table I had played under as a baby, and used as a study table as a boy. I put the cat on the table, and our movie began.
Paper was the next symbol. Being an illustrator and writer, paper symbolized my life. So we did a biography of someone who drew and wrote. Someone who wrote and drew the things he loved.
Now, to avoid further spoilers, please watch the movie.
Luckily the little fellow was game. He even asked his Mom to give him dinner fast between breaks so he could go back and act. We took his scenes first, as unsympathetic Mom wanted him to do his homework. And the cat co-operated too. I had expected the usual problems people had, when they filmed children and pets. But their scenes happened amazingly without major hitches. The problem was with my shots. I had to do a 55-year-old man who relives his life at spots. I had a full beard and gray hair. Though I was only 45 then, my wife, who disliked my beard, always said I looked 55. So I used that to advantage. That was not the problem. I had to do the 35 and 45 year olds too. For the forties guy, I planned to shave off my beard and dye my hair for the thirties. Once I shave, and once I dye, there was no going back to reshoot those scenes. So we had to shoot them perfect or near perfect before my respective make-overs. The older chap was 18 and did 15 as he was, and 25 with hair brushed back and mustache penciled. Eyebrow pencil courtesy his Mom.
He also took charge of re-arranging the props on the table. The props had to reflect the age of the protagonist. Nobody would notice these things, given the quality of the film, but Art for Art's sake and all that sort of thing.
The shoot took about four hours.
Post-production and reception
My voice was nothing to write home about, and my son had the movie subtitled. He took the whole of the next day doing postwork.
The prof at my son's college liked the movie especially since it was not about failing in love or drugs. Most of the films he was subjected to were on those themes. One misguided student had even managed to make a movie on failing in love AND taking to drugs. Our movie was welcome relief, the only feel-good movie of the lot.
Now we have a slightly better camera, and aim to do better movies.