Leilani Holmes : Nokia 15 Second Movies: Working With Dinosaurs
Stop go treatment
Death of the Dinosaurs is a 15 second short made for the 2006 Raindance Nokia shorts competition. Writer, Director and Crew came together through filmmaking collaborative group OTTfilms. The initial idea was to use toy dinosaurs, which would remain quite static, and then add movement in the camera shots to make the whole come to life. It was decided however to go for stop motion as opposed to camera movements when some very expressive faced and moveable toy dinosaurs were found. The resulting Raindance Nokia 15 Second Film finalist is very funny debut for its director Leilani Holmes, who has been talking to James MacGregor. Death of the Dinosaurs has now been selected for the British Independent Film Awards
The first step was the FX tests. From stills Gus Martinez assembled a test using distortion, which worked well. The film shot in one day (approx 8 hours inc. set up) It was decided to keep the background simple due to the 15 seconds length to give an overall clean look to the film. Green felt and blue paper were put together with a bonsai tree (a 30 year old maple) and a couple of ferns to provide the landscape. Extra help was provided by OTTfilms members Kevin Magee and Marc Knapton in the form of dedolights and dinosaur spit.
The team shot in HDV using a Sony A1. The edit took place that week and was a precise and intricate job for so small a film. A cut that worked and best served the script was agreed and the FX and grading began. Distortion was used in the form of a partial morph to make the dinosaurs move blink and speak.
The film was then graded and using masks and chroma key the original blue sky was graded and moving clouds introduced. The sound design and voiceover took place later. The background atmosphere was designed to suit a hot savannah and foley added including grass chewing and dinosaur footsteps.
The Gigantasaurus roar was put together using a mixture of sounds including bear and dear noises. Actor Tony came to record the voiceover for the small dinosaur and director. The whole came together and Death of the Dinosaurs was complete. We hope you like it!! Some photographs from the shoot.
Death of the Dinosaurs director, Leilani Holmes, trained as an actor with The Impulse Company in London. She began screenwriting in 2005. Having spent the majority of her career in the theatre, she applied her training to the wonders of film when she joined independent filmmaking collaborative OTTfilms.
Joining, at first as an actress and emerging writer, she soon found herself in love with a short script called Death of the Dinosaurs and had a clear idea of how it could be best brought to life on screen. Encouraged by writer John Condon, Leilani decided to make her directorial debut. Since then she has gone on to Produce three films for other directors two of which have screened globally and has completed her first feature screenplay Proud. She is currently embarking on her second directorial project, a 2D hand drawn animation, entitled Edna and the Dark Matter. She continues to act and write.
James MacGregor has been talking to Leilani Holmes about working with dinosaurs...
You started out on a thespian trail - what made you want to go behind the camera?
It was the Death of the Dinosaurs script. I read it and laughed for about ten minutes. John (Condon, the writer) had written at the top "Probably impossible but.." and it wasn't impossible! People had suggested that the dinosaurs would have to look real for the joke to work but I just knew it would work perfectly with toys. Toys are so expressive. John agreed and before I knew it I found myself directing.
You became very active in a filmmaker group called Over The Top - what can you tell us about them?
OTTfilms are a collaboration of individuals working together to help one another make films. We come together through our online forum (www.ottfilms.co.uk) and in monthly meetings and share time talent and equipment to help one another make films. Many of us are active Shooters, just Shooters who know each other well and work together regularly. It works on a ‘reap what you sow' basis and it works well. We all give back to the group as much as we take out.
We organise social occasions and gatherings where members get to know one another and bond. Over time we have become a close-knit community of filmmakers and friends.
Did you find the script before the Nokia competition or did the Nokia competition spur you to find a script or adapt one?
Nokia inspired us. The script was one of a number of ideas for Nokia Shorts on the OTTfilms forum and prepared well in advance of the 2006 competition being announced. Micro shorts are a great way into filmmaking and are intricate and precise to make as well as being a lot of fun.
How short precisely was the film going to have to be and what sort of strictures did that put on the story?
The film had to be 15 seconds long and we were allowed another 8 seconds of credits. John tweaked the script to make it more concise and I timed it carefully before we began to shoot. We concentrated on the elements that would reinforce and enrich the written material and minimised the amount of cuts.
It must have taken an enormous budget to get this right - how much did you blow on it?
Hardly anything! I fed people at the shoot of course. Bought a bit of green felt and blue paper. The toys were the biggest expense but even they weren't much. I didn't keep track of money but it was extremely small.
And that's the point of OTTfilms. Because we know one another and trust that people will give back to the group as much as they take out, people are willing to share time, talent and equipment. I was able to borrow a professional lighting kit and people worked for free and gave advice. We were not held back by financial limitations.
Your characters look pretty well fresh from the Jurassic - where did you manage to find such good dinosaurs?
Luck! I went dinosaur shopping on the internet with a view to seeing the kind of toy available before actually going to the shops. Pretty much the first ones I looked at were perfect so I ordered them. The little one had a very funny deadpan face and, although the script said a T-Rex, I found a much fiercer looking Gigantasaurus so went for that.
What about neck and jaw movements and so on? Were they bendy toys?
They were jointed and fairly solid though the tails were slightly bendy. They had moveable jaws and legs and heads that could be positioned. The Gigantasaurus jaw opened very wide which looked great. They were ever so slightly unstable so we had to spend several hours playing with them to get the hang of standing them up. All in the name of professional dedication of course!!
The sound is very imaginative in this film, I mean it sets the scene over the titles - did you feel sound had a larger than life part to play in your film - I mean it was planned for phone downloads rather than the multiplex!
Nah! I planned it for a multiplex. I'm full of hope! We shot in 16:9 HDV and made the sound design balanced enough so that it would sound good on any grade of computer or phone as well as a large auditorium. OTTfilms has its own screening events and I knew if we made the shortlist the likelihood would be that the film would be screened in a cinema. The background sound sets the scene over the opening credits to subliminally set the scene before the picture comes up. Slavering chewing noises and dinosaur footsteps build tension before the huge dinosaur roar. Fabrice came up with some great sounds. The background is a hot savannah and the Gigantasaurus roar is a mixture of animal noises including deer and bears. He added his own touches too, like the sound man's beep at the end.
Photographing miniatures always creates a creative challenge - pin sharp focus, the light has to be right, then you have to stop-go as well - maybe you had better describe for us just what went on in the shoot. How did you do it?
Well my initial idea had been to keep the dinosaurs very still and put the movement in the camera, panning around the animals like a wildlife documentary. That went out the window with the stop motion. We had a dedolight kit with which we lit the set. It was fiddly as we had a couple of different lighting set ups but they are a great tool. Charlie had a new Sony A1 and we shot in HDV. The depth of field was great. We didn't go for 24frames per second. Frankly I don't have the patience. We filmed a few seconds and then moved the toys and filmed some more. Gus used clever editing and distortion to bridge the gaps and put the whole thing together and then added VFX and Grading.
Then it was time to stitch it all together. How did you tackle the edit?
Gus and I sat in front of computers in our separate homes and did it online. He emailed me several versions and I emailed him back comments and decisions until we were both happy. There were two versions of the ending and it was borderline which one I chose. I made my decision and I'm happy with it.
Finally, it was finished and it was showtime. How long had your fifteen seconds taken in real time?
Eight hours for the shoot including the set up time. A day for the edit. About a month before the VFX was fully complete as Gus was fitting it in with other work and that gave us time for the sound design. Voice recording took around an hour. We had plenty of time.
Did you enjoy your directorial debut as a process or were you in the end pleased but relieved when it was over?
I loved it! It was a really great experience and I'm so proud of the film and everyone who worked on it.
I believe it is on line, too. Where can people see it?
You can find the film here. We hope you like it!!
The full version of this interview can be read on Shooting People