Website Review: ‘The Phone Call’

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‘The Phone Call’ (2013) is an Academy Award-winning short drama film directed by Mat Kirkby, starring Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent. The film websites I have reviewed until now have all been for full-length, Hollywood feature films, so I wanted to take a look at the website of an acclaimed short film to see how it differs. The website of a short film is bound to look a bit different from the website of a blockbuster in terms of the types of content offered, and kind of promotion. Looking at this website, one of the first things I noticed is the fact that it does not feature the option to “buy tickets” because short films are distributed through film festivals, not theaters. Therefore, while the marketing for feature films revolves around buying tickets and going to the theatre, the marketing for short films revolves around promoting film festivals.

This is why the home page features a list of the film festival awards that ‘The Phone Call’ has won. This conveys to the audience that the film was very critically acclaimed, making them more likely to be enticed into watching the film themselves. Usually, this is the biggest selling point because short films do not typically feature the kind of A-list stars the blockbusters do. Apart from this, there is even a separate tab called “Festivals”, which has a list of all the festivals that the movie has been a part of across the world. This is a very crucial part of the film’s promotion because the primary way the audience will get to see this film is at a film festival. Even when designing the website for my own short film, I will have to be sure to focus on promoting film festivals.

The homepage also features links to social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as to IMDB. This kind of free digital marketing is crucial, especially for short films, as they do not have a large budget and are usually tight on cash. This is true of my short film too, so I will also rely on interesting digital marketing techniques as opposed billboards and TV ads.

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When you scroll down on the homepage, it has a short film synopsis in order to acquaint audiences with the story, as well as “contact” and “news” information. The contact information allows anybody to directly reach out to the writers, directors, producer, etc. This is a level of accessibility that is not seen with people on major Hollywood blockbusters, but is important for people working on smaller projects to get new opportunities and get recognized. I should be sure to include contact information in my film website too.

The links to news articles are accompanied by short, personal, informal comments, so the whole thing reads like a blog. The problem with this is that the links seem to go on monotonously for a long time and the formatting is too plain and boring to really trigger any interest from the users. There are no vivid colors or images to make the page more visually appealing.

I also felt this way when looking through the “Press” page. Here too, the links are presented in a very plain, simplistic manner. I also think the choice of font adds to the dullness. There is nothing special or even particularly appealing about the font. I think a bolder, more eye-catching font would have made a world of difference.

On the whole, the film website is pretty conventional. The “About” page has a little information about the film and lists the names of all the crew members, along with a few photos. The “Trailer” page displays the film’s trailer, and the “Director” page has a short bio about the film’s director and a photo of him. I felt that the design could have been a lot better and more interesting, but the website gave me a good idea about the typical components of a short film website. I will definitely be able to apply this information when designing my own website.

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Filming: Day 2

Today, I filmed the scenes in the living room between Anamika’s mother and the therapist, Mrs. Chopra. This included them talking while sitting downstairs and then getting up and running up the stairs to Anamika’s room upon hearing the crash. As these shots all took place in the same location for the most part and there were only people involved, it took much less time to film than yesterday’s scenes. These scenes are also shorter in length and dialogue-laden, with almost no physical action involved, which made them easier to shoot in many ways. I started at about 11 AM and wrapped by 3 PM.

For warm lighting, I used the tube lights in the room that had yellow bulbs. This had a much different look than the tube lights in Anamika’s room which were bright and fluorescent, but I specifically wanted milder, yellow lights as this would work well with the warm color scheme. Apart from this, large glass panes allowed a solid amount of natural sunlight to liven up the room as well and create the feel of a bright morning.

In terms of make-up and costumes, I had the mother wear simple black jeans an Indian-style kurtha top. The therapist, Mrs. Chopra, wore a formal saree, earrings, and had her hair neatly pulled back with a clip. Both the kurtha top and the saree help give the film some cultural context, as they are traditionally Indian. Also, I wanted both of them to wear pink as that would fit in with the warm color scheme and they would play off each other well.

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For all my filming, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, a 24-105 mm lens, and a tripod. To record audio, I did not use an external mic. I adjusted the settings in my camera to eliminate as much grain as possible and just recorded the dialogue using my camera’s mic. Before rolling, we had to spend some rehearsing the dialogue as these scenes were mostly dialogue. I ran through the script with the actors several times before filming, working on memorization and delivery.

The different kinds of shots that I experimented with today include:

Close-ups: When snippets of the conversation are heard, often you will see just the person’s hands, eyes or lips, and a voiceover of the dialogue. I don’t establish the full face right away to create a sense of mystery and draw and viewers in. I shot these extreme close-ups of various body parts and also of the coffee mugs and the coffee.

Over-the-shoulder: The over-the-shoulder shots proved to be tricker than I anticipated. Positioning the camera over one person’s shoulder, and getting the other person’s face in the center of the frame took a bit of time to get right. I had to do a lot of adjusting and careful framing, but in the end it was worth it. These shots are visually interesting and create a sense of perspective and dimension.

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Aerial: When the mother and the therapist hear the noise from upstairs and look up, I wanted this to be an aerial shot, because with an aerial shot we can get a clearer sense of them looking up. It gives a real perspective to the shot.  To film this angle, I extended the tripod to its fullest length and then placed it on top of the coffee table. I too then got up on top of the coffee table and filmed.

Running up the stairs: For the running up the stairs sequence, I used the match on action technique. I filmed the actors several times from the bottom of the staircase and from the top of the staircase, and I will edit it together to look like one continuous sequence.

On average, I did about 5-6 takes of every shot. However, several dialogues required a lot more takes to get right because the wording and the enunciation proved to be a challenge at times. However, on the whole, I both were successful days of filming and I have wrapped by short film on schedule. I have learnt so much from this process about time management, directing, cinematography and patience. This was a long, but rewarding two days.

Filming: Day 1

Today, I filmed all the scenes involving Anamika and her alternate identities in her bedroom. The characters present in these scenes are Anamika, Arya, Ashvita and Ashwin. As I could only get all these actors together in the same place for one day, I had to work efficiently and smoothly to get all the footage I need for these scenes within a span of 8-9 hours before the sun went down. We started in the morning at about 10 AM and filmed until 6 PM. By the end of the day, I am happy to say that I was able to get done everything that I had planned.

As my primary light source, I used artificial white light from the fluorescent tube lights in my room. Apart from this, a small amount of natural sunlight filtered in through the windows. Overall, I tried to make the room as bright and brilliant as possible in order to achieve the effect of high-key lighting.

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Then, before starting to film, I had to get the actors ready with costuming and makeup. Anamika was put into casual shorts and a loose t-shirt with no makeup on her face as she was supposed to look natural and like she had just woken up. Arya wore black tights, a sleeveless grey top, dark eye makeup and smeared red lipstick to look like grunge, dark and psychotic. Ashvita dressed like a child in a colorful dress and pigtails, while Ashwin had a casual, natural look in shorts and a black shirt.

img_4819Once the actors were ready, filming could start. Before rolling, I spent some time blocking and rehearsing the script so that the actors would know what to do and be confident. It would also give me a chance to fix where I wanted the camera and how the camera movement was going to work. So that the actors would always hit their marks correctly and land in front of the camera in the right place, I used sticky tape to mark their starting, ending and/or standing points.

I did all my filming using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, a 24-105 mm lens, and a tripod. The tripod was used for most of the shots but there were certain shots, such as when I had to climb on top of a shelf to film Arya speaking, wherein the tripod was too cumbersome and impractical to use. In such situations, I rested the camera on some other steady surface or used a very steady grip to film. To record audio, I did not use an external mic. I adjusted the settings in my camera to eliminate as much grain as possible and just recorded the dialogue using my camera’s mic.

There were a lot of different kinds of shots that I experimented with today, such as:

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High-Angle shots: For high angle aerial shots, I climbed on top the closet and filmed the room below. Shooting Anamika from this perspective made her look small and diminished, which serves as a metaphor for the fact that she was weak and powerless in the face of her disorder, and the other dominant personalities. Also, it suggests that when Arya looks down at Anamika from the closet, this is how she sees her – weak, small, inferior. When Arya takes over, Anamika can do nothing but watch.

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Pans/Tilts: One of the trickiest shots to film was the simultaneous pan/tilt up from Anamika’s bed to the top of the closet while simultaneously adjusting the depth of field and keeping the characters center frame. Even though this was one of the shots that I practiced prior to the day of filming, this shot took over 15 takes for me to get right. It took a lot of patience and a careful, steady motion to achieve, but finally I was successful.

Action sequence – Slap: Filming Arya slapping Anamika was another tricky shot because it needed to look like a violent slap, and my actor was not willing to slap anyone at any cost. Therefore, I had to figure out a way to create a realistic looking slap without hurting anyone. To do this, I filmed Arya first coming to slap Anamika, until she stops short of just hitting her face. Then I went to the other side and filmed Anamika’s face with Arya’s hand on her cheek and then filmed her reaction. Edited together, this will look like one continuous slap.

360-degree pan: I filmed a 360-degree pan shot from the center of the room. I had each of the characters in different parts of the room doing crazy things like singing a nursery rhyme, playing with a ball and hitting his head against a wall. In the middle of this, Anamika stood, motionless, with her eyes closed, as though she was in the eye of the hurricane. I am not sure if I will actually be able to use this shot in my final film, but it was very interesting to try out and created an unusual, striking effect. I could perhaps try to fit it in somewhere in hazy fragments to show the chaos going on in Anamika’s mind.

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Disappearing Effect: To make it look like the three alternate identities disappeared into thin air, I needed to have the three of them get up and leave after saying their line, leaving only Anamika behind. The tricky thing was that Anamika could not move at all, and had to sit perfectly still. It took several trial runs to fix how each of them must sit and practice how they must all speak in unison.

On average, I did about 5-6 takes of every shot before moving on to the next one. I learnt a lot about what it takes to be a director and cinematographer. Having to fulfill both those roles at the same time was a bit tricky, but I soon got the hang of it. I understood how to communicate with the actors in a way that would get me the kind of performance I want for my film. It was a very collaborative process between the actors and myself and this turned out to be very rewarding indeed. Overall, this was a very productive day of filming

Set Design: Anamika’s Bedroom

For Anamika’s bedroom I am using my own bedroom at home. However, I had to spend a lot of time changing it to look the room belongs to a girl with dissociative identity disorder.

Here is the transformation:

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I inferred that the chaos in Anamika’s head would translate to her having a very messy personality. Her room should reflect this by looking untidy and cluttered. Therefore, I went around to all the shelves and messed them up by toppling over DVDs and books and piling them in a very disorganised manner. I scattered ribbons and scrunchies atop the dresser and spilled open her pencil box on top of the desk. I had markers strewn across the floor table and crumpled the white comforter on the bed. I littered the room with her things and left no surface looking too polished or neat. I tried to make the room look as naturally messy as possible.

I also removed anything from the room that I felt would not fit Anamika’s personality and character. I removed all my comedy DVDs such as SNL, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, etc. because they felt too specific and random. I also removed certain books and decorative items that I believed would not suit the person Anamika is.

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Instead, I brought in a lot more childish things like stuffed toys, dolls and board games and messily filled the shelves with those items. I had toys on the floor, next to her bed and on her desk. This is because some part of Anamika is mentally stuck at the age when she was sexually assaulted and her emotional growth is stunted. Since the assault was the trigger of her disorder, she is still holding on to that stage of her life, unable to let go. Therefore, Anamika’s room is filled with the toys and books she was never able to part with and they serve as a source of comfort to her.

However, this is balanced by her having more grown up DVDs and books too. There is a large juxtaposition in her tastes and interests and this is reflective of her dissociative identity disorder. Different parts of her like different things.

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Also, as a result of her disorder, I understand that nothing potentially dangerous could be kept in her room. To this effect, I removed all the electronics such as phones, chargers, laptops and the desktop computer. She would not be using any of these things in her day to day life. Also, I removed all the breakable things such as the glass make-up stand, ceramic mugs and porcelain figurines.

To add a sense of a authenticity to the room, I filled the picture frame in her room with photos of the actress playing Anamika at different stages in her life. This is a small detail that may not even be noticed in the film, but I didn’t want anything to be overlooked.

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Some of the walls are painted turquoise and all the furniture is pearly white, which fits perfectly with the cool colour scheme of this room. Also, the white tube-lights make the room look bright and cheery. All this contributes to Anamika’s room looking pleasant and happy at first glance. The lighting and colour scheme are very positive and up lifting.

Set Design: Living Room

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For the living room in my short film, I am using the actual living room in my house. This is where Mrs. Chopra and and Anamika’s mother meet and have a conversation regarding Anamika’s past and her disorder. The scenes taking place here are going to be dominated by warm colours and yellow lighting. The yellow sofas with red and green designs, as well as the yellow tube-lights and table lamp fit in perfectly with this colour scheme. They contribute to the cozy, comfortable atmosphere, and give off a very inviting vibe. I tidied up the the place to look neat and charming so that the household looks perfectly normal and happy at first glance. I didn’t have to change too much in this room because it already had the kind of look and feel that I wanted.

This where Mrs. Chopra and Anamika’s mother will be positioned in the room after Mrs. Chopra enters through the front door. Anamika’s mother will sit on the left end of the long sofa and Mrs. Chopra will be seated in the armchair.

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Pans & Tilts

I practised some pan and tilt shots using my Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, a 24-105 mm lens and a tripod. I tried some new shots that I felt would be interesting and also some shots specifically from the script that I felt were complex or hard to do without practice. Therefore, I felt that trying them out several times would make it easier for me when I’m actually shooting and also make me more comfortable handling the equipment. I filmed all these shots in my bedroom, which is the room I plan to use as Anamika’s bedroom in the movie, and used white artificial tube lights. I edited together the footage using Final Cut Pro X.

360-degree pan: 

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I placed the camera on a tripod at the centre of the room and used the handle to turn it 360 degrees around the fixed axis of rotation. I kept the pace as constant and steady as possible so that there would be no sudden movements or jerks. This type of shot provides a panoramic view of the entire room and has an interesting, dynamic look. However, I doubt that I will be able to use the 360 degree pan shot in my short film. Nevertheless, it was a fun experiment.

180-degree pan:

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I firmly fixed the camera on a tripod, and moved it in a smooth semi-circle motion across one half of the room. Here again, I tried to keep the pace as constant and steady as possible so that there would be no sudden movements or jerks. Doing these kind of shots has helped me greatly improve the steadiness of my hand, and the preciseness of my focus. I will possibly be able to use this shot in my short film when I need to shift from one end of the room to the other.

Pan + Tilt up:

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This shot was particularly tricky because I need to tilt up while simultaneously panning to the left in order to go from the bed to the top of the closet. It took several takes for me to achieve this motion without shake and to land at the correct mark. This shot will be used towards the beginning of the short film. Right after Anamika wakes up and sits, she hears a sound and looks up to find her alternate identity, Arya, sitting on top of the closet. I will use this shot to follow Anamika’s line of vision. Practising it beforehand has certainly made me more comfortable with it.

Pan + Changing depth of field:

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For this shot, I placed a doll on a table close to the camera and crutches far away from the camera. Then I practiced panning from the crutches to the doll while simultaneously changing the depth of field so that the doll would come into focus as the camera turned to it. This was a bit of a tricky exercise, which took several trial takes to get right. Adjusting the focus to get it to land perfectly on the doll was quite challenging, but I was finally able to do it. This technique will also come in handy when filming my movie.

Tilt Up & Tilt Down:

I placed by camera on a tripod in front of a tall shelf in my room and steadily moved it from the top to the bottom and vice versa. I will use these tilt up and tilt down shots in my short film when one of the identities is on top of the closet and the other is on the bottom. These are fairly straightforward shots that I didn’t have much trouble with, but they will certainly add a sense of dynamic to the movie when used.

Here is the final video:

 

Disappearing Effect

After I did the fade in/fade out exercise, I wanted to develop on this technique further because it is going to play a very important role in the ending of my short film. The three alternate identities will disappear into thin air and leave just the protagonist, Anamika sitting alone.

Before I did the final, I wanted to practice how this would look. Therefore, I used four dolls and tried it out. I shot all the footage using my Canon EOS 5D camera with a 24-105 mm lens, and a tripod to avoid shake. I placed the four dolls on my bed, and shot them for a few seconds. Then, I removed three of them and shot the single doll for a few seconds more and then cut. All of this was done in one take for the sake of continuity.

After filming, I edited the footage using Final Cut Pro X. I cut the footage into two, and placed the part with all four dolls on top of the part with only the main doll. Then I added the cross dissolve filter to the top layer and extended it so that the fading out will be slow. When played back, it looks like the three dolls disappear into thin air and only the central doll is left behind.

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-4-16-25-pmHere is the final video:

I am happy to say that the final product looks just how I imagined it. I now feel very comfortable that I will be able to pull this technique off in my short film.

When actually shooting, I will follow the same method. I will have all four people sitting and saying their line in unison. Then the three alter identities will get up and leave the frame, and the girl playing Anamika will have to sit still, without moving, wait for all of them to leave, and then say her line “I’m fine” alone. All of this will be one long take for the sake of continuity. When editing I will cut the footage and place the part with all four on top of the part with just Anamika. The three getting up and leaving will be cut out. Then, I’ll add the cross-dissolve effect to the end of the video in the top layer so that it will look like the three identities faded away. Then, Anamika will be left alone to say her final line.

Shooting Schedule

I have decided to shoot my short film this upcoming weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. As six actors are involved, scheduling was not simple. I need everyone here at the same time, so finding dates that worked for all involved took some time. Therefore, I have to structure my time well and get all the footage I need over a span of two full days. I plan to divide my film into two halves as I have to parallel storylines running, and shoot one half each day.

Saturday, January 21st:

On this day, I plan to film all the shots involving Anamika and her alter identities in her bedroom.

Sunday, January 22nd:

On this day, I plan to film all the shots in the living room between the mother and the therapist.

Casting

I have cast my short film by gathering friends and family who I felt would be up for the task and fit the role. In certain cases, I used the actor’s real names as the character names because I had them in mind when writing the role and their names appealed to me. Here is the cast:

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Smruti Tarana as Anamika (the protagonist)

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Ashwin Arvind as Ashwin (alternate identity)

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Mrinmai Arun as Arya (alternate identity)

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Ashvita Girish as Ashvita (alternate identity)

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Chandrika Arvind as Mrs. Chopra (the therpist)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meera Maran as the mother

Fade-In/Fade-Out Editing

In this task, I worked on the technique of fade in and fade out editing. The “manifesting” or “disappearing” effects achieved respectively create a sense of surrealism as the person seems to either come from or vanish into thin air. This makes for an interesting visual, and suggests a ghostly presence or a hallucination. Since there are three alter-identities in my film who are not real people, I considered whether I could use this technique in my to make them seem surreal. I want to use some form of this technique for the ending of my short film to make the alter identities disappear into thin air.

I shot the footage using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera and a 24-105 mm lens. I filmed the still open door for a few seconds before having the girl walk in and walk past the camera, out of frame. The whole thing was one continuous shot.

Then, when I edited the footage using Final Cut Pro X, I split the video into two parts – the still door and the girl walking in. I overlapped them, placing the footage of the girl walking on top of the footage of the door, and then slowed down the footage of the door so that it would expand to fill the time taken for the girl to walk in. I then added the cross-dissolve transition effect to the video of the girl walking in and elongated it to the span of time that I felt was appropriate. For the fade-in editing, the transition was added at the beginning and for the fade-out editing, the transition was added at the ending. I also added a glow filter to add to the surreal effect.

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Here is the final video: