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Tropfest Shooting for Success Part 3 – Allan George

SOUNDS_PERFECT_STILL1This is the third of a three-part series of articles Wave provided to VIEWFINDER print and online magazine on the Tropfest NZ Short Film Festival 2013 winners. This final profile looks at filmmaker Allan George and his ‘last minnit’ production of ‘Sound Perfect’.

When studio producer and field director Allan George was at film school, a class on foley for porn films lodged in his mind and eventually became the inspiration for his Tropfest NZ 2013 comedy entry Sounds Perfect. It went on to win Allan the Best Maori Director Award and his collaborator and writer Greg Stubbings the Best Actor Award. While the film was perfect enough for Allan to make the finals and garner further accolades, the way it came together wasn’t—it was ‘last minnit’ every step of the way. Allan believes this helped to make Sounds Perfect the unique and personal film from that he had always wanted to do.
In earlier efforts, Allan had made a number of dark short films with an emphasis on the cinematic, but with Sounds Perfect he was after something different. He challenged himself to make a comedy, to shoot it handheld and without a focus on creating beautiful pictures manipulating depth of field. With Sounds Perfect, Allan succeeded on all counts.

The Script
The porno foley class and its unforgettable imagery of a cucumber and a mayonnaise jar made a great story for Allan SF to tell chicagobearsjerseyspop his mates. But some years later when official he suggested it as a basis Goose for a short film, they panned the idea. Pitching it to work colleague Greg one day, the response was immediate and positive. Greg was adamant that the film had to have heart though, and not be just a series of gags strung together. They exchanged ideas over a number of months, eventually coming up with seven pages of notes about someone who loved his work and gave it his all, but was surrounded by others who just weren’t that interested in their jobs. Eventually, his over zealousness sees him replaced by a useless sidekick. He takes the same work ethic to his next occupation where he finds himself in a similar situation.
Allan hounded Greg to produce a script, but they shot with a fleshed out treatment. In hindsight, Allan believes that this gave the actors more room to improvise; something he feels significantly added to the strength of the film.

The Team
Allan and Greg committed to making Sounds Perfect just two weeks before the shoot. Greg joined Allan’s production company partner Ben Fowler to produce. Allan’s other partner Isaiah Vainga was designated gaffer. Allan would operate, direct and do sound. Another mate, Adam Peri, a sound engineer at audio post house Native Audio, was drafted in as was Adam’s art director girlfriend Maha Albadrawi. Alex Jones as makeup artist rounded out the team.

The Talent
A week out from the shoot and Allan turned his thoughts to cast. He had always envisaged Greg as the lead. Actors that the team had worked with previously were called upon. A contribution from Isaiah was a male stripper and actor he thought could fill the male porno star role. Pretty soon they had their nine cast. Or so Allan thought. The actors were sent a short synopsis of the story, told the character they would play and where and when to turn up. There was no time for rehearsals.

The Shoot
Allan did a ‘last minnit’ on the location as well. He was lucky to secure Native Audio as the primary location for most of the three day shoot. Gear was an old Canon EX1 with audio kit and a couple of LED lighting panels.
On Day One Allan decided to do the fun stuff to generate a good vibe on set. Unfortunately for him and everybody else, he chose the scene using a trevally to create a butt-slapping sound. With the scene done the fish was set aside and forgotten, leading to the studio stinking of fish for the rest of the day.
Greg was the main talent and his performance generated huge amounts of laughter, a lot of it Allan’s. Many a great take was ruined because Allan burst out laughing, creating camera shakes and spoiling the audio.
Greg was in his element and he more than any of the other actors improvised a lot of his performance.
The loose approach to the shoot allowed Allan to adapt on the fly. He was always on the lookout to visually enrich scenes, make changes and adjust to unexpected situations—something he was faced with on the last day.
Ready to roll on location the third morning, Allan realized he’d forgotten to cast a bit speaking part for the scene they were about to shoot. Isaiah saved the day by calling on a mate who lived nearby and they had an actor on set in 10 minutes.
Being the sound recordist as well as directing and operating were for Allan highly stressful and not something he wished to repeat.
A behind-the-scenes video of Sounds Perfect would likely have been as funny as the film, but Allan believes that in the end their casual approach enhanced Sounds Perfect rather than took away from it.

The Post
The edit for Sounds Perfect started straight away. Allan would do his shift at The Crowd Goes Wild, and then go straight onto his film, working A into the early hours of the morning. Allan’s experience on a ‘run and gun’ show like The Crowd Goes Wild was a benefit as he had learned to get enough coverage to work with. Two days later Allan had a roughcut of the film to share with Greg, who had a lot of enthusiasm and ideas to share. for They laughed a lot and didn’t have a single argument. In the end though Allan felt it was hard work as cutting comedy to make it look and sound good was difficult, particularly as they weren’t working to a script.
After a week of editing, the picture was locked off and it was time for a ‘last minnit’ score. Allan got on Facebook and messaged friend Ryan Youens, saying he had just finished a film and asking for an immediate response as to whether or not Ryan would do the music. Once again luck was on his side.
While Ryan was composing the score, Allan graded the film and Adam cleaned up the audio and did sound design.
The film was finished from go to whoa in 12 days and off to Tropfest in the post 3 days before the deadline.

The Afterlife
Sounds Perfect played on the Rialto Channel with other finalist films and joined another Tropfest finalist short at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival. At Wairoa, Allan met Filipino filmmaker Auraeus Solito. Auraeus encouraged Allan to enter imagineNATIVE, the world’s largest indigenous film festival. Allan promptly did and got in. Two days later, Allan was told his submission to the Austin Film Festival was successful as well.
Going to imagineNATIVE and Austin opened up a whole new world of filmmaking for Allan. At imagineNATIVE, he got to rub shoulders with the indigenous filmmaking best and more importantly, attended a story lab where his film was broken down and examined by more experienced filmmakers, providing valuable insight.
At Austin, Allan got his 15-seconds of fame when audience members from the packed out screening of the comedy section cornered him to ask questions about his film. A great learning curve came from attending panels to hear speakers the likes of Peter Mehlman, EP and writer of Seinfeld who later gave him advice on writing for characters and actors, and director Robert Rodriquez of Sin City and El Mariachi fame.
While Allan has submitted Sounds Perfect to other festivals, he feels it’s time to move on and focus on his next project.

The Career
When Allan graduated from film school he always wanted to direct, but looking around he realized so did everyone else. He thought pursuing directing was a fast track to the unemployment cue, so he switched to camera operating, working on music videos and corporates. Landing a job with the Crowd Goes Wild has added to his skill set.
With Sounds Perfect Allan stepped out to direct his first short posologie viagra 25mg. His success with the film encouraged him to apply for New Zealand Film Commission Fresh Shorts funding and for Make My Horror Movie, without success.
Allan would like to create and produce a comedy series to maintain a regular income while pursuing his desire to direct features. He has already made his next short for Tropfest 2014, a significantly bigger comedy, trying to avoid the ‘last minnit’ approach.

Thoughts to Share
Allan believes that you have to make something that you want to see rather than setting out to win a competition, otherwise you will likely censor your creativity and destroy your chances of winning. He encourages everyone to make their films for themselves. Even if your film doesn’t get accepted, he thinks that you’ll still get an amazing film that you will enjoy.
With Sounds Perfect, Allan loved his idea, so he set out to make it and he did, having fun along the way even with all the hardships. He feels his passion gave his project heart, which is where he believes films need to come from.
Allan thought his film extremely funny and felt validated at Tropfest when the 8,000 strong audience laughed at the comedic moments he and his team had created—a unique experience he will always remember.
For Allan, it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded creatives you enjoy being around because you inspire each other. And not to forget them. He says you may end up being the face of the film, but without the people behind you it would not have been possible.
Tropfest made Allan’s dream a reality. It put him on the map das as a filmmaker. It allowed him to travel the world with his film. And he learned a lot. He encourages everyone who wants to be a filmmaker to give Tropfest a go.

You can watch ‘Sounds Perfect’ here.

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Tropfest Shooting for Success: Part 2 – Dave Smith

Cappucino Tango_Still 1This is the second of a three-part series of articles Wave provided for VIEWFINDER online and print magazine on the Tropfest NZ Short Film Festival 2013 winners. This article looks at overall winner Dave Smith and his short ‘Cappuccino Tango’.

Filmmaker Dave Smith had made a number of shorts and had originally considered entering Tropfest in Australia. When Tropfest came to New Zealand, and even better to his home town of New Plymouth, he decided it was time to go for it.
Dave charmed the judges and many in the audience at the 2013 Tropfest NZ Short to Film Festival with his winning mini-operatic entry ‘Cappuccino Tango’. The amusing and entertaining premise for this short sees cafe patrons operatically extolling their favourite ‘real’ coffees and reacting in shock horror when new arrivals order something different. Amidst the coffee snobbery, two decaf soy latte Cheap lovers discover each other and tango to their own tune.
‘Cappuccino Tango’ won Dave an all-expenses paid trip to LA to spend 4 days in an immersion workshop learning about how the Hollywood industry works from insiders, including a day at the American Film Market (AFM). Here is how Dave got there.

The Team
Dave is a musician and his wife Nicci is an amateur dramatics enthusiast. After arriving in New Plymouth from Scotland in 2002 with their three children, Dave and Nicci embedded themselves in the local music and theatre scenes. That is where they discovered their film collaborators. They have a close team of six that they had made seven other shorts with prior to ‘Cappuccino Tango’. Each has a key role, but they share the workload for the whole production. To keep costs down they seek to make what they can’t borrow, including their own camera rigs.

The Script
There are only four lines of dialogue in ‘Cappuccino Tango’, so script wasn’t the main driver. In the middle of 2012, musician Andy Bassett brought Dave a demo track of a song he had been working on and mooted the idea of filming a mini-opera. Dave could visualize the short, so he quickly storyboarded the whole film—Dave has never been schooled in filmmaking, and believes its his ability to see things in pictures that has helped his directing. Over the next four months Dave focused primarily on casting while Andy continued to work on the music.

The Talent
Dave felt that the characters in the film needed to be quirky. He broke down the roles into male and female parts, and then sat down with partner Nicci who is a theatre director to draw up a list of all the actors they knew. They then began matching actors to roles, with Nicci’s theatre colleague and co-producer of the film Joe Fuller also contributing his thoughts. In the four months leading up to the shoot day, they filled the thirty roles from their original list apart from two. Dave arranged for each of the cast to get a copy of the song so that they could practise their part, as there wouldn’t be rehearsals.
While Dave concentrated on finalising the actors, Andy was casting singers to sing the roles. He pre-recorded them and did a complete mix of the song. This delivered the track for the actors to lip-synch to on the shoot day.

The Shoot
Getting the 30 cast members together on one day was the biggest logistical problem Dave and his team faced. With two experienced tango dancers required, Dave looked to local ballroom dancer Davina Moffat. Unfortunately, Davina’s dancing partner Jeff Richards was from Auckland, so the shoot was scheduled around his ability to make the five-hour trip south in mid-November.
Dave had briefed each of the actors on their roles, giving them his thoughts on wardrobe. He pretty much went with what they turned up with on the day.
Once again the producers’ theatre connections paid off in securing a hair and makeup artist for the production.
It was a fairly relaxed shoot, starting at 10AM and finishing at 4PM. Cameraman Roger Richardson went with the natural light available at the cafe location, shooting on a Canon 5D Mk II. With no lighting required and sound recording limited to ambient audio of a busy cafe and a few lines of dialogue, sound and lighting team member Alex Fuller had an easy day. The homebuilt crane and dolly made by team member Laurie Neville, who also camera assisted, worked a treat. Roger’s partner Anna had the role of continuity, allowing Dave to concentrate on directing the actors. There were no hiccups across the shoot. Dave attributes the success to the enthusiasm of a group of friends getting together to do something they all love doing.
There was no budget to speak of for ‘Cappuccino Tango’. Everything was borrowed or made, and cast and crew gave their time for free. The cafe they were shooting in sponsored the coffee, but everyone had to take care of their own lunch.

The Post
Dave did a first edit on his Final Cut Pro X system, starting the night of the shoot. It took him five nights, beginning each session after getting home from work. He put the first cut out to his team members for feedback and then did another pass, taking into account their notes. Andy supplied him with a final mix of the song. Dave then added sound effects and background audio and did a final audio mix in his own studio using Logic Pro, before laying it back to the locked off picture. ‘Cappuccino Tango’ was delivered a week prior to the delivery deadline.

The Afterlife
‘Cappuccino Tango’ deservedly has the highest number of views at 20,080 on Tropfest NZ’s YouTube channel at the time of writing. Dave has not actively pursued a festival strategy for the film so far. He has left it to Tropfest International to find distribution, which they have secured in Australia and Japan. In 2014, Dave plans to be more proactive in getting his film into other festivals worldwide.

The Career
Dave works as a project manager in the Oil & Gas industry and sees himself as a weekend filmmaker. His prizewinning trip to L.A. however has opened his and wife Nicci’s eyes to the professional world of filmmaking as Hollywood does it.
Dave—and Nicci who paid to be there—spent four days in workshops at the Latin American Training Centre, courtesy of the Motion Picture Association and NZ Screen Association, who sponsored the first prize. There were 30 other filmmakers participating from 10 different countries. Sessions ranged from entertainment law and how to pitch in Hollywood to meeting with 60 members of the Writers Guild of America and a representative from Creative Artists Agency, a top talent agency in Hollywood. One of the highlights for Dave was listening to a presentation by US film and TV producer Dan Jinks describing the rejections and struggles he encountered in getting his academy award winning film American Beauty made. Another was hearing Alan Poul speak, whose executive producing credits include two of Dave’s favourite shows, Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’, and ‘Six Feet Under’ indian viagra.
Part of the immersion programme took Dave to AFM, the film industry’s largest US event. There he saw the business of filmmaking in action as filmmakers pitched their ideas and films in the hope of securing finance and distribution.
While not determinedly bent on a career as a filmmaker, Dave is still following his passion. He is already in post production for a short for Tropfest 2014. And he does have feature film ideas that he would like to realize. The biggest consideration for him as a filmmaker right now is how he and his team move from where they are to the next level and hopefully beyond, possibly to the world of Hollywood he now knows a lot more about.

Thoughts to Share
As an experienced short filmmaker, Dave has picked up a number of lessons that he applied in the making of his Tropfest winner. Of the three ideas that were floating around as they considered what to do for Tropfest, ‘Cappuccino Tango’ stood out. For Dave, finding a good story is key. As is working with good people–In Dave’s case, a team that has made films together many times before. Enthusiasm, learning from mistakes and that all important item—great coffee—were some of the other ingredients that Dave felt made this particular cappuccino tango.
For Dave, the prize winning trip to L.A. revealed some significant insights into the business of film and the people who make the industry there tick. At AFM, he experienced firsthand that a filmmaker without a feature script or finished film to pitch is merely an observer. More crucially, though, AFM rammed home the difficulty for filmmakers of securing distribution so that your film can get in front of audiences—it’s one thing to make a film, it’s something else completely to get it seen.
The willingness of the industry people he met to share knowledge, contacts, ideas and experiences came as a surprise to Dave, who was expecting them to be much more pour guarded. But there was one thing above all that stood out in his encounters with every industry person he met: they are in it because they all love film. Just like him.

You can view ‘Cappuccino Tango’ here.

Part 3 of the Tropfest Shoot for Success series here.

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