The idea to create a documentary first occured to me at 1am.
I was in my friend Hanmer’s dorm. He had just been wrapping up production on The Portrait, a twenty-three minute short film about an artist who struggles to decide whether to paint for money, or for passion.
It had consumed both our attentions for the last five months, with me providing support and playing a starring role in the film.
Most notably however, I had suggested a special effect that allowed us to create the illusion of the presence of two functioning, opening doors, even though one had been permenantly locked.
It had been a struggle for Hanmer to find all the locations he needed, particularly for the opening scene, where he needed the two doors next to eachother. The closest he was able to find were two doors… but only one of them opened. On being told this problem, I suggested he 180-flip the shot in one of the cuts to create the illusion of two functioning doors. Amazingly, he used it! And this effect can be scene in the final film.
Talking at 1am, the idea struck me of how fun it would be to share this piece of trvia with audiences, and that was enough. We began to spiral, coming up more and more ideas for interviews with the cast, trivia we could reveal, and gags that could be sprinkled through the film. The Portrait was complete. It was now time for the behind the scenes documentary Painting the Portrait.
Now, unfortunately school got in the way, and it was unclear for a few weeks whether Painting the Portrait would ever even exist, let alone see the light of day. But we went out to film, again, and again, and again, collecting hours of interviews for a ten minute documentary.
I loaded it all up into Premiere Pro, and began to slice away, spending dozens of late nights cutting down thirty minute interviews to their best thirty seconds, self-teaching myself in this program I had never used before.
I wanted to do a night to showcase both The Portrait and Painting the Portrait, and had to email teacher after teacher to book a room to schedule it.
But the night had come…
And I had been grinding so terribly hard to finish the first draft of my book before my birthday…
And I had done it!
But that had left four hours of interview footage…
To be cut down to a fourteen minute documentary….
Three hours before it was due to be shown.
I have noticed in myself that I have an acute sense of stakes, of telling the difference between when there really are stakes, and when people are just trying to convince me that it is the case that stakes are present. In the presence of true stakes, the silly parts of my personality seem to go dormant, laying wake to Space_Focused, who only has a singular goal: make the Thing go amazingly.
So that’s what I did.
I edited for five straight hours, everything else in my world fading away into nothingness.
There were hitches along the way as the time ticked closer and closer to 7.30pm, the time of the premiere, until… it was!
I greeted those who had come to the premiere, and informed them I had some last minute edits to do and wished for them to enjoy the film, and I returned to my computer, and shut out the rest of the world.
And 23 minutes later…
It was ready.
I breathed out a 23-minute-held breath, and stumbled with my laptop to connect it to the projector. The crowds were excited, having just come off of Hanmer’s film, ready to see mine…
And I couldn’t connect it. The best I could connect it to was a monitor only about 30% bigger than my own, as opposed to the gigantic projector.
So we watched it on there. The 15 of us, actors, friends, Hanmer, me, all around the tiny monitor. And they watched it, and they loved it, and my smile hurt my cheeks as I watched how happy they were.
Months of work had built up to this moment. Within the crowd were people who’d I’d been updating the progress to for weeks… and to see them laugh made me so incredibly bittwersweetly happy…
And it was over, twelve minutes of fun and trivia, and they clapped, and whooped and smiled and told me they loved it.
And I raised my hand to my brow and brushed off the sweat…
…and immediately wiped my memory of how hard it had been to make this film, already eager to create another.
I am pleased to have created a tribute to Hanmer’s film, to show how much I love and respect him and his work. I am so pleased to have made my friends so happy, and for all the work conducting interviews, and running around at 10pm collecting footage, and cutting audio down by miliseconds paid off in a room full of smiles.
I love creating things, and it brings me great joy to know that Painting the Portrait will exist forever. It brings me joy to contribute to the world in the visual medium also, and to be able to take advantage of the unique things one is able to accomplish with total control over sight and sound, as opposed to merely word.
Piecing together Painting the Portrait was punctuated by problems, but it’s production was probably the proudest part of the period, personally speaking.
To Convince, or Reminice?
Perhaps it was off theme, in a summer camp surrounded by lessons in statistics, artificial intelligence, biological risks, and agency, to go in with excitement to run an elective on making a film, but that didn’t stop me.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint when I first started being interested in film. For as long as I can remember I have obsessively read the wikipedia pages and learned all the behind the scenes trivia for any film I consume immediately after watching it, particularly with Pixar and Disney films. But it was only this year when I started to create films, when I produced a behind the scenes documentary of a film my friend had made, in my first year at Wellington.
I had been planning to set aside a half hour to plan the structure for the elective. I was first going to say a bit about story structure. Given my immense fascination with stories and how they function, I have listened to many dozens of hours of directors commmentaries of my favourite shows, such as Gravity Falls, Rick and Morty and Community, so I knew I had enough in me such that whatever film we created, it felt powerful.
But I purposefully strayed away from planning the plot. The second film I made — the first fiction film — was very much a collaborative effort in the writing department, with us and the 8 and 9 year olds who were part of production brainstorming and taking the story in fascinating directions that I wouldn’t have taken had it been just me.
Anyway, I had been planning to do the elective the next day, and give myself some time to plan the structure. But the camp leader looked at me while announcing the electives and said “There are some spare spots today. Space! Would you like do to yours now?”
I looked at her for a moment, processing, weighing… knowing what would befall the number of participants if I put it at a time with any higher opportunity cost than right now…
“Okay!” I said, and I launched into an explanation of the Make-A-Film-In-90 minutes elective.
Many people were very excited, and about 50% of the participants came for the elective. I set aside two minutes of silent brainstorming time for the group, then we were gone, them firing ideas at me. We settled on a romance story set at an Artificial Intelligence Alignment Camp (a camp where researchers do work to ensure Artificial Intelligence has a positive impact on the future — except these researchers were children) — but with a twist.
The researches would also fall in love with the AI.
We got to filming and it was an absolute blast, though after about an hour I could feel the energy dipping.
Eventually I called it a wrap for today, and with only a few scenes left I knew we could finish it tomorrow.
The actors all seemed into it except one, who preferred to go to the hike. I tried to convince him otherwise, but he insisted, agreeing instead to continue filming at 10pm. I knew it would be risky to film then as everyone would be very tired, but I couldn’t convince him otherwise.
Sure enough, 10pm rolled around and the actor still did not want to film. “Okay,” I said, and went to find a replacement. I dragged one back, but now the other actors were saying that they were too tired to film, asking if we could do it tommorrow.
Atlas ran from 9am to 10pm, with only two days left. Immediately afterwards, they’d fly from California back to New York, and Missouri, and Dubai… it was all to clear to me that if we didn’t finish the film now, it would never exist.
But I faced a dillema.
For as long as I know, the act of putting a lot of effort into convincing people to do things they don’t want to do has been highly aversive and exhausting to me. There is something immensely unnapealing about not quite forcing… but almost begging people to do things? And maybe it’s because I never try that my expectancy for it working out is low, but I usually take people’s claims that they aren’t willing to do something at face value.
But this has not served me well.
Once apon a time I was hosting a movie night to watch A Very Potter Musical, and my friend Poppy had invited mutual friend Alicia. I asked Alicia if she was planning to go, and she stated that she did not usually like musicals, so I left it at that and wished her well on what she would do instead. Passing this news onto Poppy, Poppy was shocked, and strongly encouraged Alicia to attend, which she did, enjoying the story and music immensley.
Had it been just me, my aversion to trying to convince her would have left Alicia alone and without all the positive value she received from spending the evening with us.
It is also often the case that some of the greatest benefits I have recieved are when I am sure that I am making the correct decision, and my friends have been willing to go out of their way to bother to argue with me about why I really should try X, even though it’s hard. And so often I do, and so often it’s amazing, and I apologise for being so stubborn.
I looked apon the actors, and felt fear in my heart at the idea of trying to convince them. I had been amazed at how easy it was to be liked in the cohort of Atlas kids, and how little I had to pretend to be a softer person than I was in order to not be offputting to people, the way I’d been learning to do at school for the past nine months.
And yet, I really wanted everybody to like me, and I thought that if I allowed my desperation and frustration to show I could risk everything…
And yet, all those examples swirled in my head, of times when people had been saved from lack of great joy by the person I was with. Was I really going to let go of Jack’s hand without any deliberation, just because he said “Don’t worry Rose, I’m doing good thanks.”
Or was I going to do the terrible thing, of looking at the boulders in front of me and laying everything on the line, to try and push them up the hill?
But at the very least, everybody else at the camp knew that the elective had been running, and was eager to see the finished film. I knew I couldn’t premiere a 70% complete film…
So I quickly grabbed a notepad and wrote the ending myself, hauled in the furtniture to an appropriate room, and went back, and begged.
I allowed the damn to unfurl, undonned the mask that made my requests seem like a mildy important request for a lightbulb and begged them, telling them how incredibly important it was for me and for everyone else at this camp, how we couldn’t do it tommorrow, how there really would be no time, and how I couldn’t do it without them, and how I needed them so very much…
And they said “okay”.
Creating MISALIGNED taught me that sometimes the more compassionate thing isn’t to back down at people’s first word. Sometimes the more passionate thing is to let people know how important something is to you, to create something together that everybody can enjoy.
See misaligned at aifilm.spacelutt.com
And with a camp that ran from 9am to 10pm with only two days left, I knew that the chance of us finishing the final two minutes of footage in the last day was slim to none.
It was in that moment that I faced a dillema.
It’s hard for me to tell when my interest in film began. For as long as I can remember I have obsessively read the wikipedia pages and learned all the behind the scenes trivia for any film I consume immediately after watching it, particularly with Pixar and Disney films. But it was only this year when I started to create films.
After adapting my blog post into a podcast that was nominated in the BBC Young Audio Awards in the Rising Talent category, I had learned the basics of editing with Adobe Audition