SCI-FI LONDON 48 HOUR CHALLENGE
THE SEARCH FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
It’s 4:30am on the 22nd May in Kyoto, Japan. Half of the Broken Bricks (Scott, Chev, Nath, Dan and Lee) were on holiday and walking home from an incredibly fun night of Karaoke when we receive a phone call from Jonny and Will. They’re at the screening of the Sci-Fi London 48 hour challenge and break the news to us (rather nonchalantly) that we’d only gone and won it. We couldn’t believe it. Cue an outpouring of hysteria, screaming, a few tears (mostly from me) and rather shamefully a bit of nudity (again, mostly from me). We’d seen previous winners like Gareth Edwards go on to direct Godzilla & Star Wars and thought it was pretty cool that we shared that in common with a director of his calibre. It’s safe to say, we didn’t quite know how to react to the news.
It’s been a long road to this point. Our first entry to the Sci-Fi London was in 2013, called “Silent Shore”. We’d never entered a 48 hour competition before, and frankly, we had no idea what we were doing. Armed with a DSLR and a 6-man team, we shot a film about a man journeying to a mysterious electrical signal to unfreeze time. We probably got nowhere near the shortlist, and nor did we deserve it. The film was a big departure from our style to that point, we had been making comedy shorts and “Silent Shore” was, probably, a bit too outside our comfort zone.
We decided to enter again in 2015 with “Terms and Conditions”, which highlighted the frustration of customer service reps, especially when the world is ending and you’re a bit pressed for time. This film was a lot of fun and a great moment for us, because we got shortlisted for the first time. Up until then we’d only entered regional competitions, but we were starting to build a back catalogue of work and experience and you could feel that we were making progress. We didn’t place in 2015, and at the screening we began to realise that nobody really enters comedies into these competitions. There’s the occasional one that pops up, but it felt like most teams actively avoided doing a comedy. We didn’t know why?
Comedy was our thing and after “Silent Shore” we couldn’t bring ourselves to go serious again. In 2016, we decided to compromise with “Drop Out” and made our first ‘Rom-Com’, which earned us a special mention. Then, in 2017 we went back to ‘full serious’ with “Blister”, a body-swapping thriller that got absolutely nowhere. We were entering other 48 hour film challenges regularly by this point, and trying out different genres only served to build our experience as filmmakers. Last year, we went for 5th time lucky with “My Future Past”, a comedy about an AI experimenting as both judge and jury on a pair of hapless idiots. We got another special mention for this, but the shortlist was still evading us.
When we made “All Inclusive”, all we were hoping for was to get shortlisted. We were just a team of 9 friends who all just want to make films with each other. It sounds cheesy, and maybe it is – but that’s the way it’s been since 2011. We didn’t have the equipment that other teams had, or access to super cool futuristic locations that you tend to see in the shortlisted films at Sci-Fi London.
What we did have though, was an idea. That idea come from an ideas process that involves everyone, and it’s important to us that this be a really fun process where everyone feels like they have contributed. Once we receive the brief, we dedicate a number of hours to just exploring different themes and ideas as a group. Everyone gets a platform to voice ideas, and we normally use some sort of cushion or fluffy toy (we have some weird quirks to our process) to make sure it’s always once voice, and everyone is listening – because you never know where that idea will come from, so having 8 brains just makes sense to us. Once we have an idea, we just pull on it like a piece of thread, and it evolves from there. For “All Inclusive”, it began with questions – What if we reached a point in the near future where society put a price on their memories? We’ve found a way to monetise everything else, so why not our own lived experiences. Would other people pay for those memories? What would losing them do to a person? We realised quite quickly that nobody had ever explored anything like this before. The concept of memory had been explored through movies like Memento, The Manchurian Candidate, Eternal Sunshine and Total Recall – but memories as a commodity had never been done.
Having a brief really helps, because making a film in 48 hours is a lot like completing a jigsaw without the picture for reference – The brief acts like the four corners of the jigsaw, and once you get a plausible idea you can begin to fill in the blank pieces of that jigsaw until you have a fully formed idea.
Once we have an idea, it’s then over to Chev to go off and write a script whilst we figure out timeframes, source props, clothing, locations and anything else we can do. When you’re in a 48 hour challenge, the clock is always ticking so you have to try to plan your shoot as well as possible and use your time effectively. We often have to choose between a daytime or night shoot – if you shoot at night you get more time to shoot, but less time to edit – and vice versa with a day shoot. It took us a few years to figure out how to manage our time to maximise the bodies we had. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong process, it depends really on your idea and your crew.
We shot “All Inclusive” on a single Canon C100 and used Adobe Premiere Pro to cut the film. Scott studied Animation at Uni, and does all the visual effects on Adobe After Effects. Scott normally does all the editing and VFX on his tod, and whilst he’s doing that Chev is sourcing music and sound FX. Neither of these two get much sleep, if any at all. Although it’s a team effort, these guys deserve the most praise. The rest of us normally just make cups of tea and clown around, but in the last few years we’ve tried to make ourselves more useful – stuff like making graphics and helping with research that eases the pressure on Scott & Chev.
This year we were lucky to have a couple of actresses on standby, which we never normally have. This allowed us a bit of flexibility over characters and nuances within the story to mix things up a little bit. We couldn’t have asked for better actresses. We’re a bit of a nuts film crew – loud, boisterous and probably quite intimidating for a newcomer, but Bibi and Laila slotted in perfectly on set, and performed amazingly. Our location was great too – we’ve mostly used people’s houses, but this year we approached some places to ask to film there, and luckily one said yes. It really does add something to the film having a beautiful location to shoot in, even if that particular bar area has red spotlights that throw off your camera sensors between scenes (Dan, our DOP, asked me to put that in, he’s still angry about it).
When we submitted this year, we had no idea what would happen. We never dreamt that we could win. We are just a group of guys who have gone from being a mish-mash of friends from school, friends from Uni and friends of friends to one big family. Sci-Fi London are helping to get our film cut into a cinematic trailer before sending it out to anyone and everyone we can. None of us have any contacts in the Media industry, we’ve all come from pretty humble beginnings. But this feels like a real watershed moment for us. We always used to say to each other ‘Imagine what we could do with a budget’ – here’s to hoping that pretty soon we’ll be able to find out. To be honest though, the most satisfying thing about winning this competition isn’t the prizes or the exposure but rather validation that we have a voice as storytellers, and it’s one that people have enjoyed listening to.
Thanks again to Louis, the judging panel, Sci-Fi London and everyone else who has watched, shared, liked, commented on, supported or just generally took an interest in our films. Suddenly these bricks are beginning to feel a little less broken.
Written by Lee Mcmahon