Friday, August 19, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Happy Never After

I just released my latest short film Happy Never After this past week. Of all the films I’ve made in my time filmmaking, this is the one that is most personal to me and of which I am the most proud.  It is the first where I explored expressing my faith in film, and learned to grapple with far darker material. I also wrote this story during my father’s illness and he passed away when I was in post-production.  So the story’s theme—death—holds an added importance for me.

(Watch the movie here!)

It was also where I learned some of my best lessons about how to make the kind of films I want to make: (SPOILERS BELOW.)

How Do You Express Faith in Film?

I made Happy Never After to find a way to express how my faith shapes my view of death. I’ve always struggled to express my faith in film. Why is it so hard? Because we have very few good models to go off of. People think a faith movie means arguing with the audience about what to believe. Usually in speeches that go on too long.

Not that I'm talking about anything specific...

I wanted to, instead, invite people to share in my experience of joy at being a Christian. So I wrote my thoughts about death as an exciting cosmic tale of good vs evil where you are drawn to root for a couple to choose faith over the alternative. The villain has the main speech in the film, and the “come-to-Jesus” moment is done with a simple look toward the cross.

How Do You Collaborate With Others?

The two biggest things I learned about collaborating was a) it should be done early and thoroughly and b) you need to know what you are willing to compromise on and what you’re not. Forest Erwin’s cinematography and Kyle Trivanovich’s performance as Jacob Applegate were so amazing partly because we spent so much time together getting on board with the same vision.

One of the best shots by Forest and best performances by Kyle.

Pre-Planning is Important

We did the entire film over three days with pretty much no budget. How? By lots of pre-planning by dedicated people. We had all the shooting days picked out and filmed all the scenes in close locations to each other. So everything to be filmed in the FiDi we filmed on the same day; everything at the church the same day, etc. There were screw ups, of course. But when there were, it was because we didn't pre-plan enough.

What About When Things Go Wrong?

I learned the best thing to do when things go wrong in filmmaking is to keep calm, figure out what’s really important, and cut out the rest.

One day we were filming in the park and some of the equipment was late getting to us. It was so late that we knew we wouldn’t be able to film everything before the actors needed to leave. So Forest and I cut down drastically the number of shots we needed to take before they left. It was rough, but we got the shots we needed to make the film work.

Everything Works Out

The biggest thing I learned filming this though was that God is in control and everything works out. This is something you learn making films for a while. For some reason, when everything goes wrong, things still work out.

Comment by Forest: "I caught a barracuda thiiisss big." 
Before I finished the script for Happy Never After, most of my school’s filmmaking club—of which I was president—dropped out. I had no crew so I was pretty sure the film couldn’t be made.

But two coincidences happened that made the project possible: My friend Hope Epperson (now Hope White) told me she still really wanted to be a part of the film. So she worked to get her friends to be the actors. I had also just reconnected with Forest Erwin. So, since Hope really wanted it to happen, I called up Forest to see if he wanted to be DP. And he said an enthusiastic "yes". If these two things didn’t happen, Happy Never After probably would not have been made. And I wouldn't have had had the tribute to my father or the God that makes seeing him again possible.

The best films not only teach you about filmmaking, but also about life. This film did more: it because one of the best parts of mine. Thank you, everyone, who shared it with me and made it possible.

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