We are not animals: a few insights on the making of my first short film

In this post I don’t want to go into the steps of making a short film, from the script writing to the production planning, filming and editing, I just want to share a few insights on the making of my very first short film in college.

Eleven years ago, I was halfway through my career. In the Arts School of the UCV, you have to take five semesters of what they call the “basic cycle”, where you get to study a little bit of everything: Art History, Music History (academic, of course), Theatre History, Art’s Philosophy History, Film History, Art’s Psichology, Literature, Social and Cultural promotion (the political and government side of arts, kind of), and a big etcetera. Also you have to take several optional credits, something that in the UCV -being one of the largest and most diverse universities of Venezuela- you can obtain by learning such different subjects as cartography in the Geography School, or practising a sport (I did my fair share of swimming), or taking some intense optional courses on Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the Philosophy School or Modern English Literature in Literature’s School. You had the freedom and the wonderful experience of going from one classroom or Faculty to another (walking a lot, there’s a reason why the UCV is called “Ciudad Universitaria” or University City) while learning, meeting people and drinking a delicious hot coffee on the grass or near the beautiful gardens, waiting for your next class. Those were the days.

Engineering Faculty’s auditorium, where I used to wait for my classes laying on the grass

So, once the basic cycle was over, you had to choose and specialize between Music, Theatre, Plastic Arts (painting, sculpture and architecture), Cultural Promotion or Film, for the next two and a half years (or five last semesters). On this stage, I went to a class called “Film Workshop”, where we learned the basics of scriptwriting, production planning, storyboarding, budget issues and filmmaking. After a few animatics (animated storyboards) and editing excersises, our task was to make a short film. So, it was on.

First I have to say, I was very influenced by Tarkovsky‘s style, I knew it was more about emotions and reactions than anything else. Also, I didn’t want to deal with the dialogues and the acting (we were all amateurs). So I thought a silent film (scored, I mean) was the way to go. The idea was very simple. A human relationship process in contrast to good old mother nature ones. So I structured the acts as a story/documentary, making each step of these two characters trying to bond a metaphor of the different ways two different animals interact with each other. I won’t explain what exactly I was trying to say with this film (I think it’s pretty obvious), but what I want to make clear is that this film was intended to be a comedy. A really weird one, yes, but a comedy nonetheless.

The camera men & photography directors, Jonas Romero and Carlos Contreras. You can see the black bags behind them, covering the windows.

So, I had the story, now the filming. We made a production schedule and started shooting on my friend Cecilia’s apartment (the only condition was to leave our shoes on the entrance, so she could keep the carpet clean). We shot with a SONY mini DV camera, HD was something new and expensive, so we made it in SD. For the lighting, we used large black garbage bags and blankets to cover all the windows, so we could light the scenes as we wished, using some homemade lamps and the apartment’s own lights.Here are some of the production photos that I’m still lucky to have of this low budget shooting experience.

The goal was to maintain the same lighting (as possible) in all the character’s apartments and hallway scenes as well, because they were shot in two different buildings. We had to make the illusion that this characters were in the same place, living in the same apartment’s building. Covering the windows with plastic bags made the whole department hot as hell. We connected some fans to keep the air circulating and opened the door sometimes to get some fresh air, but we didn’t do that as often as it was needed because we didn’t want to disturb the neighbours with our noise. We managed to shoot the scenes and -after cleaning the floor- get a good rest in the sofa with some food and beers.

So, here’s the short film, you may find it along my other short films in my portfolio. For me, it was a very satisfying experience of making a video. Now, watching it after all these years, it seems rather slow paced (I think it had to be slow, for the character’s development sake, but not that slow) and filled with many flaws (if you pay close attention you can see some aluminum paper on one of the lamps!), but I still think it has something to say. Again, I was influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky, but also by horror films (which I’m still a fan) and documentaries (by then I couldn’t imagine that someday I would work for The History Channel…), making this short a very odd one, with an eerie atmosphere, even though it’s a comedy. If you have the patience, check it.

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