I’ve always loved making short films; for me, they’ve been a chance to make mistakes and learn the craft without putting huge amounts of other people’s money at risk. They’re a great film school. The other huge benefit is that for a short film, it’s possible to produce a very high quality result on a very small budget. On Modern Man, we asked for volunteers who would be willing to take a day out to shoot with us – just one day means we were able to get a high standard cast and crew on board.
The process of finding a concept I was happy with took a lot of thought. I spoke to close friends and family about Charlie Chaplain-type silent films; having parallel-running time periods; windows into other worlds… nothing clicked. I was looking for simplicity. My last filmmaking experience had been so frustrating, full of difficult and wrong decisions that made it disheartening; this time, I wanted to make this film fun, quirky and a little bit ridiculous. My first thought: how can I make a fun, crazy film in a kitchen? Add time travel!
I find that when the right idea comes to me, everything starts falling into place. An image of a cavewoman facing-off to a very posh, clean person came to mind and instantly made me laugh aloud – I had to do it! I wanted an amazing writer to breathe life into the concept so emailed Simon Guerrier pitching the idea, and asked if he’d write it. We met the next day, and after two hours, we had a clear structure that I absolutely loved – and it hasn’t actually changed since that first meeting. Over the next few weeks the script went through five revisions with input from lots of different people. It was very exciting to see Simon work his magic on the script.
In Modern Man the first person to be cast was the cavewoman played Ramanique Ahluwalia. I’d worked with Romy before, and as soon as the initial idea came to mind I knew she would be perfect for the role. I was so glad I’d manage to work with her before her move to New York!
Next was our Rupert. Unfortunately, a week before filming, job clashes meant our actor for “Rupert” wasn’t able to do the film. It was a blow for the whole production team, who had to put lots on hold to go into overdrive to find the right Rupert. I saw so many headshots that day! Jassa and Simon were throwing suggestions that didn’t quite fit. Three days before the shoot, Jassa suggested Sean Knopp. As soon as I saw his showreel, I knew he was perfect for the part and we sent him the script within minutes. He loved it, and said yes!
While the production team was working hard on finding the faces of the film, we were also putting together a crew which was unbelievably high-calibre.
Our first find was a great costume designer who blew my mind with her great work on the cavewoman costume with such a tiny budget. Without her and our make-up designer, the movie would never have achieved such visual authenticity. It goes to show how important these departments are, and on small productions they are the key to lifting the film to a higher level.
Our art department was a funny team, one being a meticulous planner and the other a last-minute wonder. The really key prop in Modern Man was the remote and it had to be perfect. Our production designer created a version which was originally drastically different to what ended up in the film – the beautiful yet half-finished work of art had to be replaced at 5pm the night before the shoot! It was a moment of sickening nerves as the very real possibility of not having the key prop presented itself. Despite my worries, as you can see from the film, the new remote was born of genius last-minute design.
On all my films, I’ve always worked by the same motto: unless I can find someone miles better than me I’ll do the jobs myself. So I’ve shot most of my movies myself, simply because I couldn’t find anyone I trusted enough to deliver such a huge part of the film. For Modern Man, I had toyed with the idea of asking someone insanely good like, oh, I don’t know, someone who’s worked on BBC’s Merlin and Doctor Who, but thought there’d be no way someone that in-demand would be free. It was amazing luck that, as I trawled through my daily facebook check, I noticed that Dale McCready – someone who actually does fit those credits – was on holiday! Another email flew out into cyberspace, and within a day I was on the phone to him discussing the visual effects and how we were going to shoot the movie. I don’t think Dale actually ever said the word “yes”, but after that conversation I had to pinch myself because our film suddenly had a world-class cinematographer on board.
…And with world-class talent comes world-class equipment. When the email came through asking me whether I would rather shoot on aRed Epic or Arri Alexa (cameras which have credits like The Hobbit, Marvel’s The Avengers and James Bond: Skyfall), that’s when the production got big. And budget blew up. Luckily we were able to get some brilliant deals with the companies we hired equipment from –Take 2 and Kitroom Monkey – and even managed to hire a beautiful set of anamorphic (wide screen) lenses to go with the Arri Alexa for the day, which gave everything a very cinematic look.
As if continuing on the Skyfall theme, we found a really fun, brilliant stunt co-ordinator Dani Biernat, who just happened to have won an award for her work on the James Bond film. It’s important on any film to keep the actors safe, and after due consideration, it became clear that we just weren’t happy with what we would be asking the actors to do – at least not without professional advice. Dani was instrumental in keeping the big kitchen fight safe and interesting, and also in keeping everyone highly entertained with stories of times she had to fall down stairs, or roll cars, or slide motorbikes under vehicles!
The night before the shoot I was so nervous, waking up really early and struggling to sleep because of excitement. It’s a story I think many directors know. That morning I played the film a few times in my head so I knew exactly which shots I wanted and how the film was going to play out. It was such a proud and rewarding day to finally see everything coming together and all those highly talented people bringingModern Man to life. I had to pinch myself throughout the day because this is what I’ve been dreaming about since I was nine and it was finally happening, and I couldn’t believe it.
Despite shooting 42 slates in one day (!), the shoot ran like clockwork – tribute to our first Assistant Director. The actors nailed their performances and kept it really light hearted and fun. The crew were very on the ball with getting things done as quickly and efficiently as possible so we could wrap without overrunning too much. What was amazing was that when Dale came on board, the costume, set and everything was already at his very professional level. Credit to the team – everything was at a world class standard.
The end of the shoot segued into the second part and arguably most nerve-wracking part of the project: post-production. I’ll be honest: the first day was a nightmare. We were shooting at 2k high res which meant that the whole post production workflow was something beyond what Jassa or myself had ever worked with before. We spent a lot of time researching and talking with other editors about the best way to work with the footage. I worked with Premier Pro, which was great but unfamiliar territory on things like trying to get aspect ratios (whether the image is square or rectangle) from the Arri Alexa footage imported properly. It was a slow start, but after that it was so exciting to finally assemble the movie!
Fine tuning the edit is always the hardest and most time consuming part, and I always find it important to get input from as many people as possible. With such a VFX-heavy film, the two weeks we had before picture lock were probably the most sleepless nights for everyone involved. The rough cut was full of pre-viz scenes and without sound, which made it very difficult for anyone I showed it to imagine the whole picture. I sent it to some of the crew members for feedback anyway, but the overwhelming comment was “there’s a lot left to do”. This was one week before the film was due, and we still had pick-up shots to film. Ahhh!
The last two days before the deadline was mental! We were creating the soundscape of the movie with sound design, bringing colour to the short with the grade and applying the finishing touches to the Ice Age with the VFX’s. Our post-production team worked throughout the night to finish everything in time, and thanks to them we managed to hand in the completed film three hours before the deadline! Phew – it was tight.
We’re now going to be entering the film into festivals and competitions. If you have any suggestions please post them in the comment bar below.
The music for Modern Man was made by my long time collaborator Lyndon Holland.
Here’s a snippet from the credits:
I had so much fun making Modern Man, I didn’t want it to end! Once we did finish the film we decide to make a credit sequence that shows what happened after the movie finishes. With the artistic skills of Jed Uy the drawings were brought to life; they progressed through several major historical art styles, from cave drawings all the way up to a contemporary 20th century art. I loved it as it bridged the gap between the Cave Woman and the Modern Man. However, in the end we decided to just go with the cave drawings as it worked best for the credits and the story. Here are the sketches that didn’t make it into the film:
Article written by: Sebastian Solberg & Katya Rogers
Music by: Lyndon Holland
Drawings by: Jed Uy
Behind the scenes photos by: Gary Eason, Jassa Ahluwalia & Vicky Harris