Thursday, November 17, 2011

Alex Fegan on "Man Made Men"

What was your filmmaking background before making Man Made Men?

ALEX: Nothing really formal. Although I did a six week summer course on filmmaking in 1999. I also made lots of animated films before that. These were short stop-motion films I shot on my bedroom floor mainly using lego toys as cast.

One such film, perhaps cheekily called Save Us Adolf, can be found on YouTube. It looks at the circumstances where an evil dictator could possibly save the world. It was shot in 1996 when I was 17 on a High 8 camera.

Of course, it was almost a half an hour long, which is was way too long for an animated black comedy but I think it ultimately got me hooked on filmmaking.

Unfortunately though, after making that, I didn't make another film until Man Made Men -- not even one short film with actors. In fact, I went off and qualified as a lawyer in Ireland and worked in an Irish law firm for over four years. Then, one day, having had the idea for Man Made Men in my head for a while, I decided that I would make it while I was still working full time. Thus, most of the initial scenes in Man Made Men were shot at weekends only.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?

ALEX: My biology teacher in the Irish equivalent in High School inadvertently inspired me to make the film. He was giving a particularly boring class on mitosis when I decided to read one of those blue boxes in the biology book; the ones that give a biography of some famous biologist from the distant past. This one concerned a scientist called Stanley Miller who conducted an experiment in 1953 in Chicago to try and make life from lifeless materials. In a way, he was a sort of real-life Frankenstein character. I recall immediately going into a daydream and this is where the idea for the film was formed. I wanted to tell the story of a man who becomes a God over his own man-made world.

The writing process ended up being quite straightforward. There was probably two reasons for this; the first was that I had the idea in my head for a while before I started writing so I think I knew exactly where I was going with the story. Secondly, I had no one watching over me and had no great expectations so I just got on with it. All in all, the first draft took about two weeks. Then I started revising it, which probably took me another couple of months. Once that was done, myself and a friend who said she'd help, Helen Sheridan, immediately started casting for up speaking 40 parts in the film and looking for a 50 piece choir to work on the soundtrack.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

ALEX: There was really neither a financial plan nor a budget. And the last thing on our minds was recouping our costs since in essence there were no costs. Frankly we just leapt into making the film. We had no experience, no money, no schedule and no financial plan and both Helen and I were both working full time in completely different professions. Everyone involved gave up their precious time for the cause. Our only commitment was that we would finish what we started, so all we could ask in return was that everyone gave the same commitment.

When we started, all we had was one hand-held camera, which I already owned due my interest in animation, and a direction mic, which I bought. So I said to Helen, you do the sound and I'll do the camera and we'll record the sound directly into the camera. Thus, for the first 80% of the production, all we had was a crew of two people doing absolutely everything. It was really only in the last three days of filming that we got a small crew to help us (who turned out to be great) and that was mainly because Helen was having a baby at the time.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

ALEX: We shot the film on a Sony VX 2000. It's a small, very light camera that is very handy for filming a film like ours because when your filming in airports, busy streets and coffee shops people assume you are shooting a family video rather than a sci-fi thriller. It also has a sort of gritty, documentary look when projected on a cinema screen that I think sort of worked for Man Made Men.

Having said that, I wouldn't use it again. As it's standard definition footage, you are very limited in post in terms of fixing up shots and color correcting.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

ALEX: The smartest thing was just doing it. The dumbest thing was probably the exact same thing. In hindsight though, with what I now know, I would do lots of things differently and prepare way more.

However, at the time, I didn't have the luxury of that experience so I have absolutely no regrets. The film is what it is. In the end, we spent a total of €4k ($5,300) on it and it owes us absolutely nothing. The fact that it's getting out there, it's being received well and people are enjoying it is more than we could asked for. I think and hope that everyone that got involved in it is very proud of it.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

ALEX: The most significant thing we learned was that nothing is impossible; no matter how big the challenge, no matter how daunting the task. There is a way to make things happen. Also, we learned that creativity and a problem solving attitude, rather than money necessarily, will find the solution to all problems.

On a personal level, I learned a lot about directing actors mainly from making mistakes. I think there is no book in the world that can teach how to direct better than actually directing. I feel the learning curve has been steepest since the film was complete, i.e. watching the footage afterwards and finally watching an audience reacting to the footage. It is then that you suddenly realize how you could make stuff a lot better, and this, I hope, is what I will take to the next project.

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