Thursday, July 28, 2016

Malcolm Ellis on "Tripping Through"

What was your filmmaking background before making Tripping Through?

MALCOLM: I’ve had a long-standing interest in films and film-making before making this film. 

Apart from dabbling with home video editing, my first real experience was producing eight parody commercials for a show called CayTube Live.  It was a live sketch comedy show with a television theme, and we wanted to include some funny commercials projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage.  Each commercial was in effect a short movie, and involved all of the phases of production. 

I learned a lot about the process, and was hooked as a filmmaker.

How did you get connected to Michelle Morgan's script and what was your process for getting the script ready to shoot?

MALCOLM: Michelle was the head writer for CayTube Live, so I knew she could write funny material.  Shortly after that, she published her first novel, Tripping Through, loosely based on some funny anecdotes from her own life, as well as some fictional ones. 

I read the book and felt sure that we could make it into a film.  We worked together over a five month period to adapt the novel into a screenplay.  I acted as the editorial voice, and Michelle wrote and re-wrote until we had a 120-page screenplay that captured the essence of the novel, while maintaining the traditional story arc of a film.

What was your casting process like and did you adjust the script at all to fit the cast?

MALCOLM: When we broke down the script, we realized we had about 50 speaking roles, albeit some very small ones, and so the challenge was to find people to play all those characters. 

Fortunately, our background in the local community theatre helped a lot.  We held open screen-testing, but also directly approached people that we knew from the theatre to take on roles.  

We did come up short on male actors, so some of the characters were re-cast as female. 

Because the story was semi-autobiographical, I insisted on casting Michelle in the leading role, and we were fortunate to cast strong stage actors in the leading and supporting roles.

Can you talk about how your team raised the budget and the distribution plan for recouping costs?

MALCOLM: This was very much a “zero budget” film, in that no one was paid for their involvement and all of the locations were provided at no charge.  Having said that, both Michelle and I reached for our credit cards when a specific prop was needed. 

Outside of film equipment, which I don’t consider part of the budget, we probably spent less than $500 making the film. 

Having said that, we did obtain some grant funding late in the day, from the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, and also from the Ministry of Culture.  We’re using that funding to help market the film and try to get it into as many film festivals as possible. 

There was never any expectation of a distribution deal, but we’ve had some interest, so who knows?

What type of camera did you use and what did you love (and hate) about it?

MALCOLM: Because I had limited funds for equipment, I purchased and shot the entire film on a Nikon D610. 

I was effectively a one-person crew, setting my own lights and sound, as well as directing and operating the camera, so I loved the portability of the camera. 

There was nothing that I hated about the equipment, but I do plan to upgrade my compact fluorescent lighting to LED for the efficiency of lighter and adjustable units.

Did the movie change much in the editing, and if so, why did you make the changes?

MALCOLM: We were aiming for a 100-minute film, being a light romantic comedy, and the first rough cut came in around 110 minutes.  I think that was actually a good thing, because it forced me to be as tight as possible with the editing throughout. 

A few short scenes got dropped, but with ruthless editing, I got it down to 103 minutes and the pace really moves along. 

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

MALCOLM: Because we had an all-volunteer cast (and locations), we decided to be extremely organized about the scheduling process.  We all have day jobs, so the film was shot on weekends only – 45 shooting days over 9 months. 

Michelle and I met weekly and maintained a 4-week rolling schedule, focusing on the elements needed for the coming weekend, while sketching in a plan for the following three. 

I prepared shot lists for every shooting day, and set a time budget that we stuck to.  I don’t think we could have achieved what we did without that level of planning.

I’m not sure if it’s the dumbest thing I did, but we did schedule a series of scenes involving a group of 8 characters in a “klutz study group” over a single weekend.  After 17 hours of shooting, people were getting punch-drunk and we had trouble getting the shots without people breaking into crazed laughter.

And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

MALCOLM: First and foremost, I learned not to be afraid of tackling a big project.  A feature film is achievable if you pay close attention to the details and spend enough time on pre-production. 

Having said that, I’m actually planning to work on a couple of short dramatic films next, so that I can spend more time experimenting with lighting and camera movement.  I learned how much a movie can benefit from those elements.

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