Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christian Nicolson on "This Giant Papier Mache Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy"

What was your filmmaking background before making This Giant Papier Mache Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy

CHRISTIAN: I was and still am a fulltime artist. I paint and do sculpture etc. That’s how I make a living and that is essentially how I funded this movie. It kind of meant that I could work on the film fulltime and still earn money selling art at the same time. I have work in the gallery and it sells when it sells. Sometimes I have to stop to make more art but generally I spent every second spare making this movie for 5 years.

I started off as a designer and worked in advertising for about 12 years. During this time I got interested in film both with my job and also through my band called Goon. I started making music videos for my band which all got played on TV. I also began to make 48-hour films. This annual competition is huge in New Zealand and the whole country seems to down tools and participates for one weekend.

Then one day a new competition came up... Make my movie. This was open to anyone who wanted to make a movie regardless of experience. There were 750 entries; it was a massive deal with a lot of publicity. We ended up coming second. That’s how this got started.

Where did the idea come from and what was your process for writing the script and getting the script ready to shoot?

CHRISTIAN: My brother-in-law Andrew and I had talked about writing a B-grade space movie a while before the competition. So when it did I just sat down and tried to figure out how I could get it to work.

I didn't just want to have a B-grade movie. I wanted a real nice movie but with b-grade effects. That’s when it struck me. Put a couple of normal guys into a b-grade parallel universe. Make it real and they can make fun of it just like we would. From there we could take it anywhere.

After that Andrew and I got together and started jamming our ideas. Oh we gotta have a space battle, hey how about a giant lizard and so forth. Once we both agreed on what we wanted we started writing. We had become a finalist in the competition that now required us to write the whole screenplay in 6 weeks. We cancelled our summer holidays and got to work. It was exhausting, stressful and also magical.

The end result was some kind of an epic. Not just a comedy but an adventure that got everything we could onto the page. This was something I was convinced could be achieved. But the competition thought maybe it was a bit too epic on the $100,000 prize money and 3 month completion deadline. But we did come second.

After that I tried to get funding from the Government who turned me down so I just decided I would make it anyway.  I had an art sale and managed to raise some cash. I bought a red camera and then got on with the job. But boy what a big job it turned out to be. 

Did you write to effects you knew you could handle or write without constraints and deal with it in production?

CHRISTIAN: It was a bit of both. I definitely wrote with things in mind but realistically I didn't know much about sfx. There was plenty of dealing with it afterwards too... haha

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

CHRISTIAN: I treated my film like a big budget film. I didn't want to hold back on anything. If I needed big sets I built them, if I needed a waterfall I found one. I didn't see why a low budget movie had to restrict itself when all it really took was a bit of creative thinking.

I went through a rigorous casting process which took 8 months. I made them read heaps of lines and would not decide until I was sure they were right for the job. I never really adjusted the script for them. But sometimes minor changes develop when you find out if it’s working or not. But generally those guys ended up knowing the character so well that they understood what to do and why.

But that was in the end.. not always in the beginning haha. The filming took two years. Not the 2 months I had promised them at the beginning.

How did you handle both directing and acting in the movie?

CHRISTIAN: I had never acted before. The original actor for Tom dropped out after three days of filming because of other commitments. I needed to keep the shoot going so left with no alternatives (after some auditions) I decided to do it myself. 

I really didn't want to let the others down though. It was important that we all at a similar level on screen for it to work. I tried hard to ensure I held up my end of the bargain. I did find it hard at first to remember my lines.  The others seemed to be so good at that.
There was just too much going on in my head.

When we filmed I was watching the shots back after takes, but time restraints meant there were times that I couldn't. I generally did twice as many takes for myself just to be on the safe side. But it was a struggle at times. Sez mentioned in a Q and A - sometimes she would see me change mid scene from actor into director, as a slightly glazed look come over my eyes. She knew I was thinking and a change was coming. I was acting but watching as well. It was definitely easier when I wasn't on camera. I did a lot of pickups for my scenes haha.

Can you talk about your distribution plan for recouping costs?

CHRISTIAN: If only I had one. I have just completed a tour of New Zealand doing Q and As in the independent cinemas. This went well but it;s only a drop in the ocean compared to what it could be with some money behind me. 

But I have done what I could. We stood in the streets dressed in outfits from the movie handing out flyers in every town. We put up billboards and signs in strategic but free places. I have tried to get as many interviews as possible and have managed to get on TV and radio a couple of times. But it's so hard at this stage without the funds to promote it.

I now have a sales agent over in LA and maybe we can sell it to the world. I have a dream that this could be a success. Right now I am in LA for the American FilmMarket (AFM) so that’s part of it. But just making a film is an amazing feeling. However I would love the world to see it. 

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

CHRISTIAN: I bought a secondhand Red One MX on ebay. As soon as that happened people suddenly took me seriously and became interested in helping. It really made a big difference. Especially 4 years ago when I bought it. It meant a lot to everyone involved that the image quality was not just a DSLR. For some they could learn how to use it.

Boy that Red was a beast though. It’s heavy and required so much accessories to go with it. The files were massive too. I didn't learn how to use it. I thought it was safer that way. Otherwise I would only break it or start filming myself so that’s one job I opted out of thankfully.

It took a bit of training for people to get used to the rig. So sometimes it was hard finding a camera op on the day. I had to use about 7 different DOPs in the end. But the end result was surprisingly coherent and the quality was awesome. I really love my red.

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

CHRISTIAN: The movie definitely got better in the edit suite. I pretty much stuck to the script but felt by moving things around it added more dynamics. I made lots of visual additions to the movie in the edit stage.

Sam my vfx guy was ever helpful and happy to satisfy my whims as they arose. Consequently there ended up a lot of things floating past the windows. For example a pig.

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

CHRISTIAN: Now that may take some thought. One of the best things I did was to buy the Red Camera. It made a huge difference to all of us. Acting myself although hard probably was logistically a good idea also. Just one less person I had to worry about... or was it. I am really glad I went with all my cast. They are fantastic.

There were no things I regret that much. There was plenty of hard stuff, but life’s a journey. It wouldn't be the same otherwise. I learned so much doing this that even the mistakes are valuable. Especially them.

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

CHRISTIAN: You can achieve anything if you use creative thinking. But it's a whole lot easier (or quicker) with a bit of money. 

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