Editor’s Note: John here. One day, I found a link to a short film in my inbox by Lexy Anderson. She wanted to write a short article about how she put it together. Since it was so much fun I couldn’t say “no” – here is the story of “Reality Bites”, a short film by Lexy Anderson and Ben Murray.
Filmmakers starting out seem to all have the same problems: What equipment do I use? How do I gather crew? What’s a worthy script look like? But for us, these limitations aren’t problems. In fact, if you accept them, the answers become pretty clear, pretty quickly.
What camera do we use? The one that we’ve got I guess.
How do we gather crew? We’ve got each other, how many favours can you call in?
What’s a worthy script look like? Well, does this make us laugh … ?
Our most recent film has just launched online, “Reality Bites” – a short mockumentary following the marriage of a young woman and a zombie, and the challenges they face in that relationship.
The main challenge for “Reality Bites” came during pre-production, for which we had a luxurious prep time of….24 hours. YES! 24 Hours. (cue “24” theme music).
So how can you pull off prepping a shoot with just one day’s preparation? We’ve shared all our secrets below!
On a dark, cold night before graduation from UCA Farnham (a small arts-campus in the depth of Surrey) we found ourselves panicking about Post-Uni life. As you do.
To distract from our impending future, we decided to put an archive of scripts together. Writing with another person can be difficult, but at this stage we were just riffing ideas, and after a night of basically talking nonsense, we conjured up a collection of concepts, one of which was “Reality Bites”.
TIP: The story for “RB” came from us asking “What if” about various scenarios – for example, what if you married a tamed-zombie? The fly-on-the-wall documentary style seemed like the right way to explore comedic elements. Once we got more specific with “what if” questions, we managed to write it overnight. Turns out, it’s a pretty efficient way of writing.
The preparation for “Reality Bites” was done about twenty-four hours before shooting. We’d initially planned to shoot another script, but a last minute actor cancellations threw the handbrake on that production.
This is the problem with organising shoots – you need to find days when everyone is available, and cancellations can be a common occurrence. But we’d already book off work, planned shots, gathered crew, scouted location, so cancelling wasn’t an option.
OK. So what did we have to work with? Two actors. A tiny budget. A Central London flat. Do we have any scripts we could work around that? Yes. Thankfully, “Reality Bites” was in our archive of co-written scripts, so there was still hope. We contacted our remaining actors, Bridgette Wellbelove and Jorge Andrade, and both were game for a last-minute-switch-a-roo.
Next problem: “How the hell do we make someone a Zombie?” After an immense amount of searching filmmaking Facebook groups, we found a MUA (make up artist) at the last minute who agreed to Zombify Jorge in “Michael”.
TIP: We can’t recommend Facebook groups enough – if you can manage to advertise a position as “Paid”, no matter how low that is, you’ll usually attract a higher level of candidates to your radar.
With some quick sourcing of props, and minor adjustments to the script, we were ready to shoot…
Considering all the above madness, the shoot itself was very relaxed.
We had a shot-list, but that was used as more of a guide. We didn’t bind ourselves to it, and instead encouraged everyone on set to share ideas, always cautious to not stray too far.
Having a co-director on the shoot sent our productivity through the roof, as the burden of decision making and problem solving was halved. It also meant both of us always had a go-to-person to bounce ideas off of.
As the whole process of bringing the shoot together was so last minute, we gave the cast a lot of freedom to have creative influence over the story. As the day passed, Bridgette and Jorge grew more confident in their improvisation, and by the end of the day we had approx. 50% scripted and 50% improv footage to play with in the edit.
TIP: Usually actors arrive staggered, so they’ve time to get makeup and costume on, but if one’s preparation will take significantly longer, you can overlap their arrival and begin shooting one character while the other is readied in the green room.
TIP: Everything shot in the apartment was either tripod or handheld, and all of our lights were small battery powered LEDs (I’m fiercely proud of my LED collection!) A really simple and lightweight shooting kit makes it easy to do more flexible, improvised work without worrying about clunky or difficult set ups – especially as you don’t need mains power or cables.
TIP: If you are a small crew, five people or fewer, and you’re shooting handheld, there is little to no restriction to filming on London’s public highway (tripods are considered an obstruction to pedestrians or roads, so that’s a little tricker, as far as finding permission goes). However from experience, it’s still best to choose quiet and rural estates for general safety.
The challenge of the edit was, much like in an actual documentary, dealing with those unscripted and improvised moments. We couldn’t structure the story exactly as it was on the page, so had to get creative and ‘discover‘ a story from our immense amount of improv footage.
This was actually the slowest part of production, as we had to balance post-production with our working lives. It took around six months to cut, grade, and sound design the short.
As for us: Ben’s in post-production on his new fantasy short, “Taboodisobis” to be released later in the year, and Lexy’s in pre-production for a new comedy “Kill Norwood” about a gamer-obsessed kid.
To find out more, get involved or just get in touch, contact us on our respective social media accounts: