Recently I was fortunate enough to see George and Harry Kirby’s short film ‘The Messenger’. The film was made as part of the 48 Hour Film Challenge and is a fantastic example of what can be achieved by a bunch of talented individuals in such a short space of time. It’s a cracking piece of work that is atmospheric, stylish and in no way betrays the stipulations and requirements placed on the team by the competition. Below George and Harry discuss the film, the competition and more.
How did you get started in film making?
I guess our first real experience of film making was at university. We both studied Live television at Buckingham Chilterns University but we were required to make short films as part of our practical learning. But we have been making videos since we were young, often making stop motion animations using Lego characters with our dad's Hi-8 camera. We have both always loved film and were interested in how they were made, so I guess making films ourselves was a natural progression.
So what's 'The Messenger' about?
The Messenger follows the WW1 messenger or 'runner' Sam Harris, who after escaping from an enemy attack is left alone at a rendezvous point waiting to deliver his message. As the days pass and only his gun for company, Sam develops a strange friendship and we see how war can warp a man's mind...
The film is part of the '48 Hour Film Challenge'. Could you tell us a bit about this competition?
The London 48 hour film project is a fun and sleepless weekend in which you and your team make a short film—write, shoot, edit and score it—in just 48 hours. On Friday night, you get a character, a prop, a line of dialogue and a genre, all to include in your short film. 48 hours later, the film must be complete.
We love doing 48 hour film challenges as they are a great way to test your film making skills under pressure and whatever happens you will get a film made in two days. Plus there are some great prizes to be won including getting your film shown at the Cannes film festival.
How did the idea for the film come about?
As this film was specific for the 48 hour film project our idea for the film came about for various reasons. In a previous 48 hour film challenge we took part in, we had 4 or 5 locations, a lot of dialogue and quite a few complex scenes to shoot which made completing the film within the 48 hours very difficult and resulted in the film feeling rushed and not as good as we had hoped and planned for it to be. So with this in mind we decided to make something that was simple yet visually pleasing, with one actor, very few locations and minimal dialogue. We knew of an old isolated tree at a friend's farm that we thought would look good on camera and our Grandfather being an avid antiques collector had an authentic WW1 uniform so the idea of one man alone in a crows nest in an isolated environment fitted with the brief we'd set ourselves perfectly. When we received the genre of 'Buddy Movie' we were disappointed at first but then as we worked on writing the script we realised it was in fact a great genre for what we had planned.
Describe your writing process.
Other scripts we have written have taken weeks/ months/ years going through focus groups and several re-writes which have involved changes to entire story arcs, characters and dialogue. When we sit down to write we usually find a comfy room in the house link our laptop to the TV and just keep writing until we are too tired to continue. Sometimes this process is easy when you are feeling particularly creative and other days it can be harder.
But due to the nature of the 48 hour film project and time being against us, we had to write the script on the same evening that we received our criteria. So after leaving the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester square we headed straight for the nearest restaurant, ordered some food, banded some ideas around between the team before writing a basic script to work from. After returning home, we reviewed the script through tired eyes and made some last minute adjustments.
How do you prepare to direct a film?
When we're working on something as time restricted as a 48 hour film challenge the main thing we try to do is make sure everyone in the team is on the same page and knows where the film is going. There’s nothing worse than trying to direct a film and your team and talent isn’t sure what’s going on.
What format was the film shot on and was it a creative or financial choice?
Having previously shot on a Sony HVR-Z7 which produces a nice image but didn’t give us the filmic look we were after, we decided to shoot on a Canon 5D MKII using prime lenses. This was both a creative and financial choice as it gave us the shallow depth of field that DSLR's provide and also we could get the camera for free through a friend so it worked out nicely for both reasons.
What was its budget and how did you raise the finance?
We spent roughly £300 on 'The Messenger' which was out of our own pockets and was mainly spent on petrol, feeding the crew and a few props. We were very lucky to have a group of crew and actors that were willing to work for free because they were interested in the project. There were a few miserable looking faces by the end of the 14 hour shoot but no one complained!
Describe the casting process.
One of the main things you can prepare for the 48 hour film project is your actors. Knowing the type of character and look we wanted, we put out a listing on Casting call Pro for a principle actor and a supporting actress. We were surprised by the number of applicants interested considering we had listed the job as expenses only. For any actor to be in a film made in 48 hours and a chance to be shown at Cannes film festival is a great opportunity. We chose our lead actor Panny Skrivanos as after watching his showreel we could see he had a very emotive face and could express feeling without talking which was great for us considering we had a minimal amount of dialogue. Ari Phillips was our choice as supporting actress as she had a very classic English look which is exactly what we needed for the period the film is set in.
Are you directors who like to rehearse a lot before shooting?
Ordinarily we do like to rehearse as much as possible so that when it comes to shooting time is not wasted trying to explain scenes and lines of dialogue to actors and crew. But we do think if you rehearse too much you can lose some of the rawness and natural feel that can be attained through a more improvised approach. Filming 'The Messenger' we obviously had no time for rehearsals but we were lucky that Panny cottoned on quickly to what we wanted from him.
What approach do you employ when working with actors?
We always like to have an informal and friendly relationship with our actors as we feel the more relaxed they are around us, the more prepared they'll be to give us what we want from them in a performance. As we are relatively new to dealing with actors we have found it has helped to have another professional actor (In the case of The Messenger, Nathan Stickley) as part of the crew to help explain in more technical acting terms, the emotions we want our actors to convey. We have a bad habit of saying things like “try to look more sad..” This is something we hope we will improve upon over time!
Do you storyboard/shot list every shot in pre-production?
In the past this isn’t something we have done. We are now starting to because although it does take a substantial amount of time in pre-production, it ultimately saves a lot of time when it comes to shooting, which is where most of the money is being spent. For the 48 hour film project we simply didn't have the time to storyboard.
How did you decide on the visual style you employed for the film?
We decided that we would shoot most of the film hand held rather than using a tripod as we knew we would be pushed for time and this style of shooting would allow us to get through the shoot quickly and efficiently. We also used a 30ft Jib to create the bigger, more cinematic shots that also add some variety to the film and increase its production value. When editing, we stuck with cuts throughout to emphasise the abrupt jumps in time and also to help create the sense of the sharp decent into madness that Sam experiences. Crushing the blacks and desaturating the colours helps to reinforce the bleak time of war, much inspired by Saving Private Ryan.
How long was the shoot?
48 hours!! We shot for 14 hours on the first day and then did a 10 hour edit on the second day.
Which part of the production did you find most enjoyable?
The most enjoyable part was definitely filming the scene where the soldiers are being chased and shot at through the woods. To achieve a smooth chasing shot that had the right speed we had to strap George to the front of a quad bike with a steadicam and speed back and forth after our actors. This took quite a few takes to get right but was great fun and gave us some really cool shots.
What lessons, if any, did you learn?
The biggest lesson we learnt from shooting 'The Messenger' is that preparation is the key to a successful production. Whatever happens things will go wrong, but if your preparation is good then you can usually find a solution to your problems. Another thing we learnt is that even when things do go wrong, it can force you to think on your feet and sometimes it works out better than what you originally had planned. For example, we were supposed to have a scene were Sam is eating off of the bone of a rabbit he’s just shot to fulfill the prop criteria of the competition, but we forgot to pick up the bones before we left and so ended up having to shoot the scene back at the house when he’s eating dinner. Which actually worked out better and flows better in the film. Also we learnt not to leave a 30ft metal jib rigged in the middle of a thunderstorm!!!!
Where has the film been screened so far?
As part of the 48 hour film project it was screened at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, London. We also recently screened 'The Messenger' at the Sunday Screenings held in Tooting which is a great screening night for independent film makers in the London area where you can have your film shown to group of like minded individuals and it's a great place to network.
Future plans for the film?
We hope to enter 'The Messenger' into as many English and European film festivals as possible.
What's next for you?
We currently have a few projects in the pipeline but we have just finished scripting a five part sci-fi/fantasy mini series which we hope to start shooting in April 2011 and we are very excited.