Much like the protagonist of this film, Red Giant Filmmakers Seth Worley and Aharon Rabinowitz found themselves trapped in a battle between old and new. From initial drawings sketched with pencils to the crucial role played by Kessler CineDrive, a cutting edge motion control system, analog meets digital in this short film narrated by Patton Oswalt.
KU: Do you have an “idea bank” or some similar resource that you keep to call upon when you have a project to work on? If so, can you describe it?
AHARON: Our projects are almost always based around showing off a Red Giant product. Sometimes the look of the film is driven by the tools – in Plot Device we had a guy jumping from Film Genre to film genre to show off the different film looks in Magic Bullet Looks. Sometimes the story is driven by a tool. In Form 17 we wrote a fun story built entirely around needing several cameras and a lot of dialog, just to show off how powerful PluralEyes is for syncing audio and video.
In this case both the look and story came from the same place – Magic Bullet Film – a tool that gives your footage the look and color of real film. We created a story that begged for the look of film.
SETH: There is an “idea bank,” but it gets moved a lot and I frequently have trouble remembering where it is, so most of our films end up being born specifically for the product at hand. We actually prefer it that way. You can tell when a cool idea was retroactively manipulated to fit a product. I think great ideas are often just responses to interesting challenges, and we like responding to the challenge of “here’s a product, here’s what it does, now tell a story that lets it do that.”
KU: In a film this short how were you able to develop such a dynamic protagonist and such a dramatic character arc?
AHARON: One of the aspects of Magic Bullet Film is a slider called Vintage/Modern and, depending on, which way you push it, your footage is given an old look, or, if you swing it the other way, the colors are pushed into a more modern grade. We imagined what would happen if a person lived like that – being all the way to one side of the slider, and then being pushed all the way to the other. It gave us a great opportunity to create a ridiculous character that I think we can all recognize in ourselves, at least a little bit. The real problem was getting him out of the mess we created with his life. That solution was all Seth.
SETH: We were talking about Magic Bullet Film, and the irony of using a new technology to make something look old. So right from the beginning we were playing with polar opposites. So we had that working for us. We knew the first act would be one extreme, and the second act would be the other, and the trick was figuring out what we wanted to say with that third act. We knew it would need to be a marriage of the two. I had the idea of using something absurdly and outlandishly new to save or preserve something old. The something new ended up being a time machine, and originally the something old was going to be those cave paintings. But that felt vapid and materialistic, and it wasn’t until the character of Claire the Curator entered the conversation that things started clicking into place and our core message became clear — “remember why things mean what they mean to you.” That’s the point. We want to give our footage the look and feel of film because that’s what movies look like. It’s the texture and feel of the stories and characters that inspire us.
KU: How long did it take you to shoot this?
SETH: Principal photography was on and off for about a month (August 2014).
KU: What was the biggest challenge you faced in this production?
SETH: We didn’t have very much money on this one. We had two separate films that essentially had to share the same budget. The second film — which at the time of this interview is about to start shooting — was slightly bigger and more ambitious, so we opted to make Old/New for as cheap as possible and then pour as much as we could into the other (bigger) film.
This meant I would serve as my own director of photography, and that I could only afford a tiny crew willing to work entirely for free software and the experience. We also naively assumed Old/New would be a breeze because it was such a small, character-driven story, clearly ignoring the fact that it called for an absurd number of locations, wardrobe changes, props, and complex visual effects like elephants shooting lasers from their eyes. So we had to get really creative and resourceful. Which was challenging, but I think led to really fruitful problem-solving and creativity.
AHARON: For me, the challenge was doing less – sitting back and watching Seth and the team do amazing work in filming and post. On some of the films I have either done a bunch of VFX work and/or I have have helped Seth by supervising or problem solving VFX that others contributed while he continued to work furiously. This time, due to some other big projects, I couldn’t take part in most of the fun – though I knocked out a couple of VFX shots. Truthfully, it was wonderful just watching Seth bring to life the words we had written together.
KU: Was there any one particular thing you learned while making this film that you can share with other filmmakers?
SETH: I learned not to judge a book by its cover. As I said before, we developed this film alongside another one, and at the beginning of production my heart kind of leaned toward the other film. I was less interested in Old/New, and I worried that it would be too cute, too self-amused. But consequently, I wasn’t married to anything. I could easily make choices that were better for the film because it didn’t require me to sacrifice anything I might have otherwise been too attached to. I just focused on making the choices that were the most interesting to me. And in the end, we ended up making a film that I absolutely love and could not be more emphatically proud of.
AHARON: It’s true – Seth seemed a little bummed to be doing this film – at first. But as he moved forward with it, he found ways to make it challenging and exciting. What I loved about this film was that there is was an actual message, and I think that it helped drive a lot of it too. In general, if you have a clear idea about what it is you want to say, I think you’re going to approach it with more energy because it means something to you. But you’ll also just tell a good story worth sharing. So I guess… like we said it in the film: Remember why things mean what they mean to you. Doing that will help guide you in your decisions, and give you the best possible end result.
KU: A lot of times smaller productions are referred to as “independent” films which is pretty misleading since it takes so many people to make a film. Can you talk about the importance of collaboration?
SETH: Most movies wouldn’t happen without collaboration. There are just way too many moving parts. Even if you’re good at everything, you can’t be good at it all at once. And ideas are always stronger when they’re supported and strengthened by a team of smart and talented people.
AHARON: I’ve always taken independent to mean not backed by a big studio – so working on limited funds – like balancing on a highwire without a net. Red Giant is a profitable, successful software company, but when it comes to films, we work on a very limited budget for two reasons: First, it’s the same experience a lot of Red Giant’s customers have, and we want to be true to that, so we can learn as much as we can about working with limited means. But really, like any business making responsible decisions, we just have to work with limited funds that go up against big ideas – for software and for films – and we have to find ways of making that budget work, just like everyone else.
It all works because Seth does a really great job of planning, he doesn’t assume he’s an expert in everything, and is very open to collaboration. He asks for feedback, takes that feedback seriously, weighs it all, and makes good calls based on that. He also gives great feedback to the team as we work together, and this back and forth is probably my favorite part of my job at Red Giant. I learn a lot and feel like a contribute a lot at the same time.
KU: How did you utilize Kessler gear in the film?
SETH: All of the clone shots and time travel “double” shots were accomplished using the Cinedrive. That was always the plan. But what surprised me when we started shooting was how often I would abandon my original shotlist and just leave the camera on the Cineslider. I talk about this in the Behind The Scenes, but I hate sliders. Most of them make your footage look like you’re creeping back and forth 12 inches. But the Cineslider is in a league of its own. I pretty much shot the entire film with the camera on that CineSlider, which was usually either mounted on the K-Pod, or two cheap sawhorses we got at Home Depot. Or the ground. Or two chairs. Or a table. I think at one point I even set it on a stair rail.
KU: What was your favorite part of using CineDrive?
SETH: Being able to physically move the camera in visual effects shots that would have previously required me to lock the shot off. And honestly, I feel like I only scratched the surface of this thing. I can’t wait to discover a thousand other uses for it on future projects.
KU: Can you talk about the post process?
SETH: Post was a little unorganized and sporadic as well. We frequently took breaks to produce other things that were more pressing (like the Red Giant Offload promo). It was off and on for about 3.5 months. We actually had picture locked with the majority of VFX done in December, but then we landed Patton (which was awesome), and his performance (which was awesome) was different enough in cadence and energy from my temp narration that I essentially had to take the film apart and put it back together. It was a little like replacing the bottom level of a house of cards. But obviously 100% worth it.
AHARON: I hate sounding like a marketing guy (even though that is officially my gig), but a lot of the film’s character came out when Seth got to color. That is to say that, with color grading, it looked like the story we wanted to tell. That’s probably true because Magic Bullet Suite, and specifically Magic Bullet Film, was what was driving the story idea to begin with – but even if it wasn’t, color made a huge difference in setting the tone of the film. I have spent most of my career as a mograph artist, where the color of design elements are super important, but in the last few years, I have truly come to appreciate just how important color is in simply telling a live-action story – and how most viewers don’t even realize it’s there but are totally affected by it.
KU:How did the footage shot with CineDrive integrate into the post workflow?
SETH: It was pretty straight forward. I just dropped all the various passes into the Premiere timeline and was able to sync them up manually, then sent them over to After Effects for roto-ing and compositing.
KU: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers, writers?
AHARON: Put the story first. Really. Even as someone who has to co-write and produce films designed to introduce and sell products, we would never do a film that didn’t tell a good story that people could connect with and enjoy. We’ve done this a bunch of times, and it always proves true – when we set out to tell a good story, the rest falls into place.
SETH: Put as much of your money into production design as you can. If all your money goes into your camera, you’re going to get really high quality footage of really uninteresting things. Also: copy everything you love. But don’t copy the obvious stuff, copy the the minute details. You’ll end up building something totally your own.
KU: For anyone who is already a Magic Bullet user like myself what do you think are some of the coolest new features with this latest release?
AHARON: Magic Bullet Suite 12 introduces 4 big updates (Magic Bullet Looks 3, Colorista III, Mojo 2, Cosmo 2) and also an entirely new product (Magic Bullet Film). These 5 products have been built to run on the GPU – which means that for the first time ever, you can get real time color grading, directly on your editing timeline. That’s huge. You were never able to do that before, no matter how good your hardware.
Speed aside, the new presets, tools, and UI, in Magic Bullet Looks are fantastic. Also the changes in Colorista III have completely changed how I look at that tool – which I was always a little intimidated by, as it was very complex. The simplified UI and integration with Adobe Creative Cloud has made it a lot more accessible and easy to work with, without sacrificing power. I am using it all the time now. I haven’t been this excited about a Red Giant product release in a long time. I finally feel like I “get” color correction and that I can take the driver’s seat in that process.
SETH: Magic Bullet Film. Hands down. Stu and the team put so much research and love into that plugin, and it shows. It could have totally been a novelty product that just threw grain and contrast on your footage, but instead they built an instrument of nuance and subtlety. They figured out what minute details make film feel like film, and they created a tool that brings those minute details to your footage. I use it on everything now.
KU: How did Patton Oswalt end up getting involved in this project?
SETH: Honestly, it’s kind of a boring answer. We asked and he said yes. I flew out to LA and recorded him and he was the most professional, hilarious, and generous actor I could ever ask to work with. Working with him felt just like working with my brother, just with less physical and psychological abuse.
AHARON: I might have cried a little when I heard Patton said yes. He was exactly the guy to do this – not just because of his voice, but because he went through a less exaggerated version of our main character’s life-process, when he turned off the internet for a summer and got back to the basics of human interaction.