How director / writer / cameraman Gavin Michael Booth took two full-length single shots at the same time and why.
Shot in two 80-minute single shots, shot simultaneously in two different parts of a city and shown on a split screen. Last call is groundbreaking. It took real-time filmmaking to a new level.
Directed by Canadian filmmaker Gavin Michael Booth on a budget, the technical feat is all the more remarkable as it maintains a truly impactful narrative about the shared humanity.
Last call follows a suicidal alcoholic (played by the film's co-writer, Daved Wilkins) on the anniversary of his son's death. When he tries to call a crisis hotline, a wrong choice links him to Beth, a single mother who works as a caretaker (Sarah Booth) at a local community college. The split screen feature shows both characters in real time as they navigate a life-changing conversation.
"Anyone can do it as a gimmick," says Booth, who previously shot the short film Fifteen for Blumhouse, which was broadcast live on Periscope. "It has to serve history."
Booth met Wilkins through an LA coffee morning group that allowed membership only if no one complained about the deal.
"You had to be positive," says Booth with a smile. “David came up to me and said he had a friend who had just finished training to be a crisis worker. Would I be interested in a project in which a man calls a crisis hotline in real time?
"That is the outline of the film, but it has changed significantly as most crisis hotline calls are made within 20 minutes. Either the caller has to agree that they are safe or they send someone for a wellness check-up to take care of him. " In our movie, Daved's character incorrectly chooses and instead interacts with a random stranger. This instantly puts the audience in the position of the person taking Daved's call while adding tension as you also have that point of view – which they don't share – about the caller's actions. "
British director Mike Figgis pioneered real-time split-screen cinema with the advent of digital photography Timecode While this film was a largely improvised project, Last call has a tightly scripted narrative. It's a two-handed game where each actor's action takes place at the same time, but in different locations while they are on the phone.
It might have been easier to shoot a single shot and then record the other, but it would have been unfair if the actor had finished second.
"You'd have to perfectly remember the timing of each line to sync with the other setting," says Booth. "It just felt a lot more organic, although it was difficult to reach both sides at the same time."
They wrote scripts over the course of a year based on Booth's hometown of Windsor, Ontario.
“Because we knew the places while we were writing, we could write and prepare things individually, knowing how things were arranged,” he says. “That was a big bonus. Otherwise we would have to rewrite the script to adapt it to the practical locations. Two weeks before we got to Windsor to film, David was in LA and Sarah was in Montreal on projects, so we did rehearsals over the phone that were perfect for her as an actor. "
Once in Windsor, the budget only allowed 10 days of rehearsal and four days of filming.
"We either wanted to get it or not," he says. “We filmed each sample and watched them to see if a particular section was getting boring and to try something visual to spice it up. I was like an NFL coach who could watch the game perfecting the technical aspects of the performance. "
You're not satisfied with taking both recordings at the same time in real time, but in locations several blocks apart. The crew consisted of a cameraman and a sound engineer. Cinematographer Seth Wessel-Estes was in charge of Daved's storyline, while Booth did the other storyline with his wife.
"We had no radio or communication with each other. It was like a stealth mission. Then as soon as we screamed action, unless a runner from one side of the city ran up to us and said the camera had slipped down the stairs, we rolled straight. If the actors were fiddling with a line or the camera was shaking a bit, we accepted that as part of the real-time process. It's about getting to the end. We had eight attempts over four evenings and managed to take five full takes of the To get films. "
You shot in 8K with a pair of RED helium cameras.
"Since no one had tried to include such a long format in 8K before, we were able to partner with RED on a low-level basis to test it," explains Booth. “The RED has a fan that turns on about every two minutes and can ruin a recording by interfering with the audio. That's why we also tested how low the fan can run without affecting the sensor that the fan needs to cool down. ”
To minimize the ambient heat, they turned on the air conditioning in both places and turned it off every second before filming. They tried wrapping the cameras in ice packs but ended up with a watery mess.
"We found a compromise where we could only run the constant speed fan very low without affecting the audio," says Booth. “The only thing that stopped us from doing that was an extreme close-up of an actor, but that was fine because the closer you get to an actor, the harder your focus challenge becomes, and in a real-time movie you don't want that to be what it is screwed up. "
8K crop and refresh
Shooting in 8K gave Booth the leeway to possibly trim and redesign later. Although the movie is not being edited, there are keyframes along the timeline that keep both frames moving. The film also has two perspectives of horizontal and vertical division.
"When we switch between perspectives, both images are slowly cropped and moved so as not to show any edge of the frame," says Booth. “To be honest, 8K is excessive, but we are future-proof. We have an 8K master. So when 8K TV or streaming comes in, we're ready. "
Of course, they only needed an identical lens for each camera. Approaching rental homes with this request was not popular as it would mean they would not be able to rent the rest of the lens kit. Fortunately, the online store objectrental.com came to her rescue with a pair of Canon 24mm prime numbers.
“The lens was great in low light, the iris opened really well,” says Booth. “We used the tilt handle system to focus. The rig's focus wheel was wirelessly connected to the lens, which was great as it didn't require any other crew person to risk casting a shadow or having high frequency issues trying to get out of focus To draw afar.
"There are times, especially on Daved's side of the story, when he goes out of the bar and goes out into the street and there is a massive exposure difference. In real time, we close and open the iris very, very carefully between those scenes. We have this further adjusted in Resolve. "
What was his greatest fear?
"Our biggest fear was that slipping on that focus wheel would ruin the entire setting, and nobody wanted to be at that 70 minute mark and be the one to do that!"
Booth drew some favors to gain access to important locations, including a college whose students were willing to help.
“The college was incredibly generous in giving us the keys at 6:00 pm. Every day, "he says." We shot over 14 days and had our base there. That's a big question if you don't have the money to pay for them. "
For Daved's side of the story, they used Booth's favorite local watering hole, owned by a friend who plays the bartender in the film. They also needed a tall tower that was within walking distance. "If you walk anywhere in 40 minutes it will be a very long, boring movie!"
In college, they dimmed the lights by removing a number of overhead fluorescent tubes and hiding small magnetic LEDs. The bar's lighting is hardly changed, but in the small apartment they were asked to hide lights as the camera has a 360-degree viewing angle.
They weren't allowed to just run and shoot, which meant they were always at risk of accidental extras damaging the frame.
“We started filming at 2am when the bars closed. That's why we framed ourselves away from the strip and looked at the street. We avoid real people, real traffic and anything can happen. I like the energy and the rush of not being able to cut and trying to bring it all together. "
They planned alternative routes from the bar across the kitchen to the alley beyond, which had less chance of meeting people.
In the shot used in the film, a van drives by and someone leans their whole head out the window and yells something derogatory just as Daved went into an apartment.
"Luckily we used the 8K to cut that out," says Booth. "If we had the money, we would have had failed wireless systems so I could monitor everything, but Seth and I monitored it ourselves." It's a bit like theater. Once the curtain is closed, there is nothing more the director can do. "
However, you could have a section of the film prepared almost immediately.
“The great thing about the Helium is that you get a 1080p proxy at the same time as the 8K, so I could take these two proxy takes, quickly embed them into Adobe Premiere, align them, and see a rough cut of the film within half an hour of each take . But as a director, I was blind until we saw it. We took a picture, took a long lunch break to watch the whole movie, took notes, and left. "
No ADR required
Recording audio is just as difficult, if not more difficult, when you're making long, single recordings. The biggest fear was getting a boom shadow into the picture. Instead, they used wireless lava microphones.
“We figured out how to add two microphones to both actors. If one comes off we have a backup, ”he says. “We played with the fabrics to be used and how loose clothing can be so that we don't get confused about the sound. Daved is strapped to his ankle with transmitters and the cords run down his legs to his chest. We had Sarah wear janitorial overalls, mostly to hide the two microphone packs attached to her back. We managed to clean every single word. "
There is no ADR in the movie, although there is a moment where Beth screams and points the mic so she had to patch a second of audio from an earlier take to correct it. Props to the sound team from George Flores, Joey Lavoie and Fernando Henna.
"I didn't want to do this film and had to do 50% of it in ADR because why in real time when you just want to replace it by mail?" Booth says.
In keeping with the raw production values, composer Adrian Ellis recorded the music live.
The film was shot almost exactly two years ago and received 25 awards on the festival site, including the Founders Award in Napa Valley and Best Feature in Hamilton. He ended up in theaters with Mutiny Pictures and in streaming distribution with Apple TV +. More will follow.
"In the indie film, the slog finds a distributor," says Booth. “This side of the business isn't the friendliest for filmmakers. There are many people who don't have the filmmaker's interests in their hearts. We took the time to get the right offer. "
He adds, “When I feel most alive as a filmmaker, it's when things are on the fly. That was all of my upbringing since high school. Let's take a camera with your friends and do something. This film retains a lot of that mentality. "