It's important to stay creative in uncertain times.
My name is Leo Rossikov. Together with my good friend Shawn Vasquez we are going to drive with Fatty Soprano and Shutterr, a director duo from Toronto, Canada.
We started our journey of filmmaking with music videos, always trying to give them a nostalgic look and treatment, like our favorite '90s movies. After years of working with artists and labels, we always felt restricted by the music video format and wanted to explore the narrative world.
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver is one of our favorite films and inspired us to become filmmakers. We've always wanted to bring up a dark topic, a story that will make you sympathize with the characters.
When the pandemic hit, it gave us that opportunity and we ended up shooting our short Seabreeze.
Develop the story
To start the script, we studied various script structures, watched YouTube tutorials, and watched the Aaron Sorkin master class. We also joined several Facebook film writing groups to socialize and find staff who are experienced enough to produce the project.
It was thanks to these Facebook film groups that we met Aidan Grossman. He was working on a script about a woman who went through flashbacks from her childhood before she died on the beach. The three of us decided to work on the script.
Some of the best advice we've heard has been, "Write what you know". A good friend recently had a very dark depression due to a miscarriage that changed her forever. We thought it would be a moving story. We combined their story with Grossman's beach idea and the script for Seabreeze was born.
For the look, our biggest inspirations were Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream and Danny Boyle's Trainspotting.
We wanted our daytime appearance to have a 35mm feel with soft highlights. Since buying 35mm film wasn't within reach, we shot the entire project by stacking two diffusion filters and using bounce boards as part of our lighting configuration. The filters consisted of a Tiffen Black Pro-Mist 1/4 and a Tiffen Soft / FX 1/2, which were stacked in front of the lens. This created the soft highlights that we were looking for.
We combined the filter setup with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, which uses a Metabones Ultra Speed Booster for low-light scenes and a URSA Mini Pro 4K for daytime scenes for its dynamic range and built-in ND filters.
The production was self-financed and given that mostly music videos were shot, this was only our second attempt at creating a short narrative. When we were about to get started, Toronto locked up the entire city, which made us rethink our production strategy.
Filming during the pandemic
We originally planned to book a production studio to build a set with more controlled lighting. However, this plan had to be discarded and replaced with outdoor locations (street corners, empty streets, beach, etc.).
The biggest challenge during production was the city's public assembly restrictions. We had to keep the crew under 10 due to the new Toronto laws. In the end we modified the script and reduced the cast. This enabled us to have a boom operator, sound recorder and producer on the set. We also had to wear several hats, with me being the DP and Shutterr being the first AC and gawker.
In the post, the project really took on its visual style. We made it our mission to edit the project in Final Cut Pro X and evaluate DaVinci Resolve using fantastic film emulation tools like FilmConvert and Dehancer. By rating the Blackmagic footage, we were able to achieve a 35mm look.
We also reduced the aspect ratio to 4: 3, even though we were shooting in 16: 9. We thought it would be more personal and a little more focused on the characters.
Xavier Dolan's film Mommy was another big inspiration for the narrower frame, but 1: 1 was a bit too much for the aesthetic we wanted.
We took on another challenge with sound. The microphone picked up unwanted frequencies, especially on the busy beaches. So before making multiple adjustments and leaving a location, check at least the first shot before shooting the rest of the scene.
Still, the actors did a great job synchronizing their lines. Our Xavier Bolduc sound recorder was a great help in the ADR process. He played the original lines recorded for the actresses several times and asked them to re-record those lines in order to mimic the performance.
This entire process has taught us how to embrace guerrilla-style filmmaking without jeopardizing history. But one of the most important lessons we learned even after a carefully planned shoot is that there isn't enough B-roll.
We ran all of the scenes based on our recording list and storyboards. However, an additional B-roll could have made the editing process easier and the pace of the story faster. We decided to dedicate an extra day just to b-roll and this was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
COVID has certainly made production more difficult, but there are plenty of stories of filmmakers finding creative solutions to overcome these obstacles.