Some thoughts on my short film ‘Cams’ (before I forget them)

My short film Cams was just selected for the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival. This was extremely unexpected for several reasons, one of which being that vfx-heavy sci-fi is not at all a filmmaking genre I’m usually drawn to. My first short film Late (2009), although an early effort, is much more representative of my style (It’s also a better film. I’m allowed to say that because I’m my own producer. Lol.). It seriously wouldn’t have surprised me if I sent Cams to 30 festivals and didn’t get accepted into any of them. I guess the Venice people appreciated the effort in taking a pretty unconventional idea and going with it for a year. I’m very grateful that they did. I’ve got mixed feelings on this whole festival world. On the one hand, the idealist in me wants to put a film online for the world to judge as soon as it’s done, but I’m also starting to accept that the exclusivity factor of festivals, while a bit ridiculous, definitely adds to the experience on an innately human level.

Last August, while living in Falsterbo, I was looking for projects that would make my vfx reel look a bit more impressive than the freelance work I was getting at the time. One of probably hundreds of one-sentence movie plot outlines in my notebook read “Cameras, post-apocalyptic, Falsterbo”. I decided to go with the idea and make a short film, killing two birds with one stone – improving my reel and hopefully making an interesting film in the process. I saw the fact that I could probably pull this off without having to use neither a cast/crew (=human factor) nor music (=copyright hell) as a bonus. Don’t worry, I’m not completely opposed to working with humans, but at that point in my life it seemed like a great idea.

Falsterbo is a beautiful place filled with interesting spots just waiting to be photographed. I didn’t have a script yet, but I had to decide on a handful of these spots to shoot before moving to London a week later. This would be the main (“principal”, to be pretentious) footage, to serve as a basis for what would simultaneously be the post-production and script-writing process. Any additional footage would be for comped-in elements shot in London.

Looking back, my first script draft was very naive. It led me to understand why vfx teams are so huge. During the following months, the amount of vfx I had planned decreased to about a tenth, and the expected post-production period increased from 3 months to 11 months. I had never before had to worry about render times, but due to the complex structure of the film, though I must say some solutions were pretty clever, 8-hour renders were not unusual. I was pretty sure I was killing my Macbook Pro. It’s still alive and well. I shot tons of comp footage, very little of which ended up in the film. But of course, it was very educational, and I can’t thank my girlfriend enough for bearing with me through this process which must have seemed pretty odd at the time.

London is considered by many to be the vfx capital of the world. During my stay there, I applied to over a hundred vfx companies. I definitely don’t want to make this some kind of sob story about not getting a job, but as my resume is pretty descent for a junior position, and I wouldn’t consider my writing skills all that awful, I’d credit at least some of my lack of success to the vfx industry crisis, which has affected others and their families far, far worse than me.

While job-hunting and working on my film, I also freelanced for a Swedish company, did a bunch of vfx shots for my good friend Johan Windh’s film Glimma (a haunting short that you should check out if you get the chance) and studied Nuke. I pretty soon realized that I should have created Cams in Nuke instead of After Effects, but I decided I didn’t have the time to start over from scratch. I also realized that I shouldn’t take on more than two projects at a time.

In April, for the first time, I had a pretty conclusive to-do schedule, which was a huge relief. Deadlines for each scene forced me to make hard decisions. I had moved back to Sweden, and had a decent enough previs to start the sound design process with Sebastian Cronholm, who did the soundmix for both my previous short films. Seeing the film complete with sound was like seeing it for the first time. Having focused on details for many months, the feeling was “What’s this? Did I make this?”. Walking down one of the streets from the film for the first time since filming was a surreal feeling, like walking into a painting you know inside and out.

Anyways, cut to July. I’m trying to digest the fact that my film has been accepted into Venice, when The Swedish Film Institute calls me up. They’re also very surprised, because normally when a film is accepted, the whole process has started with the director applying for, and being granted, production funding from SFI. Apparently it’s very unusual that a film they’ve never heard of gets accepted. In a way, this was the best compliment I could imagine, because if there’s one thing I’m sick of it’s the antiquated notion that filmmaking has to be expensive. To me, making a short film without funding is not the last resort, making it with funding is.