Phylactery... Post Mortum

Hey everyone, it's been more than a month since the release of our latest Dead North short film. It's time to write a few words about the experience.

Anyone who hasn't watched the film yet can find it here:

Phylactery on Vimeo.

Phylactery was a grand experiment, and I consider it a highly successful one.

Making this short was the new most difficult thing I have ever done, it took a crushing amount of work crammed into a brutally short time period. In some ways it suffered from the time crunch, but I still managed to achieve something incredibly difficult.

Fantasy is the hardest genre to do with no budget... it's the single-most prop and location heavy type of film. You either have to make it or fake it. So managing to film an entire fantasy short, with next to no resources I am proud of. It's not the best film in the universe, but it was an incredible learning experience on multiple levels.

For those too lazy to watch it, most the film takes place inside a winter fantasy dream world.
The core conceptual idea for the short, was to use a cartoon filter both to help blend the huge amount of green screen composites, and also allow for the construction of hastily prepared matte paintings for most of the films backdrops. It was the only way to finish something this ambitious under the time window of Dead North (about three months, script to final).

I've joked with everyone that I wasn't sure going into this if I could even finish it, which is a bit of a truth fudge. I knew it 'could be' done, I just wasn't sure of how much of a dumpster fire the end result would be. It was a planned stress test of my visual fx ability, thinking on my feet and time management. I knew it would be paramount to  cut corners to finish in time, but and I was curious to how that would play out. Several things took a back seat during production. For instance, about half way through production I was forced to start making simpler matte paintings. They were taking me about 1-2 days to complete, which was too long.

Production, similar to last years film, and in many ways even more so, went spectacularly wrong.
But this year, it came from a different and unexpected angle, software! Thankfully, for everything that went wrong, something else in production went equally right.

Writing went smoothly enough. I'm getting better, I can feel it. During writing, I worked on matte paintings as I went so that I wouldn't have to scramble to do them all at the last minute. It also made for a nice break from the monotony of endless re-writes.

Casting went sideways as well, but I had a solid backup plan after last year. Seriously, why can't I get male actors in Inuvik?!? (Thank you Michael Blyth for being the exception to that!) And, thankfully, once again, I had bunch of kick-ass women ready to step up and join our craziness again.

Thanks again to Janna, Kristen, Gillian, Arielle and of course Sally. Also, thanks to Bernice Lavoie we managed to do our final shoot in a much more spacious stage for our green screen, and Kristian Binder for your elite drone work.

So now onto the problems. As of last year I had began to use Adobe Premier to do my editing, and although I have been happy in most ways, someone at Adobe should be taken out back and shot.

With roughly a day to my upload deadline, Premiere decided hey, let's quit working. Also, it said hey, since I'm not working, let's just wipe out the entire project folder. You won't need those anymore! Oh, and hey guy, since I'm on the fritz, you won't need these other programs either so let's just make After Effects and Photoshop quit too! 

I'm still not sure what happened exactly, but I had been using an older version because I was afraid to update right before working on a major project. Somehow one of the licensing files got damaged after one of the countless After Effects crashes.

So, about a day and a half left. Nothing but raw footage, sounds and rendered composites.

I almost gave up, cue slo-mo of computer monitor crashing through a window and out into the cold arctic winter. But, after a good cry and some words of encouragement from my awesome woman, I finally said hell with it... I cleaned my system of Adobe products, and re-installed the newest versions with crossed fingers. Please lord, make all my old plugins, work with the new versions. Yes, they did! Sweet, now it's time to do a week-and-a-half's worth of editing in one night! Break out the caffeine boys it's going to be a long one!

Needless to say what followed was a titanic struggle in time management. What I submitted in the end to Dead North wasn't anywhere near the polish level of the short you can now watch above.
After putting together a strong opening that took all night and most of the next day to edit, I simply ran out of time. For the last quarter of the film, I had to just dump clips on the end of the timeline. No edits, nothing. With the clock ticking, I managed to slap on a single-song temporary music score and some half-baked credits on the end and hit render. It was a mess... but I got it uploaded with about 10 minutes to spare!

With a haze of lingering disappointment hanging heavy in the air, there was one silver lining. I knew we would at least have a shot at the visual fx Zombear this year. In previous years none of the other teams submitted anything visual fx heavy, so I was hoping it would be enough to snag a trophy for us. It wasn't. It was scooped with a ridiculously pro team from the Yukon that came out of nowhere.

C'est la vie my friends, there is always next year! And... we still have an awesome short to show for it, acted by awesome, talented people!



JD Jones


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