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Q&A: Indy Filmmakers Blaze a "Broken" Trail

by Pete Mesling, editor

Concept art from Broken.
Concept art and storyboarding helped bring "Broken" to life.
It's always refreshing to see a film project come together for a nominal outlay of cashola. Two memorable examples in the arena of feature films are "Roger and Me" (1981) and "El Mariachi" (1992). Self-produced, bold and ultimately successful, both films sent ripples through the stagnant waters of studio-driven Hollywood. Can a team of Florida-based filmmakers accomplish something similar by turning their suspenseful short film into a feature?

It's impossible to know how much it will cost to bring a fuller version of "Broken" to the big screen, but that's the goal of filmmakers Alex Ferrari and Jorge F. Rodriguez. "Broken," as a short, is a slick production: 15 minutes of mayhem with the impossibly low budget of $8,000. I recently had a chance to talk with Ferrari and Rodriguez, as well as visual effects supervisor Sean Falcon and composer Mark Roumelis, about how they were able to do such a bang-up job on the cheap -- and what their future plans for the film include.

Q: Alex, among the opening credits, the closing credits and the production notes, I saw you credited in, I think, six different ways. Jorge, you had at least half as many variations. How were the writing, directing and producing duties divided up on this project?

Alex: I brought Jorge my original draft of the script. We then proceeded to polish and re-work the story a bit. As far as directing and producing, I concentrated mostly on rehearsals, storyboards, VFX tests, etc. While I danced in the producing arena, Jorge carried most of that weight.

Jorge: I reworked the original script from Alex's already developed story and together we added the action and special effects sequences. As for our duties, while Alex handled all of the directing, editing, and post supervising on the project, I handled the bulk of the production logistics, practical special effects and on-set massaging.

Q: An obvious question is, How in the world did you keep this production at $8,000? It looks considerably more expensive.

Jorge: Basing the shoot around one location was a primary money saver. Along with the fact that we did all of our own production design. You would be surprised how creative you can get when you don't have money on tap. Two things we knew we could not skimp on were a full crew and the fact that we needed two cameras in order to capture the action well, so that's where the bulk of the money went.

Alex: Also, since I came from a post-production background, we knew going in that the edit and post would be covered and we could focus most of the cash on the physical production.

Q: The production notes on the DVD mention that "Broken" has gone into development as a feature film. How is "Broken" the short film going to become "Broken" the feature? What are some of your ideas for expanding the story?

Jorge: The short itself is an excerpt from the end of Act I and the start of Act II and takes place around page 39 of the full-length script. Only when the short ends does Bonnie's journey really begin.

Alex: The short was designed purely to give people a taste of the story and to show people what we can do with a little amount of money.

Q: Even as a short, "Broken" holds its shots longer than a lot of features are willing to do. Do you think the spasmodic camera work that's in vogue these days is overdone? To me the amount of trickery and quick cutting that goes into a scene is a statement on how confident (or unconfident) a filmmaker is in his shot.

Alex: I come from a commercial/music video editing background, so I love to cut things quick but many of the new crop of filmmakers are coming from this world as well and it shows in a lot of recent releases. They use this technique to hide bad story and/or bad directing style. The problem is that quick cutting is just one of many tools in a director's bag of tricks. It truly depends on the scene and what kind of emotion you are trying to evoke from your audience. As an overall style it really works well in a film like "Man on Fire"; I'm a big Tony Scott fan. In "Broken" I wanted to keep the audience on the edge and letting some shots linger, it put them there. Hitchcock taught us all that!

Jorge: The camera work is a testament to how well Alex and Director of Photography Angel Barroeta conveyed the visuals from the script. It takes balls to let the action play out and not jump cut within a dramatic scene. And yes, that type of insecure directing/editing is way too prevalent.

Q: The music does a nice job of keeping the tension level high. Did you guys use a combination of acoustic and electronic instrumentation?

Mark: The orchestration combined electronic and acoustic "instruments"; however, as a function of budget, the source of the score was entirely electronic. The sound design contributed much to the sustained tension and was crafted with attention to pitch, tempo, dynamics and timbre as they related to the musical score.

Q: Could you talk a little about the equipment and software used to achieve the more than 100 visual effects in "Broken"?

Alex: All editing, previz and all the color correction, creating three distinct looks for "Broken," were done in Apple's Final Cut Pro. Apple has recently released many tools that independent filmmakers can use to tell their stories, on a budget. There is no excuse anymore for anyone not picking up a camera and telling a story they want to tell. All the tools are available and affordable.

Broken muzzle flash
Costs were kept down through efficient use of special effects, such as this computer-generated muzzle flash.
Sean: All of my compositing work was done with Apple's Shake. All f/x were created on a dual AMD 2800 and a G5. Shake for me is essential to any compositing work. It's architecture allows for setups to be made that allow for quick changes that would otherwise be costly and not time-effective. A good instance would be the muzzle flashes. I created one hand-painted basic flash. Then inside Shake I created a "global warp," so that no matter where the flame was placed in the scene, it would always be different without any additional adjustments. I then created a "template" script for each different type of muzzle flash. Then by using a lot of different expressions, I could control each muzzle flash and its effect on surrounding elements with relative ease. Each flash had a "flash-fader" which controlled whether or not the flash was visible, this "fader" in turn also controlled (via expressions) how much smoke, dust, emitted light, camera shake, and glow was put into the scene ... all from one node. This template was then repeatedly used for each scene with a flash (there are a lot of them) with minor variations depending on what type of flash was being generated. This was a huge time saver considering the amount of shots that needed this type of treatment.

Jorge: Yeah, we borrowed an old PC from my dad but it was hard trying to find stuff for Windows 3.1.1 that could do what we needed. So we went to Sean, his computer was a bit newer.

Q: Who from this cast and crew can we expect to be drawn into the feature-length version?

Jorge: Alex and I may be involved. Then there is the craft service guy Nick, he's got mad potential. Other than that ... nobody.

Alex: We are going to try to bring as many of the cast and crew into the feature as we can.

Q: Is there a tentative release date for the feature?

Alex: We are currently writing the full feature film and hope to be done soon. You can definitely expect some surprises in the story.

Jorge: We are currently speaking to three interested production companies who would like to see us in production by the middle of next year. Once we have more information we will let you know.

Q: What are some films that have influenced your work on this project?

Alex: My major influences for "Broken" were Robert "the man" Rodriguez and David "screw the studio" Fincher among others. Both those guys make films their way and do it with a great amount of style and control. "Se7en" and "Fight Club" are on my top five of all time, and almost all of Rodriguez's films as well. Also, comics like "Sin City" and "100 Bullets" had an influence. They have fun telling stories ... this is suppose to be fun. If not, we would get real jobs.

Jorge: "Se7en," "Fight Club," "Underworld," lots of "Manga" and all sorts of dark comics from the likes of "Hellblazer," "Sandman" and "The Watchmen." Alan Moore Rocks. He's just been poorly translated to film, is all.

Rely on Filmfodder to keep you up to date as "Broken" transmogrifies into a longer version of itself. In the meantime, visit What is Broken? for photos, production info and a trailer.

Posted by Mac at May 9, 2005 08:49 PM | TrackBack

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