Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Making Of "More Than It Is"

*Click here for the trailer*

We had three main film inspirations going into the making of "More Than It Is" - First, Brook Silva-Braga's documentary of his year long backpacking trip around the world, "A Map For Saturday." We actually stole the title of our movie (with permission from Brook, of course) right from one of the lines in his film. Our second inspiration was the Duplass Brothers' classic "mumblecore" film "The Puffy Chair." Shot on hand-held SD video, we figured, if they could get away with it, so could we. And we had the benefit of new camera technology that would allow us to shoot HD and use traditional 35mm lenses, giving us really wide shots when we needed them as well as very shallow depth of field. The third movie that inspired us was Tarsem's "The Fall." Shot on location in twenty-four different countries, what we took from "The Fall" was that beautiful foreign locations add a lot to a movie. So we decided to make our movie in one of the prettiest places on the planet, the South Island of New Zealand.

Charlie and Josh Dance in a Scene From "More Than It Is"

"More Than It Is" is the story of Josh, a young American guy, convinced that his one chance at true love is with an English girl named Leila who he hasn't seen in a year. Through a social networking site, Josh sees that she's now working in New Zealand - so he flies there to surprise her and tell her his true feelings...only to be turned down on the spot. Realizing the bizarre thing that he's just done, Josh sinks into a lonely depression. While waiting to fly back to the States, Josh meets Charlie, a beautiful, free-spirited backpacker who is traveling around the world. She invites Josh on a road-trip across the South Island and soon he's put his love-sickness behind him, as he takes on the role of a vagabond backpacker. But the fun can't last forever and soon real life sets in, the euphoria wears off and everything gets muddled once again.

The Filmmakers:

"More Than It Is" was written and directed by Anton Seim, who also plays the lead roll of Josh. The impetus for the story, may or may not have been inspired by actual events in Anton's life. Jonathan Nicholas was the very talented Director of Photography. The budget of the movie essentially got split between the two filmmakers, with Jonathan purchasing all of the camera gear (Canon 5D Mark II, L-Series lenses), as well as his own plane ticket to New Zealand. The other lead role of Charlie, was played by Cherie Ditcham. Jonathan was the entire film crew - camera, audio and lighting. The actors wore Lectro wireless microphones at all times and audio was recorded remotely by Jonathan using an MAudio digital recorder (all audio gear was graciously provided by Nick Ballard of Ballard Productions).

The crew, Jonathan (with all his film gear), Cherie and Anton - Arriving In Christchurch

Jonathan carried all of his film gear with him at all times
(about 40 pounds, including 7 lenses...overkill?)

Jonathan with his Canon 5D Mark II (the camera he used to shoot the movie)
He shot the majority of the film handheld.

After about 20 hours of flying, from L.A. to New Zealand,
we immediately shot the last scene of the movie at the airport
- a scene Anton finished writing while on the plane.

There are two female leads in the film, Charlie (played by Cherie Ditcham) and Leila. We flew from L.A. with Cherie, but we found the Leila character in New Zealand by posting an ad on a Kiwi Job-Listing message board. When Beth MacDonald, who plays Leila, wrote us back, we simply couldn't believe that she would actually be there when we landed. Beth agreed to meet us for a drink the night before our shoot the next morning and Anton set out to convince her that we were actually filmmakers. She was a delightful, beautiful, knew her lines, and was excited to be a part of the film!

Anton meets Beth MacDonald in person for the first time,
the night before her first day of filming.

There were other characters in the script, meant to be played by real backpackers, so they were pretty much impossible to cast without meeting them in person. A Brazilian named Felipe Carpinelli Sabbag was one of the first backpackers to respond to the initial casting ad and was immediately texting Anton from the time the crew arrived in New Zealand. He turned out to be a great addition to the cast.

Felipe Carpinelli Sabbag (Brazil)
(Anton needs that footage for a BTS doc!)

There was a funny part in the script about an English guy who brushed his teeth naked. We mentioned the part to a backpacker we met named Pete Johnson and he immediately said he was game. Pete became one of our favorite characters in the film.

Pete Johnson (U.K.)

The Camera Department - Shooting On The Canon 5D Mark II

The Canon 5D Mark II is a digital SLR camera that shoots 8bit 4:0:2 HD video onto Compact Flash cards at full-raster 1920x1080. Because it's a full-sensor SLR, it uses 35mm lenses and has a depth of field equivalent to traditional film cameras. Using this camera gave us the look that big-budget movies have, but allowed us to shoot on the sly, sometimes filming in busy restaurants without anyone knowing that we were making a movie - it just looked like we were taking pictures across the table! However, when we left to begin filming in New Zealand, Canon had yet to release the new firmware update for the camera, so we had no control of our in-camera audio levels and we had to shoot 30p rather than 29.97 or 24p. Jonathan made it work. And as you will see, the result was beautiful.

To say that we were on a budget is a huge understatement. We had no budget! When we began shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, we only had one battery for our camera. When the remaining juice got to about one-fourth remaining, the LCD screen would sometimes go black and we'd have to stop the scene while the battery charged long enough for us to get another take.

Anton looking worried because the camera is NOT WORKING.
The camera was new to both Jonathan and Anton so when it went down,
there was nothing left to do but pray and wait for the battery to charge.

One of the most crucial elements of the film was the campervan. We rented from a fantastic company called Cruzy Campers and even though it was the off-season, they agreed to deliver our RV straight to our hostel and for a fantastic price no less! The campervan would be our set, our DIT station and our home for at least 5 days of shooting on the road.

Anton was alarmed to find out that it was a standard transmission and Jonathan had to drive for the first half of the trip until Anton got the hang of driving a stick for the first time (and on the left side of the road no less!). Anton had to learn how to drive because the Josh character drives the campervan in the film!

Jonathan at the wheel of the campervan.

Using a cigarette-lighter car-AC-adapter, two Macbooks and a slew of portable hard-drives, Anton dumped footage from the camera while driving to locations.

Driving DIT Station

With the boys sitting up front, constantly planning what to film next, Cherie rode in style in the back of the campervan.

Cherie said, "you know Anton, I'm used to getting my own trailer."

The entire film, including the epic road-trip from Christchurch to Milford Sound and through Queenstown, only took 10 days to shoot and it's some of the most fun we've ever had in our lives. "More Than It Is" will be beginning a run of film festivals starting late summer 2010, with the hope of many more films to come.

That's A Wrap! The crew has a celebratory drink,
on their last night together in New Zealand
Anton Seim, Cherie Ditcham and Jonathan Nicholas

Special Thanks:

Thanks to Charlie B's Backpackers for letting us film in the hostel, and thank you for your immaculate kitchen, one of the best hostel kitchen's we've ever encountered. Thanks to Andrew from Cruzy Campers as well as Campa South - y'all treated us well and the campervan was fantastic! Thanks to all of the backpackers who agreed to be in our movie, Pete Johnson, Felipe Carpinelli Sabbag, Kyohei Kojima, Mayumi Sekizuka and Beth MacDonald.

And thank you for reading and watching. Enjoy it, and go travel, the world is filled with beauty and adventure!


kyle said...

i cannot wait for this, it looks awesome.

Anonymously Me said...

Oh my gosh...this is all really cool and inspiring. You're so lucky to do what you do!