Director Interview: Outside Short Film

Lights Film School was recently fortunate enough to interview Thomas Wightman, the Director of the ambitious and breathtakingly beautiful 13 minute short film entitled “Outside”. The film was shot for a modest 2500 Pounds (roughly $4000 USD). Thomas was generous enough to share his creative and technical vision for this film with our blog readers. Below you’ll find his short film and our interview.

Tell us about where this story evolved from. How long were you working on this story before you decided to shoot it?

I spend a lot of time assembling different images from newspapers, magazines or off the Internet. Often I might find one image or read something that triggers a story. In this instance one series of photographs by Michael Wolf called the ‘Architecture of Density’ was the trigger.

Prior to making Outside I had made a series of films based around the creation of cities. I made them using animated stills that I had taken from different cities around the UK. In these films I was able to create different environments that would immerse the audience. Most of all I really wanted to do this on a larger scale.

Alongside this was my interest in technology and the increasing role it plays in our everyday lives. I was interested in looking at a future where technology has almost embedded itself into the environment and whose society has an over reliance on technology as an intermediary in human interaction.

Also unlike some sci fi films I didn’t want to create an unbelievable reality. I wanted something that was very tangible to the audience.

Overall we spent several months working on the story before we were ready to shoot. This coincided with location scouting and preparing for post-production.

Your opening shot is epic (above)! How much of that shot is real vs. digitally altered (is the building / structure real? is the flare real?)

The ground plate and the sky are real. These were filmed on Southport beach near Liverpool.

The structure itself exists, but not on the same scale. The building is the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. We used still images, which were manipulated to create a cityscape on a larger scale.

The flare is not real sadly.

How did you accomplish the “fly by” movement at :44 seconds in? Is that a real location? What support system did you use for your camera here? What city was this filmed in?

I can’t draw so photography helps me realise every shot I want to achieve. We took hundreds of stills of the location prior to filming. Again using Compositing we were able to create an atrium on a denser scale. The camera movement is achieved using 3D Projection Mapping.

The shot at 1:03 (above) is beautiful. How are you lighting this shot? What types of lights are you using? How much of this is natural light?

We used natural light through the window and kino flos for a subtle fill in the room and a slight relighting of the woman was applied in the grade.

Your sound design is excellent. What microphones / mixers are you using?

We just used a standard shotgun mic (Sennheiser 416). The final sound mix done was done using protools.

Is that shot at :1:58 (above) using Foley sound or is that environmental sound? Also can you explain your lighting setup for that scene?

It’s all environmental sound.

For the lighting we diffused all the windows and used kino flo’s behind and above the actor to add highlights.

Referencing shot at 3:09 (above) – Many of your shots use symmetry, pattern or line as a primary design element. Can you explain your location scouting strategy and how you went about selecting the locations for your film.

When you have very little money and a high concept idea it forces you to be creative. This meant that location was going to be key in every scene. We spent possibly 2 or 3 days a month over a 5 month period driving around looking for the right locations.

We selected locations not only based on aesthetics but also practicality.

What lenses did you use to optimize for performance in low light environments?

We used a set of Zeiss Super Speeds Prime T1.3 Lenses. The set included 18, 25, 35, 50 and 85mm lenses.

What camera did you shoot on?

Red one camera

What did you use to edit the film?

I used Final Cut Pro on my iMac.

What did your lighting kit consist of?

Lighting

2k tungsten fresnel
1k tungsten fresnel
650 tungsten fresnel
22″ Springball 1 Kw
2 Kw In Line Dimmer
Boom Arm Stand with weights

2x Kino Flo 4′ 4 Bank System
2x Kino Flo 4′ Tube Tungsten 3200k
2x Kino Flo 4′ Tube Daylight 5500k

Mini flo Kit (Tungsten & Daylight)

19″ LED Ring Light Kit
or Gecko LED Ring Light Kit

100w Dedo light Kit

12v Dedo 4 Bank Ballast
Dedo 100w 12V Heads

Black Flag set
Net and double net set
5x C Stand Flagstands
5x Flag Arm
5x Flag Stand Knuckle 16mm
3x Trace Frames with diffusion
2x K Clamp
2x Cardellinni / Mathellini Clamps
2x Magic Arm (With K Clamp)
Pole cat long
Pole cat med
Pole cat short

Full CTB
Half CTB
1/4 CTB
Full CTO
Half CTO
1/4 CTO
0.3 ND
0.6 ND
0.9 ND
214 Full Tough Spun
215 1/2 Tough Spun

How much of your film was designed. How much cgi was used? Did you leave room for improvisation?

I designed and planned out every shot in the film. There are only 9 cgi shots in the film but all of these come from or include existing natural environments. I wanted all of these to fit within the environment we were creating.

How did you find the cast for the film?

Most of the cast was found through castingcallpro, apart from Maeve Rendle (The Apprentice) who we approached and asked to audition.

What were some of the bigger expenditures for this film? You’ve done a really great job of shooting a breathtaking short film on a small budget. But what ate up your budget the quickest?

Overall the equipment cost £1200, the petrol cost £700 and the rest was spent on feeding the cast and crew with a very small amount made available to the Art Department.

There is a very cool (i.e. blue), dark look to your film. Who did you keep that consistent throughout?

Most of the outside shots were done shooting day for night so they weren’t noisy and were graded down to match. We found that Red raw footage was great for manipulating in Post as long as you have a good exposure to start with.

For the grade we used Apple colour on a home built PC.

At 5:26 (above) what camera rig are you using to stabilize your shot?

This shot is actually handheld.

Referencing the shot at 8:44 (above) – Wow! That’s another incredibly epic shot. You’re very brave with the amount of space you bite off for your wide angle shots. Can you explain the details behind the shot for us? How did you edit it so you pulled out the highlights in the foreground a little more? How much of this was done “in camera” vs. how much of this was done in post?

The bottom half of the shot, including the character walking, was filmed as day for night on Southport beach using natural light.

The top half is a different sky plate, which we shot later but was graded to match.

The cityscape was created again using still images.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions Thomas. Please let us know about any future projects you’re working on. I’m sure our blog readers would love to continue to learn from you!

 

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