Short Film: Light the Short Side of the Face First

Below you’ll find our most recent interview with Director Marko Slavnic. But, first, watch his 4 minute short film below:

Wow! What an incredibly unique story concept told in a clear and concise manner. I have to ask… Where did this story originate?

This story came from just a random conversation with some friends, I think it might have even been at a Chinese restaurant and somebody said ‘wouldn’t it be funny if there was a Chinese restaurant where they had hidden mics under the table and then you got a customized fortune in your fortune cookie based on your conversation?’ I immediately thought what a great film that could make, but it wasn’t til about two years later that I actually did it.

I find that for me the best ideas usually always happen in that way, when I’m out actually living life instead of locking myself in a room and trying my hardest to come up with something.

Can you tell us about your casting process? How long did it take you to find the actors and when did you know you found your team?

Casting was relatively painless and uneventful. I contacted a few of the local agencies and put out a casting call on a few websites. I read about twenty people for each role. The biggest surprise was the role of the recordists, who we cast Isaac Kim in, a young guy who hadn’t really done any acting before. But he had such a perfect look and was really natural in front of the camera that as soon as I read him I knew we had our guy.

You shot on the Red Cam. Can you tell us why you made this decision?

The Red Cam is such an amazing camera that I try to shoot with it every chance I get. I knew I wanted this film to look slick and that we were going to be shooting everything in one day, so it was a no-brainer to spend a little extra money to rent that camera for the day. DSLRs are wonderful, but the Red to me seems to offer a much more cinematic image that gives you more flexibility in post production, so it’s my camera of choice practically every time.

What lenses did you use?

I can’t remember but it was two basic Nikon lenses. A 50mm and a 17-35 or something like that. I find that the brand of lens you use is almost irrelevant since 99% of people can’t tell the difference between a $2,000 lens and a $200 lens. I think what is vastly more important for people to think about is which lens to shoot with (25mm, 50mm, etc) and your lighting setup of course.

What microphone did you use?

Sound was the roughest part of all of this. We didn’t have a sound recordist (a potentially fatal mistake that I never would make again) so all we did was plug in a boom mic into the camera and have a PA hold it out of frame. Luckily enough most of the sound during the close-ups was great, but all the wide shots had to be done in ADR, which was a huge pain!

Your sound design, cinematography and direction is great. But let’s talk specially about the shot at 1:17  (above) – This shot has great lighting. Can you tell us a bit more about how you approached lighting and composing that shot?

Well I knew I wanted everything in the restaurant to look smooth and pretty and everything in the basment to have more of an ominous tone, so the actors in the restuanrant were lit with soft light (an open faced fresnel bounced off of a white bouncecard) and everything in the basement was lit with hard light, again an open faced fresnel, but with no bounce, instead pointed directly at the actor to produce high contrast and strong shadows).

The shot at 1:17 I don’t remember the exact lighting specifics, but I know we had our key, the open faced fresnel off to camera left, and we just flagged it off so it didn’t blow out the wall behind him. I’m not sure if we had any fill camera right, but if we did it was pretty minimal, probably just a bounce card.

How much of your locations were designed? How did you go about securing such great locations? I really love both the basement (above) and the restaurant.

Well we basically just hit the pavement, going around all the Chinese restaurants around town, looking for one that would be big enough to allow us to shoot with a very low depth of field. I knew I didn’t want my actors sitting in a booth or against a wall because that wouldn’t be very visually interesting. Finally we came across this one, which my friend happened to be managing at the time. He said we could shoot there in the morning before they opened so that’s what we did.

The basement was a little trickier because I live in Austin, and here houses don’t really have basements. So we started looking at businesses, theater houses where we could potentially create a basement set, and then we lucked out by finding this amazing abandoned building with this enormous basement. I loved it so much that we came back there a year later and shot a horror short in it.

How much did Table 7 cost to make?

We shot in one day, and the crew all generously donated their time for this and all the locations were free. So all in all what we ended up spending $ on was rental of a dolly and jib, the red camera, food, and a few props we couldn’t find to borrow such as two of the typewriters. All in all it was around $1,500.

Referencing shot at 2:18 (above) – How are you lighting that shot?

That shot is lit with two open faced fresnels, one camera right and one camera left. The one on the right is lighting the actor on the left and is also providing the hair light for the opposite actor. And the other way around for the other light. I believe we also had a soft light lighting up the backgound. My DP was David Blue Garcia and all the credit goes to him for the lighting. I asked him once about his approach to lighting and his advice was “always figure out your key first, use it to light the short side of the face, and then light the background.” Sound pretty simple, but not being a lighting guy myself, that little bit of information greatly helped me in the future.

If you could turn back the hands of time and do something differently what would it be?

Honestly, I’m really happy with how this project came out and is one of the few films that I’ve made that I watch and don’t say “I wish we could change this or that about it.” Production wise, shooting everything in one day made it pretty tough, and towards the end of the day the crew was really starting to feel it. But because of lack of $ that was the only way to do it at the time. Sound was a mess and I would definitely never go into a project without a sound recordist again. Of course in the editing room I was cursing myself for not having certain shots, but in the end, this is a film that I’m really proud of and turned out pretty much exactly how I envisioned it.

What project do you have planned next?

I am currently working on getting my first feature off the ground.

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