Post Mortem: A foray into grindhouse film making

I’m a fan of 70s style exploitation films aka Grindhouse, so making a short film for the Melbourne Underground Film Festival has been high on my bucket list.
Connecting with one of life’s curve balls, I discovered, like most, a lack of knowledge of traditional burial and crematation. So, instead, I made a film that advocates my preferred option: natural burial

WARNING: This short film contains scenes adult themes, course language, nudity & necrophilia

TWO FEET UNDER from Cameron McGrane on Vimeo.

With no formal training in film making I share what I learned along the way by researching, advice and doing.

  1. Do something unexpected
  2. There is no better way to get the creative juices flowing by doing something outrageously different to anything you have done before.

    My story starts in my home town late 2010, I had startup burnout and was insolvent. I put the word on the street and a friend called offering a crematorium job. I said yes and started the following day.
    During my short stay in the death industry, I heard stories, met characters and learned about “things” I would never have discovered on my own accord. At the end of each day, I would tell my stories to friends and they would tell theirs. At night my imagination would run wild with the macabre fotter which was my job.
    As I booked in bodies and handed over remains to family I questioned “Modern burial or cremation?” and the answer was neither which made me an advocate for natural burial which motivated the creation of the film

  3. Tell the story before script
  4. Anyone can write a script because anyone can tell a story.

    A script is just a story written in a who said what form.
    Imagine the time you told your last story, real or made up? It was all in your head and not written down but you were able to recite it like it was yesterday. When a story evokes emotion it’s a good candidate for a script.
    The day, I wrote my script the story had become so vivid in my head that I wrote the script from beginning to end in under an hour.

    When a film evokes emotion you have made a film worth sharing

  5. Use a template
  6. There is something about using a template with styles and scene sign posts. A template provides just enough structure and it feels all pro like. A template for my first time made it fun. I used a template for MS Word.

  7. Understand Shot Types
  8. Learning shot types will add to your street cred on the set and provide structure for story boarding

    Before creating a story board get up to speed on the shot types. Knowing shots allows you design the story board and communicate to the crew the scene.
    These are shot I used.

    • Wide Shot
    • Mid Shot
    • Close Up
    • Extreme Close Up
    • Reaction Shot
  9. Create a story board
  10. Story boards are great way to picture how the scenes will be shot. They make it real and further conceptual rigour improving your ability to estimate time and resources.
    I spent 30 minutes reading “Drawing for Dummies” to prime me but you can even do it with just stick figures.

    Click for full storyboard

  11. Carefully choose a location
  12. Time is of the essence when shooting a film and when people are volunteering it’s paramount.

    Be weary of more than one location as the logistics of moving crew and equipment around can quickly eat into precious shooting time.

    If you can keep the shoot indoors then do it. When indoors you can control the light which makes it easier for the camera person to shoot. Outdoors is at the risk of the environment.

    I was lucky enough to have a friend offer his premises to shoot the film.

    With planning, thinking on my feet and a little luck I was able to shoot the film in a clever way.

    I shot the scenes based on furthest distance from the car which we would pack the equipment into.
    Kind of like a proper army clean when you are real dirty. Start at the head and work your way down all the way to the feet.

    What this ment was we moved and shot taking the most adaptive path to the car so we could all go home.

    Below is a diagram of order of scenes over the two days.

  13. Create a scene schedule
  14. “These people are volunteering Cameron. Don’t fuck them around” – Jeremy.

    Jeremy’s wise words were enough to keep me focused on staying organised. I didn’t want anyone staying longer on set then neccessary. I wanted them to know before they arrived roughly how many hours were expected and when. With a scene schedule emailed days earlier the crew were reassured what was expected and that I valued time.

    Screen Shot of Schedule

  15. Find a crew and cast
  16. A crew consists of a camera person, sound\boom person and a gopher to help with lights. Anything less and you are going to run into show stoppers. I also needed two actresses, an actor, a nude model and a makeup artist.

    The only thing on my side when starting off was I had the nude woman. A late night conversation in my sauna sealed my jewel and driving force to get others on board.

    “Oh you have the nude dead woman? You must be able to get shit done! I’m in.”

    In all honesty, without this Facebook message reply by Richard referring me to Warren Coulton the film probably wouldn’t have been made.

    I didn’t have any film making tacit knowledge (only google), gear or contacts and after pitching it to Warren with in days had actresses calling me and a crew (lighting, camera and sound).

    Crews are happy when you feed them and you know your shit. I fed them and though my lack of directing skills were a flakey my project\time management and planning ment things moved quickly despite my rookie mistakes.

  17. Tips and techniques to spike before shooting
    • When more than one actor is interested in your film run a casting session
    • Learn the 180 Rule
    • Learn how to shoot with one Camera like you are shooting with two simultaneously
    • Learn about Reaction Shots and take plenty of them
    • Learn about Continuity. Ask everyone on the set to keep continuity in mind.
    • When using some elses premises take before and after photos of where stuff is to put back correctly after the shoot.
    • Don’t change the script after you start filming.
    • Listen carefully to your actors they have useful feedback.

    • Revise and proof your script repeatably. I spent 30 minutes of revision it was not enough. Suprise surprise actors will read word for word what you wrote!!
  18. Find a good editor
  19. Great editors can make a crap shoot average and good shoot great. I paid Tom $400 and it was well spent.

    Great editors “post production” using final cut are hard to come by. I found Tom via RMIT media faculty. Tom was an alumni free lancer and loved classic film which ment he had a strong appreciation for grind house. Apart from mad Final Cut Pro (software for editing footage) skills he could make his own music using a synthersizer. One of my favorite things about the film is the music created by Tom . Great editors can make a crap shoot average and good shoot great. I paid Tom $400 and it was well spent.

    An important lesson when working with high end editors is to trust your creative instinct. I was talked out of my original ending where the audience finds out the funeral director is Belle’s dad instead going with the aids call. I regretted the decision

    It was fun and surreal experience and it wouldn’t have happened with out life’s unexpected surprises. Put yourself out there, learn something new and tell the story!

TWO FEET UNDER from Cameron McGrane on Vimeo.