I recently blogged about my experiences making the feature film Parallels and how tough it was for me personally to make that film. The film I decided to make next after Parallels served to be a positive exclamation point to that experience; The Trial Of Film simultaneously let me vent a lot of my frustrations I was feeling at the time through the lead character of Sputnik while poking fun at the industry I was taking so seriously (and probably didn’t need to!).
The Trial Of Film proved to be a radical departure from my previous films, both in content and execution. The improvised and ‘less perfect’ approach I took with this film contrasted greatly with the rigid and stringent approach of Parallels. I find this to be very liberating, and it subsequently informed me on all the films I made since then. With Parallels and before, I worried about getting everything absolutely right as planned. With The Trial Of Film and later, I allowed for a degree of improvisation and flexibility to discover new things, which ultimately gave these films more spontaneous and real moments.
One of the first lessons I learnt coming out of Parallels was to make the script as tight and interesting as possible. To this end, The Trial Of Film was probably the first script I wrote that had little to no fat, and this greater attention to writing as good a script as possible is one of the major reasons, I believe, why the film was well received by audiences.
The second lesson I learned was to ensure every performance in the film was top notch, and the casting of The Trial Of Film was another major reason why the film was successful with audiences. To this end, I cast Colin MacPherson as the egomaniacal film director Sputnik and he created a strong, unique character, far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Although the script worked well, I could not hear a voice for Sputnik specifically in the writing, but when Colin came along, he took my words and created a tremendous character. He told me that he based a lot of Sputnik’s inflections and mannerisms on a Canadian film critic. Priceless.
Colin was also instrumental in helping me find a great supporting cast. With his help, I was able to get in contact with a great group of actors who all in their own way brought something special to the film. Lee Mason, whom I had worked with on Parallels, was absolutely hilarious as the lead actor James Walker III. What surprised me the most were his improvisations, and a lot of them ended up in the film. My personal favourite is his final scene over the end credits where he demands “why are you walking off?”. It is memorable to me for many reasons because he did it right off the cuff, and if I hadn’t yelled cut he still would have kept going on his rant! Where that scene cuts to black is literally one frame before the footage cuts out and I had turned off the camera.
Drew Tingwell was excellent as the resigned cameraman Ed Zim. He provided an hilarious ad-lib over the end credits that always brings a big laugh. Also, his curious look at the camera in the first scene was something he threw in on one of the takes and it worked brilliantly. Simon Kearney hit the naïveté and anger of his character Cameron Long, Sputnik’s long-suffering first assistant director very well. Michelle Cele played the dumb actress to perfection, and Ian McIvor played the part of frustration and inspiration to embarrassing effect. Colin said to me later you have a feature quality cast in this film, and I think he was right.
One of the things I tried to accomplish during production was to film every scene in one take. The reason for this was to give it more a documentary feel, and also to focus less on technical aspects of lighting, specific shot composition and other matters which I felt had bogged down proceedings in Parallels. The one take approach worked quite well with a few of the scenes, but it turned out to be not that practical in others, although I got fairly close. The film has many long takes with very little editing, and the fact that it is still tight I think comes back to how well the script and performances turned out.
The Trial Of Film was a lot of fun to make, and one of the few films that I have made that I can watch without cringing at something. It was like a perfect storm of creativity, and I am especially indebted to the actors for bringing so much to the film. The first screening was a watershed moment for me when I saw an audience laughing their heads off at numerous points during the film; it was a genuine, enthusiastic response I had not seen for one of my films before. And the film achieved the same response at every screening thereafter. I finally felt I had delivered an all-round good film that hit all the required aspects on the head.
At the time, The Trial Of Film was to be a full stop on my filmmaking experiences at the time, but little did I know that I would return to this world and character two years later with a sequel, the aptly titled The Trial Of Film 2. With any luck, a feature film version will get produced one day where we will finally see Sputnik make his masterpiece feature film. I have the script, all I need is the money!
Watch THE TRIAL OF FILM now on Digicosm TV.
Click here to visit the official web site for THE TRIAL OF FILM.