Critics seem to have taken against Bohemian Rhapsody with curious animosity. It’s not the film’s fault per se – directed in hodgepodge by both Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher, this is pretty inoffensive entertainment – but because it replaced a potentially more interesting take on the Queen story. When Sacha Baron Cohen was subbed for Rami Malek, in the role of lead singer Freddie Mercury, the project became much safer. If you’re after dramatic depth, you’ll be disappointed; if you’re happy with slightly sanitised fun, this will, indeed, rock you.

Two fundamental fault-lines undermine Bohemian Rhapsody‘s capacity to fly as a biopic. First and foremost, the sticky fingerprints of Brian May and Roger Taylor smudge all over the screen, spurring caution in Anthony McCarten’s script and smoothing over the odd rough edge. It would be wrong to call the film wholly genial but there’s a whole lot of worshiping at work here. ‘You’re a legend Fred,’ says Ben Hardy’s Taylor. ‘We’re all legends,’ replies Mercury. When the singer does go rogue, there’s no exploration of why or how. An early nod to his life pre-Queen – Mercury was born in Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara – is quickly sidelined, despite obvious tensions. No bad deeds stick and there’s always redemption to fall back on. We’re told that Freddie is frequently drunk but don’t see much evidence; his sexuality, meanwhile, is strangely sexless.

The second drawback would be that the story of Queen comes across, in the first hour at least, as a touch banal by rock ‘n’ roll standards. Their rise from student band to global sensation meets precious little resistance, whilst their talents are presented as fully formed from the off. As though by divine inspiration, radical ideas, refrains and lyrics appear to be plucked from thin air by each member of the band. In one ludicrous scene, Freddie is lying on a makeshift bed with then fiancé Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) when he leans back and, out of nowhere, plays the opening of Bohemian Rhapsody on a conveniently placed piano, years before he would actually write the track.

Personality clashes do flair up with increasing intensity as the film enters its second half but each time a new hit or concert comes along to save the day. In this version of events, it’s the predatory press and their clamouring readers, not to mention the slimy Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), who are the felons and wrongdoers. There’s more meat here than many have given the film credit for but it’s too easy to switch off in the preamble. It’s a shame so unconventional a story is being told this conventionally.

Admittedly, that all sounds much more negative than the film actually deserves. Malek is sensational as Mercury, leading a strong cast with flamboyance and the occasional stab of poignance. Sequential on-stage performances are handsomely mounted – with ample colour and verve – whilst the soundtrack really is killer Queen. The grand finale of the film is a glorious recreation of Queen’s remarkable 1985 Live Aid showcase and it is a testament to the film, which will likely be re-evaluated by critics in the future, that the ten minute extension does feel justified. This climax is by some great distance the most exciting part of the film, lying somewhere between nostalgic and barnstorming, and sends things out on an electric high. 

A Practical Guide to Attending Your First Film Festival

“Film festivals act as gatekeepers. They add a layer of curation that assures audiences and distributors alike that someone already has done the hard work of finding the cream of the crop. If your film has been accepted, you’re in good company!”

Many aspiring filmmakers dream of what it will be like to one day sit in a movie theatre, while above the audience, light streams from a projector onto the screen, illuminating the fruits of their labor and passion. Getting a film in front of an audience so that people can experience its story and characters is the traditional end-all be-all be-all of the filmmaking journey. For some, the first time this happens is at a film festival, so it’s not surprising that festivals hold a special place in filmmakers’ hearts!

If you’ve yet to attend a festival, then you may be wondering what it’s like to go to one with your own film, and that’s what we’ll discuss today. We’ll also talk a bit about film festivals in general: what are they, and what do they have to offer us as filmmakers? Lastly, we’ll touch on ways you can find success at a festival, so that you’re equipped with some basic strategies when you score your first festival acceptance.

Festival films usually screen at multiple venues.

What is a film festival, anyway?

On a very basic level, a film festival is usually a multi-day event during which a selection of films is played for audiences. Film festivals tend to take place in a single locale that has several screening areas available, so that multiple films can play at once. In light of these considerations, small towns and cities with multiple screening locations are often good backdrops for film festivals.

So, for example, let’s imagine that a made-up film festival is happening over the course of four days. We’ll call it the Awesome Film Festival (AF Fest… One thing to know about festivals is that they’re often boiled down into acronyms)! During AF Fest’s four day run, 30 films will screen across four different theatres, all within walking distance of one another.

Festival-goers will look at the festival’s schedule and pick out which films they’d like to see. Typically, if you’re attending a festival as an audience member, you’ll receive a program and map out what you’d like to see and attend when.

A film festival screening often includes a Q&A session with the filmmakers after the screening concludes. This opportunity to dialogue with the filmmakers – both formally on-stage and sometimes informally after a screening – is one of the things that draws audience members to the festival experience. People love speaking with the artists who made the thing they just saw, and they love hearing those artists discuss their process. This proximity between the creators and the audience is one of the defining features of a film festival that sets the experience apart from, say, simply catching a movie in the cinema.

Plus, the films you see at a festival won’t necessarily make it to wider distribution in a cinema context at all. Granted, some film festivals – especially bigger, top tier festivals like Cannes, Berlin, and Sundance – exist in the sphere where top-dollar business deals and film acquisitions are made, fast-tracking the best of the best to the big screen. In this sense – and in the sense that a festival acceptance can act as a badge of honor, since it proves that a film was considered good and appropriate by the festival programmers! – film festivals act as gatekeepers. They add a layer of curation that assures audiences and distributors alike that someone already has done the hard work of finding the cream of the crop. If your film has been accepted, you’re in good company!

An audience catching a screening at a film festival.

What’s a film festival actually like for a filmmaker?

For a filmmaker with a film in the festival, attending can be a very exciting, valuable experience! Going to a festival lets you:

  • See your movie alongside an audience (sometimes for the first time). It’s worth acknowledging that this can seem like a scary experience, and if you feel nervous beforehand, know that you are not alone! Playing to a room full of strangers puts your creative soul in a vulnerable spot. Hang in there. Chances are high that the experience will be thrilling, especially if your film is well received! Either way, it’s a good exercise in letting go of your work.
  • Get feedback from the audience. Sure, sometimes you’ll hear negative things and get notes that run the gamut from “helpful” to “ridiculous”, but especially at smaller film festivals, audiences attend knowing that they’re seeing the work of up-and-coming filmmakers who still may be learning their craft or otherwise finding their unique creative voices. It’s entirely possible that audiences will be forgiving of blips here and there, choosing instead to latch onto the good and promising aspects of your work. Who knows, they may seek you out to talk your ear off about how much a moment in your film resonated with them!
  • Meet other filmmakers who are around your level in the filmmaking journey. Filmmaking is an incredibly collaborative craft that tends to require strong networking skills. Festivals afford you the opportunity to connect with other filmmakers who are at a similar stage in the game as you. These relationships can last long into your careers, and you can help lift each other up as you go.
  • See what other filmmakers are doing. It can be really inspiring when you catch a film at a festival that makes you say, “Wow – that was really good.” Remember, if you have a film in the festival, you’re in good company! You also can get a sense of what that festival tends to program and perhaps even where “the zeitgeist” is heading.
  • Depending on the level of the festival, you may be able to network with potential film distributors as well as influential programmers and agents and managers. Such meetings can lead to distribution deals and/or other future opportunities.

Accepted into a film festival? Here’s what to do when!

If you’re preparing to attend a film festival and represent your film, then you’re probably hoping for some nuts-and-bolts advice. We’ve got you covered. I attended my first film festival as a producer back in 2008, and there were definitely a few things I wish I’d known before I got there. So, here’s some super practical information for you that will help position you for festival success!

Before the festival:

As soon as you find out that you’ve been accepted into a festival, become aware of what the festival needs of you and when. According to Raindance organizer Elliot Grove, there’s nothing more frustrating than the incommunicado filmmaker: “I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to email, telephone and leave messages, call other members of the crew trying to reach a producer or director with important information about their film,” Grove explains. “Sometimes I just give up, and we won’t screen the film.” Don’t let this happen to you!

Plan ahead as much as you can. Festival schedules often are announced fairly close to the actual screenings, but as soon as you have the schedule, note when your screening time is and make sure that you can be there for it. Next, take a look at the schedule and note which other films you’d like to see. It’s not uncommon for several films to screen simultaneously, which can be confusing to navigate if you don’t make a plan beforehand.

“For me, the fun part of a festival is sitting down beforehand with my highlighters and calendar, feverishly rifling through the festival booklet and drawing up an expansive colour-coordinated schedule of what I’m going to see, when I’m going to see it, and who I could potentially meet at these screenings,” Jen Metcalfe shares. “It’s a Tetris organizational delight, and it’s the key to maximizing your film festival experience.”

For some, planning a film festival is "a Tetris organizational delight."

In fact, there are even apps to help you with this! “Never has a festival app been so perfectly built as the Berlinale 2016 app,” this article claims. “The official app is a wealth of information, syncing up with the website, your phone’s calendar and providing an intensive schedule perfect for planning. The Berlinale app lets you search by movie, by category, by location or by date/time. Even with all the printed programs and schedules freely available throughout the film festival, the app is the best tool for planning.” The fact that apps exist to help you maximize your festival-going experience should be an indicator that it’s worth planning seriously.

While you’re planning, make note of any social events that are open to filmmakers and plan to attend some or all of them. Most festivals have several opportunities for filmmakers to mingle: cocktail hours, receptions, even galas. Many of these events are free; others will cost you. For example, the end-of-the-festival gala is usually a ticketed event that filmmakers have to pay to attend. Since everyone already has screened their films, people usually are feeling celebratory at the gala, so it can be a great venue for forging friendships! It’s also where awards get handed out. If you can find it in your budget to attend, it’s a good idea to do so.

During the festival:

Most films festivals maintain information tables with volunteers and/or staff present to help answer questions. They’re there for the benefit of both the attendees and filmmakers. Don’t be shy! If you have a question, ask. Every festival is different, and you want to make the most of your time.

If you’re traveling to attend, ask the festival organizers in advance where most people are staying, how people get around, if there are any special hotel deals you can access as a filmmaker, etc. Because so many festivals are firmly rooted in their locale and run by people who live there, organizers can provide a great wealth of information about what to expect when you get there.

Have an extra digital copy of your film with you, just in case. Yes, you sent it to the festival organizers in advance. Yes, you can hope that the film gods will shine upon you and the screening won’t get messed up. But guess what? Stuff happens. The first festival I attended, my composer’s entire family had traveled in to see the film in the theatre alongside him. And then as the film started, we realized to our horror that, for whatever reason, the festival was playing the rough cut, with a temp track, that we had submitted in the application process, instead of the final cut – with the composer’s score – that we had sent to be screened at the festival. Luckily, we had an extra copy with us, and they swapped out theirs for ours.

Have business cards with you to hand out to other filmmakers, and consider making postcards and other promotional materials to advertise your film and its screening details. Everyone you meet will be excited that you’re a filmmaker and will ask you when your film is playing. Give them something they can hang onto so that they don’t forget you or your film.

Speaking of everyone getting excited about your role as a filmmaker, get ready to tell people what your movie is about – and quickly – a LOT. You know that two minute elevator pitch? Speed it up. Thirty seconds, tops. And get ready to say it over and over. And over. And over. And over. And over. As Taylor Kephart puts it, “be ready to sell, sell, sell the film, company, or service you are offering. Everyone else is, so practice your elevator pitch before you get there: the 30-second snapshot of what it is you are at the market for and what makes you, your film, or your service so special. Just as importantly, make the pitch memorable. It’s not just what you say but how you say it – you want them to remember you from the hundreds of other pitches they’ll hear.”

Depending on the size of the festival, “selling” the film may include interviews with press and/or participating in panels. It can be so much that filmmakers sometimes will hire publicists to handle navigating and planning these aspects of the festival experience.

One more tip for what to do during the film festival, inspired by a personal experience. Years after I attended my first festival, I was attending another as an audience member, in a small town where I was living at the time. As I was waiting for a screening to start, a group of filmmakers were standing together where I could hear them. They were getting to know one another, and the way they had chosen to bond was to make fun of the town the festival was taking place in (which I called home). This may seem like a small thing, but it really stuck with me.

When a film festival’s on in a town, it more or less takes it over for a few days. This can be really exciting and great for the people living there, but it’s worth noting that those people – not just the festival itself, but the people who actually live in the place where it’s unfolding – are the hosts of the festival. Frankly, it just wasn’t a good look for these filmmakers to be talking about the place like it wasn’t worth their time. I can’t say it’s not fine to feel that way, because of course, you don’t have to like every place you go. But I think it’s good advice to be aware of your surroundings at a film festival, and remember that it’s not just your fellow filmmakers who are there. It’s audience members you’re asking to appreciate your work, after all.

When you’re gabbing with other artists, know that people are paying attention to you. You’re the stars of the show, and – I know it’s cliché, but it’s really true – you only get one chance to make a first impression. A film festival can be a great way to convert strangers into fans, if you conduct yourself appropriately.

After the festival:

Follow up with the filmmakers, industry players, and friends you met at the festival! Watch their movies, like their pages, follow their social media accounts. Technology makes it so doable to stay in touch with people across the miles and integrate their work, thoughts, and interactions into your day-to-day life. Definitely embrace the connections you made at the festival and stay in touch with people. It’s worth repeating that film is a collaborative medium, and you never know what future opportunities may exist for you and your craft thanks to the people you connect with at film festivals.

Don't forget to stay in touch with the people you meet at the film festival!

In Conclusion

Have you attended a festival with a film before? What are your top tips for success at film festivals, what surprised you, and what do you wish you had known going in? Please share your experiences in the comments below – we’d truly love to hear them!

How to Direct Your First Feature Film

“Partner with as much experience as you can, particularly the AD. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Use shorts as an opportunity to explore with less at stake.”

Earlier this year, a low-budget scifi western called Prospect popped up on our radar after winning a special award at the SXSW Film Festival. It builds on co-writers’ and directors’ Zeek Earl’s and Christopher Caldwell’s short film by the same name, itself a SXSW select. We’ve been counting down the days until the feature film’s theatrical release, so we were delighted when the good folks over at Gunpowder & Sky reached out to connect us with the filmmakers.

Before we explore how Zeek and Christopher created such a compelling film for their feature debut while facing considerable financial constraints, let’s take a moment to review the synopsis and watch the trailer:

“A teenage girl and her father travel to a remote alien moon, aiming to strike it rich. They’ve secured a contract to harvest a large deposit of the elusive gems hidden in the depths of the moon’s toxic forest. But there are others roving the wilderness and the job quickly devolves into a fight to survive. Forced to contend not only with the forest’s other ruthless inhabitants, but with her own father’s greed-addled judgment, the girl finds she must carve her own path to escape.”

Hello, Zeek and Christopher! I absolutely loved Prospect. You tell a western-inspired story of frontier survival while suggesting a much larger, “hard scifi” world, trusting the audience to keep up. There’s a foreign alphabet; obscure equipment; patterns of speech reminiscent of a Cormac McCarthy novel; strange cultures gestured toward but not fully articulated… Although the film stands on its own, I wanted more! In a way it reminds me of Duncan Jones’ 2009 classic, Moon. Awesome stuff.

So, let’s start at the beginning. Prospect began as a short film:

How did you guys come up with the initial concept? Why tell this specific story? Narratively speaking, what convinced you to make the jump from short to feature – ie., why did you feel it required more screentime? Or was the goal always to use the short as a sort of springboard into your first feature?

The goal for the short was always to be a proof-of-concept for a feature, establishing the tone, texture, and basic premise. It also served as the first experiment with our low-budget production design philosophy. We knew we wanted the world of the film to be rendered practically – favoring physical props, costumes, and sets – and the short allowed us to test the waters of this approach, which we eventually scaled up for the feature.

If you don’t mind my asking, what was the short film’s budget? What about the feature film’s budget? In each case, how did you get the financing together? I ask because financing is a step that virtually every indie filmmaker struggles with, especially in context of a feature film debut, as Prospect is for you guys.

Between a Kickstarter campaign and some personal funding, the short film’s budget was under $30k. The feature landed in the very low millions.

We started pitching the feature immediately following the short film’s premiere at SXSW. We didn’t have a script yet and ended up choosing not to take any development deals to maintain control over the development process. We did, however, promptly connect with excellent partners in our producers at Depth of Field and Ground Control and our agents at WME, who guided us through what became the 3-year journey of finding the financing.

In part due to the unconventional production approach to the film (which included opening up our own production design shop, a 7-month pre-production period to accommodate the large amount of production design, and a 40-day shooting schedule) it was a bit of a tricky sell. There were a lot of false starts and excruciating doldrums before we connected with Bron Studios, who believed in our weird vision for how this film would get made.

In retrospect, one of the things we were least prepared for in the pitching process was how much of an emotional grind it can be. You have to be poised to hit the ground running at any moment as you sit for months only to have everything crumble at the last moment. There’s a lot of anxious waiting.

Our coping mechanism for this was to channel as much of that energy as we could back into the material.Anytime a deal fell through, we’d go back to the script and see what we could improve. Inspired by Jodorowsky’s Dune, we continued to work with our production designer to mock up new designs and generate more concept art, eventually putting together a big coffee-table book we could slam down onto tables at pitch meetings. And, together with our producer Brice Budke, we were constantly reevaluating the budget and finding ways to make the production plan more airtight.

By the time we got the green light, we had devoted years of additional development to the script, design, and budget for the film until we essentially had a ready-to-go package. There were numerous times we were on the verge of tabling Prospect, where it didn’t seem like it was going to happen, but each time we went back out, the pitch was that much more compelling. Eventually, we got a bite. And once it came time to go into production, we were far more prepared then we would have been had the green light come sooner.

A table read of the script. From right to left, Zeek Earl (Writer-Director), Alex Park (Graphic Design Lead, Camera Operator), Daniel Caldwell (Composer), Chris Caldwell (Writer-Director), and Brice Budke (Co-Producer).

A table read of the script. From right to left, Zeek Earl (Writer-Director), Alex Park (Graphic Design Lead, Camera Operator), Daniel Caldwell (Composer), Chris Caldwell (Writer-Director), and Brice Budke (Co-Producer).

That’s so inspiring! How long did it take to write the script? Who provided feedback, and how many revisions did you go through?

It’s hard to say. As described above, we were working on the script off and on for a three-year period while also pitching the movie and working on commercials to pay the bills. There were a couple big rewrites, but distinct revisions quickly became a blur of constant tweaking, with regular input from our producers as well as friends, family, and anyone we could get to read the script.

What was the co-writing process like? For example, did you puzzle over each and every word together, or did you divvy up the scenes and tackle them separately?

There was definitely a process of finding the most natural way to collaborate, though we had already been working very closely together for years in commercials, so we had an instinctive sense of each other’s strengths.

Also, to support the script, there was a lot of worldbuilding we had to do, which yielded additional writing as we essentially created an encyclopedia in Google Docs of backstories, cultural origins, political histories, etc. This was developed together with our core production design team, who was also pumping out new concepts and designs.

From a writing perspective, when you have a stream of ideas coming at you about how each element of the movie could look or function, you’re able to integrate them more meaningfully into the script. So collaboration was less a challenge and more just a part of the DNA of our writing process as the world, the story, and even the practical designs featured in the film were developed simultaneously.

The warehouse with sets under construction.

The warehouse with sets under construction.

What a cool and unique process! So what were your first steps after the script was locked and the financing was in place, entering into pre-production? There’re a million things that must come together once the proverbial train is in motion, especially when you’re doing so much world-building… Where did you start?

First thing we did was lock down the lease to an old ship-building warehouse in Seattle and start gutting it. This became the hub of the film from pre-production through post. Within a couple weeks, it was a functional workshop and production office. Prior to casting and a lot of other pre-production logistics, we were in full swing building props, costumes, and sets, because the volume of stuff we wanted to create was going to take the full 7 months before production.

Writer-Director Zeek Earl reviews the Cee Pod with the team.

Writer-Director Zeek Earl reviews the Cee Pod with the team.

That’s totally understandable, considering how fully-realized the production design is throughout. Instead of a sleek, futuristic world, Prospect paints a picture of an unforgiving frontier where a single mistake could cost you your life. The aesthetic reminded me of 1970s scifi (especially Alien). What was your inspiration? Where and how did you build the sets (especially the lived-in spaceship interiors)?

We definitely drew a lot from the sci-fi classics we grew up on (AlienBlade Runner, the original Star Wars) as well as a lot of NASA and Soviet space-race-era designs. Prospect is a frontier story about blue-collar nobodies trying to scrape by. We wanted to acknowledge the economics of this in the design, which is why everything is so lived-in and worn down. These people can’t afford the best, brand new gear. Everything is haggard, bought used, and repaired many times over. The pod that Cee and Damon fly down onto the moon is a low budget lease, the space equivalent of a Uhaul. We wanted it all to feel grounded within its world, functional and utilitarian.

Prop Maker Paola Dittmar tries on a helmet for Prop Maker Jimmy Guerci.

Prop Maker Paola Dittmar tries on a helmet for Prop Maker Jimmy Guerci.

It definitely does, even in the wardrobe and props! Where and how did you build them? Everything seems to have a purpose in this world, even if that purpose is not immediately clear to the audience – I think especially of the harpoon-like “thrower” and its charger. How much concepting did you have to do before the execution? What did that process entail?

This is in large part due to the multi-faceted development process described earlier. We were always looking for opportunities to integrate compelling functionality into the story. While we worked with talented vendors on specific items, the bulk of the props and costumes were made in the warehouse by our in-house team, comprising many of the same people who had been developing Prospect with us long before we were actually making it.

"Prospect" | DUST, 2018

Prospect | DUST, 2018

Nice. Where did you guys shoot the exteriors? The verdant greens of the forest reminded me of Annihilation – a dangerous, alien world indifferent to human struggle and ambition – as did the pollen-like particles floating around. They add so much to the foreboding atmosphere.

It’s the Hoh Rainforest on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. In many ways, the location was the impetus for the whole story. We spent a lot of time in college hiking and backpacking around the state and always had a simmering desire to turn the Hoh into an alien backdrop. It’s where we shot the short and ended up shooting much of the feature in the exact same locations, down to individual trees.

Woah! What camera(s) did you shoot on? What lighting and stabilization gear did you use? I love the tight, handheld aesthetic throughout. The shot of Cee going for the gun around 27:48 was especially impressive; I imagine it required some serious choreography.

We shot the film on RED cameras with custom lenses made specifically for Prospect. The lenses featured re-housed vintage soviet glass to bring a softer texture to the sharpness of the digital image. The exterior scenes out in the forest were shot primarily using natural light.

Writer, Director, Cinematographer Zeek Earl holding one of the production cameras (with custom designed lens), and Electronic Engineer Luke Dietz holding an old VHS camera used for parts.

Writer, Director, & Cinematographer Zeek Earl holding one of the production cameras (with custom designed lens), and Electronic Engineer Luke Dietz holding an old VHS camera used for parts.

It’s beautiful. On the sound front, since much of the dialogue occurs while characters have their helmets on, I’d be curious to know how you approached audio. What gear did you use? Did you have to do a lot of ADR?

Sound in the helmets was definitely a challenge, but we wanted to preserve the integrity of the toxic environment as opposed to coming up with excuses for the characters to take off their helmets. Our sound engineer created a system that allowed the actors to talk seamlessly into each other’s earpieces, also giving us the ability to tap into the feed for direction.

That’s so cool. You guys were innovating right there along with the characters! Beyond the dialogue, the music and sound design work in tandem to make the world feel lonely, isolating, alien… A true galactic frontier. How much of the sound design came from production audio versus foley/stock effects? How hands-on were you guys in creating the soundscapes? Were they something you considered before production, or did you find your way to the sound of the world of Prospect more during post-production?

There was a lot of excellent foley and sound design work, a creative collaboration with Impossible Acoustic, who also worked on the short film, so we were pretty aligned at the onset of the project. There were a lot of fun opportunities and blank slates… from finding the right flavor for the original gun technology to the ambiance of the forest itself. Particularly in sci-fi, so much of the world’s atmosphere is cultivated discreetly in the sound design.

Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell working together on location.

Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell working together on location.

Agreed! I’d love to hear about the challenges and triumphs of working together as co-directors. What were the advantages? Disadvantages? Did you have any creative disagreements? If so, how did you resolve them? More generally, who did what – ie., how did you divide and conquer?

There were surprisingly few creative differences, owed in large part to the way we developed the script. We spent years ironing out the film prior to shooting so when we arrived on set, there wasn’t much left to disagree about.

In retrospect, one of the surprising advantages to co-directing was emotional support. It’s an intense and harrowing experience making a feature, and we were grateful to have each other to lean on and the ability to divide our attention to focus on separate things simultaneously. We went to school together, directed short films and commercials together, and ran a business together prior to making Prospect, so our dynamic grew organically over time. By the time we were shooting our first feature, we had an instinctive sense of each other’s strengths, knew when to (tactfully) get up in each other’s shit, and when to defer. This dynamic is also what allowed Zeek to shoot the film.

Amazing. It’s so special to have a close creative collaboration like that.

Together, you guys accomplished an extraordinary amount with practical effects, but I’d love to hear what elements were created using visual effects, and how. The more you can share – insights into your greenscreen backdrops, foreground filters, VFX workflows during pre and post-production, etc. – the better! Our students and readers are always curious for a peek behind the curtain, demystifying movie magic.

Again, texture was key. Since so much of the film is rendered practically, we couldn’t let the VFX disrupt the immersion with incongruity. To achieve this, nearly all VFX shots were integrated with some kind of practical element in close collaboration with our VFX Supervisor Ian Hubert. Space exteriors were shot though the dirty glass of real windows. The dust was real, shot practically in Zeek’s basement, then painstakingly layered into every exterior shot to match depth and camera movement.

A "family meal" at the warehouse.

A “family meal” at the warehouse.

Prospect is a low-budget film, but it never feels cheap. How did you pull that off? What was the key to achieving such a high production value with such relatively limited resources?

The passion of our crew, in particular the production design team. Many had never worked in film before, coming from a mixed bag of backgrounds ranging from industrial design to cosplay; and this diversity of perspectives became a core part of the identity of the film, both in design and execution. The warehouse became a close-knit collective of artists with a personal creative stake in the film. Density was the mantra and we tried to weave as thick a tapestry of original artifacts as we could. It was the tireless efforts of this team, hurling a cyclone of plastic and epoxy at the screen, that made it look the way it does.

Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell directing Sophie Thatcher.

Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell directing Sophie Thatcher.

I love that spirit of openness and camaraderie! Speaking of, you landed a great cast, including indie film legend Jay Duplass, Game of Thrones veteran Pedro Pascal, and the mesmerizing Sophie Thatcher, who says more with her facial expressions than reams of dialogue could. How did you rally such established talent to your cause? What convinced them to sign on?

We’re still humbled by the caliber of Prospect‘s cast. All the talk of worldbuilding and production design would be for naught if it weren’t occupied by a real, emotional human story. What convinced them? You’d have to ask them, though we keep going back to the efforts put into development, and perhaps this is another example of it paying off. By the time we were casting, we knew the story and we knew how to talk about it. We also knew that what we were trying to do was unconventional and highly ambitious, and there’s something exciting about that.

What challenges did you face while directing your first feature film? How was the experience different from directing a short film? How was it the same? Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to first time feature filmmakers? What about to first time short filmmakers?

For us, one of the major differences and biggest adjustments between making a short and a feature was painfully obvious, but still took a lot of acclimation. It’s bigger. The machine is bigger and slower and harder to keep moving forward. For the short, we had a crew of around 10, run and gunning around the forest. We were sloppy, but we were agile. When we went back out into the woods for the feature, we had a crew of over 60 and a pile of complicated props and costumes. Those first few days we had to come to terms with the fact that we’d be working with maybe 3 or 4 takes when we wanted 8.

Partner with as much experience as you can, particularly the AD. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Use shorts as an opportunity to explore with less at stake. Shooting a short film version of our first feature allowed us this exploration and lent us a creative confidence going into the feature, which was vital considering all the things we weren’t confident about…all the things we’d never encountered before.

A crew meeting at the warehouse.

A crew meeting at the warehouse.

Wise words! So what’s next for you guys?

More sci-fi. We’re in development on a series pilot about an intergalactic trophy hunter…a frontier sci-fi with a medieval flavor. We’re also writing what we hope will be the second feature, a near-future murder mystery set in the American Midwest on a fully-automated commercial farm. Rural cyberpunk, if you will.