Sunday 29 November 2020

Home - Academic - Seven Lessons I Learned Making My Short Film: Omid Shams

24Frames: This week on Seven Lessons we read from Omid Shams on his experiences making the short film Birthday Night. Among its many honorable festival selections, Birthday Night was Iran’s only representative in Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival 2018.




Seven Lessons I Learned Making Birthday Night

By Omid Shams


Birthday Night is my second professional short film, before that, I had made Gozar with Pouria Pishvaei. Prior to making these two films, I was inexperienced and scared of filmmaking. I learned so much Cinema in the process of making these two and realized that it’s only through filmmaking that you can learn filmmaking. Below, I will be sharing seven of the lessons I have learned through making this film.



1. I Shouldn’t Wait for Inspiration for the Script.


I was always grappling with the lack of ideas and suffered from not receiving any inspiration. In the Iranian National School of Cinema I was supposed to turn a script which was completed under the supervision of our mentors into a film. But when I was about to start, I ran into an obstacle that stopped me from making that script. The school gave me five days to write a new one. It seemed impossible to me, I didn’t have any other ideas or plotlines but since all other students were making their films, I felt a sense of forced competitiveness and drive that lead me to shut myself in a room for five days. I started writing down images that were in my mind for a long while. On the fifth day, I had the completed script of Birthday Night. I was astounded at how I started writing without an idea and got to a script.



2. I Shouldn’t Stray Too Far from the Feeling I had about the Script During the Shoot.


When a script is being written for the first time, it invokes a personal feeling that becomes the foundation of whatever is the end result. Then, throughout making the film we are faced with many comments from the crew and those close to us, some helpful at improving the film, but we need to be careful to not let all those improvements undermine the initial feeling.


This is the most important thing to stay faithful to when it comes to the script.


3. I Shouldn’t Give Up in the Face of Adversities.


Before starting the shoot, no matter how well-prepared we are, things aren’t going to go as imagined and if we fail to make the right decisions at this point and give up, the film will go down the drain.


With Birthday Night, after a week of practice with the cast, the night before the shoot one of the leads announced that he can’t make it. The owner of the villa location, which was booked a week in advance, didn’t show up on the first day of the shoot so we had no access to the location. The car that was the main location of the film was found after an exhausting search, yet two days before the shoot the owner withdrew from our previously settled contract. These types of troubles can easily shake our beliefs about the production and directing a film, diminish its quality or cancel the project altogether. I learned, however, to adapt myself and make decisions according to the new conditions, or else the film will not be made.



4. I Shouldn’t End the Take Too Fast.


During a take in Birthday Night, I let the cameras keep rolling later than previously intended and noticed a brilliant moment in the scene that I wasn’t aware of before. Everyone, especially the actor, was aware of the endpoint but I lingered a few seconds and everyone kept on going. The actor kept the action and I was amazed. After that, I often kept implementing this on scenes that centered more on the actor and recorded moments that, to me, were phenomenal and this had a profound effect on the entire process of the film.




5. When Shooting Longer Takes, be Mindful of the Internal Rhythm of the Shot.


Due to the fast pace of the story, anyone who read the script to Birthday Night before the shoot imagined they’d face a film with copious amounts of shots and cuts. Yet, my feeling towards the shot plan was fewer, more static shots, where the events in front of the camera were to be performed with the right rhythm. Birthday Night is about 32 minutes and it’s made up of 32 shots. On the other hand, I was anxious about potential troubles when it came to editing, and the film ending up slow-paced. I tried to quicken the pace of the scenes on set through faster mise en scènes but in this one shot I wasn’t able to and a reshoot was not possible. It got us in trouble during editing, it went on for an extra minute and we couldn’t cut the beginning or end of the take. With our editor Mohammad Najarian’s good judgment and employing CGI, we were able to cut out a minute of footage and it helped the film immensely.





6. I Shouldn’t Think of Festivals while Writing the Script.


When I finished writing the script and sent it to a few people to get some feedback, some pointed out that it’s not going to be a festival favorite, especially international festivals. Since the only way of having your short seen is festivals, I was preoccupied with this initially but then I thought I should just make my film and only consider its quality. After it was done, with no enthusiasm I sent it to the festivals and was surprised by the results. The film was part of the selection at the world’s most notable short film festival, Clermont-Ferrand, and showcased and awarded in many festivals nationally and internationally.





7. I Shouldn’t Make Soulless Films.


I think one of the most important elements of a film is the mood and atmosphere. The location, setting, lights, lenses and the visual identity, tone of the shot plan, and sound are the most effective components of setting a mood. I consider all of these in the pre-production phase and pick movies with similar moods, choose stills from these movies and show them to the respective crew, especially the cinematographer, so we get to a unified language about the mood of the film and try to recreate it as best as we can.



Translated by Kiana Nikolai

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