Sunday 29 November 2020

Home - Academic - Seven Lessons I Learned Making My Short Film: Dornaz Hajiha




24Frames: Dornaz Hajiha is an Iranian Filmmaker whose short film Marlon, also written by herself, have been showcased and awarded in many festivals worldwide. Hajiha has an MA in film production from London Film School and has made a number of short films and a documentary.



Seven Lessons I Learned Making Marlon

Dornaz Hajiha




These seven lessons are experiences I’ve written down about the short film Marlon and I’ve found writing them helpful. These notes reminded me of what I have learned through making Marlon, I will be using them in my next film as well, and were I’ve made mistakes, mistakes I never want to make again.


1. Shooting a Mockup


During group rehearsals on set I had asked the cameraman to be there with a basic camera so we could think about the shooting script as well. Watching the footage we shot during rehearsals we decided to shoot the film in sequence in a day. We edited the footage to make a mock-up that helped us a lot: in planning the shots, set design, costume design, color palette and anything else relating to the set and visuals. The mockup even made me change the shooting location, something that definitely wouldn’t have been possible during the main shoot. The room where Marlon was auditioning looked fine during rehearsals but then watching the same scene in the mockup I noticed the flat white wall behind Marlon so we changed the room to one with red walls, which in my opinion helped to show Marlon’s internal world better. The important thing was that we shot the mockup on the set of the film itself, if we hadn’t it wouldn’t have helped as much as I had expected. Through making a mockup not only we make the film once in advance, but we also attend to other matters with the sufficient care, from the lenses used to the actor’s costume.



2. Making Marlon with £80



Marlon was a film I had decided to make before my return to Iran, time was running out and I didn’t have much money. I was sure If I were to look for a producer during this short period I would only be losing time. The most important thing was that my own school was the location I needed. I started with bringing together a team of people who I had worked with before and were as driven as I was. I wasn’t looking for a 100% professional team. We were all students making up a 6-person team behind the camera. The cast were all people who had worked with me before and trusted me. I didn’t go for anyone new and the whole team were already familiar with each other and collaborating. I gathered everyone up upfront and told them that our budget is tight and at times we might have to put in more effort than our position normally requires. Since I explained our circumstances to everyone honestly from the get go, everyone helped and they didn’t expect more professional conditions with that same amount of money, and thus, the film was made. Although I have to note that I made up for it by putting more effort into writing and rehearsals. The team could see that even though we don’t have a budget all other aspects are moving forward professionally and this was the main drive for everyone to cooperate.



3. The Relationship With the Cinematographer


I had engaged the cinematographer with the story ever since I was writing the script. In my opinion the more the DoP is present throughout every step of the process, the more they will get to know the director’s vision and a proper relationship will form between the two. After the story and the script were finished, I started discussing the storyboard with my DoP. He was there during rehearsals—ones I didn’t want to be held privately. If he wasn’t so present throughout the pre-production, he couldn’t have gotten to know all my dispositions as a director and even the emotions I wanted to bring out of the actors like he did. This made it so that on set we could read each other’s mind which helped greatly in working with child actors.



4. Working With Children Under 5


In the scene with the little girl, the only way I could have her act was to control her indirectly. She was vaguely familiar with the plot of that scene and the key dialogues, but I tried to operate in a way so the directing was focused on Marlon and the out of frame mother and keep the little girl on track.  When working with very small children it’s better to ask those of the crew who can stay off the set to not be present so the child isn’t distracted. I tried to have the kid see the cameraman during rehearsals so much that he became a prop to her. The moments when the camera isn’t rolling are really important in directing children. For example I tried to figure out Marlon’s habits and know that if I want him to seem tired in a scene, shoot that scene in the early morning when he’s just woken up, or if he should be hungry or full, etc.




5. Pay Less Mind to Lighting and Camera Model


This was actually due to not having money, so I told my friend: ”Look, find any camera you can.” So he got me a Canon 5D, which fortunately was the perfect choice for my project. The camera was so small, simple and ordinary that it would get lost in its surroundings and what would happen was exactly what I needed: the gear and crew became unobtrusive and faded into the background. This helped minimize the distraction for the cast, especially since they were children. For instance, all of Marlon’s audition scenes in the film were shot without much lighting design, maybe with a couple of lights set at a distance with Marlon. Even though the cameraman was really close to Marlon since I didn’t want to use a telephoto lens, the small camera helped not disturb the kid. His presence during rehearsals had also made Marlon get used to him.




6. Directing Out of Frame Components



Even if something isn’t visible in the frame, it has to be set in the right place. The actor looks ahead and everything is seen through the actor’s reaction. Though we were only shooting Marlon and the camera was close to him, everything was being performed like an actual audition in front of Marlon. Even the audition table, costumes, papers and the director auditioning Marlon were set behind the camera.




7. A Simple Storyboard



Simple storyboards, only to establish the frame and actor placements and let the cinematographer and I know the shot plans. This helped me immensely. The main reason was that I figured everyone’s focus was going to be on Marlon and we’d only have headless figures of adults in frame, except the people who enter Marlon’s world like the little girl, the cameraman and the didgeridoo player.





Translated by: Kiana Nikolai


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