Arguably one of the most important aspects to creating a believable ‘world’ in a film is its production design, especially that which is seen by the camera. Set design, makeup, costumes and props, each as important to the other so that we, the audience, are really in Victorian England, or exploring other world’s on the intergalactic spaceship Prometheus.
So how can you ensure that when the viewer watches your film that they believe what they see is really happening? Well the first answer to that question is in the people around you, those that help with the concept, design and construction of the film’s world. I am currently seeking a Production Designer to help me do just this. Over the next few months I’ll be making a short film set six months after a zombie apocalypse. The world needs to be abandoned. Belongings, cars, offices, homes. Everyone has taken what they can, and left. Imagine picking up a town, shaking up it free of its inhabitants, then putting it back down. Then you’re getting into the world I’m trying to create.
I won’t have a big budget, which means major constraint into what we can utilise and create. But as always with filmmaking, if you want to create a believable world with little budget, you need to think creatively. Before I get stuck into the design of my own ‘world’ for the short film though, I thought I’d take a look at a low-budget film set in a similar environment to see how the filmmaker and team had pulled off this feat.
28 Days Later
A 2001 film by Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later is the story of a survivor who wakes up 28 days after an aggressive virus infects most of the UK. It was made for $8,000,000 which for a feature film is not a great deal of money. Every dollar would have been pushed as far as it could, and considering the lower budget, you honestly don’t notice it. It is a fantastic film.
Now I will certainly have far less money to create my short film, but what about the tricks and techniques that Danny Boyle has used to achieve an empty London? Surely there was something in the frame that I could apply to my own short? Lets take a look!
So where was 28 Days Later filmed? Well a huge portion of it was filmed in the streets of London. A city of millions of people and Danny Boyle & team made it look completely abandoned.
So how do you get rid of the heavy mix of pedestrians and traffic that would otherwise be there? One of the tricks they used was to film very early in the morning, during the week. It reduced the number of people in the vicinity so that they could run their takes. Adding in that they also blocked off locations between takes, allowing traffic so pass through during certain times, and you suddenly have an empty street.
Sparse, yet details set dressing provides those elements that just makes the city seem forbidding and dangerous.
Framing & Camera Composition
A large portion of the external shots are from higher angles. This simply limits the field of view so that rather than shooting wider establishing shots, you reduce the amount of environment on screen. Less to control, easier to manage.
Another technique I noticed was the ‘tightness’ of a lot of shots. Wider shots are used to help establish the location, but soon we are into compressed shots likely filmed at a telephoto focal length to exaggerate depth. Again, less to watch to worry about with your location. Have a look at the following shots:
Many would think its easy to implement Visual Effects (VFX) to help either ‘paint out’ or remove any unwanted onlookers, but that’s a tough thing to make look realistic enough to not draw attention to itself.
Whether or not VFX was used to remove anyone in the film I actually don’t know the answer to, but certainly in the wider shots of London I can imagine there may have been an aircraft or two to get rid of.
For The Cure
For my short film The Cure, I will be filming in/around Brisbane. Hardly as busy as London, and no-where near as tough enough to achieve the same look as 28 Days later since we’ll be operating a small cast & crew, there are still the challenges of creating an abandoned city.
I want it to feel strange, an area that we know should be filled and packed with people & cars, but which is deserted. With very little budget, we won’t be able to shut down streets, and so we’ll need to pick and choose our timings carefully.
Early mornings could be best for our external shots, coupled together with tighter framing and compressed shots, and we may just get away with it!
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And finally, what did you think of 28 Days Later? Have you shot a film in an ‘abandoned city and if so, what tricks did you use? I’d love to hear your comments below!