We featured a short film titled Call Back by Rani Naamani & Carlos F. Puertolas in our last edition of Weekend Watching. The film explored an interesting idea of time travel as a habit-forming drug, especially in a situation which the user is attempting to run from. That is a fresh and exciting way to look at addiction and I was immediately eager to ask the filmmakers some questions about how it all came together.
The short film is embedded below, and scroll down past it to read my Q&A with the directors.
Tell me a little about yourselves.
CARLOS: I’m originally from Spain. But I moved to the US 7 years ago to work as an animator.
RANI: I’m originally from Lebanon. I moved to the US 8 years ago to pursue a career in animation.
BOTH: We met at Dreamworks Animation, where we are currently still employed. Early on, we both realized that we shared the same passion and enthusiasm for film and storytelling. One day we decided to rent a camera and shoot a live action test… a little moment between two characters. We filmed a few shots, edited them together, added music, sound and VOILA! it was an “aha” moment for the both of us! Even though the test turned out super crappy, we saw the potential of this medium and fell in love with it! Seeing that we both come from the animation world where things take a very long time to create, it was very refreshing and satisfying to get instant results with live action.
What are your individual roles in each production?
There are four major roles that we both play. The first and most important one is directing. That’s where our main interest lies, to take an idea and combine both our efforts and visions to create the most entertaining moment possible. The good thing is that we have very similar sensibilities both in live action and animation, this makes life WAY easier for us and the whole crew. The second role we play is editors. This goes hand in hand with directing really, it’s tough to separate the two since what we shoot on set is based on how we imagined we’d edit the thing later. In our latest productions, we’ve been pre-visualizing the entire short before going out and shooting it. We quickly explore camera angles and edit something together with scratch music just to see if the moment works. So really we begin the editing process pretty early on, and evenly split the workload between the two of us. The third and fourth role we play is color grading and sound (be it music or effects). Again, we divide the work evenly between both of us. That being said, when we have a section scored or graded, we take a step back and bounce it off of each other for feedback. We also get feedback from Nedy Acet and Nelson Brown, two key creative collaborators and valuable members of the SideFilms team.
What is the writing process like?
The process is really a combination of both, debates and peaceful sharing. If the meetings are always packed with arguments and heated debates, we wouldn’t get anything done and the process would drag along. On the other hand, if everyone smiles and worries more about being politically correct instead of worrying about the story, well that’s not good either. So it’s a balance; sometimes there are compromises and other times one of us will stand by what he believes is best for the story. In the end, we all have a common goal; we want the film to be the best it can be, so we work together in finding solutions as opposed to dwelling on the negatives. In a nutshell, we usually meet up and throw ideas around until one of them gets us excited enough to shoot it. If we feel like the idea is worth the time and effort it will take to create it… you can be sure to find us holding a camera and testing shots the very next day!
How did you arrive upon the idea for Call Back?
The concept for the film comes from exploring the idea of addiction and regret, and how connected these two sometimes are. It’s a fantasy that we all have at some point or another, What if you could erase something that you have always regretted? And how far will you go to achieve this?
One of the most important factors that made us choose Call Back was the relatively contained story, this is fundamental for us since we don’t have a lot of resources.
But if we go all the way back to the spark that generated the idea, it was probably the opening image, a guy sitting on the edge of a motel bed surrounded by bodies.
I loved that this was a new take on selling an addictive drug, can you take me through how that would work? Does the user return to the reality they are escaping whenever they stop using?
This question is a hard one to answer since things are constantly changing, as we further develop the concept. When we wrote the short version of the script we were definitively going in the direction you just mentioned. When the dose runs out, the user will return to the reality they were escaping and land at the exact time and place where they last took it.
There is a pretty gory head wound shot in the film, and a pretty high class effect for a short film, how was it achieved?
Nedy Acet is a fellow animator and SideFilms team member, no matter what we’re shooting he always surprises us with great effects. Nedy is talented in several areas which include make-up, set design and prop creation. He learned mainly through watching YouTube videos! On the day of the shoot, he brought a wig and created the wound using mainly toilet paper; he’s a genius.
I can totally see this being a longer film. I would be very interested in what happens when that battering ram connects. Can we expect a feature length version of this narrative? Or a series perhaps?
Indeed, we have some ideas of what happens next, but we don’t want to ruin it for all of you just yet! We are working hard on figuring out which route this story should take. Our plan is to extend the short into a feature length film. We are still in the beginning stages. It’s just a matter of finding out which storyline provides the most entertainment and originality. It’s easy to dwell on the logistics and mechanics of your sci-fi world. You can figure out the logic of how everything works, connect every plot line, clarify each character’s motivation and STILL have a boring film. So our priority at the moment is to find a compelling story, not just a functional one that explains all the questions we’ve raised in a mundane way.
Let’s talk technicalities: What did you shoot on, how many days, where did you shoot? And how long did post-production take?
We shot the entire short film on a Panasonic GH2 with an Olympus Zuiko 14-35mm f/2.0 lens, it’s an extremely inexpensive camera but thanks to the hacks available for it we managed to get some nice gradable footage. We also rented a simple LED kit (3 lights) to do our lighting, using such a small camera and little amount of gear really helped us keep the budget to a minimum. It also forced us to come up with creative solutions on the set. We shot the entire short film in a motel close to where we work, our producer Hilder Mock found the perfect place for it! The owner of the motel was super friendly and let us use the room, we just had to pay the regular price for it. We spent four days shooting and close to six months putting it together and adding sound & music. Having a full time job as animators and being responsible for every aspect of creating Call Back, from pre-viz to post-production, definitely affected the time it took for us to finish it. Nevertheless, we are so happy to finally share it with everyone!
What kind of response have you received from the business ever since this short went online?
The response has been humbling to say the least, we are so happy to see it get such a positive reaction from our audience! If you work night and day on a scene to make it tense, a comment such as “I was gripping my seat the whole way through” makes you feel like a million bucks! In terms of the business, the “Thriller” genre is usually well received in Hollywood, but I think it’s important for us to further develop this and try our best to make it original, unpredictable and satisfying first…. easier said than done, nevertheless, that’s our goal at the moment. Wish us luck!! We hope to see this story in its entirety on the silver screen someday.
What’s next for you?
We are going to keep developing Call Back into a feature and in the mean time we are already brainstorming new projects to shoot. We’re hoping to find more resources to make our future projects even better.