A focus on furious filming

A festival participant and first-time filmmaker takes a look at the focus film festival

The theme for this year’s festival was “The brightest lights cast the darkest shadow.”
The theme for this year’s festival was “The brightest lights cast the darkest shadow.”
Monica Cheung had no prior filmmaking experience.
Monica Cheung had no prior filmmaking experience.
Monica Cheung (bottom, left) and her group met for the first time last Friday. By Sunday night they had made a short film together.
Monica Cheung (bottom, left) and her group met for the first time last Friday. By Sunday night they had made a short film together.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever consider taking part in a film festival, I would have immediately said, “No.” But, as my time as an undergrad is fast approaching its end, I realized I’ll rarely ever be given the same opportunity to make a five-minute film with absolutely no experience whatsoever. So this year, I decided it was time I broaden my horizons and sign up to be in the Focus Film Festival.

Over one weekend, students from all faculties and programs create a five-minute film, from brainstorming script ideas to editing their footage together.

The First Meeting

I wasn’t sure what to expect at our first meeting for the festival in Dunning last Thursday. The room was filled with faces I had never seen before and, for all I knew, people who had loads more experience than me. I navigated my way through the room and finally found my name, scrawled in permanent marker on a sheet of paper that had been taped to a desk, along with the names of my group mates. They seemed nice enough and all had experience with film—great, so I was the only one who knew nothing. Then the co-chairs announced the theme: “The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows.”

My group spent two hours trying to figure this puzzle of a theme out, and even then it still remained a mystery. Were we supposed to think of the interplay between light and dark? Or were we supposed to think of Hollywood and the downfall of being in the limelight? These seemed the most obvious interpretations and clearly the ones most others would have thought of as well. In an effort to be different, we tried to stay away from these ideas. The thing about a challenging theme is that it allows for myriad interpretations, all of which could be good, bad or tragically convoluted.

For some reason, I was fixated on using an earring in the film, which the group was kind enough to gently shoot down. But honestly, our ideas seemed to range from a tale of discovery and incest, to a conflict between two individuals.

Narrowing Down Our Ideas

After our moderately successful, yet still inconclusive first meeting, my group met again on Friday night to hash out the theme. Following three hours of serious discussion we ended up right where we started. Personally, I enjoyed my idea about a film centered around the purchase of a light bulb—a bit too literal … maybe, just maybe.

Finally, a Beacon of Light!

After considering all our options, we decided on a completely different idea. Since our film is making its debut this Saturday, I can’t really divulge the actual story, but I can say it definitely isn’t anything like our initial idea of a girl searching for something belonging to her dead mother. As per the rules of the Focus Film Festival, we had to create our film entirely in one weekend, including editing, which, unbeknownst to me, takes a while.

We shot the whole five-minute film in a single day; however, it was far from a seamless shoot. We couldn’t film for a couple of hours because it was too light outside and the sun was being stubborn, refusing to set any earlier than 5:30 p.m. Saturday was a crash course in film: I learned that the boom mic is the big microphone you hold over actors in a scene so you can hear them more clearly, and a tripod holds up the camera and allows you to move it in various directions while maintaining stability. But I still don’t really understand fish eye, fish lens, fish view, or whatever it’s called.

My group was nice enough to let me, the novice, take a crack at standing behind the camera for a scene. I guess we’ll find out at the screening how smart a move that was. I was amazed that there wasn’t any conflict in the group: everyone was on speaking terms and there weren’t any prima donnas.
Luckily, I didn’t need to know much about the camera for my part as an actor. And, as an added bonus, there was minimal—and I mean minimal—dialogue in the film. The hardest thing I had to do was laugh, which was actually harder than I thought it would be. I basically sounded like a hyena. Needless to say, I won’t be awarded an Oscar any time soon.

The Final Cut

Who knew editing could take so long? My group spent all of Sunday editing and putting together the clips we shot. We worked well into the evening trying to make the clips fit seamlessly and to make the sounds synchronize with the action. I never realized the lack of sound is actually a sound. It’s interesting how a sound that wasn’t actually made in a scene can be manipulated into it. It’s now down to the crunch and we’re going over the finicky details like thinking up a title for our film and figuring out what kind of music to go with some of the scenes. I have to say, after this weekend, I have
much more respect for the actual filming of a movie. Brad and Angelina have nothing on the editors.


Films made for the Focus Film Festival will be screened at 6 p.m. on Jan. 20 in the BioSciences Complex in Room 1101. All are welcome, and admission is free.

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