SUBMISSION FOR THE 2010 DURBAN SHORT FILM CHALLENGE
SOLO is a 5 minute film that details the first day in the life of an exploratory android sent to explore a potentially habitable planet for the sake of humankind’s survival. But he’s not the only one. Hundreds of other androids have been sent to different planets. Humans will choose only one planet to inhabit. The rest of the androids are doomed to wander alone, hoping that, one day, they will meet their creators.
SOLO was made as part of the Durban Short Film Challenge, which is associated with the Durban International Film Festival, South Africa’s premiere film event. The name pretty much says it all. It’s a challenge. While making a short film is always tough, making a short film on no budget in three weeks with a small crew is truly a mental and physical feat. But we loved every minute of it.
As it happened, this film ended up being something of an experiment. While we would have preferred to go about it in a more orthodox way, time constraints caused us to go about making the film in a somewhat back-to-front way. It was a bit of a gamble, but in the end, we were very pleased with what we produced.
We dedicated a week to each phase of the production process. The first week was for scripting, the second for shooting and the third for post. However, after the first week, we hadn’t managed to lock down a final script. The idea was there, but it’s resolution was unclear. So basically, we ended up going out to shoot the initial scenes, without really knowing how the film was going to end.
While for a more formal or complex production, this could create a production management nightmare, the concept lent itself to the process, and ended up working in a really interesting, workshop-style way, where the dynamics of the scenes we had shot influenced our creative decisions in relation to the next ones. As a result, the film took on a kind of organic, naturally coherent life of its own, which surprised even ourselves, the filmmakers.
We knew initially that we wanted to make a science fiction film, as we hadn’t done it before. But we wanted to ensure that it still had an accessible, human emotional appeal. There were no shortage of ideas at first. But as soon as the idea popped up, we knew immediately that we wanted to make Solo. (The closest runner up was a neo-Wizard of Oz sci-fi starring Andrew’s schnauser, Edo.)
We needed the perfect person to play the part of the Android. Matt had Brad in mind, and as it turned out Brad, our star, happened, coincidentally, to be in town for the shooting period. Luck was on our side. We wanted Solo to be quite Aryan-looking, to give the impression of a new being, who’d never seen much sunlight before. So it seemed right that he should be almost albino in appearance. But Brad, a professional actor, with much at stake, was kind enough to let us have a go at his hair with peroxide. Et viola. We had our android.
At this point, we needed to start shooting. Script or not. We had scouted some locations, and had some of our exteriors set, but on our nonexistent budget, we had to get creative with our interior space-pod scene. After exploring a few other possible ideas, we eventually decided to shoot the pod scene in a Spur children’s play area, which was really awesome, mostly because exiting the set meant sliding down a corkscrew tunnel. We dressed it with some tubing and shot it really close up, and it came out looking pretty convincing, we think.
We chose our exterior locations based on how dramatic and untouched they seemed. We needed to create the impression of a world that was similar to ours, but not quite the same, and as yet untainted by human habitation. It needed to have an Eden-like new world feel to it. Our shoot took us all over the greater Durban area, as well as into the KwaZulu Natal Midlands. We are fortunate enough to live somewhere that has really beautiful, diverse landscapes quite close to each other. The shoot was quite pressurised, and we ended up chasing the sunlight, looking for new locations pretty much on the fly. Our final shot was found by trespassing on someone’s farm in the Midlands where we managed to set up a crane in record time to get the shot with literally seconds to spare.
We also had to traverse tiny cliff-face pathways carrying tracks (that we didn’t eventually use) down into the Kloof Gorge valley. We visited Cane Fields in Shongweni, and the Mangrove Swamps on the Umgeni river, the Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg, and the beachfront in Durban.
We shot the scene with the butterfly in about four different locations. We literally had to smuggle some butterflies in a camera bag from a butterfly farm so that we could get the shot we needed in the right location. Guerilla filmmaking at its best. The poor silkworms stars you see in this scene were tragically massacred by an army of ants when we tried to set them free after we’d finished with them. It was really awful.
Once we’d got all our shots, we started cutting with a week till the deadline. The edit involved many late nights, mostly at Andrew’s house while his folks were away, sustaining ourselves on pizza and coffee. I got my first taste of the new Simba Vetkoek and Polony flavoured chips during this time. I don’t recommend them. It all started slowly coming together, editing, recording voice over under a duvet, being distracted by YouTube, working on CGI, writing the score, mixing etc etc until, after one week (including 2 entire nights without sleep,) we managed to finish it off. And here it is… watch the video at the top of this post.
PS. Thanks to all the crew who made it happen : Matt, Andrew, Badger, Brad, Luke, Mark, Pascal, Shanelle, and anyone else who lent us a hand. Shot.
Matt Nefdt, Sarah Dawson
Matt Nefdt, Sarah Dawson
Matt Nefdt, Sarah Dawson
Matt Nefdt, Sarah Dawson, Andrew Sutherland
Andrew Sutherland, Matt Nefdt
Voice of Android No. 278
Additional Crane Operator
Android No. 278