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NEW BEGINNING - 30:00 Short Film

OFFICIAL SELECTION - Top Shorts - 2019.p

Writer/Director: Benjamin Wilt

Camera: RED

Lenses: Canon CN-E Primes 



This particular piece was a long time in the making. Two years prior to actually writing, I had been approached by someone at the organization about creating something that would reach a wider audience. I struggled for quite some time because the specific narrative that they wanted was the Biblical account of the flood and it's obviously so well known that I was grappling with how to make it fresh and interesting. I didn't want to create something that just felt like a documentary but rather, I wanted to explore the emotions involved in such a narrative. I spent a lot of time pondering what it would have been like to live thru a world wide flood, what would it be like for everyone on the planet to die in one fell swoop and you're part of a handful that survives. I also wanted to avoid approaching from the perspective of Noah because again, it's been done before and I wanted something that felt fresh. It was during this process that I landed on the idea of writing from the perspective of one of the son's wives. I thought it interesting that we don't know much about the wives and yet, according to the account, they experienced this incredibly traumatic event and were forced to build a new life after all had been destroyed. I found this approach compelling and fascinating personally so I decided to run with it. 



Once I had the concept, I began writing. I knew that I would have a rather tight budget for the project so I took that into consideration during the writing. What I mean by this is that I decided to write the script in a way that only used voice over rather than giving any of the actors actual lines to be delivered on set. I did this because I knew that I would need to work with talent that wasn't very experienced and trying to achieve solid, believable performances that include dialogue would be very difficult. With this in mind, I just decided to use voice over for all the dialogue within the film. In the past, I've mentioned tailoring your writing to best accommodate your known budget and have been accused of stifling creative ideas but I would propose quite the opposite. I believe that part of the creative process is finding ways to make your production the very best that it can be while still working within what you have available to you. I know this isn't everyone's approach but it works well for me. 

I know that everyone who writes has their own approach, what works for them and I suppose I'm no different. I tend to have to write a TON of notes and ideas before ever embarking on actually writing the script. I will often go to a public place like a coffee shop because I've found that I'm way too easily distracted in my home or office. I will find every excuse possible to not actually write and for whatever reason, I focus better when in a public space. That may sound odd but it's what works for me. I always throw on some headphones and play movie soundtracks that are within the same genre and mood that I want and I'll get to work. Sometimes while working at McDonalds early in the morning I'll get distracted by the group of old men that seem to have a morning routine that includes sipping coffee near where I'm writing but it's honestly a welcome distraction. I learn a lot listening to them. 

Anyway, this was my process for writing New Beginning. 

Once I had the script fully developed, I dove into pre-production. I would like to say right tup front that the success of your film depends greatly on your ability to get others just as excited as you about the project. When you meet with potential crew members, it's very important that you let your excitement shine thru so that they are as invested as you in making all the sacrifices needed to pull off the monumental task of producing a film. While it's true that money is a good motivator, I've found that it's not enough. Everyone needs to feel that what you're doing is important and that they have a key role in making it all happen.

Once again, I knew that my budget would be tight and even though I'd written this script with this in mind, it was still an aggressive endeavor and my experience has been that it's obviously always important to pre-plan well but even more-so when dealing with the a tight budget and schedule. I've learned that a project such as this can go south very quickly if every detail isn't planned & you haven't attempted to think thru all possible pitfalls. Even with such planning, many things will go wrong and you'll have to adapt but if you've done the work and have a great plan with extreme details, the process will be much smoother and you'll be much closer to staying within budget and on schedule. This being a period piece made detailed pre-production planning even more essential. 

I began by researching for the 'tone' and feel of the piece. I had a basic idea because I was the writer but I now needed to refine and really zero in on the approach. I reviewed a lot of period films, looked at a ton of artwork and basically just tried to saturate myself in how others have approached similar subject matter. I had many references that I used but a few of the main ones that I would find myself going back to over and over were Apocalypto, The New World & The Revenant because they showcase so well  the overall look and feel that I so wanted to achieve. Obviously, each of those films are very different in many way but they have elements of realism within an emotional narrative that I really loved. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I wanted my audience to have a visceral experience rather than a cerebral experience. I wanted it to feel like more than just a historical reenactment.

I was quite focused on the fact that I wanted it to feel very believable and real. By this I mean I wanted nothing to look like a set or costuming and this was a tall order because there's really no actual references for the exact time period for this particular narrative within the Bible. I began using the term 'dirt under the finger nails' with my production team. My meaning in this was that I wanted attention to detail and wanted every frame to be filled with extreme realism. I talked specifically about our actors teeth and nails because I felt that if we could be attentive to that level, all else would fall into place.


Once I knew the look and feel, I began working with artist/VFX supervisor, Mike Prather on developing storyboards. I've done storyboards by myself in the past but I really prefer to work with an artist because it helps me to talk thru the shots as we develop the boards. As he would finish each scene, I would take them on my office wall so I could look it over many times a day. This is a very important step in my personal process because it lets me evaluate each shot & scene and I often see things I don't like or would like altered and I can then have my storyboard artist re-work. It's much cheaper to make changes and edits on paper before shooting. 

Because this is a period piece, ever single costume, set, set design and prop had to be custom made. There wasn't really anything at all that could be simply purchased so I had very detailed discussions with my art department in terms of the designs of everything that would be within the frame. This takes an incredible amount of time and thought. Every little detail has to be though thru and we also had to consider the budget. We talked a lot about how certain items could be made out of cheaper materials to save cost. I really loved working with the design team to create the world that I saw in my head. 

Location Scouting: 

Location scouting is obviously another crucial step in the process and we had to work very hard to find the right locations to match the descriptions spelled out in the Biblical account but that would also accommodate a fairly large production crew and cast. We had several scenes that we just decided would be best shot on sets built inside a large warehouse but there were other crucial scenes that required very specific looks in external locations. I didn't have the luxury of hiring a location scout so my Assistant Director, Ryan Vogel really jumped in head first and began searching all over the US for the best locations for our exterior scenes. After a great deal of research, Ryan found several locations in Montana & Washington that looked to fit the criteria needed so he and I hit the road. I've heard that some directors don't enjoy the process of location scouting but I actually really love it. I enjoy visiting places that perhaps I'd never visit otherwise in search of that perfect location for filming. After driving for many, many hours and visiting location after location, we finally landed on a beautiful location in Washington that accommodated nearly every need. When planning for a film, you have to resolve yourself to not only working on the fun, creative portions but also rolling up your sleeves and dealing with all the tedious little details and location scouting is one such area. We weren't only looking for that perfect looking location but we also needed lodging nearby, ability for craft services & truck access for equipment. These things are certainly not the sexy part of filmmaking but can make or break your production. The location that we landed upon had cabin rentals nearby so that served our lodging needs, the folks that ran the cabin rental facility also offered catering services so that covered craft services and finally, the two locations that we liked for what we were calling the homestead and sacrifice scenes had easy access for trucks. I always breath a deep sigh of relief when I've finally locked in my locations and this moment was no different. 

On Screen Talent: 

Finding good talent for a low budget project is always extremely difficult and quite frankly one of the most stressful portions of pre-production for me. Not only did I not have to money to hire any sort of experienced actors, I didn't even have the money to hire any professional talent of any kind whatsoever and this is something that kept me up at night. A project can be completely ruined by having bad on screen talent. I had written the script without lines to make things easier in this regard but I still needed people that wouldn't freeze up on camera. Ryan and I began searching all over to find the right people for the job. I was very specific on the looks that I wanted for the characters and I knew it wasn't going to be a simple task. In addition to our principle talent, I also needed several extras for one scene in particular which just made things even more difficult. All this said, we lucked out and really found a wonderful group of people that were willing to do whatever was needed to make the project a success and for this I'm extremely grateful. I'll talk more later about my approach to directing non experienced talent. 

Set, Costume & Prop Design: 

I talked earlier about how I wrote the script with budget in mind but that's not to say that I didn't dream a bit and even still, the script was quite aggressive for the budget. One of the key challenges was that we were attempting to tackle a period piece and that means that everything inside that frame must be custom made and created. There wasn't a single thing that we could just buy 'off the shelf' and make work. This is where our amazing art department came into play. I began working with our production designer, Travis Wilson, very early and he embraced the project completely. He and his team went way above and beyond my expectations and I can honestly say that without their dedication and sacrifice, I couldn't have gone to the level of detail and excellence that I wanted. We obviously began with the script and I talked Travis thru everything that I had in my mind. The beauty of having a team around you that is excited about your project is that they will not only help you execute your vision but will also enhance it. Travis and his team brought a lot of ideas to the table which allowed me to dream even bigger. There were places in the script that I had resolved myself to scaling back but Travis encouraged me to dream big and they would do everything they could to achieve what I wanted. This was no small order because I was in need of several sets in addition to all the costumes and props but he and his team insisted that they were up to the task and I'm happy to say that they truly were and over delivered in many ways. 


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