It all started with a phone call… I called a few colleagues of mine with the crazy idea of shooting a feature film in two days expecting (and kind of hoping) that they would talk me out of it. They didn’t. Suddenly I had to figure out how we could actually pull it off…
Being Sold is based on a story I originally wrote as a short about six years ago, then put it into a drawer thinking that I must do something bigger with it. It was basically a reaction to a lot of news stories at the time about people selling odd things on eBay (including a girl who sold her virginity to pay for university). I knew the idea was worthy of being a feature-length film but it needed a lot of development; it needed to be expanded in length and reinforced with extra layers and depth. The original short was basically a three hander (three character) piece, set indoors, in which the characters are studied by (literal) outsiders in the form of the media. Initially, the film—about a man who sells himself on the Internet—was meant to answer the questions of “why” and “what if”‘ someone did such a thing. Eventually I decided to also explore the ideas of what our current society considers news and what we consider entertainment.
Screenwriter Aidan Magrath and I have been discussing the short that was to become Being Sold ever since I wrote it six years ago, but Aidan didn’t put the proverbial pen to paper until about four weeks before we started shooting! We started out with a long outline of the plot. The major challenge was trying to restrict the story to two locations—inside and outside a house—without making events feel too small. Another difficulty was writing dialogue to emphasize the real time aspect of the script; Aidan had to write dialogue such as, “There’s 16 minutes left on the bid,” or “We go to air in three minutes,” to convey a sense of real time. From a directing standpoint, I needed to be clear what was going on both inside and outside of the house at all times, and not just when the script dictated what we were seeing because we were shooting each location in long blocks of action and not scene by scene.
Why Two Days?
The idea of shooting Being Sold in two days came about for a few reasons: First because of budget. Second because of the cast; we knew we needed well-known actors, but since we couldn’t pay them, we had to make sure we didn’t take up too much of their valuable time. Third, because we needed an angle, a story to help sell the film. There are so many independent films made these days but hardly any of them reach an audience except “the one that was shot for $100” or “the one that was made in someone’s bedroom.” A two-day shoot may have been a gimmick, but it was also powerful sales tool. You probably wouldn’t be reading this very article had we not shot it this way.
While I hoped the two-day angle would attract attention to our film, I would never have shot it in two days if it was going to affect the story. The script was written in a way that allowed us to shoot in such a condensed timeframe. All events occur in real time (without the 24 split-screens). Our crazy approach to shooting added to the energy of the camera and the performances; as this short shoot limited the number of takes, our actors were always on their toes.
I had to be confident that we could do this… on the outside, anyway! Once I started talking through the practical details with my DP, Michael Costelloe, we realized we had a mammoth task ahead of us but that it was possible. We planned meticulously and basically threw the rulebook on how you should conventionally shoot and block drama out of the window. We shot this film almost like a live event, like theater. As the film was in real time, we made sure to pre-light everything in order to allow the actors to move where they wanted to and allow scenes to flow into each other without having to cut the camera. We were shooting 15-minute long takes at some stages. We shot the inside of the house on two to three cameras and the outside on, at one point, seven cameras! We shot on five RED cameras and used two F900-Rs as the news cameras.
The most challenging part was ensuring we captured the performances. We weren’t concerned with the “look” of the film, our focus was the actors. I needed to allow enough time in order to give the cast the freedom to explore the scenes and find the characters. I knew if we didn’t make sure the performances—and the comedy, obviously—were solid, we didn’t have a movie. A lot of improvisation filled in the time gaps between scripted scenes in order to allow the action to flow naturally.
In post-production, I had two editors working side by side. I cut my two previous features myself, so it was a real departure for me to work with editors, but they were brilliant. They started cutting by location—one cut the inside (emotional heart) of the house and the other cut the external (media, news) stories. It was really interesting stylistically, because they felt quite different. Paul Gordon (who also was an operator on the shoot) assembled the film while Paul Griffiths-Davies brought the pieces together and refined the film. It was a very unique approach that really paid off in terms of style.
Originally we intended to release the film as a one-off event across multiple cinemas on 10/10/10 at 10:10am (when the real time story of the film starts). We got very close to achieving this but the plans kind of fell through at the last minute. That’s when we came across Distrify. Distrify is a revolutionary way to release independent film through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s basically as simple as sharing a link with your friends—like you would with a YouTube clip, for example—but the video window that appears contains your film, behind the scenes content, trailers, etc. and allows people to purchase and stream your film straight away from that window. You can even buy a DVD for a more traditional movie watching experience. The great thing about Distrify is that whoever shares the film automatically becomes an affiliate and starts earning a percentage of the sales they make by referring people to it. It’s all very clever!
We heard about the company and decided to look into it. Because we already had a growing fan base and our stars of the film had thousands of followers, we figured we had an automatic audience that our film could appeal to just through the Internet. Distrify was the perfect way to potentially allow these followers to become customers.
Being Sold is the first feature film to be released exclusively via Distrify… we’re a guinea pig for the technology to see whether it will work for other independent moviemakers. The success of the film depends on fans and moviemakers (who are hopefully still reading this!) to watch and share the film via our Website (www.beingsoldthemovie.com) and via their social networks. If enough people share the film, then it will be distributed to the masses.