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Hothouse 7: Evolution of a Shot

The following is a guest post by Tabitha Fisher.

Now that my film has been Picture Locked I thought I’d take this moment to explain the process of shaping a scene as experienced through NFB’s Hothouse. There is so much value in working rough, and as I discovered, it leads to better ideas. There’s no harm in just trying things out! As they say, writing is rewriting!

At our first progress review many moons ago, we were asked to present a super simple storyboard to the group through Skype. In the film a man looks up from his newspaper to see an attractive woman strut into his favourite coffee shop.

This is a reaction shot and it launches the characters into a fantasy of their imagined life together. As you can see, this drawing was done in about two seconds but it served its purpose of getting the idea across. My whole film was boarded this way on a notepad I got in a trade show gift bag. Despite a completely ghetto presentation, my story still managed to incite laughs from the group.

Then it was time to go into After Effects and make a proper Leica. Using the audio track as a guide, I timed all my scenes out with camera moves and redrawn storyboards. At this point I really felt that the music suggested a pan upward to demonstrate entry into his fantasy, and at the time it seemed to be working. The only way to really tell was to get animating.

When the shot was roughed out I headed into the edit session to troubleshoot the timing of the entire film. At this stage in story development everything has a kind of dominoes effect where each tweak affects the other scenes. This is the true value in working rough because we’re able to try out different bits of business in the acting. What is his expression when he looks up at the girl? What is he thinking? Here, I thought he would be very pleased but not over-the-top.

Then he sighs and and looks upward along with a pan to blank space. But would the viewer understand that he was dreaming, or would they think he actually got up from his seat? Maybe he should get up from his seat and go over to greet her? What if the stars flew downward instead of a pan? Do we even need the pan?

And how about that smile? What if we made it cheesier? Shouldn’t his mouth be open here? Is it looking too cutesy? Do we even need to see the newspaper at all?

Now the cheesy smile is diminishing the impact of some of his reactions in later scenes, so what if he’s sort of frowning? Like with his bottom lip quivering? Maybe he’s in total shock. Would people think that he has just read something horrible in the newspaper?

A quick way to clarify that is with heart eyes! What if he quivers, then does a “take” and his eyes turn to these crazy hearts? Will that take away from the heart explosion later in the film? Too redundant?

How about REALLY BIG hearts? It is a cartoon after all!

Then, of course, there’s the STAR EYES option…

Finally for picture lock we arrived at this version:

Maral, the Producer, reminded me that my pitch waaaayy back many moons ago included this description of a silly anime-like treatment of his reaction. So I tried that out, and with everything else we had it seemed to work! But that’s the cool thing about story. You’ve got to trust the process and try everything. Sometimes it leads you back close to where you started, but you wouldn’t know that it was the right answer unless you tried the other options first.