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Entries in Short Film (2)



For a moment, imagine that the arduous slog undertaken by the next-no-budget short film auteur is not already daunting enough. How could a filmmaker make the thankless journey exponentially more difficult? For Chris Elena, the answer was clear – forego all the burden-easing advancements made in digital camera tech and embrace every production problem presented by shooting on film. The result - a 15-minute contemporary drama called The Limited – is a testament to the drive and commitment synonymous with the origins of the art form…

“Film's aesthetic is warm and cinematic, which we wanted and needed for a film mostly set in small places with cold individuals,” says Elena, a respected voice and popular personality amongst the young turks of Sydney’s film-writing community. His vocal passion for the works of Paul Thomas Anderson fuels his own directorial flair for ‘pure cinema’; The Limited is a small-scale examination of the impact of schoolyard stories and macho posturing that soars emotionally and thematically through the use of Kodak 16mm stock. (Pictured, top; Elena, centre, with crew during the shoot).

“We needed to tell this story on 16mm, which has its own unique cinematic language,” say Elena, his script drawing upon his own experiences at an all-boy Catholic high school in the 2000s. “We shot on one location, with very little coverage, a narrative that is essentially four people telling each other lies that will impact their lives. We knew film (would) elevate that simplicity.”

With a ready-to-go script, Elena also knew that timing was crucial if he was to realise his ambitious production; once-giant film supplier Fujifilm had shuttered its film stock division in March 2013, with rumours circulating that Kodak were poised to do the same. “This was the medium I had learned about, had believed in the magic of since deciding to be a director at the age of 9,” he confides. “I wanted The Limited to be greater than the script I had written and for that, for me to be a better director and do this story and everyone who believed in it some justice, I needed film.” (Pictured, right; the young cast of The Limited)

Mentored into production by industry veteran, the late J. Harkness and employing an experienced DOP in Kym Vaitiekus, Elena realised a dream when he called ‘action’ on a tight 2-day shoot in 2014. “We had eight 400-foot reels, 3,200 feet of 16mm film,” he recalls. “As soon as you start rolling, you have 9½ minutes, or one standard roll of film, to get it perfect. We would shoot each take, change reels, place the film in a black bag and have it sent to be processed at the lab, all at once.” The process made for a focussed, energised set, with cast and crew fully aware of the limitations of film. “Each take has to be better,” says Elena. “When you're shooting on film, you allow yourself to trust whoever is looking at that monitor; they trust your word as they know this footage is precious.” 

Throughout the shoot and well into post-production, the young filmmaker was reminded of why film had fallen out of favour in the face of the digital revolution. “It’s horribly expensive,” Elena bemoans, despite an end-to-end budget of just in excess of A$5000 and made without any grant assistance. “Then the lab could get it wrong, the dallies don't look like what you saw in the monitor, sound editing and mixing is a nightmare with the noise from the camera making an appearance in every take.”

Having spent the best part of 2015 in the edit suite with Vaitiekus and cutter Leslie Heldzingen crafting his vision, Chris Elena is now in a position to consider the end product of his obsession with traditional celluloid. “We didn’t get the amount of coverage we wanted, but we made it work in the end,” he concludes. “We could've created this on digital but it never would have looked and felt this way. The raw dallies - without a colour grade, with minor scratches and dust on the frame - looked like what I always imagined films to look like. Every take we got, the work and effort was on display.” (Pictured, left; the director preparing a shot on the set of The Limited)

And, no, the director is not finished crusading for the existence of film stock. “I'll try to shoot on film until there's not a single reel left that Kodak can give me,” he declares. “The effort and potential for magic that comes with it is worth it in every way imaginable.”



The first thing that strikes you about Josh Tanner is that he certainly looks like the current crop of young directors ruling the film world. Resembling a genetic level mash-up of JJ Abrams, Joss Wheedon and Wes Anderson, the Brisbane-based 26-year-old is also displaying the artistry and genre savvy of his doppelgangers; his fourth short film, The Landing, has spent the last 8 months sweeping award after award on the global festival circuit (most recently, the Best International Live Action Short at the prestigious Fantaspoa event). Ahead of his films sessions at Revelation 2014, Tanner spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about its origins, the filmmakers that inspire him and the complex production elements required to realise his unique vision... 

The Landing looks to be crafted by a filmmaker who imagined in detail each frame before stepping behind the camera. What were the narrative's origin?

As clichéd as it sounds, the concept of the film came out of a dream. I was in the middle of a barren field, painfully digging though dirt with my bare hands, eventually unearthing what appeared to be a buried spacecraft. A concept emerged involving the suppression of a UFO landing, not by the usual “government types”, but by the normal people that bear witness to it. This intriguing kernel unravelled into a story that my co-writer and producer Jade van der Lei and I got really excited about. The idea of delving into the cold-war 1950/60s era, which was a golden age of Science Fiction, was also an awfully exciting prospect. (Tanner, on set; pictured, right)

The pov the film shares with the boy can easily by classified as 'Spielbergian', but there are many other reference points. Who are the filmmakers and what are the films that inspire you and influenced The Landing?

There is an awful lot of Terrance Malick influence in there. Days of Heaven was a huge inspiration on visual style and location. Also Tree Of Life, (which provided) a structural and thematic point of view when it came to relationships with our parents and our connection to the past. There was definitely part of me that wondered what a Terrance Malick Sci-Fi film would look like, and hopefully we’ve achieved 1% of what that hypothetical film might be. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET as well as Kubrick’s 2001 weren’t also major influences on the film.

It is a film that shifts seamlessly between styles and genres; it is a memory piece, a political work, a domestic drama, a sci-fi vision. What themes and arcs most clearly define your directorial intent?

It sounds like a pun, but alienation really is the central theme of the film, and permeates the films relationships and broader concepts. It’s the alienation between a boy (Tom Usher; pictured, top) and his father (Henry Nixon; pictured, left), their ideologies, their innocence and maturity, and their past and present. The crash-landing of this visitor brings them both a dark but alluring adventure, and the potential fulfilment of their own personal obsessions, which ultimately stand only to distract them from their alienation from each other. But it is though this very encounter, that the characters are forced to come face to face with these obsessions, and make life-altering decisions for better, or worse.

Securing the likes of leading man David Roberts (The Square; Getting' Square) and behind-the-scenes contributors such as production designer Chris Cox (Acolytes; At World's End) and composer Guy Gross must have been significant moments. How did the pre-production progress?

We were so fortunate to work with an army of incredibly talented and creative artists. We were faced with the challenge of trying to make an Australian short film masquerade as a Hollywood feature in terms of aesthetic. Setting the film in rural America in the early 60’s was something concrete and necessary on a story level, so it was about relying on our dedicated team to figure out how we’d do that. The thing that crystallised everything was the discovery of 'the Barn' location (pictured, right), which is actually an abandoned set, originally built in Tamworth for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. This kind of Midwest American architecture does not exist in this country, so it became a real inspiration to our team to strive to make everything as authentic to the period and geography of the story as that barn was.

With all those elements in place, how did the shoot itself come together?

The shoot was a Frankenstein process, building sets, travelling out to barren farmland, and wheat fields and stitching it all together with the help of an expert team of visual effects artists. (They) deserve a great deal of recognition because while the films production design, cinematography (Tanner with DOP Jason Hargreaves, on set; pictured, left), score and sound design are all obvious in their merits, the visual effects are those of an almost thankless kind. Meaning they’re effects that you’re not supposed to believe are effects. The greatest lesson I learned as a director has been to remain faithful to the scale of your vision, and stick to your guns without being unreasonable. There were many times when funding bodies, or industry associates recommended that we change the films setting to Australia. Despite feeling the odds were heavily stacked against us, we were always resilient enough to look at the script and remind ourselves that it was worth the struggle to forge ahead in the way we believed was right for the story. 

And now The Landing is securing festival slots and winning awards around the world. How are you responding to the acclaim and the film's momentum?

The success of The Landing on the festival circuit has opened some fantastic career doorways for Jade and I. We are currently developing the longform expansion of the short film and a supernatural-thriller feature. But while we have definitely enjoyed this exposure to industry avenues, it is finding a receptive audience to enjoy your work that is the real prize of filmmaking. We honesty will never get bored of experiencing the audiences reactions to the twists and turns of the story. When you write something with the hope that an audience will feel a certain emotion, to see it happen on the other end is what it’s all about for us - that sharing of ideas and emotion.

THE LANDING screens at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival as part of the Slipstream Quartet sidebar. Further information and tickets can be found here.