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The making of Overtime

In this article, Geoff Harmer talks about his film Overtime   and why so many people make and love Fan Films.

The panel on the left links to Overtime on Vimeo. Watch the movie (it runs for 10 minutes 47 seconds) before reading all about how and why it was made - and what happened afterwards....

Fan Films - what do you like about them? Why do you make them?

The thing about Fan Films is that alot of the ground work has already been done. Most people who make Fan Films just create their own stories in a world that was created by someone else. My initial attraction can be dated back to the first film I ever made when I was roughly 6 or 7. My Dad and I made a 30 second stop motion film on Super8 with my Star Wars toys. From here I got hooked and after a number of cine films later I went on to make my first proper Fan Film in 1986 with Alien 3, which I again shot on Silent Super8. I've made 5 Fan Films in my time, paying homage to certain main stream films, all of which now have huge fan bases. One particular film of mine, Hellbent, made in 1993, is now hailed as the first Hellraiser Fan Film made. This has given it a sort of cult status and a recent revival. It is now getting more attention that it's ever had, including a screening at a film event in New York.

I particularly like Fan Films, because its great to see what people do with other artist's ideas. Its especially interesting if you are a fan of either the universe or the characters that are being portrayed. I've had various reasons for making specific Fan Films in the past, and all of them have been different. So if you ask why... then I have to answer on each film.

Do you work with the same group of friends each time or do you mix and match with each new project?

I used to work with the same group of friends, but it's been over 10 years since I last made a fiction film. My recent projects have been travelogues/documentaries, so I haven't used that same group. Plus we've all grown up and gone our separate ways which hasn't helped. My latest film Overtime is the first film I've made where the cast is almost 95% new to me. The only straggler from the original days is Andy Gray.

Overtime - where did the idea come from?

It's every boys dream to have a Lightsaber fight (isn't it?), and I've always wanted to shoot one. Due to restrictions in the visual effects department, I have never attempted it until now.

I purchased some software by a company called FXHome ( FXHome website) , and the sole purpose was to see if I could recreate Lightsabers. After a few test attempts, I realised that I could pull it off, so I set about writing the story. The whole thing evolved from a simple idea of a bored employee working late, who decides to have a Lightsaber fight with someone else. The rest just became padding for my excuse to film a Lightsaber fight.

Is Star Wars considered a bit old fashioned in the Fan Film world or is it still a firm favourite?

Star Wars still has probably the biggest fan base of any film in the history of cinema, and to go with it, it has one of the biggest Fan Film bases too. There are hundreds of Star Wars Fan Films out there, and some of them are incredible! Because the original films have had such an effect on young wannabe film makers, it has just inspired some of the most fantastic pieces of work. Examples would be the Ryan Versus Dorkman films ( http://www.ryanvsdorkman.com/ ) which put even George Lucas's films to shame! Or the Pink Five Series ( http://theforce.net/fanfilms/shortfilms/pinkfive/index.asp ) or the Chad Vader : Day Shift Manager Series ( http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/chad_vader_day/ ) which we also paid homage to in Overtime. What helps people to make these films is that George Lucas actually encourages it. He doesn't sue for copyright breach, or remove your video from YouTube. The fact that people are paying homage to his films and characters ensures that the fan base stays alive.

How long did the preparation for Overtime take and what did it involve? (script production, fight training for the actors, advance planning of the effects, costumes, etc.)

I started work on writing the script towards the end of February 2008 and by the middle of March I had cast the film. I wanted the film finished by the end of May because I had heard of a Fan Film competition that has George Lucas for a judge. (The Ultimate Star Wars Fan Film competition I guess!) So I had to work everyone really hard. I set 3 phases for making the film. These were fight training, filming, and post production.

I gave my fight choreographer Gavin Herbert, just 2 weeks to get our principal actors up to a certain speed with the fighting. In retrospect, this was rather ambitious and they could have really done with more time.

I allowed a month for the second phase, filming, starting on the 2nd April. I wanted it completed by the end of the month, so that I could spend the last month working solely on the post work (visual effects, editing, etc).

Being a No-to-Low budget film maker, I only wrote sequences in the film that I knew that I could pull off. So I made sure that I didn't go too over the top on anything. There are no costumes in the film to speak of, apart from the Jawa, which a colleague Richard Hart and his family cleverly created at home.

The original script had Darth Vader halt the fight, but I wasn't really prepared to make the outfit, or pay for a decent costume. How we overcame this problem was to pay homage to the Chad Vader series by Blame Society Productions. In a couple of their episodes (especially episode 5) they have Chad working in an office wearing a suit. I thought this would work perfectly for us, by 1) getting round our costume issues as we already had the helmet, and 2) we would also be sending up a an already existing send up. It turned out to be the perfect answer.

Overtime - some of the cast

Lightsaber fight

Bring it on

How long did the shoot take?

The shoot was initially going to take 4 weeks. My plan did go a little over by a week or two, but because of my strict time parameters, I didn't want to be too slack. Everyone involved was doing it for the love and not the money, so you have to remember not to annoy anyone.
We had a few constraints whilst filming. The first thing was that as we were filming in a huge open plan office, and the story was set at night... it had to be dark outside. Being a high rise building, we couldn't just drop sheets over the windows from the outside! So we set our filming schedule to start at 8pm, this allowed late workers and cleaners to be done and dusted before we came in. We were also reliant on the sun setting in time. As the month progressed, the sunset got later and later, which caused us to be creative on occasions.

We didn't finish shooting until midway through May. Luckily the last of the shots didn't involve any visual effects, so it didn't hold me up too much.

Lightsaber advance

Darth Vader

How long did post production take?

I started work on the editing and some of the visual effects pretty much the day after our first day of shooting. I did set aside the whole of May to do this, but I wanted to make sure I got it finished in time.

I edited the film using Pinnacle Studio 10 Plus ( Pinnacle Software), and as it was my first project using it since I upgraded from version 9, I wanted to make sure I got the hang of it quickly.

The editing went really smoothly, and I found myself doing a few firsts. Half the film contains completely created soundtrack replacing what was recorded on set. It's all sound effects and ambient sound collected from the Internet, and other sources.

Another first for me is that the film became an international piece of work, with the voice over work for Chad Vader being done by a guy in Texas, and the score being composed by Martin Westlake based in France. I even had the film poster, that I used for advertising the premiere, created by a guy in Brazil.

So pulling all this together in the space of 3 months from start to finish was a mini-feat in itself, especially as we've all got full time jobs and familys.

Staple gun

Using the Force

How did you find the international contacts (Texas, France, Brazil)?

I wasn't actually looking to work with people from various parts of the world, it just happenend that way. While making the film, I used the Fan Film Forums at www.theforce.net heavily for help on how to do certain things, and to bounce ideas. I published a post asking for someone to read a few lines in the style of Darth Vader for the film, and a guy called Bradford Granath II answered my call.

Martin Westlake, the score composer, found me via my Fraught.net website. He emailed me back in 2007 asking to help with my next project. He sent me a demo of his work, which I liked, so I kept his details for my next project.

I'm also into my photography and display my work via a website called DeviantART. I posted a journal there asking for help with creating a poster for the film, and a guy called Sam in Brazil replied with a few ideas. I ended up leaving him to it, as I was wrapped up in working on the Visual FX.

Was it hard to work that way i.e. with people you presumably have never met?

Not really. I found it surprisingly easy. Bradford and myself exchanged a few emails on how I wanted the lines to be said. He then recorded the lines from his studio in Texas and emailed them to me as MP3s. As he nailed it first time, there was no further room for more work.

The score, was again very easy. I had a copy of the film posted on YouTube, but tied down so that only Martin could view it. He would record his score, then email me an MP3 of the track and where it fits. I would put it onto the timeline, we would exchange notes, and he would amend where necessary. When we were both happy with his music, he created final mixes of the files and emailed them to me.

So my experience with working with these people was great, and I found no issues at all. Perhaps I could just have been lucky to have found such great people to work with.

How did you do the effects (just the software if you want to keep actual technique to yourself)?

The Lightsabers were made from a long length of white plastic tubeing, with some foam pipe insulater covered with a cricket bat grip as the handle. I used some black electrical tape to tidy it up, and a small metal ring (used in lamp shades) to act as a hand protector at the top of the handle. With my Lightsaber created, I added the glow using the fantastic software VisionLab Studio by FXHome.First I edited the fight using Pinnacle Studio 10Plus, then exported the individual shots as an AVI file to import into VisionLab Studio. I then rotascoped each individual frame covering first the background lightsaber, then the foreground lightsaber, and then finally adding in the 'clash' in the frames where the weapons touch.

I also used the software to add the smaller touches like sparks and smoke, and then render the final shot back out as an AVI.

The visual effects were the hardest part of the process, and I ended up spending 5-6 hours a night for a whole month on them. In fact towards the end of the effects process, I found myself feeling rundown and sick. I suffered for my art. :-)


Team photo

Any problem getting permission to film in the office?

Absolutely none. The Facilities Management Team at the office were very helpful, and as long as we all followed the correct Health & Safety measures, we were all fine. There is also 24/7 security at the office, and they kept a watchful eye on us.


How did management feel before and after? Were they pleased with the publicity?

The whole publicity rollercoaster the film has experienced, has been very strange, and packed full of ups and downs.

I'll start at the beginning. On the 13th June 2008, we held a Charity Premiere in the same building where we shot the film. The money raised went to our chosen charity, the Nystagmus Network ( http://www.nystagmusnet.org.uk). We raised about 850, which my employer then matched through a matched funding scheme, which enabled our donation to the charity to be just over 1,600. The film then sat on YouTube while I entered it into various film competitions.

Fast forward to 18th September 2008, where we had the local newspaper do an article on us to talk about the film and the money raising. ( http://www.basingstokegazette.co.uk/news/2449251.the_workforce_is_strong_in_this_one/) The article was slightly factualy incorrect, but on the whole it wasn't too bad.

The following day, I was informed that the story had been picked up by the Nationals and that they may run a story on it. We were all obviously excited, but nervous as we were now in the public domain with no control.

The Dail Mail were first on the scene with an article that wasn't particularly fair or accurate, calling us 'bored bankers laughing off the credit crunch'. This annoyed me as the spotlight had been shifted to my employer rather than the charity, which felt very wrong, especially as the charity wasn't even mentioned. The Daily Mail eventually altered their story to reflect more of the truth, but the damage was done. Other newspapers picked up on the story, like the Telegraph, the Sun, and the Metro. This should have been a great moment for us and the charity, but due to the credit crunch, all focus was put on the bank. Obviously my employer wasn't particulary happy, as they felt the same way as me, that these articles were in effect robbing from the charity by not mentioning it.

As the days passed, more and more articles appeared all over the World Wide Web (ranging from the USA, to India, to Italy), with the hits on YouTube rocketing. The day before the Daily Mail article, the film had something like 250 hits on YouTube, within a week it went to 33,000. Two radio interviews later, and after a brief piece on BBC News 24, all things have quietend down.

The publicity experience has been sort of a double edged sword. If it hadn't been for the credit crunch, I doubt the national newspapers would have ran the story, but in the same breath, they didn't depict a true story. So is it better to have had the wrong sort of publicity, or none at all?

Any tips for others on getting publicity?

If you want the publicity, then just get in contact with your local newspaper. Get them to run a story on you, and see what happens.

Did you manage to enter the competition? Any other competitions?

We did enter the Atom Films Festival ( Wikipedia entry about Atom Films/) , but sadly it was not a finalist. I've no real idea as to why it didn't make it through, but an insider said that it was too long for them. Never mind.

I have however entered many other festivals this year, and the film has been shown at CON*CEPT08 (Science Fiction and Fantasy festival) in Canada, the S2F2 Festival in Sefton ( http://www.s2f2.org.uk/) and the POL-8 in Poland ( Pol8 information on the IAC website ) to name a few. We are also the proud winners of the 'Best Fan Film Award' at this year's AMPS film festival ( http://www.ampsvideo.com/)

Geoff Harmer November 2008

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