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The making of Over the Hill

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At BIAFF 2014 Shaun Labrecque won  a Diamond award and Best Story for Over the Hill .
Ned Cordery tells us how it was made.

Still from 'Over the Hill'.

Still from 'Over the Hill'.
Setting up

Still from 'Over the Hill'.

Still from 'Over the Hill'.
Film crew

Still from 'Over the Hill'.
Son and dad

Still from 'Over the Hill'. Loading the car

Perhaps I have some skills in the world of film making but acting is definitely not one of them. Some years ago I took an acting class to check what life was like on the other side of the camera/footlights and I was a failure in every respect: I couldn't remember lines; froze in fear when other actors were "acting"; and when I did move it was like a programmed robot. An interesting experience but I moved back to where I felt comfortable: behind the camera.

Shaun Lebrecque is a very talented local film maker. Readers of Film and Video Maker and the IAC website will know him from his BIAFF 2012 award winning film, Present from the Past. So you can imagine my surprise when he approached me at a party and asked if I would act, along with my wife Mary, in a film he was planning. The reason he wanted us for his film was because we are old (Shaun is in his thirties so we probably look senile to him) and he very much liked the linen suit and bow tie I happened to be wearing, which fitted his scenario. He waved aside my protests about my lack of acting skills. He knew that Mary could act and was confident that he could get a performance from me as minimal acting was required. 'Just sit still and do as you are told, very few lines and most to be post recorded anyway.'

For young film makers with children, mortgages and the typical expenses of this stage of life the cost of film making can be a problem so the local arts organization, The Space Between ( www.tsbtc.org), makes available two annual grants of $150 to local film makers. Shaun received one of the grants for this production. There are strict controls over how the money may be spent: no people paid, no capital items, only consumables such as petrol, food, basic props. The largest expense was petrol - that vintage car is a 'gas guzzler'.

The story visits the life of a couple at the beginning of their relationship and then at the end times. Obviously we played the aged couple and the younger us was played by Lacie and Faye, a very good looking young couple.

The film was shot mainly on a DSLR: a Canon 5D Mk III with assorted high end Canon L series lenses. This is an example of how the young generation of film makers here work. The camera and lenses belong to Katie and Kevin, professional wedding photographers, and were loaned to Shaun for the shoot with Katie acting as photographic advisor. The major problem with DSLR shooting is sound. The in-camera sound recording is difficult to control and monitor so usually an external recorder is used, back to the old days of double system sound. In this film there is very limited dialogue so Shaun decided to make a live but unacceptable recording and then use it as a guide track for dubbing in post.

Our first day of shooting was in a house where Mary in a wheelchair is visited by our son who is due to meet his father, played by me. Mary was to be seriously ill and aged which required an hour of make-up and a wig. The make-up artist took one look at me and said 'He is fine as he is' thus destroying my misplaced belief that I look much younger than I am. Our son was played by a popular local actor, Ctormy Thomas (no, that is not a typo) who has a fan club that attends every public showing of films he appears in and provides very vocal support. Then followed shoots in the attic and the exterior of a local house, and the road to and at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The vintage car was supposedly the car we had for all our married years. Here we had lines and some rather undemanding acting, much of it with our hands, which I could do without too much panic. Shaun wrapped our part of the shoot but he had several scenes to shoot with the 'young' us, much of it to look like old 8mm footage. When viewed it is completely convincing but was actually shot with an iPhone and an app.

On to the edit: Shaun called us in to dub our lines. 'Just an hour at the most.' I told my wife. Two hours later we staggered out of Shaun's recording session. He is a perfectionist. Shaun works with a composer who writes and records pieces specifically for his films. I have a composer friend who, impressed by the quality of the music, asked to meet the composer only to learn that Shaun has never met him. He lives on the other side of the country, on the East Coast. Shaun sends him the final cut of the film and the composer communicates by e-mail until the final form is agreed and then records and sends a mixed .wav file. The wonders of the Internet!

Shaun is a very meticulous film maker. He spends a lot of time working the script and casting. He shoots very carefully prepared set ups, not many takes but each one is reviewed before moving on. He edits with Final Cut Pro v7 with a very large screen. He spends a lot of time working in a distant State so his filming has to be concentrated. He writes scripts when he is away.

We were away for the premiere, where it was well received, and some minor changes followed including some additional voice dubbing.

I enjoyed the experience but remain convinced that acting is not my thing. Meanwhile congratulations on the BIAFF success and thanks to Shaun for letting us be a part of his vision.

Ned Cordery
March 2014

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