THE MAKING OF COSMOS

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Click the image below to head over to our Cosmos Instagram feed and see how we’ve made a feature film with a handful of people and next to no money – we’ve documented the entire process of making this film, from Script to Screen and everything in between.

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WHY MAKE COSMOS?

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Cosmos came into existence because we wanted to take back control over our filmmaking career. All filmmakers need to make their first feature and we’d spent between 2010 and 2013 in development on a 120 minute sci-fi-thriller called Encounter. We’d written the script, attached a list of industry talent and developed an investment strategy with a corporate finance company.

But despite the strength of the story, the team and the plan, we were then just 22 and 24 seeking a seven-figure budget with no feature experience and, understandably, we faced skepticism from potential investors.

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ENCOUNTER concept art

We knew we could carry Encounter successfully from script to screen but we were also not naive to the risks of film production and the concerns of investors. Our growing frustration with this impasse was the feeling that our deep emotional need to tell stories and express ourselves through film was being held up by the financial business of the industry.

So in 2013, after almost three years in development, we decided that instead of pushing ahead trying to secure an unrealistic level of finance for two young untested directors, we’d detour and make a new film at the opposite end of the indie spectrum. This “no-budget” feature, although much smaller in scale, would be no less ambitious in story or creativity and with it, we could prove to the industry we had the talent, drive and vision as feature directors. We could then leverage this smaller film and finally secure the finance for Encounter.

Enter, Cosmos.

ZERO BUDGET: HOW & WHY?

Having spent so long trying to secure finance for Encounter, the last place we wanted to find ourselves was with yet another project needing the support of other parties for a budget. This time we would follow the golden rules of indie filmmaking; Cosmos would be a simple contemporary story, set in a single location over one night with minimal characters, under 100 pages long and utilise resources we had to hand.

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To self-produce this film completely independently, not needing any production or financial support, we’d have to be savvy and meticulous, but if we could pull it off, it would give us the complete creative control to express our storytelling tastes and sensibilities.

Technology has democratised filmmaking like never before and inspired by the independent spirit of filmmakers like Robert Rodriguezand Gareth Edwards, we’d undertake every crew role throughout production except composing the soundtrack.

We scripted 100 pages, storyboarded 1055 cells, cast 4 actors, location scouted, prop designed and built, costumed, production managed, set dressed, directed, shot, focus pulled, blocked and lit, sound recorded, coordinated practical effects and car to car filming, edited, graded, sound designed, re recorded and mixed, created and designed all visual effects and heavily collaborated with the composer on the writing of 90+ minutes of orchestral score.

We used the equipment we had; gear that other filmmakers might dismiss as below the minimum requirement to make a polished feature film, but we knew when used shrewdly and to its fullest potential, we could give Cosmos the shine of a modestly budgeted independent feature.

We lit entire night shoots with 3 battery powered LED panel lights and a gas powered smoke machine. We used iPads as light sources. Our matte box was made from cardboard. Our wind machine was a leaf blower. Our camera dolly was a wheelchair.

Our BMPCC rig was handmade from copper piping and used ankle weights for handheld counterbalance. Whichever of us was on camera would also focus pull (close to wide open as we had limited light). The other of us would be watching performance while boom swinging and recording sound. Our actors slated the shots. Our camera slider was often propped in the middle by paintpots. We shot entire car chase sequences inside a triple garage. Our mom monitored continuity, hair and make-up and would often slate, focus pull and operate lights. It was the most basic, ad hoc, guerilla filmmaking imaginable and it was seriously hard work.

But when, despite the cold and the tiredness and the endless tinkering, you managed to roll on a setup and bag it exactly how you imagined, the feeling of pride and comradery and achievement was palpable.

We did anything and everything that needed to be done to see the film made. It took dedication and focus, we called upon every trick and technique we’d ever learnt or needed to learn – the only thing it cost us was time. We wanted to direct Cosmos from end to end, to have our fingerprints all over it and showcase our talent and abilities as directors and storytellers. We want to demonstrate that there’s no link between the strength and depth of a human story and the size of a production budget.

And after almost exactly 5 years since deciding to make Cosmos, a core team of just 3 actors, ourselves, our Mom and our composer have delivered an ambitious and entertaining sci-fi film of a production standard that few would dare demand on such minimal resources and zero financial support. We’ve never work as hard before in our lives.

We hope the way in which we’ve made Cosmos and the incredibly high standard to which it has been made will demonstrate our creativity, competence, commitment, passion and potential as directors and assist us in obtaining support for our next, larger scale productions.

We didn’t make Cosmos on our own because we wanted to show off that we could. We made Cosmos on our own because we didn’t want to wait any longer to pursue our passion and wanted to prove to the industry that we could direct films and direct them well and show the lengths we would go to in order to make that happen.

We wanted this film to be transparent, we wanted to strip away the usual support directors receive from heads of department and producers to show our abilities in their most stripped back nature.

We wanted to show what we could do with nothing.

 

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Exterior Night Lighting

COSMOS Banner Exterior Night LightingCOSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 22:
EXTERIOR NIGHT LIGHTING


“Life is full of shadows.” — Chris Weaver, our Dad.

The whole of COSMOS is set across a single night, and about thirty percent of that story takes place outside. This blog is a rundown of our approach to lighting those night exteriors scenes.

We’ve tried to cover a lot of info about our lighting approach, including kit, technique and inspiration. As always, our aim with this production blog is to be as informative and thorough as is possible, hopefully without boring you.

Before we get started, below is a video of COSMOS B-rolls for the night exteriors to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how we’re making this film. As with all indie films our resources are limited, but that’s not always a bad thing. We will discuss the lights and techniques being used in this video further on in this article.


 

Why is Film Lighting Important?

Photography is the combination of two Greek words:

  • Photo, derived from phos – meaning light
  • Graphy, derived from graphos – meaning written

Photography literally means written in light making a Photographer a light-writerAnd the art of photography for the cinema is known as Cinematography.

I can’t think of a more beautiful reminder of the importance of light in the filmmaking process; without light there can be no recorded image. Cinematographer John Alton is famed, aside from his legendary anthology of films, for his phrasing “Painting with Light”. And that is what we, as filmmakers, must strive to do – our paint is light, our brush a camera, our canvas a cinema screen. (more…)

Character Costumes

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 21:
CHARACTER COSTUMES


“What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what
they are not. “ — Edith Head

Costume Design, as the name suggests, is the creation of costume or clothing for a character in film, tv or theatre. The development of this overall appearance contributes heavily to the believability of the world and its population in a particular story.

Costume styles vary significantly depending on gender, nationality, geography, class, period, economics, religion, season and even character backstory. Historical dramas obviously rely heavily on believable and accurate character costume. Science fiction obviously accesses artistic license to the same effect.

Costume design is so impactful on the filmmaking process, that sometimes iconic movie characters are inseparable from their iconic costume. A leather jacket and fedora can only belong to one man… and if adventure had a name… it must be Indiana Jones! 

But remaining faithful to the old movie maxim, why tell, when you can show…? here is a collection of insightful vignette videos all about the costume design process and its value to the production, the actors and the audience. Enjoy.

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Camera Tests

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 20:
CAMERA TESTS


“The most powerful weapon in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is the camera.” — Paul Watson

The purpose of camera tests are to put a camera system through it’s paces to expose (if you pardon the film pun!) its strengths and weaknesses, thus creating a library of footage that will serve as a reference for your production.

The principal of camera testing obviously originates with testing different film stocks – but like each film emulsion, each digital sensor is different. With so many new digital cameras available on the market it’s difficult to know the pros and cons of each… and whether your preferred camera fits your preferred shooting style. You don’t want to just pick a camera and then hope it’ll work nicely in low light if you’re shooting night scenes. Or hope that it’ll be great at handling highlights if you’re filming in the midday sun.

Obviously most indie filmmakers don’t have the luxury of choosing from a range of cameras (or film stocks!), but it’s still vital that you test the camera you’re planning to use for your shoot – familiarising yourself with its optimum operating settings allows you to showcase the camera’s strengths while hiding its weaknesses — and in turn making your cinematography appear more considered and crafted.

Here’s a really cool video from KODAK that features an elaborate camera test designed to showcase improvements in the VISION3 Color Neg Film 5219/7219. Clearly you don’t have to go to such lengths but it’s a great template to help you design your own camera tests.

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Cast Rehearsals

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 19:
CAST REHEARSALS


“All the real work is done in the rehearsal period” — Donald Pleasence

Whichever way you want to look at it, filmmaking is an expensive game – there’s either a money cost or a time cost. And ideally, you want to spend as little of both as possible!

If you have money you can buy time and get things done quickly. If you don’t have money, it’s going to cost you more time to get the job done. And one of the best ways to make the most of your shooting time is to have some constructive rehearsals sessions under your belt, for your benefit as well as your cast’s.

This video features some of the greatest actors of our time and although the topic of rehearsals isn’t directly discussed, it’s clear how seriously these actors approach their work – they love what they do, they want to do their very best and they put a lot of effort, thought and research into how they can achieve that.

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Making Props & Set-Dressing

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 18:
MAKING PROPS & SET DRESSING


“In the property-maker’s room lives the wizard of the studio. He is an inventor, a chemist, a bit of an artist, and an engineer.” — Edward Carrick

The first thing you need to know is what the difference is between Props and Set-Dressing

Prop is short for Property  suggesting that an actor will somehow use such an item as their character’s property. A phone, a compass, a gun, a camera are all Props IF the character uses them in the scene.

BUT if the character does not interact with these items, and the phone or the camera just sit on their desk in their office they become Set-Dressing  these items are not pivotal to the action of the scene but help to make the environment more realistic.

This cool video essay, Why Props Matter,  takes a look at the hidden power of movie props. And how filmmakers use those everyday (and not so everyday) objects to enhance cinematic storytelling.

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The Script-Readthrough

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 17:
SCRIPT READ-THROUGH (Table Read)


“If the script is right and the cast is right, there’s not much else that can go wrong.” — William Goldman

The read-through (also known as a table read) is a stage in pre-production when the film’s script is read aloud around a table by the full cast of actors, and is also attended by producers, writers, heads of departments and directors.

That Star Wars Read-Through

That Star Wars Read-Through

The read-through is a major milestone in the production process, giving the core filmmaking team an early insight into the project’s potential and also highlighting any problem areas hidden in the script, such as wooden dialogue or a lack of chemistry between cast members.

As read-throughs normally happen before any rehearsals, actors are not expected to give polished performances but simply to read their dialogue, as written on the page. However this process can be extremely beneficial for an actor, giving them the chance to find their character and begin building relationships with their fellow cast members.

For the writers and directors, the read-through is not only useful but one of the most exciting parts of the filmmaking process — after months, sometimes years of development, it’s exhilarating to finally see a project come to life and the characters burst off the written page into living, breathing people. (more…)

Listening To Space (Sound Designing)

COSMOS Banner Listening to Space

COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 16:
LISTENING TO SPACE (Sound Designing)


A great film once taught us that out there, in the cold vastness of space – no one can hear you scream… Why?

Sound waves (as we perceive them) need a medium like air to travel through, and in the vacuum of space there is no such medium. So to the human ear at least – space is silent.

However, this is not the whole truth.

On August 16th 1977, a radio telescope in Ohio picked up a steady source of radio waves that became known as the “Wow!” signal…

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There is much speculation as to the origin of the “Wow!” signal and perhaps we will never know for sure if it was of extra-terrestrial design. But it certainly makes you wonder.

The field of Radio Astronomy observes astronomical objects by studying their radio wave emissions. These astronomical objects, such as stars and galaxies, naturally emit radio waves which travel across the vast ocean of space at the speed of light – an astounding 186,282 MILES PER SECOND! (The equivalent of flying around planet Earth 4.6 times in a single second!) (more…)

Creating Fantasy User Interfaces (FUIs)

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 15:
CREATING FANTASY USER INTERFACES (FUIs)


You’ve probably never heard the term ‘Fantasy User Interface’ but I can guarantee, you know exactly what one is.

An FUI is the super cool and futuristic computer display system found in movies, TV shows and computer games. Obviously these FUIs are not real computer programs but bespoke animations created with the purpose of helping tell the story. In modern filmmaking, most of these FUIs are added in post production but some films still feature on-set displays that the actors can interact with.

For COSMOS we need to create several FUIs of our own, and in researching the topic we found ourselves entering a vibrant sub-culture of FUI designers and admirers. If you’re interested in learning more about the cool user interfaces in your favourite movie, please check out Kit FUI which is basically an IMDb-like database for anything and everything FUI. You can also lose hours marvelling at the intricacy of these designs and enjoy the talents of their creators such as Jayse Hansen, OOOii and Mark Coleran.


 

green screenMoving onto COSMOS we need three different displays for the three main characters to work from. As discussed in a previous post about Building the Goodman Satellite in Blender, we’re big fans of practical and physical effects (for both photographic and budgetary reasons!). (more…)

Building ‘The Goodman’ Satellite

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 13:
 BUILDING ‘The Goodman’ SATELLITE


A grainy shape appears at the edge of screen… The image sharpens. We see– A SATELLITE. Its shape undeniable; a pair of solar panelled “wings” clearly defined. The silhouette is hazy, distorted by Earth’s atmosphere.

Roy quickly leans in, the images of this satellite on screen reflecting in his glasses. He sits mesmerised watching it hang almost magically overhead. But the smile slowly fades from his face, his expression growing more solemn. Why? We can see it in his eyes– there’s more to this man. What does this satellite mean to him?

As suggested by the script excerpt above, a science satellite (nicknamed The Goodman) plays a pivotal role in COSMOS for reasons that will remain a secret… for now.

"The Goodman"

The Goodman is a fictional ‘Earth Observation’ satellite residing in Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 2000km. This satellite traverses the Earth’s surface and completes a single orbit in about 130 minutes, and is observed by the characters in the story via a telescope connected to a computer monitor.

green screenBeing big fans of practical and physical effects (for both photographic and budgetary reasons!) we really want the actors to view and interact with a ‘real’ image of The Goodman on a monitor, rather than compositing this image in later in post-production.

Therefore we’ve had to create several visual effects shots ahead of shooting the film. The first step in creating the telescope image of The Goodman flyover is of course, designing and building our very own science satellite during pre-production.
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