Our Monday’s original content this week is the first part of Guy Hasson’s new column for us, SF From the Rim. In this first installment Guy talks about the making of his first feature film, the Hebrew science fiction movie Heart of Stone.
SF FROM THE RIM
Making ‘Heart of Stone’: An Israeli SF Film (Part I)
By Guy Hasson
My name is Guy Hasson. I’m an author, a playwright and a director, and a filmmaker. Last year, I wrote, directed, shot, and produced an independent, feature-length, low-budget SF film in Hebrew called ‘Heart of Stone’. The film premiered in Israel’s ICon 2008 SF Festival.
The film is exotic and different from any film you’ve ever seen. It is not exotic because it falls under the genre of Israeli SF (a film genre that does not exist) or because it has experimental shots (it doesn’t) or because it experiments with basic story structure (it doesn’t). The positive side of having no money ($27,000 budget) and no hope of being shown regularly in the country in which I shot it (no audience for the genre) was that I had complete freedom. I had to decide: How far should I go with my complete freedom? The temptation was too great: All the way!
I chose to make something extreme in structure, extreme in content, and extreme in its emotional intensity. Reaching an audience as wide as possible was not on my radar. Rather, my sight was set on the SF fans looking for something completely new and different, an experience that is getting rarer and rarer in SF these days.
This is the story of how we made ‘Heart of Stone’ for $27,000.
Making ‘Heart of Stone’
Writing the Film
In writing the film, I had to consider the fact that I would not be able to find anyone to finance it. And so I wrote it for five actors and three locations, with no special effects. The male lead appears in all scenes and in 99.9% of the shots. The female lead appears in 80% of the scenes. The next supporting actress appears in 20% of the film. The other two supporting actresses appear for 5-7 minutes each. The film would have to be based on story and great acting.
Financing the Film
In financing the film, there was no chance of getting money from any film fund. Not only is the genre not a popular one, but first-time directors over thirty are frowned upon in cinema. I was 35. I was fortunate enough to get money from two very nice people: one who simply wanted to help original Israeli SF along and another who saw the financial potential of a movie offering something completely new in the international market, especially when taking into account that the investment and, therefore, the financial risk, is a small one.
Small side note: In order to save money, I decided to shoot the film myself, even though I have had absolutely no experience or knowledge in the field. Yes, it sounds crazy and scary and impossible. Fortunately, it panned out, and a lot of money was saved in the process. Needless to say, that decision reduced the chances of getting money from film funds to nil.
If you let virtuosic actors act in normal roles, the result is magnificent. If you take virtuosic actors and let them act in roles that are structured around their strong suits, the results are unbelievable. In my years in the theater and as a scriptwriter, I’ve come to know quite a few amazing talents. I wrote four of the five parts to specific actors and their strong suits, with their approval. For the part of the female lead, I had to hold auditions.
In this case, it helped being an SF author. I posted a few messages in the SF forums on the internet, saying I’m shooting an SF film, and that I’m looking for two apartments to shoot in (2 of the 3 locations are in apartments, the third is outside, on a road on the way to the airport). I immediately got more offers than I could use. The two apartments we used were generously given to us by devoted fans, no questions asked.
Shooting the Film
Limited money meant limited time to shoot the film. We had one month to rehearse (with all actors also working elsewhere) and ten half-days in which to shoot a 100 min. film. This is how we did it.
One: The rehearsal process meant that the actors came ready and knew exactly what to do, how to do it, and what was needed.
Two: There were absolutely no long arguments/discussions between the cinematographer and the director, since both of them were the same person. That saved a lot of time.
Three: A scene in a movie is usually shot from many directions, in many different takes, and at the end the editor has to sort it out and make a story out of it. I didn’t do that. I shot the film for editing. This means that if a scene is, say, 5 min. long, then I would shoot the first ten seconds from one angle and one angle only, I would shoot the next 30 seconds from another angle, and so on, according to the way I thought the film should be edited when it was done. This saved days and days of shooting, but was another huge gamble. Shooting like this meant that if, once the shooting ended, we found out that we couldn’t cut from point A to point B, the film would not work, because there were no alternatives. Fortunately, I only made three horrible mistakes, which Avi Levy, the editor, fixed with great ingenuity.
The film is written for five actors, but six characters. The sixth character is portrayed through music alone, as it is a character that resides inside the lead character’s head. The music in the film is almost entirely never used to create mood, tension, or help the viewers feel the story. It is there to portray the sixth character. The instructions in the script were specific and quite insane (we’ll get to examples when we’ll talk about the exotic content of the film). Without music done right, the film would not work. To score the film I chose Nir Yaniv, who is an SF author and a musician. This was another case of choosing someone talented to do something that burns within him: in this case, science fiction. To hear some of the music Nir wrote for the film, you can check out the ‘Heart of Stone’ website.
The Exotic Content of ‘Heart of Stone’
Here ends the logistical part of how we made an exotic film for very little money. We have yet to talk about the exotic elements in ‘Heart of Stone’ or even about the fantastic element which makes it SF. ‘Heart of Stone’ is a film about a character who feels emotions that are unknown and not at all human. In part II I’m going to talk about the film’s exotic content and the tools needed to write and score a film about emotions that do not exist and that the audience does not feel.
Guy Hasson: www.guyhasson.com
Heart of Stone website, with the subtitled trailer: www.israelisf.com