The most rewarding projects often have the most unusual origin stories.
Barnaby Finch is no different.
This short began as an exercise in "branded entertainment" at the Sundance Channel. Their idea was to give advertisers a unique taste of what they do best - original, independent cinema - by gifting them with a (very) loosely branded (or sponsored) film.
Enter humble (my production company/studio). The only guideline was to use a "split-screen" in the storytelling. Where to begin…?
I knew we needed to see the two potential life paths in parallel - if alternate - worlds, which meant they had to maintain temporal unity. Basically, we needed to stay in the same location. But how would that work - how could that work once an even mildly dramatic choice was made?
The solution: T. J. Jameson! The fast talking, hilariously arrogant blowhard interviewer grabs the narrative by the horns and guides us down the same hallways regardless of our hero's choice. Whether an intern or the new vice-president, Barnaby was bound to be given a tour of his new office, letting the environment remain constant while the details escalated into increasing absurdity.
A narrative solution doubling as life metaphor - check!
As a new business model for humble, I took the unusual step of working with a co-director, Sam Stephens, whose background in visual effects gave us a foundation for some of the more inventive and surreal environments Barnaby would encounter. As an interlocutor, Sam brought a sensitivity to the storyline that helped refine and enhance the madcap pace we needed to hit in order to cram six pages into two minutes.
As engaged and supportive as Sundance was of the storyline and vision, their largesse didn't extend to the budget, forcing us to make hard choices in an attempt to squeeze every last drop. Fortunately, we had the very thoughtful, artistic and calm cinematographer, Jeff Kim, on board as well as the skilled and experienced production designer, Elizabeth Jones, whose department worked into the wee hours turning lead into gold for each of our many environments.
Matt Campbell kept us on track while Christopher Marsh assumed the nearly suicidal role of line-producer. With only two weeks of prep over the Christmas holiday, we somehow managed to seamlessly pull it all together. (We were so frugal with out shot list that, by my informal count, there are only two angles not in the final cut).
After painting actor's bodies in black oil, watching Shiva groove to James Brown, and traipsing our excellent actors down hallway after hallway, it was all finally in the can. Which meant the real work was only beginning. Enter Megan Brennan, editor extraordinaire who's cut some of my favorite work for years now. Slowly but deliberately, we slashed the edit to the two-minute mark, keeping the pace fast and tight. Frames mattered and we sweated each 24th of a second.
Too often music gets short shrift. Coming at the end of the process (literally one of the final stages of post-production) the money is usually all dried up. But a surreal, modern-day fairy tale like Barnaby Finch needed a theme and score to bring it alive. Fortunately for me, my good friend, composer and virtuoso pianist, Jim Morgan, offered to lend a hand. And I'm forever grateful. I can't imagine this edit without Jim's score anymore than I could imagine watching this story without the performances of Ben Roberts and Eoin O'Shea.
As if this posting isn't long enough, here's a little behind-the-scenes video of the production process for those curious (or for my family who still isn't sure what I do for a living). It's a little heavy on "message" but still interesting...