Low Budget, High Scale – Incredible Action Sequence With BTS
Whether you’re a photographer or you focus on video, this article highlights the high octane visual set piece created by Slaughterhouse Pictures, who successfully combined principles of both stills and motion work to create high impact visual media with zero budget and very limited resources. Read the exclusive FStoppers article and watch the BTS video to get some simple and highly effective little tips that you will be able to apply to all aspects of your own work.
There is such an abundance of high quality, creative visual image makers creating great work globally right now, it’s pretty mind-blowing. My aim is to showcase some of it here on Fstoppers, particularly where the paths of photography and video intersect. I love to see small teams of highly creative people put together high quality, high impact shoots, especially when it’s delivered on a zero or limited budget basis.
Slaughterhouse Pictures (or ‘SP’) produces commercials, music videos, feature films, shorts, corporate videos and stills photos for some of Norway’s biggest brands, companies and artists. This small, creative visual media agency is based out of Oslo, so unless you happen to be chowing down on a nice plate of rakfisk (that’s fermented trout, to our non-Norwegian readers), you might not have heard of them. By the time you’ve spent the next 87 seconds watching their new short video, “Sons Of Satan”, you will certainly know who they are.
“Sønner av Satan” – literally, “Sons of Satan”, was a test shoot that the team decided to put together ahead of a feature film they wanted to produce (shooting starts Summer 2014).
The team at SP put a great BTS together for this article which can be seen here:
The beauty of tests – and this applies to any test regardless of what you are shooting – is that it not only provides a great environment to experiment with, but, if it works out well, it can help sell your work. These examples can provide a great inspiration for what can be done with limited resource and budget, and the learning points can apply to each of us, regardless of what we are working on.
I was fortunate to get some time with Lars Berteig Andersen, CEO, Director and Producer of SP before he jetted off to Tokyo for a shoot, and he gave me some brilliant insights into how this short action sequence came about and how it was produced:
FStoppers: Lars, how did the idea for the Sons of Satan shoot come about?
The shoot was a test we had wanted to do for some time to figure out if we could replicate a really awesome clip from Philips and that Corridor Digital did a BTS for on their channel (you can also see the BTS for the Philips Carousel shoot). We had already used the effect in a music video that we did last year and wanted to use it in a feature film that we are shooting next summer, called Sons of Satan.
I had been talking to Jo Jørgen Stordal, a friend of mine who runs a company called Visual Combat that rent out weapons and tactical gear to film productions about how many Norwegian films never really do anything extraordinary in terms of special effects like that in action scenes, so we though “Hey, lets see how hard it is”.
FStoppers: Can you briefly outline the end to end production process. What was the most challenging aspect of this?
Basically you need a fairly steady camera that can shoot a minimum of 50 fps (we used the Sony NEX FS100) in HD, a bunch of people that can stand perfectly still and some weapons.
Since we didn’t have any time to plan out what we where going to shoot and had no idea of what the location looked like other than some vague scouting pictures, we didn’t really feel prepared on arrival at the site. I had written down a small scene that I wanted to shoot, but after looking at the location, I quickly threw it away, so we had to wing the whole shot.
The shoot consisted of trying out different poses and camera angles that we thought would be cool. The most challenging aspect of the production was no doubt the post production. Since we didn’t really have a clear idea of exactly what types of effects we could pull off, we kind of had to go with learning by doing it wrong and then fixing it.
After shooting we had to go through post-production hell because of the lack of planning. Alex Holm and Lars-Petter Iversen who work with us put in hours and hours starting out with rotoscoping and cutting out unwanted stuff like wires and bees flying into the frame.
Then they had to get to work on adding all the effects. Here we used a variety of 3D and 2D objects from different action packs like smoke, bullets and fragments. Alex also spent countless hours online learning how to do all the stuff I asked for like the hot air waves from bullets.
Since this whole project was done pro bono and we had to do productions for clients as well to make money, the-post production took a long time. After weeks of tweaking, we were finally ready to color grade and export. Our main photographer and colorist, Arnt Heggli uses DaVinci Resolve for grading.
Now we just have to convince our investors that the clip is an awesome reflection of what we want to do with the film and worth their money.
FStoppers: How important was the pre-production process versus the post-production work?
As I said, we didn’t really do any pre-production other that getting costumes and knowing how to shoot it. Huge disadvantage.
I would say that the pre-production process is the most important part. Every minute spent in pre-production is hours saved in post. Still, you will need to use a lot of time and energy in post to get what you want.
FStoppers: Any last thoughts/advice or insight you wish to give?
I would say that the best thing you can do is to plan well and get all details covered in the pre-production stage so you don’t have to deal with all the problems after you shoot. If you want to do your own ‘freeze’ scene, get a camera that can shoot as many fps as possible and if you can, use a steady rig.
If you have to export something that takes, lets say an hour, go for a jog or get some fresh air. That usually solves problems clustering your brain in front of the computer.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun and challenge your creativity. Something that might seem impossible to pull off without fancy equipment and millions of dollars may be one cheap and easy solution away. A lot of things that look difficult and expensive are often really simple. Don’t complicate. Try to find the easiest solutions possible.
Just think “What would I like to see if I went to the cinema? What would blow me away?”.
Useful Learning Points
There are some great points we can all take away from the SP production to apply to much of our own work. I’ve outlined and summarized below what i think the key points are, but please, add your own in the comments section too.
1.) The Web Is a Great Resource
SP already used some BTS they had seen elsewhere to get an idea of how to do this shoot. The web is a great resource, chances are someone has already done what you want to do, or something similar and it’s sat online and available for free somewhere. Lars mentions how they used online resources to learn how to do some of the VFX work.
2.)Work With Friends
Collaboration between friends and colleagues is great because it allows you to all get something out of the shoot without having to commit much financially. SP pulled in their friends from Visual Combat. Fashion editorial work is very much like this; most of the time, everyone is working in exchange for images and improved portfolios. Applying this mentality to other shoots, including video work, is a great way to rope in collaborators and keep financial costs down.
3.) Planning Is Essential
Lars says how much time was spent ‘fixing’ things in post because they had to work on the fly when on the location. Think about spending a little extra time planning up front to save time down the line (in either post production, as is the case here with intensive post work, or perhaps simply feeling more prepared and relaxed when you get to the set because you spent an extra few hours scouting, pre-visualizing and so on).
4.) Take Breaks
This is so simple and one I’m always neglecting (as I type this I haven’t stepped away from the computer for the last 4 hours). When doing intensive work in front of the computer, particularly editing or post work, or even trying to narrow your selects down, take regular short breaks from the screen. It clears the mind and helps keep you fresh. It also helps provide a fresher perspective on whatever you were working on before you took the break as we can sometimes get tunnel vision with our work.
5.) Have Fun and Keep Things Simple
The closing comment from Lars is really a great reminder of what this is really all about. It’s easy to get caught up on the stress and worry of what we have to do, or the thought that we want to do it too complicated. This is quite a complex piece of post production work, but compared to the Philips Carousel set piece, they achieved a very similar execution to a high quality standard for a fraction of the cost and manpower involved. We should all be looking to do the same to deliver more for less.
6.) Don’t Let Your Doubts Hold You Back
Obviously we are all capable of only so much, but SP provides a great example that if you have the determination and some gear, you can basically replicate something you might have seen that was way more complex or costly and do it for a fraction of the cost. It’s certainly something we can all learn from, and that the key is to understand how the work was done, and how you can try to replicate it yourself (which is where points 1 and 2 on this list come in handy).
7.) Testing Is An Opportunity To Sell Your Work / Raise Money For Projects You Want to Do
Testing and experimenting can really help sell your work. SP were looking for investors for their full length film, and this test helped drive interest and secure funding for the project. Your own test work can be creative and experimental but it can also have a commercial delivery piece too. We all love to create and shoot beautiful art, but tests can help sell your work. We should look to blur the lines between what we consider “paid/boring client work” and “free/creative artistic work”. I often try to bring my sense of quality and creativity to how I shoot and edit because I know for sure that’s what got me booked in the first place.
8.) It’s Ok To Get It Wrong
Lars mentions that when it came to the post work, they learnt by doing it wrong, then working out how to fix it. It’s a great attitude and, if adopted, helps you realize that actually there is nothing wrong with trying something new, or nothing wrong with just experimenting. Those happy accidents or ‘mistakes’ allow us the opportunity to learn and grow as creative professionals.
For a small team, SP packs a huge punch and represents the new wave of small, agile creative agencies that can pull together quickly to produce a huge output. They are on a mission to become the best “one stop shop for film, commercials and still photography in Norwary”. Judging from what I’ve seen so far, there is nothing to say they won’t meet this goal. I’d like to thank them for their time and this compelling content and wish them luck with their larger production which I might even sit down and watch with my very own plate of rakfisk. Maybe.
Image and Video Credits: [Slaughterhouse Pictures]