We break down the production process behind our three-minute concept trailer, from choosing our funding platform right down to the day of the shoot.
When we set out to develop Door in early 2018, we realised quite quickly that the task we were about to undertake was by no means a small one. Door was a project that required a large number of locations, each of which needed to look as different and unique as possible in order to really bring home the concept of interdimensional travel. One thing was certain from the beginning: we were going to need money, and a lot of it, if we were going to pull this off.
Like many independent filmmakers, we quickly turned to crowdfunding as way to raise the finance we needed to make Door a reality. With plenty of options to choose from, we assessed each site for its merits until we finally settled on Kickstarter. The reason? Kickstarter has a much larger user base than its nearest competitor Indiegogo, and while Indiegogo allowed you to walk away with however much you ultimately raised, no matter how small, Kickstarter forced you to reach your pitch goal or walk away with nothing to show for it. The theory was that using an all-or-nothing approach would encourage your supporters, if they truly loved and responded well to your ideas, to donate larger amounts out of fear that you might not hit your target. Not to mention that Door was so complex that it really was all-or-nothing for us regardless - if we scraped in below our £5000 target, then producing the film to the standard we had promised would be near impossible.
So, we had our goal, and we had our platform. What we needed now was a way to sell the film to our audience.
It’s not uncommon for films to put together a sort-of “sizzle reel” of footage to showcase to potential investors in order to gain funding. Door was no exception. Early on, I knew I wanted to create something that would capture more of the tone and aesthetic over the film rather than the actual plot. While this was partially to create an air of mystery surrounding the project, it was also for practical reasons - as much of the plot required extensive locations and for those locations we needed money, I decided to simply tease the film’s central concept, and instead have the teaser focus on Imogen as a character while also relaying the overall tone and visual style of the project. This focus on character meant finding the perfect actress to play the part.
I’d first met Sian while working on another short film, Shift, back in 2016. As I was developing the screenplay for Door and crafting the protagonist of Imogen, Sian sprung back into my mind again as a potential casting choice, and I pitched the project to her in December 2017 after catching a performance of Hamilton in London’s West End. I quickly sent her the screenplay and she was immediately excited about the project and keen to start. Admittedly, early drafts of the script - such as the one we were working from during the trailer shoot - left Imogen poorly fleshed out, but Sian’s performance brought something to the character that elevated it above the material in a way I can't quite explain. Since the day we shot the trailer, I've rewritten the full film's screenplay several times to add more layers to the Imogen character, most of which were inspired by Sian's performance from the trailer.
With an actress on board, everything else fell quickly into place. I was (un)fortunate enough to be living in an exceptionally run-down student property at the time, which proved to be a perfect shooting location for Imogen's decrepit flat. My partner Rosa Fay, a gifted photographer, was keen to take a step into film and she quickly came on board as cinematographer. An old school friend of mine, Anna Randall, had recently taken the jump into the make-up industry, and she was able to join the project as our make-up artist with much excitement. My brother, Jordan Cottle, set about composing a wonderful score for the trailer, creating a unique, mysterious sound that leant heavily on synths and electronics to create something otherworldly. He also performed on-set sound recording duties, while the job of post-production sound was handed over to Fred Badham, who did a fantastic job of crafting the final soundscape and mix for the film. And finally, my friend Chris Deakin, one half of the duo over at Greennova Productions, came over at the last minute to help out with behind-the-scenes photography.
Shooting began on a chilly day in April at around 7am. First on the block was the exterior sequence, which shows Imogen looking pensively towards a dark and brooding sky. Unfortunately, the sun came up a little earlier than we had been expecting, so we missed out on capturing a golden-hour sunrise like we had hoped. However, we were able to fix this issue in post-production by grafting a new sky into the shot. You can see the before and after of this visual effect below:
Next up was the bathroom sequence. The bathroom we were using, complete with broken mirror, cracked tiling and grimy floor, was small and difficult to access with all the equipment, but we made do with the limited space and managed to shoot some fantastic material. Although we were forced to rely soley on natural light, the dim lighting present at the location really added to the mood of the scene, and gave the sequence a noir element. In a particularly funny behind-the-scenes memory, one shot - a downward angle on the door-handle resting in the sink basin, with Imogen's hands grasping the sink on either side of frame - required Sian to awkwardly straddle the camera tripod in order for us to get the footage we wanted.
The final scenes shot were those in the bedroom. The bedroom location was the part of the property in the worst condition, which we felt perfectly brought home Imogen's prime motivation - she wants to escape. We used wide shots to really drive in how bad Imogen's living conditions are, making sure to capture the peeling wallpaper and crumbling plaster. We used strong yellows, oranges and beiges to create a bland texture to the environment, something that felt truly stifling and claustrophobic. One of the most difficult effects of the film takes place in this sequence: a rotating shot that sees Imogen walking towards a plain white wall as she seeks somewhere to plant the door-handle. This shot was an effect created entirely in post-production - compositing on-set footage of Sian striding towards the whitened wall onto a hi-res image of the wall itself, with the rotation then added after. It took a long time to perfect, removing annoying shadows and difficult lighting angles, but in the end it's worth it for the uneasy vibe the shot gives the finished sequence.
The final piece of the puzzle was shooting the central effect of the film - the opening doorway to another world. I'd decided very early on that I didn't want to show the effect itself, but rather imply it off-screen so that the thematic focus would remain on Imogen and her reaction to the power now at her disposal.
The final effect was a mixture of practical and post-production techniques. The shot where the door-handle appears to defy gravity and stick vertically to the wall was done through an in-camera trick: a sheet of discarded wallpaper was placed on the floor, with the camera carefully angled to make the paper appear vertical. Sian then gently placed the door-handle onto the sheet, creating the in-camera illusion of sci-fi wizardry. To create the effect of the doorway opening, we used an LED light projecter, hidden behind a wooden board, to slowly cast light across Sian's face. This was coupled in the edit with the sounds of a distant shore, creating the effect of a link between one location - a decrepit, inner-city flat - and another - a beckoning, open ocean. And with that, the shoot was complete.
Ironically, for a shoot that lasted no longer than ten hours, the editing process took almost three months. The first cut of the trailer was just over five minutes, and was painfully drawn out. We really struggled to tighten it and create a sense of pace and tension, and I truly believe that the final addition of Jordan's musical score saved the film adding an ambient layer to the soundscape that really brought to life the overall mood and texture of the story.
Unfortunately, anyone who's been following us at Volplex for a while will know that the Kickstarter campaign for Door was ultimately unsuccesful. We made a grand attempt - just shy of £2000 was raised - but it sadly was not enough to put the full film into production as we had dreamed. Still, the Kickstarter campaign drew a lot of attention to the project, and we got some fantastic responses towards our ideas. The campaign also resulted in us walking away with a beautiful micro-short, a projet I'm extremely proud. Whether the whole film will ever be produced remains to be seen, but I'll forever be proud of the work everyone put into our short trailer. It really shows what a group of people can achieve when they come together and put their minds towards a common goal, and in the end the final product speaks for itself. But in regards to a full film...
...Well, let's just say "watch this space".
I hope you've all enjoyed learning about the process that went into creating our concept trailer for Door. Check back with us in December for a special festive issue, as we look back at the ups and downs of our first year of operations as Volplex Pictures in our third edition, Year One in Review.
Until next time!
Adam T Cottle