SPOILERS AHEAD. Watch our short film "ECHO" if you have not already before reading on!
Wow, an entire year already? What have we even done?
That's what it feels like, realizing that one year has passed since we made our first short film, "ECHO", a film that we're still very proud of, despite its flaws.
After deciding that we really need to get out there and see what it's like to make our own short films, I decided to start writing. But what kind of film do I write when we can make a longer list of the things we DON'T have at our disposal? You know, important things, like:
Welp, that's everything you need to make a film.
So it was going to have to have ONE actor, ONE location, and that's it. Whatever it was, it had to rely on a unique story to make it stand out. And that's how "ECHO" was born.
I was really inspired by the simplistic nature of a Spanish film called "Timecrimes", where a man inadvertently attacks himself after traveling back in time. And of course, some of my favorite movies of all time are the Back to the Future films. I'm always wildly entertained at the second film's second half, revisiting the first film's scenes from a different perspective.
"Sure!" I said. "I'll write a film about time travel! That way, even though there are three characters at one point, it'll all be the same actor! Lucky I'm such a genius!"
Trying to break the story was tough, as was expected. Trying to make it make sense, while trying NOT to make it predictable was not easy. But I had a rough idea of how I wanted it to begin, and how I wanted it to end. So I only needed the middle part, which everyone knows is the least important part of a story.
I knew from the get-go that the best thing I could do for the story would be to NOT EXPLAIN ANYTHING.
Explanations and exposition can drastically hurt a story. Sometimes stories work much better shrouded in mystery. Sometimes leaving the audience with lingering questions or open-ended answers is much more powerful than tying everything up with explanations that are much more anti-climatic than what a viewer can create in their own mind.
It's like something the always-quotable Alfred Hitchcock said:
"Suspense is like a woman. The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement."
The actual technical act of time-travel wasn't important, but rather the mystery of it. You figure things out as the character does.
One thing I knew I wanted to do was to set up the short like a horror movie in the beginning. There's the classic "just-moved-in-to-a-new-house-and-weird-things-are-happening" cliche, hopefully throwing everyone off the actual twist.
The scene between the two characters talking in the beginning was probably the biggest cliche in the whole film:
"So, did you here about the people who died horribly in the house you just moved in to? Ah, I'm sure it's nothing."
This was meant to be the necessary minimal exposition, and sets up the hoodie, while building up the horror movie vibe. It might have been more effective had it been written better.
You might notice that behind the characters are a bunch of cardboard boxes haphazardly stacked as high as we are tall. The intention was to look like moving boxes, but they were really used to cover up to scale of the house, seeing as this is a young man, he probably wouldn't have moved into one so goddamned big.
So rather, upon moving in, he stacks large boxes up like madman and doesn't unpack them. That's much more believable.
This next scene was where the true nightmare of shooting time-travel revealed itself.
First, you have to shoot the scene as you normally would.
THEN, you have to go, "Okay, now we do the same thing, but seeing it from a different perspective while revealing new information."
And THEN it's, "Okay...now we have to see both perspectives from a DIFFERENT perspective, and finish paying off the setups we made in the very beginning...what have I DONE??"
We did have a shot list to help keep us on track, but things are still being shot out of order so we can maximize efficiency for the day. It can get very confusing, jumping drastically throughout the film between shots. Organization is key.
Hey look, it's Mike!
It has been said that the most work you can do for yourself as a director is in casting. If you cast actors that can understand and embody the characters they're portraying, the easier it will be on you.
Let me start by saying, I'm NOT picking on Mike. I love Mike, and would never ridicule him for anything he's put effort into.
That being said, he is not a police officer.
Mike is aware of his performance more than anyone else. The role called for someone with aggression and intimidation. Some people just don't have that side to their personality. But it is not their fault for not being another person.
It is up to you, the director, to see if they can properly convey the story you're trying to tell. For example, if you need someone to play a fast-talking loudmouth and you cast a shy, timid, quivering man that can't embody that character take after take, that's on YOU, not him.
This was our FIRST effort, so none of our performances were very good. But we did what we could with the people we had.
This is where the confusion starts.
The original idea goes back to that exposition told in the kitchen:
The previous owners died as a result of the lady of the house going crazy. She killed the husband and buried his body in a field far from the house, and then went in to town and committed suicide out by the lake.
Before she died, she constantly claimed "Someone was watching the house". This is meant to allude to the fact that she also experienced this strange time-traveling phenomena, so the person "watching" the house was her, watching herself. It's left open-ended as to whether the time-traveling drove her to kill herself, or she killed her past self (which still would've killed her). Basically, time-traveling will always lead to tragedy.
That's why our main character wakes up in these random locations. The field where the husband was buried. The dock where the woman died. It's in correlation to the previous owners' deaths.
Again, all of this could've been conveyed much better with better writing.
This was the most important shot of the short, so it HAD to work. It's one of the only VFX shots in the whole thing, and it was a tad more complicated than we were prepared for. But in order for the twist to work, the audience needs to see both characters in the same shot.
What follows is a bunch of set-ups and pay-offs. Although I think these are effective, I think if we had spent a little more time on figuring them out, they could've packed a bigger punch, and spiked the tension more.
Which leads me to my next point: There is a LOT of fat in "ECHO".
This short film is 25 minutes long! I think if we had really spent the time to figure everything out ourselves, we could've trimmed it down to a more reasonable time. Unfortunately, a lot of what makes "ECHO" so cool (to us) is the fact that you watch it a second time and catch things you hadn't before, and some things may make more sense. People aren't necessarily going to be eager to plod through 25 minutes of "What's going on?!?!" again.
Aside from the twist, the very last scene is my favorite.
Some have approached me, asking the obvious question:
"If he knew the car was coming, why didn't he just get out of the way...?"
To which I pretentiously respond, "That's not the point."
My interpretation of the ending is heartbreaking.
Once he figures out what's going on, the main character spends the entire film trying to fix problems he created:
- Someone runs from the cop, who turns out to be him.
- The cop disappears, who was actually murdered by him.
- He watches who he assumed is his best friend get killed in a car accident.
- He tries to prevent (and ends up murdering) the cop from arresting his past self, so that the future isn't altered and he can go save his friend from the car accident.
By the time he reaches the intersection, he realizes that he's holding his friend's "lucky jacket" (which actually does keep him safe, get it?), and standing where his friend was hit.
It's at that point that he realizes that everything he's done to prevent things happening has only inadvertently caused them to happen in one way or another. Things are playing out exactly the way they always have. He hasn't changed a thing.
So he accepts his fate. It's already happened, which means it IS going to happen, and there's nothing he can do about it. It's a very sad thought, which usually makes for great cinema.
It's one of our few films that has an emotional aspect to it, and that's something I'm really eager to explore with future short films.
Even with it's flaws, I feel "ECHO" is a sound first effort for MakeDo. It's inspired, unique, and thoughtful to a fault. We were incredibly proud and surprised with the finished product. ESPECIALLY since our only collaboration before this was our very first 48 Hour Film Project.
If you've taken the time to watch "ECHO" all the way through just once, thank you. We'd love to hear what you think about it, and hope you check out some of our other content, along with short films to come.