Sunday, February 15, 2015

MFM Interview: Ferand Peek

Ferand Peek is the director behind the excellent independent sci-fi short film called Mis-Drop. The piece, apart from being very engaging to watch, also offers a glimpse into a combo of filmmaking techniques that offer a way of producing a movie that both looks and feels like its counterparts from the big production companies. I got an opportunity to talk with Peek about Mis-Drop and other things, especially those concerning the production of this little sci-fi gem.

Movies, Films and Movies (MFM): Mis-Drop is one of the most interesting Sci-Fi short that came out in recent years. Tell us more how this film came about? Who had the initial idea and how did the project move forward after that?

Ferand Peek: The idea for Mis-drop came during a time of my life when I was working as a contractor in sound in the film industry and had applied several times, and been rejected, for funding from the state-run Film Commission here in New Zealand. All the scripts I had written for them were for the kind of movie I thought they wanted to see (a contemporary drama with local content) but this was in no way the kind of movie I was really into or wanted to make.

Around this time I landed a good contract working on-set on a local TV show and I saved some money to put into a film. As soon as I made the decision to do so I knew it HAD to be a sci-fi film, but the question remained: how to make a film that looked and felt like the kind of big-budget sci-fi that I love on the very modest budget I had available?

The answer was firstly to do a short, and secondly to tell it all in one shot - from a camera that exists in the world of the movie. That way I knew I could have something really cool (which would have been insanely expensive to do in CG) happen just off-screen. So maybe you hear it, or you see it in reflection, but it is compromised in a way that saves money. Also coming from a background in sound I knew that much of the scale of the film could be sold with really great sound design.

Writing the movie was very quick, and we shot the film about 8 months afterwards. This was all very exciting and gratifying but it also used up all my money so to finish I needed to find help from a post-production house to assist with the CGI and compositing. But to get to that stage I knew I had to be able to show people something better than a rough-cut or I would always have to be on their shoulder telling them what they were supposed to be seeing at any point.

So I locked myself in my room for 6 months and taught myself how to composite. I took this (fairly rough comp) down to Wellington and showed it to the wonderful people at Park Road Post who got right behind it. In fact they went out of their way to help me find another vendor (Workshop FX) to do the CGI while they took on the compositing, grade and sound mix.

Workshop FX delivered quite quickly and it was a really amazing experience getting to experience being a director with them. With Park Road it took much longer as being a pro-bono job it was always at the end of their list of priorities. While this was often frustrating it actually led to an even more amazing opportunity to upskill my own compositing as I tried to push the project along and eventually, when the Hobbit movies came along, work for them on that project while also getting to finish my own movie.

So it was a really long slog to the finish line, but as a result I've been contracting in VFX for several years now and growing as a film-maker as I get exposed to the world of post-production which was an unknown to me before starting this film.

MFM: Let’s talk a bit about the production of the film itself. While it uses CGI in a very savvy way, it still had plenty of it. What was your take on using it in the film, meaning do you wish you had more or are you satisfied with the current end result when it comes to CGI use?

Ferand Peek: In terms of the CGI, my focus with it on this film is really borne from a dislike of bad visual effects. I wanted my mantra to be 'if it can't look real, don't put it in'. I dislike watching sci-fi movies where the CGI is average. You can kind of see where they were going with it, but it always pulls me out if it's not flawless.

So I'm happy with the amount of CGI in the film. Ideally I'd love to do as much as possible physically, but on a budget with this subject matter it's just impossible so you always have to find ways to cheat. In my case that was making a lot of the big CGI only visible in the reflection on his helmet (of which the glass is entirely a CGI fabrication). Of course there are always things I would like to be better and things I still look at and cringe just a little. But I always go back to the fact that the final product so far beyond what I ever thought I'd be able to achieve so I am very happy with the film.

MFM: Military science fiction seems like a very popular topic for short films, including both fan fiction set in things like the Halo universe and completely original pieces like your film. Why do you think this is the case?

Ferand Peek: I'm not really sure why military sci-fi is so popular in film other than perhaps a natural male preoccupation with conflict, war, and huge toys (guns and tanks, etc.)

MFM: What did you learn while you made this film? What would you share as your personal words of wisdom with other filmmakers looking into working on similar projects?

Ferand Peek: In terms of what I learned on this film: a little bit of money goes a long way towards getting really world-class assistance. Often if you are producing a passion project all you need to give someone is the ability to put food in their mouth and they'll pretty much waive the rest of their fee if they think it's a cool project. But you got to be prepared for it to take time. It can be good, quick, or cheap but you're only ever allowed 2. So if you want it to be good and you've got no money it won't be quick. You're always going to be at the bottom of the priority list. But in saying that if you can put in a finish deadline you'll be amazed out how everyone becomes motivated in the last couple of weeks to help you meet it.

MFM: Mis-Drop made its way to movie festivals, while it was also noticed by audiences online. Are you pleased and/or surprised with the things it accomplished?

Ferand Peek: So far I've been pretty pleased with the reception Mis-drop has received. There is something quite special about putting something out into the world, to become part of the culture, and have it well received. Especially by fans of the genre (who are really the people I made it for).

MFM: Will you try to convert the success of Mis-Drop into something new? This goes both for you personally and the universe in which the film takes place (possible sequels)?

Ferand Peek: Of course I'd love to make a feature inspired by the project, especially as it has struck people as so unique. There has been a lot of interest in the idea so now it's down to me to come up with the best possible version with which to try and bring to fruition.

MFM: Ferand Peek, thank you very much!