Fellow blogger and filmmaker James Phillips kindly shares some background behind his incredibly ambitious and unique single-take found footage film: LAST RIDE. Back in July of last year, I had the opportunity to review the film: LAST RIDE review.
In his film, a group of bikers disappear after a day-long ride in Australia's Blue Mountains. The only evidence uncovered is the footage from a helmet-mounted video camera.
B-Movie Becky (BMB): Where did the concept for LAST RIDE come from?
James Phillips (JP): Oddly enough, it was really the tech that decided how LAST RIDE was going to be made. I saw some videos shot on the GoPro cameras, and was really impressed with it. After a day or two, pretty much the whole idea came about, involving the bike riders, the myth of the Blue Mountains Panther and the single take.
BMB: Why did you decide to not only shoot the film in the found footage style, but to also shoot the entire film in one shot?
JP: For years I'd been looking to do something about the Panther myth, then when the wearable HD cameras came along, the found footage route was an obvious choice to go with. There's two things I always hate with found footage films. First, that the person carrying the camera never feels quite scared enough to just ditch the camera. They always keep shooting. Second, is edits. If you're so freaked out while running around, somehow managing to keep filming, then you would keep filming, the whole time. Would you turn the camera off for a split second? Never knowing if you might miss something? Or really even caring about the camera that is in your hand?
By attaching the camera to one of the characters helmets, it frees them up to use their hands, never really paying any attention to the fact that its even still on his head, let alone recording anything. And by forgetting about it being there, makes a single take make more sense.
I also thought the single take is a nice unique take on the found footage genre. There's not many single take films out there, and they may be hard to prove that they are indeed single takes right the way through anyway.
BMB: Is the film really one take? Are there any hidden cuts?
JP: Yes, it really is one continuous take. There were things I wanted to do in the film, like submerging myself underwater, as the cameras are completely waterproof, but I was adamant to not have one single black frame in the whole thing. No one spot where I could sneak in a cut. Again, we shot it in the daylight, to ensure no trickery.
BMB: How many takes did you go through before you got it right? What was this experience like for your actors?
JP: We had locked in 4 days to get it all done. Monday was always going to be a full dress rehearsal, and despite everyone knowing exactly what we would be undertaking, I don't think it was until after this first day that it really sunk in. It was a pretty chaotic day, essentially me pushing everyone forward, calling out to people as required, it was pretty messy.The next day we were rained out, instead doing further improvising and rehearsing around the house.
Our first real take was done on the Wednesday morning, and the Thursday take is the one that you reviewed, the one that will be available as the regular release. I recently revisited the Wednesday take, and it is really good, in some parts better than the Thursday take, in other parts, not so much. One of the biggest differences is that the Wednesday take is only 63 minutes, while the Thursday is 79. The Wednesday take will also be released as an alternate angle/take of the film, for a two disc release.
One thing the actors kept saying they really liked about the whole single take aspect was how much it was like theatre. The whole cast did really well with improvisation. There were times where we'd be heading along a track, and I needed a bit more time, a bit more drama happening, so I'd tell an actor to hit the deck and give me an extra minute or two. There's a lot of pressure when you're fifty minutes into a single take feature film, and times like that they really pulled through, and delivered solid performances.
BMB: You wore many hats in the film: a writer, director, actor, and cinematographer/camera operator. What was this experience like? Would you ever do it again?
JP: Last Ride was a really collaborative process. There is no script for the film, still only a ten page synopsis, with about four lines of dialog. The rest is all ad lib, or rehearsed and roughly remembered. This goes for characterizations as well as dialog. For a few months leading up to the shoot, I would work with the actors to develop each of their own characters and back stories.
In terms of the actual shooting, trying to keep my head fairly steady, and my eyeline high was tough. It may not sound like much, but after hiking for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) through rough terrain while wearing a helmet with two cameras and two microphones attached to it, keeping your chin up starts taking some effort. Especially while trying to act.
That was the hardest part for me, and the part I was least prepared for. Acting. While I didn't have to perform as such in front of the camera, I obviously was there alongside everyone the whole time, taking consolation knowing that if I was truly terrible, I could be dubbed over.
I really enjoyed shooting LAST RIDE. Getting out into the bush like that, I love it out there. Course, when I say out there, we shot LAST RIDE literally a five minute walk from my house.
My favourite part of shooting a single take film is the afternoon screenings. We would all trudge back to the house and get cleaned up, plug the camera straight into the projector, and have a screening. Sure, it needed some audio work done, but knowing what you would be changing and adding, you would watch your finished film, then and there. No months of editing. That was all done by my neck earlier in the day.
BMB: What was the most challenging experience for you and your crew during the production?
JP: Haha, that's my favourite word so far in regards to LAST RIDE. Crew. The crew consisted of myself and my wife Irene, the only qualified one in my crew and that wears possibly more hats than myself, from looking after the cast in terms of sleeping arrangements and meals, right up to her actual job of make up and special effects.
The biggest challenge for all of us, was the distance travelled in that location. While we would be running one way, Irene would be running another way, to get prepped and ready for the next effect gag. There were a few small bottles of blood along the track for us so she didn't have to be there for all of those, but the major ones like the camp scene... You know what, I still don't know what happened behind the scenes there! It was one of those things where if I ever saw Irene out there, then so did the camera, so it would be all over. All I know is that somehow she got to that spot before us, and I wouldn't even know if she was there or not, and then that she would have moved on by the time I returned.
By the Thursday take, we had both found things we could do differently to make life easier, and it was a lot smoother for all involved.
BMB: What sort of themes did you want to explore with LAST RIDE? Why did the subject matter interest you personally?
JP: Essentially, LAST RIDE is all about 'How long can you run to save your life?' This seems to be somewhat of a recurring theme for me, but I'm not really sure why. It's simply about survival, and what drives people to persevere.
BMB: What's next for you? Any future projects you'd care to divulge?
JP: We wrapped shooting 'The Proposal' at the end of October, and it is currently in audio post production. It is another single take film, but this time shot with a completely static camera. It is about 44 minutes long, and we're looking to release it online for free in the coming months.
Also Relentless, the film which you named all those moons ago, is just about finished. It's been a long road, but it will be worth it, and a nice change for my viewers from these single take films.
There's a stack of films I'd love to start making now, but at the moment I'm putting all productions off until all three of these films are released. Which is tough, because I love being in production!
Head on over to www.lastridefilm.com, where the full film is now available via streaming or download. If you're still not convinced, check out the the teaser below and see if you're not intrigued.