AMELIE IN 60 SECONDS: BEHIND THE SCENES
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER JASON ROBBINS
Empire is running a competition in which filmmakers must remake a feature film in 60 seconds. 20 finalists were recently announced including No Country For Old Men, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and an especially clever take on Amelie.
Amelie in 60 seconds was created by Jason Robbins and I had the opportunity to learn more about the inspiration behind the short film and what it took to pull it off.
What led you to Amelie?
These open briefs can be really overwhelming and I didn’t know where to start. So I just looked for ways to help keep the project manageable. My wife (Aine) is an actor so that was a starting point, I shortlisted films with female leads which cut down the options to start. Amongst my shortlisted ideas were Black Swan, Amelie, Coco before Chanel, and Contact. All great films to work with. My instinct was to go for Black Swan as I felt the light and dark sides were a great basis to work with and allowed a lot of flexibility. After discussing it with Aine she felt it was likely that quite a few people would be choosing that film and it would be better to try and be a bit different. I then narrowed it down to Contact (I’m a huge fan of this movie) and Amelie, the kicker was that Aine happened to have a very similar haircut to Amelie, so much so that we’d joked about it previously and she’d posed for a photo that ended up being Amelie’s profile picture in the film. So the decision was made.
What inspired your unique approach to the material?
I knew from the start that I didn’t want to just do a straight remake of the material condensed into 60seconds, I felt it wouldn’t bring anything new to the table and for me wouldn’t be worth the trouble of putting it all together. I’d had an idea for Black Swan that the main character had two personalities representing light and the dark sides as different profiles on facebook/twitter. That she’d be posting as the two sides of herself and it would end with the reveal/transformation. After watching Amelie I was mulling over what I could do with it and it struck me I could use the same ‘social network’ framework to allow Amelie to get in touch with everyone from the film, and do her good deeds. It was a perfect fit and very economic on locations, I was ready to start planning it all out.
What challenges did you face with only 60 seconds to work with?
My main goal was to create a short film that worked by itself. I didn’t want it to feel like a barrage of quick cuts serving only to just get through the most amount of material in the time available so some tough decisions needed to be made.
On my second viewing of the film I sat with my notebook and wrote down the themes and how the story was told rather than specific plot points. These would serve as guides my version would need to follow if it was to retain the feel of the movie. The third run through was plot points, noting everything that happens during the film (although I’d already decided to drop the market stall scenes as those characters are easily removable). Glassman, Painting-girl, Box Received, Amelie Alone, Take Gnome, etc.
Then it was a matter of cutting out and combining those plot points into my social network theme. I had initially planned to have an intro and a voice over to start with, that got cut pretty quickly. I worked on things such as Georgette and Joseph’s relationship, instead of showing both the introductions and them getting together, I could just show the introductions via splitscreen and then add a ‘Georgette is in a relationship’ status update into another shot which someone might spot on a repeat viewing or if they’re looking around, this made it more economic and added depth to the film.
Elements such as her relationship with Quincompoix was reduced to a text message about the bandit poster she made and then the Glassman telling her to ‘go get him’, before tying it up with Amelie’s relationship status, which I was really pleased with.
Finally a few credits for the free photos I used in the film. It was a nice finish as opposed to the video just stopping without some kind of signifier to tell you it’s come to a close.
Jason was also able to give an in depth look at the technical aspects of the project.
Amelie was filmed on my Canon 600D(1920×1080 @ 24fps) over two days. I only decided to enter the competition at the start of January and the deadline was the 20th so I didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked. Fitting it around my day job (animator/3D generalist). I decided to spend 2 weeks planning and refining the idea and a week to put together an animatic and then assemble everything from there.
The location is in my flat. I’ve still got a lot to learn about lighting so I’m not entirely happy with the look. Lamp lighting for the sofa and laptop close up shots and we have no plug sockets downstairs so just had to suffer the ceiling halogens.
I used a bare bulb for the close up shots of the hands which I’m happier with. I used the Tamron 17-50 2.8 for all of it, I’m kicking myself for not using the 50mm 1.8 (what was I thinking!?) mainly on a tripod and a shoulder rig for the final shot outside the door.
Edited in Premiere and graded in After Effects using Colorista II, once again I was short on time but was able to get a general warm hue on the live action shots and a green hue on the computer screens in fitting with the Amelie movie and the color palettes used for her apartment and the outside world. Ended up being so tight on the deadline I didn’t get to do a noise reduction and sharpening pass unfortunately.
I was going to just do the computer shots in after effects and apply a filter to get the screen look but after some tests it actually worked best just filming the monitor so I stuck with that, most of it is just me manipulating layers in photoshop in real time(in the split screen email shot the cursor that appears is the move one if you look closely, couldn’t find a workaround for that
What’s next for you?
I’ll definitely be entering more competitions but I’m looking to step things up and start building a crew, being a one man band tends to spread you a little thin for my liking. One area I’d really like to work on is the lighting, I could go and buy a bunch of equipment and try things out but I’d rather just find someone who has the knowledge and has already spent the money and get them on board, plus it’s great to have people to bounce ideas off and who can bring their own suggestions to the table. Away from competitions I’m also looking at some short film scripts and in discussions to work with an established director on an animated short.
Every time I make a film I learn something new, so I’m just going to keep making them. My long term goal is to make a feature.
Special thanks to Jason Robbins for the interview.