Credit goes to Sam Mardon. Head over to the concept art page to see it along with the rest of the work.
It took me rather a long time to come up with the concept of The Alpha Invention. I knew that I wanted to make a short movie set in a single location with only a few characters, preferably two, three maximum - what is known as a chamber piece.
The reasons for my desire to do this are twofold. Firstly, it saves money and time, as you only have to hire one location or build one set and you reduce the number of necessary company moves (transporting all cast & crew).
Secondly, I love those kind of movies. In everything from 12 Angry Men and Rope to Moon and Buried (which is arguably the uttermost example) there is a palpable sense of drama in every scene driven by an uneasy feeling of something close to claustrophobia, because the outside world remains just that, on the outside, unexplored and therefore unknown.
For this reason, single-locations are a device used to a great extent in the horror genre. Sam Raimi even put the audience in the shoes of that oppressive "outside world" in The Evil Dead with his famous "Shaky Cam". However, I knew horror was not the genre I wanted to tackle, not because I have any less respect for it than other genres but simply because single locations are such a tried and mastered technique in horror I felt there were greener pastures elsewhere.
Initially I wrote a gangster short which never really took off. I also wrote something of a heist scene, but it felt exactly that, a scene from a feature film rather than something that deserved to be a short in its own right. The same was true of the next short I wrote which had a science-fiction twist to it; it became much too big for its own boots and has since become a feature length screenplay.
It was somewhere between revisiting The Big Sleep and Heat that I recognised a potential ground for exploiting the single location technique - in noir fiction. Now, both of those films have many, many locations which the protagonists leap to and from as they solve the case, but both equally have beautifully quiet moments of stillness. Staring out at a gloomy ocean or entering the suspect's silent house moments before he arrives back. The bittersweet melancholy that these scenes evoke are something of a noir genre trope and you almost wish that they would linger for a little longer like a painting or an entry in IWDRM.
And in a single location movie, even a short that lasts no longer than fifteen minutes, you do get to linger there. Every corner of the set will be visible at one point or another, the audience can get to know the main character's apartment just as well as he does. Meanwhile, the lashing rain enforces the oppressive nature of the unseen world outside which renders it as unfamiliar to us as it is to a hermit obsessive computer programmer like Guy.
Noir jumped out as the perfect platform for the single location short. Onto writing it...
Last week I talked about the test shoot that we conducted to find the appropriate look for the film. The basis of which came from the concept art that Sam Mardon created for us.
I found Sam’s website and liked the look of his other work so simply sent him an email explaining our project and if he would be interested in working on it. He did and we got straight to work developing the first piece of art.
Most of the film will be shot from behind Guy’s computer so I wanted to get a visualisation of that first to show the crew. To form a brief I sent Sam notes on the colour, the props and Guy’s build and appearance. I also sketched a very rudimentary map of the apartment (this is before I’d made a 3D model) so that Sam understood the geography of the set that was in my head, and attached a mood board which is an assortment of photos, all from other films, to convey the… well, mood. It looks like this…
Finally, I attached the script to give Sam an understanding of what he was drawing – some context. This is what I got back…
Which obviously looks great and ticked most of the boxes right out of the gate (many more so than I was expecting actually). I just gave a few bits of feedback regarding the windows being bigger, the light being emphasised, a few more details on the computer and giving Guy a notepad to draw on. And…
The second piece of concept art had to convey two key things – a reverse angle which is naturally another important shot; and a key piece of set dressing, the map on Guy’s wall. Without giving too much away I can say that this is a “tree of life” of sorts that Sam designed and dropped into his artwork.
This will be made into full scale mural by the art department for shooting and placed on that very wall. It will serve us well for inserts and cutaways and once you've seen the film it might make a bit more sense on second viewing.