Director Joseph Oxford and cinematographer Bradley Stonesifer created a unique live action short film “Me+Her,” which was accepted into this year’s Sundance Short Film program. What makes this film so special is that Joseph and Bradley created an incredible imaginary world where all of the main characters and sets were built out of standard cardboard boxes. While any film admitted into the Sundance competition is going to look amazing, the fact that Joseph and Bradley captured stunning images using only cardboard really sets this project apart.
To bring the cardboard to life, Joseph and Bradley chose Blackmagic Cinema Camera (EF) as their main camera and Pocket Cinema Camera for specific shots requiring a smaller form factor camera. The cameras’ ease of use and affordability helped make their project a reality, while the resulting high quality images helped impress the Sundance folks, making the short a strong contender in the short film competition.
According to Joseph and Bradley, the form factor for each camera was a huge advantage in filming “Me+Her” because they were filming in such confined spaces (think shooting from ten inches off the ground rather than the normal six feet). They were also thrilled with the camera’s clean, smooth image quality and were able to do a lot with the RAW footage in post production using DaVinci Resolve.
JO: Director Joseph Oxford
BS: Cinematographer Bradley Stonesifer
EM: Producer Emily Bloom
* What inspired you to create a live action short from cardboard boxes? Where did the idea and thought for the story-line originate from?
JO: I stumbled into creating the first character design while I was trying to kill time waiting for an animated project to render out on my computer. On my desk, I had a scrap on cardboard, a rubber band, and a pencil. I stretched the rubber band across the face of the cardboard and held it in place with the pencil. The goal was to strum the rubber bands like a toy guitar. It didn't make any pleasing sounds, but it did kind of look like lips, so I drew eyes on the cardboard scrap, and the first iteration of my main character, Jack, was born. Over time, I started thinking about the world he would inhabit, and developed a story based in that world.
* What was one of the main challenges when shooting/creating Me+Her?
JO: Because the characters were made out of cardboard, the delicate joints would break after prolonged use. There were back ups for the main characters, but some of the more involved sequences pushed their limits. Fixing key puppets or set pieces on the day slowed us down tremendously.
BS: The 1/5 scale of the puppets and sets were a challenge technically, mostly because moving the camera around without destroying the fragile cardboard was a constant challenge. Also, trying to make the puppets feel larger then life with wider lenses and keeping depth of field deep enough to match typical live action films with human subjects required large amounts of lights. The scale also required us to be 5x more precise with moving the camera, framing and position of lights.
EB: The sets were so large that we couldn't find a warehouse space large enough to rent, to build and shoot all at once. We had to break production into 3 different sections over 7 months build, shoot, tear down, build again, repeat. When you have people coming out for free and vendors providing equipment and services in kind, it gets tough to continue to ask for those favors, but we were very lucky to have such a dedicated crew. When all was said and done, over 100 people donated their time to the project.
* What do you want viewers to feel after watching your short?
JO: If it evokes an emotional response out of viewers at all I'd consider it a success. The only response I fear is complete indifference.
BS: I hope that viewers get a chance to connect with the characters and forget that the world is made of cardboard, at the root of the project is a story of Love and Loss, which most people can connect with.
* Why did you decided to use the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for this project?
JO: I'll defer to Brad for most of this question, but I will say that it was always very important to me to minimize the practical limitations the gear may cause. Since we were shooting 1:5 scale miniatures, it was pretty much immediately understood that we would need something with a much smaller form factor than most digital cinema cameras.
BS: We had tested a multitude of cameras ranging from 2/3 eng, full frame S35 sensors and full frame still sensors, but every camera had a different set of plus and minuses. We were looking for a camera that was small in form factor, had a robust image/codec, and affordable for our indy production. The smaller sensor of the Blackmagic camera helped with our depth of field, and the ability to scale up the camera with professional lenses and accessories were a nice touch when we had the room to use them. We could go bare bones with just a body and lens at times, then add a cinezoom with matte box, onboard, follow focus, etc.. when needed. The Blackmagic cameras where the right fit for this project.
* What advice were you given when you first started in production, that you still follow to this day?
JO: One piece of advice I was told when I first started working in film production was that if you want to direct, you have to go create content yourself. No one was going to hand me a directing job because I really wanted it. I had to start the project myself.
BS: I had been given some advice a few years back on an Indie feature that even though at the moment didn’t seem like great advice has been invaluable. It was "Indie Film making is tough, hang in there." Even though very simple and not very direct at the problems we had at the time, it's a nice way to say that you have to find solutions that work for you and that making films is never easy and you should be prepared for the worse and have many different options for success. If you try to fit a round peg into a square hole you are more then likely gonna fail. Be flexible and be direct.
What is something about this short that most people might not know?
JO: The hospital scene and the bathroom scene had already been shot once before back in February of 2010 in our co-producer Aldo Lanzillotta's garage. The idea was to shoot scenes as I finished building the sets. The plan failed, but those early scenes served as a good camera test and they were recreated nearly shot for shot.
EB: The film is only 7 pages long but it took 18 days to shoot. 3 of those days, were the hottest days on record in LA, reaching 115 degrees inside the warehouse. Among other issues, not destroying the sets and puppets with our sweat became a pressing challenge.
* Do you have any other projects on the horizon you can share with us?
JO: I'm writing some new material. Nothing that could be considered "on the horizon" just yet.
BS: I’m excited to continue to develop my skills with Mr. Oxford and see what’s the next crazy adventure we can embark on. In the meantime, I have 2 features in the works for 2014 and one feature length Doc as a cinematographer. Island Creek Pictures is in development for another short in 2014 and 2 feature length films in 2015 and 2016.
* Anything else you would like to add?
BS: This film for me has been a nostalgic process that has reaffirmed the dreams I had back in film school that a great group of people can come together and make a project for the soul purpose of Art, Storytelling and Love. I am forever grateful for all our collaborators.
content and images courtesy of: Blackmagic