CASE STUDY of VOICE-OVER, an award-winning short film

I-will-not-tell-you-whose voice leads us through three extreme situations that are actually the same… Will you survive?

Voice-Over is an award-winning, global-spanning short film directed by Martin Rosete, written by Luiso Berdejo and produced by Koldo Zuazua, Sebastian Alvarez, and Manuel Calvo.

"A short film on an epic scale, its main feature is the titular voiceover. The clearly agitated narrator informs you that the astronaut on the screen is you. And you’re in trouble. You see, you’ve crash-landed and your pressurized suit will only keep you alive for a limited amount of time. But before your air runs out, you’re whisked away to a totally different scenario. And then, with a similar race against time counting down, it happens again. Each scenario is gorgeously shot, making for three mini-action movies in one. But it’s the denouement that will have you cheering. Writer Luiso Berdejo is much more famous for his involvement with the horror films REC and REC 3: Genesis but here he is able to cover the sweep from epic to intimate in 10 short minutes.  

Voice Over may not have had the largest budget for a short film ever, but it sure looks it. The production was so complex that it took four different production companies (Kamel Films. Encanta Films, Volcano Films, and Kowalski Films) from different regions of Spain to bring it to life. Almost every shot looks complicated, and many different people contributed, from VFX technicians to makeup artists to stuntmen and divers." ~~ James McNally for Short of the Week

The main production strategy has following six lessons to impart: (1) create a unique and gripping script (2) make that script complex and challenging but shootable; (3) consider all the possibilities and test things out  before deciding on the type of shoot; (4) take the time out to plan and find the best, talented crew possible; (5) motivate that crew to make magic; and, (6) have a credible Kickstarter campaign to raise funds and promote the work.


WRITE A SCRIPT THAT GRIPS YOU IMMEDIATELY. I love films that meander and take their time to put you in the story.  Taste of Cherry, Katzelmacher and The House of the Devil are three features that many would consider slow-starters and take their time to develop the mood, visuals, themes and atmosphere that pay off at the end.  But that is a luxury that a feature has over a short film. The usual hallmark of a good short film is how quickly it grabs your attention and makes you care about the protagonist (I know there are exceptions with some types of art films ~~ but even those have their way of grabbing your attention, using intellectualism, surrealism, impressionism, expressionism, shock, cruelty or some other type of visual art reference).  The Voice-Over script works because it immediately shows the protagonist in a serious dilemma (it's life or death!) and we wonder how, and if, he can survive.  (On an aesthetic note, I think the use of French for the voice-over was brilliant because it adds a je-ne-se-quoi... cinematic flair appropriate to a film that references cinematic tropes). Martin and his producers knew that this would be an engaging and entertaining film to watch.

CREATE YOUR SCRIPT WITH AN EYE TOWARDS HOW YOU CAN SHOOT IT.  Luiso Berdejo wrote an ambitious script and Martin Rosete immediately visualized it upon reading it.  The difficulties of shooting immediately presented themselves with the fact that it would require large amounts of time and money on make-up FX, visual digital FX, production design, camera work (including underwater camera work) and extensive post production.  The producers even considered shooting it as animation, at one point.  

BUT it's easy to overlook what made the impossible possible for Martin and that's that the script had ONE lead actor for all the major and complex scenes, two supporting actors for one easy-to-shoot scene, and no dialogue except for the titular use of voice-over.  These 3 points simplified the scheduling and rehearsing and allowed the producers to focus the budget mainly on the FX, camera work, production design and editing.  The ambition of the script was immediately apparent and makes the final short stand out but the point is to match that ambition with a realistic  way of making that ambition reality.

CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITIES AND TEST THEM OUT.  The script seemed so difficult to shoot at first that many thought Voice-Over could only be done as an animated film.  But Martin, Koldo and Luiso knew it could be done in live-action. To ensure a live action, they did two important things. They engaged 4 production companies (Kamel Films, Volcano Films, Encanta Films, Kowalski Films)  each headquartered in different regions that were vital to the shoot. This allowed Martin to access people and equipment that had already established relationships with the companies prior to his arrival.  And they worked closely with a storyboard artist, DP Jose Martin Rosete (Martin's brother), FX specialists and art designers to test textures, contrasts, colors, and visuals to get a fix on what the shoot needed and what could be taken out.

TAKE YOUR TIME TO PLAN, FIND THE BEST TALENT YOU CAN.  Martin worked on Voice-Over for over a year from development to distribution.  He was able to lock down major talented crew starting around April of 2011 and all throughout summer.  The 2 week shoot began on September 26 and wrapped around October 11.  Post-production followed and included Kickstarter to raise funds for editing, FX work and color correcting.  Martin locked picture in January of 2012.  Allocating the time to shoot allowed Martin to visualize, test and prepare for every important and difficult stage in the production.

More importantly, it allowed him to attach some of the best production people working in Spain and abroad.  People like 1st A.D./co-producer, Manu Calvo (who has worked with Pedro Almodovar, Isabel Coixet and Benicio del Toro); Chano Alvarez (head of Volcano Films, the key man if you want to shoot on the Canary Islands); digital effects supervisor, David Heras of USER T38; special FX make-up, Pedro de Diego; and, lead actor, Jonathan D. Mellor

For many filmmakers it's not going to be easy to be able to get top talent like Martin did, BUT that doesn't mean one shouldn't take the time to plan and still try to find the best talent they can get within their means.

SHOW APPRECIATION AND MOTIVATE YOUR CREW AND THEY WILL WORK WONDERS FOR YOU.  Read Martin's Voice-Over blog and watch the making of documentary (see link below) and you will find a sincere appreciation for ALL of the crew who contributed to the making of the short.  For Martin, it wasn't just about appreciating the actor, the lighting or the FX, it was about the contribution everyone made, whether they were the PA or the producer.  It was a mutual feeling as the crew threw themselves to the task of making a great film because they believed in the story.  This was crucial especially since some of the crew had to work for free or deferred.  It's no wonder that for Martin and the crew, this production will always be one to remember.

USE KICKSTARTER TO FUND AND PROMOTE THE FILM.  On December 4, 2011 after getting an award for a work-in-progress version of Voice-Over at the Gijon Film Festival, Martin got on Kickstarter to raise additional funds to complete the short.  It was a good idea to wait until the completion of shooting and being awarded a prize before setting up a Kickstarter campaign because it gave Martin's production legitimacy.  Many Kickstarter campaigns fail because they don't convince potential crowdfunders that it's worth the money to contribute, especially when the filmmaker is unknown, has shoddy work or is trying to raise an exorbitant amount. However, when people see what you've done and that it has "legs" to go further, people will jump onboard enthusiastically.

Kickstarter was also a way to generate buzz.  Voice-Over is a Spanish film made for film-lovers all over the world.  As one of the premier crowdfunding sites in the world, Kickstarter allowed Voice-Over to reach an American audience and a global audience for the first time before it even made it to any (non-Spanish) international and American film festivals.  That built a buzz which helped carry it to over 100 awards and festival screenings.

To watch Voice-Over:

Behind the scenes on Voice-Over:

Visit the Voice-Over website for more info.


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