Christian Vuissa and Professor Stanley Ferguson, Theatre and Media Arts
For my last film project at BYU, I wanted to do something special that would help me get started in the film industry. Unfolding is a film that explores the struggle of a young woman. She learns to reconnect with her father who suffers from retrograde amnesia. The project was ambitious from its beginning due to its length and the many different props and locations needed for its realization. The scope of the project could easily compare to a masters program thesis film.
During pre-production, the script is finalized and preparations for production take place. As producer and director of Unfolding, I not only had to cast the actors but also had put together a crew that was willing to commit for several days of intense production – without getting paid. Casting took several months. Picking the right actors is probably the most important decision a director has to make. In the end I felt comfortable with the actors I had chosen. Most of them were from Salt Lake City. Another important part of pre-production is finding the right locations for the film. Oftentimes I see students pick locations for their projects without realizing that a good location makes all the difference. For Unfolding I also had to prepare many props. We needed a ’66 Mustang, a Hot Air Balloon, a casket, an old record player, a train station and a train (who knew that Provo has its own train station?). Since Lila, the main character of the film, learns to connect with her father by finding old pictures, sketch books and other items belonging to her father, we also needed to create these items. I worked with three talented artists who did an excellent job in creating the “younger” identity of Lila’s father. These items are very important because they set the stage for Lila’s changing perception of her father. The audience has to be able to comprehend that change. The more astonishing these personal items of Lila’s father, the more they will relate to Lila’s final triumph of connecting with her father.
After several weeks of intensive pre-production, the first day of principal photography finally arrived. We had seven days of production scheduled. Throughout production, we had a very limited crew available. Several people stepped out of their commitment and we were not able to substitute them. The night before our first day of production I didn’t sleep at all. Throughout production I had probably an average of four hours of sleep. Most production days are 12-hours days but we also had a 22-hour day when we went down to Green River to film some of the road scenes. We had only five crew members and two actors. Another day we finished very late but had to get up early again to film the hot air balloon ride.
Production is always intense because so many things have to come together at the same time. It is also a time to improvise when things don’t work out the way they were planned. Altogether we were able to collect great footage. I was able to realize my vision for the film. We had to add two additional days of production to get all the footage we needed to tell the story but in the end it was a very valuable experience for everyone involved. I am amazed at the great volunteer work that other film students are willing to offer. A film is such a collaborative experience and especially a student film relies heavily on volunteers who spend endless hours of their time without complaining. We also had very professional actors who gave their time for free and enjoyed their experience.
If I would have had to pay the crew, I would have ended up paying at least $ 50,000 just for labor. Equipment rental is also very expensive. As students we can access BYU equipment for free. The rental costs for equipment would amount to at least $ 12,000. But although labor and equipment are free, a student film is nevertheless very expensive. The raw film for Unfolding cost around $ 4,000. Developing and transferring the footage cost another $ 1,500. Other costs include food for cast and crew, expenses for locations, props and travel. It adds up. I also plan on making a film print (that can be screened in theaters), which will cost me at least another $ 3,000.
We finished production of Unfolding in August 2002. Now the film still needs to go through post-production. Post-production includes editing and a final sound mix. Music has to be arranged, some dialogue has to be dubbed, etc. Once all this is done, the final version of the film can be showcased. I hope the film will be finished by the end of the year.
In film the story is told at least three times – the first time on paper when the script is written (which is least expensive), the second time during production when the script pages are visualized and “materialized,” and the third time during editing. I consider editing crucial to the process of filmmaking. In editing the story receives its final shape. Scenes that don’t work are omitted, other scenes shortened, or the order of scenes changed. During editing it will become clear if the story works or not. I look forward to editing Unfolding.
So far my experience of making Unfolding was very rewarding. Although challenging at times, I was able to learn a lot and progress as a producer as well as a director. Filmmaking can be a very purging experience. It is such an intense and time consuming craft that I could not work in this profession unless I work on meaningful and worthwhile films that may lift the spirit and enlighten the hearts of people. I hope that Unfolding will do just that.