The Art of the Mini-Blockbuster Short Film
I worked on GODZILLA vs KONG to help make my proof of concept ‘MANHUNT’. One of the biggest struggles of making a movie with blockbuster quality is the money. Even in big films like Godzilla vs Kong, they shoot for the stars and then strip away all the fat in order to produce what’s absolutely necessary.
Working as a Production Assistant on the first eight months of the film (I was one of the first ten people hired!) taught me a handful of key lessons that I know I will carry onto every project I work on. Most recently, they helped me make my proof of concept ‘MANHUNT’.
You have time or money, never both
In some ways, I was lucky to not have enough money to make my short (in the end, I spent $15k… most shorts like this would naturally cost about $50k). The key is time. Our post-production took nearly a year and a half because my VFX artists couldn’t make this their day job. They had to be just as passionate as I was about the story, and took the very little money as a simple sign of respect from one artist to another.
Every crew member matters
I try to personally hire every single crew member for my projects. Every person has an energy, a vibe, that can affect the entire set experience for good or bad. As a PA, I knew every little task I was given could have a ripple effect throughout the entire production if it was executed poorly and that’s ten fold when you’re the director. The key thing is to surround yourself with people smarter than you.
You see it a lot with blockbusters these days. A fairly new, young director is suddenly given the keys to a $150-200M film, but they surround them with key department heads who know what they’re doing.
Make every shot count
Every shot, every scene, every actor comes at a price when you’re making a film on a budget, and Godzilla vs Kong was no different. A key conversation in the early days of research and development was the two monsters’ first fight on the aircraft carriers. Naturally, it’s loaded with hundreds of VFX shots and a single additional shot could cost anywhere from $20k – $100K+. So every shot counts.
The same goes for my film ‘MANHUNT’. When we ran hours behind schedule, I had to cut down on coverage and execute an unplanned one-take that forced me to focus on what really matters in that moment and in that shot. It was an intimate turning point at the end of the story, and losing the coverage actually added to the emotion of the moment. Sometimes, less is more.
Make every dollar count
$155M (I believe that’s the final GvK budget) sounds like a lot of money, but when you have movie stars dodging CGI monsters who are destroying cities around the globe, $155M disappears quite quickly. Every expense matters, from a major military base location to the latest refill on the office printer.
For ‘b’, my producer Neil said that
“Every dollar should be seen as a thousand dollars.”
That way, in execution, our $15,000 budget felt more like $15,000,000. It felt real, and it made us spend every dollar with great precision.
Get creative with your spectacle
Godzilla vs Kong has a whole lot of spectacle that comes with a hefty price tag. While I didn’t have the money for fast car chases, big explosions, or cool stunts, I did have a box full of directing tools at my disposal. Spectacle is all about creating a moment, building a world around that moment, and filling it with dynamic elements that carry a deeper meaning. Just like Godzilla and King Kong meeting on aircraft carriers during a beautiful and epic sunset, I decided to add scope and scale to my film by centering the story around a blizzard.
The snow storm in MANHUNT created a snow globe effect to the entire short, but also raised the stakes for the characters. It trapped Jade from escaping outside while making the Fugitive even more desperate to break inside. It’s instantly relatable to audiences who have found themselves battling the elements for survival.
Written by Jack Martin (www.JackMartinFilm.com)
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