If your story is a good one, people say the equipment doesn’t matter. I actually want to prove it.
My name is Toni V. Genov and I am a Bulgarian filmmaker based in Denmark. I’ve been doing all kinds of videos since 2015, but this year I finally released my first short film, 2088. And while the short film has received amazing feedback, some might say that the story behind it is even more interesting.
The reason is that I bought a cheap $ 15 toy camera a few months ago and thought it would be a fun challenge to make a short film with. No budget, no actors, no equipment, just me and this tiny, tiny camera. But what started as a joke ended up as a serious thriller / sci-fi project that people really enjoyed. And the best part about it? It completely changed the way I think about filmmaking.
But before we get there, let’s take a look at that first.
Why is it taking place on a computer screen?
When I first got the toy camera, I wanted to see exactly what I was dealing with. I took it out for a few test shots and when I saw the footage it was kind of even worse than I expected. So I immediately had to find a way to implement the poor video quality into the story itself or no one would want to see it.
Maybe it would be security camera footage? Or a dashcam? Or a laptop camera? It just had to be something the audience wouldn’t question.
Finally, I decided that the entire film would be played on a computer screen. And that actually solved more than one problem for me. First of all, showing the camera footage in a smaller window would help make it look less terrible, but more importantly since I didn’t have any actors, it was pretty much the only way the characters could text-message the story.
Another benefit of using this format was that I could help establish the world through other items on the screen: the browser, the articles, the taskbar, and the folders.
After settling on the idea, I created all of the elements in Final Cut Pro X from scratch using the basic shapes and generators. This gave me full control over everything and came in handy when animating the various elements on the desktop.
Create a creator with an inanimate object
One thing that stood out to me in particular was how important the cursor was. By the end of the movie, it almost became a character in itself.
Thanks to the cursor, I was able to show our character questioning himself or his reaction to things. Depending on how fast or slow it was moving, or whether it was floating somewhere for a long time, it conveyed completely different emotions.
The best example of this was the ending scene where, thanks to the cursor, I was able to imply what happened to the character without actually showing it. We still have the idea, but all the details are left to our imagination and sometimes that makes it even scary.
I also turned the disadvantage of the toy camera into an advantage. Since the video sameness was so bad, it also meant I could get away with pretty much. All the effects in the short film were practically done in-camera. I just used a thin fishing line, glued it to the items and had someone pull it out of the camera. It worked surprisingly well and I wasn’t really concerned about the fishing line being seen or having to be removed in the mail.
When I released the short film on social media, I was blown away by the amazing response. People not only loved it, they asked for more, and that’s perhaps the best compliment a filmmaker can get.
But of all the nice comments I got, no one, not one person, commented, complained, or even acknowledged the poor video quality. And I think that’s the main reason for that.
Well, some people might think, “Well, that’s because the toy camera footage is a very small part of the movie,” but I tell them that’s exactly the point!
When faced with a major limitation, you can either do something mediocre or find a way to work around it.
I wrote the short film to be shot on a computer screen because, realistically, it was my only option. I didn’t write dialogue because I didn’t have actors. I didn’t shoot in different locations because I couldn’t afford one. I was constantly focused on my limits and found ways to overcome them. I think aspiring filmmakers like me are sometimes intimidated if they don’t have good equipment. We see people using fancy cameras, gimbals, sliders, and booms, and before we know it, we end up thinking that it takes all of these to tell a great story. But that’s just not true.
What the audience really wants is something original and engaging. And a short film is the perfect format for experimenting and getting as creative as you want.
My advice is to use your strengths. Think about creative boundaries. Far better to tell a simple, creative story in an excellent way than bite off much more than can be chewed and flattened. And before you know it, the box will grow with you.