Hello, everyone. As many of you might not have known, I have been working on a short film called “Duet” for the past two months. This was arguably the most challenging task I had ever done, and it was the reason that I wasn’t able to post as often as I normally do. I thought it would be nice to write about the process of making this first film since it might help out some readers who are aspiring filmmakers. Also, the film is currently funding on Kickstarter so feel free to check that out 🙂
Duet is a 20 minute short film about two high school pianists who fall in love through their music. In a special piano composition class consisting of a select few high school seniors, the students are expected to write a song about what they believe love is. Andrew, an introvert, is intrigued by Hannah, the new student in the class, and the two slowly fall in love with each other through the music that they write. It sounds simple enough, but the process of making this project was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.
Let’s start with the screenplay. Though I got the idea for Duet back in March, I never really got the chance to sit down and actually write the script. Most ideas never see the light of day because their creators can’t find the time to grow and nurture them. Since I never got extremely large periods of time to work on the script, I tried to spend whatever free time I had during the month of April towards writing the script. I don’t think I can forget the joy I had when I wrote the words “fade out” and “the end.” I think just the experience of writing a screenplay was almost cathartic. I had a lot of built up stress and emotion during the time, and I just needed to get it all out. The feeling that I got when I finally completed the script countered a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. A lot of people on here don’t know this, but I am (was 😉 ) a high school senior, AP exams happen during the month of May, and I took five of them this year so my stress levels were practically through the roof. If there are any aspiring screenwriters who could never get themselves to write a screenplay because of the potential time consumption, please take my word that the feeling at the end is honestly worth all the work.
During this writing period, seniors had to submit a proposal for a senior project. At my school, seniors get out for the last 2.5 weeks before graduation in June to complete a project. This project could be anything, and I thought I could hit two birds with one stone by using this film as my senior project. I got it approved (somehow), and was elated to find that the school actually supported me for such a big project like this. After the screenplay was done, I had to hold casting auditions. The school authorities were mainly concerned that I would not be able to complete the project since I might not be able to cast all the roles. There were two leads and five supporting roles so basic math said I had to cast seven roles. I held auditions at school and got a set of seven actors. Sounds simple enough, right? NO. I figured out the first cast in the first week of May, which gave me a week to prepare before rehearsals. In that one week time frame, I think we burned through a dozen different actors for various roles. The lead actor playing Andrew was recast five times, the teacher role was recast four times, and Andrew’s best friend was recast three times to the point where I ended up playing him (even though I was also directing the film). Since I’m not a part of theater or acting at school, I’m not really the guy people think of when they think of a filmmaker at school, and I personally think that this idea hurt my chances of finding good actors for the roles. However, with determination, we did it with one day left before rehearsals.
During the casting process, I was also working on music for the film. Since the story is about high school pianists who write music, I needed to compose music for both the leads. The final scene takes place in an auditorium with the two leads playing their songs. As many of you know, I actually come from a music background, not a film background. I’ve been producing music since I was 14 and I haven’t stopped. Since music is such a big part of this film, I figured I should spend as much time composing as I should writing, directing, and editing. I needed to create three main songs: one for each of the two leads and one for a grand ballroom scene (which is arguably the most important part of the film). I’ll talk more about this ballroom scene later.
Finally we got to the first day of rehearsals. Everyone was pumped to get started on this film, and I couldn’t be happier that all these people were coming together to make this one project. While we only had two weeks to rehearse and film, everyone was willing to put in the hours necessary to get this film right. However, we soon realized that the script was too long to film in one week and that it needed to be shortened. The original script length was 30 pages and it needed to be cut down to 20. Our first day of rehearsals was spent shortening the script and tightening up dialogue without compromising the film’s original vision. After a lot of rewrites, we finally got it done, and we were ready to rehearse. As I mentioned before, there is a grand ballroom scene that’s between Andrew and Hannah. Though it’s a dream sequence in the film, I’d consider it the most important part since it creates a bridge between our two leads. That scene required a week of ballroom dancing rehearsals, and most of our practice went to that. The other difficult thing was that our two leads didn’t have any training in the piano even though their characters are proficient piano players. To work with this, we decided to push the piano scenes to the later filming days and work an hour or two a day on the piano. I taught the actors basic skills necessary to play their individual songs.
Okay, that’s it for now, everyone! I’ll post Part 2, which is about filming and post production, soon so keep an eye out for that. Once again, the film is currently funding on Kickstarter so feel free to check that out if you want. Thanks!