Director/Writer Chris Vincze on EVOL: Love in a Backwards World Shooting in the Busiest Street in London Rain

Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, January 2007.  Director/Writer Chris Vincze on EVOL: Love in a Backwards World Shooting in the Busiest Street in London Rain. Pages 16 – 19.

Director and writer Chris Vincze’ short film EVOL wins the first place award in the 2nd Annual Summer Shorts competition. EVOL, which is a romance story depicting love in a backwards world, was shot only in one day, and then edited in about three days in Final Cut Pro. Vincze talks about his winning film, as well as shooting next to the busiest shopping street in London.

Did you ever go to film school or take writing classes or screenwriting classes?
I’ve never been to film school. I did a degree in English Literature at Cambridge University, and then afterwards made the decision to learn how to make films by watching other people and just doing it myself. I worked as a runner for a while and learnt a lot by watching everything that happens on set. I think it’s really important as a director to know about all aspects of filmmaking, from the bottom up. I’ve worked in a lot of departments in a professional capacity – as a focus puller [AC], production manager, assistant director, even casting – and all of that experience has helped shaped the way I work as a director. Whilst it’s obviously important to have a good vision, it’s also vital to know how to achieve that vision on set, especially when you have no budget and limited time. The most I ever learnt about filmmaking, though, was editing my first film. I blagged an AVID over a weekend [home editing didn’t exist] and cut a little thing I shot on tape. It was the best education, realizing which shots worked and which didn’t, and how sequences worked, how you can completely change a performance with a couple of little cuts. A film really lives in the edit. So, I’m entirely self-taught on the directing front, but have been on a couple of screenwriting courses: a week’s Arista Story Editing course which was truly inspirational, and a weekend John Truby course, which I was lucky enough to win. Writing is the hardest thing ever.

What was your purpose or goal for EVOL?
I wanted to make something that was both a personal film, and also more technically accomplished than the Super 8 stuff I’d been messing around with – I wanted to make a film that I was really proud of.

In your own words, what is the story of EVOL about?
It’s about finding your soulmate in a backwards world. Even if you think you are alone in the world, someone somewhere out there feels the same way you do. Meeting that person makes everything else unimportant.

How did you accomplish the “backwards effect” in EVOL?The backwards effect was created by having the two leads perform everything backwards, from the end of the story to the beginning, and then reversing the film in post-production. So all [of the people in] the background, who were just walking forwards in the take, would be walking backwards, and the leads’ actions would appear forwards.

How long did it take for you to come up with the concept, the story, and the script? What inspired the script?
I made a version of the film about 18 months before [for another competition], where you shoot a film on one cartridge of super 8mm film and hand in the exposed negative unprocessed. So you have to do all the editing in camera, and you have no second chances. The first time you ever see the film is in a cinema in front of 200 people in Cannes, if it gets in – very scary! I knew I wanted to do something that ran backwards, and the story just came from that. The Super 8 version went very well for the nature of the competition, but I felt that I could do the story so much better being able to shoot more than one take and use editing – you know, normal filming stuff. It took another year for me to get the 16mm shoot together, so I had some time to properly develop the story and the characters.

How many drafts till you got what you wanted?

I started workshopping with the actors with the second draft, and then after that process, I wrote a third draft which we shot.

What was the budget for EVOL?
To shoot and finish the film cost about £2500, thanks to the brilliance of my producer Wendy Bevan-Mogg. Although that is about $5000 now, it probably only gets you $2500 worth of stuff. However, I seem to have spent nearly the same amount again on things like DVD duplication, printing, screenings, festivals, publicity, postage, etc. – things I didn’t really consider to begin with!

What did you do to come up with funding?
Work, work, work.
Tell us about your team and crew.
I was introduced to Wendy Bevan-Mogg by a mutual colleague when I was looking around for a producer. We got on very well, and she liked the script so agreed to produce the film, which was fantastic. She’s the best producer I’ve worked with despite being relatively new to it, and we’ve got a couple of other projects in the pipeline together. Shane Daly, the DoP, had been a friend of mine for a while. I love his work but had never had a chance to work with him before EVOL. He brought along some of his regular crew as focus puller and loader, but his regular Steadicam Operator pulled out at the last minute, so we had to get someone new the day before the shoot. Wendy had used the make-up artist and runners on her previous shoot, and the remaining crew Wendy found through asking for recommendations from friends and colleagues. The full shooting crew totaled eleven people. Matt Platts-Mills, the editor, was again someone that I’d known for a while and wanted to work with. EVOL was the first film that I hadn’t cut myself, but I really wanted Matt to edit this one, and found that he was very in tune with the script, and added a more objective editor’s viewpoint to the footage. I’ve known Steve Poole, the composer, since I was eleven, and he’s written the music to all my films. We have a very intuitive working relationship.

Regarding EVOL, what was the most interesting thing that happened during development?
The most interesting thing for me was the rehearsal process with Rick and Lucy, the leads.
You once said that rehearsing with the actors was one of your biggest challenges. Could you elaborate?
Everything that Rick and Lucy do is backwards, so it took a lot of rehearsal time to make sure that it looked as realistic as possible when the film was reversed. They were both very committed to the idea and spent lots of their spare time doing everything backwards, much to the amusement of their friends and family. Initially, we workshopped some ideas for the middle section to see the sort of things that might and might not work, recording everything on DV and then playing it back reversed. Then when I had finalized the script, we rehearsed everything down to the minutest detail. The hardest part was in understanding and maintaining the correct flow of thought, the chain of motivation and internalization, because the effect comes before the cause, and the reaction before the action. It required an incredibly technically accomplished performance, but Rick and Lucy did such a brilliant job that at times you completely forget they are acting backwards, or don’t realize it.

How did you cast for the lead roles?
They’re both friends of mine that I’ve known for ages. They had actually just got married when I was thinking about casting, and thought they’d fit the bill perfectly.

You said that you didn’t use storyboards. Is there a particular reason why?
Good question. I can’t remember why we didn’t use storyboards. I guess because the coverage was fairly standard, it didn’t seem necessary.

Where was EVOL shot?
We shot just off Oxford Street, which is just about the busiest shopping street in London. I wanted it to be really busy, so we’d constantly have people crossing frame to accentuate the fact that these two are the only people moving forwards. It’s quite unusual to actually want people to get in shot, and we had the problem that people would see the camera and walk round the back, so we had to usher people in front of the lens! The busier it got, the easier it was to shoot as the camera got more lost in the crowd. The other main criterion was that it had to be a pedestrianised street so we could move the camera anywhere we wanted and not worry about stopping traffic. To get permission to shoot, we had to be a very low-profile unit: no tripod, no dolly, no boxes in the street, no lights. So we were very much like a documentary crew.

What cameras did you use?
We used one Super 16mm Arriflex SR2, shooting Kodak 7245. 7245 gives a lovely image and is really fine grain, but it became problematic with the rapidly fading light as it’s quite a slow stock, not that I had any choice as it was the only stock I could get for free. We were on a Steadicam the whole time, even for the more static shots – which gives you so much flexibility when shooting in amongst a busy crowd, but you do tend to be at the mercy of sudden gusts of wind which can ruin a great take.

How long did it take to shoot?
We had a day, but it ended up being a very short day. Firstly, a vital crew member was over an hour late, and we couldn’t start without him; ironically, he was the only one who was being paid! Then we were defeated by the great British summer. Theoretically, we should have had enough daylight to shoot until 9pm, but it was so overcast and dark that we couldn’t shoot beyond 5pm. For the last hour I was forced to shoot everything on the 50mm prime to give an extra stop. Even then, we were running 3 stops under wide open, much to [the DoP] Shane’s horror. … [Regarding the bad lighting conditions] the only benefit was that the light was fairly constant, so we didn’t have to worry about continuity with changing sun position. I would have gladly sacrificed this for an extra four hours shooting though! I tried to use the bad light to some kind of advantage, so we rearranged the schedule at the last minute so that the emotionally darker moments of the film – when Lucy disappears and Rick thinks she is lost – were shot last, so they would be literally darker. Even so, we were at least three stops under-exposed, so we had to go down a completely DI post route, to get some kind of image out. That part is a fair bit grainier than the rest of the film, but it fits with the mood of the story at that point. It’s amazing what you can do in a good DI grading suite – it would have been impossible in a lab. … We also lost a lot of time due to the rain. … It was fairly light rain most of the time, so we carried on shooting, but you have more stuff to move around to keep the actors and equipment dry. We did have to stop for a while when it was a bit heavier, and you could actually see the rain in shot. The other main problem was continuity, which is not great in the film –umbrellas up and down, street wetness. But these were things I had to live with. …It’s a testament to the fantastic cast and crew I had that we got so much done in such a short time.

Regarding the origami, spoon, juggling, and teacup shots – were these originally in the script?
These were all things that came out of the rehearsal and workshopping process. From doing some initial tests, I knew that things involving ‘messing with gravity’ would work really well, so we had that as a starting point and then threw in a bunch of other ideas.

In the teacup shot, were the birds already there, or did you place them there?
It was complete luck that the birds flew into shot at that point. With everything else conspiring against us during the shoot, it was nice to have some good luck!

How did you come upon the Summer Shorts contest? How do you feel about winning 1st place?
Shane Daly, my DoP, sent through the link to the site. I’m dead chuffed to have won this award. It’s the first prize I’ve ever won, so it’s especially exciting! It’s also great to know that people in the States and round the world have seen and are enjoying the film.