When I set out to take on the challenge of my first film, I had originally intended to do something completely different from this. See, I originally wanted to do a martial arts film at the professional level so I could make back the money I knew I’d have to spend on equipment. Trouble was, I knew I wouldn’t have enough to make a pro film the way I wanted to make it, and more importantly, I needed a little more experience before jumping into something of that scale. So, I opted to throw myself headfirst into a project that ended up being so exhausting and so taxing that it really did feel like a pro film even at the amateur level.
See, I took the story from this series of audio clips I made with the original intention of performing them live at anime conventions as a sort of “live-action cosplay theater” kind of thing. But when I realized that they could make the basis of a full film, one that could easily be done since most of the work COULD be done by me in terms of the acting and whatnot, I figured “ok, THIS will be my film.” So, preparing to take time off for a semester from college while finding a job to start earning money for equipment, I started to conceive of what kinds of changes and additions I could make since it was gonna be a film, as well as preparing to figure out what kind of equipment I would need, where to get the money I’d need to round out the funds, etc. It was also at this point in the game that I moved from my original concept of doing the film silently then just dubbing it over with the original audio, but then figured I could perhaps be able to be more experimental with the story, lines, and delivery of lines if I had all the actors (in most cases, me) speak their own lines.
So working at FAO Schwarz for that particular winter, I went through the hell of toy retail at an upscale toystore that had JUST reopened to earn cash. Once that tour of duty was over, I was ready to make the film…
But that almost didn’t happen.
See, I made the mistake of trying to get the camera (the centerpiece and most expensive part of the film’s budget) off the internet, and at one point my money was even being held hostage by some ass-hat in Michigan. This went on for almost two months (from late January to basically mid-March), and with the reality that I might have had to utilize legal action (the thing I was trying to avoid vehemently while making this film myself ^_^; ) in order to get my money back put me through some of the worst emotional stress I’ve ever been through. Because honestly, if you had taken time off from school, sacrificed your remaining educational money that you’d never see again in an attempt to put yourself through what you KNEW was going to be hell to begin trying to realize your lifelong dream of creating entertainment, you’d probably be wracked with turmoil too.
Once that ordeal finally came to an end (and put me another thousand dollars over my original allotted budget), I was able to get to work. Now, people have criticized me for not having enough time to work on things. I again point to what happened above, because that DID mess up my schedule immensely since I had originally intended to start shooting as early as late January, and then start working from there. Because of the delay, I lost two months of valuable time I had wanted to spend filming and post-producing. What’s more, at the time it was basically “June or bust” for the film since I was expecting to return to college the next semester. So my rashness was also caused by necessity.
Basically, the film was shot in this order, with people and locations being added on as we moved, and I divide the filming into two parts as (ironically) it ended up being filmed much as the events in the movie transpired: All footage pre-Anime Boston Teaser, and Final Round/Behind the Fantasy/Narrations. The first footage to be shot was the Clinton/Shuyin sequence from Round One, and it was an appropriate start for the entire film since we started off with only two people (my friend who did bodywork for Clinton and myself), and by the very end, the last bits of supplemental footage were shot by just one person: me. From there, we hit the first attempt of the sequence “Final Fantasy Fists of Fury,” the most difficult in the film due to the fact we had to not only reshoot the entire scene from both sides a few times, but also had to relocate the scene ENTIRELY, which meant re-staging and re-blocking the WHOLE THING in order to adjust to the new location. 0_o; All the Tidus and most of the Shuyin footage that appear in the final version are the result of the successful part from this shoot.
From there, we moved on to Round One, at least our first attempt at it. This shoot is the now legendary “New Jersey shoot” since it was a disaster and a half, despite having a really good dance routine for the “Sexy Torso Power” sequence compared to the final film version. Suffice it to say, it had its merits and served as a good outline for what needed to be done, but because too many things were missing (like my Shuyin wig, as seen in the early version of the teaser), and too many reshoots for that scene to fill in gaps/gaffes were necessary, a reshoot needed to be scheduled from there since to be quite honest, there was no way in hell we were going to go through the grueling public transportation-centric trip to New Jersey again. 0_0;
From there, it was all about Round Two and Round Three, all shot over a few days (the core of each scene being shot on a weekend when we had our Agents and Dr. Cube) after that for some Agent Smyth reshoots as the original cut had Smyth sporting cooler hair than Tidus AND Shuyin, which simply didn’t fly for me. 0_o Shortly thereafter, we had the two day reshoot of Round One, which incorporated a newly added “action” sequence (which had to be shortened from my original vision due to lack of time and space to properly choreograph a large fight…plus the hallway was already pretty cramped, so there wasn’t much room to work with), and an exponentially smaller space to work with for the Shuyin/Cube confrontation from the original skit. 0_0
This was the break point for now as Anime Boston rolled up and I had an improved teaser trailer prepared featuring the new Round One footage, and adding in more shots from Round Two and Three. I had wanted Final Round shots, but those weren’t possible since I didn’t get to film Final Round back in late March like originally intended.
I guess you could say that there was less time to work on the film than I profess to having because acquiring a space for Final Round (which I had been working on since the beginning) proved to be more frustrating, leading me to one of the worst personal breakdowns I had during the actual filming, given how close to the end I was. It wasn’t until just before Memorial Day that we were able to land a space and start filming, but of course, that wasn’t a picnic either &em; we lost two people for the subsequent shoot, which was SUPPOSED to be the finishing shoot of Final Round, but ended up being not only a grueling top to bottom reshoot of the stuff we HAD shot, but the FINISHING shots to all that work that we were supposed to do that day anyhow. 0_0 See the FAQ for the biggest problem this caused me.
In between all of this madness, we shot not only the Wedding Scene, the cleanup/finishing shots for the main action of “FF FoF”, and “Behind the Fantasy,” which was spawned from an idea I had to make a sort of “subplot” to the film to kind of act as filler for sequences I was never going to be able to film due to budget limitations as well as time limitations. Originally intended to be only two short parts, because of how the stories ended up building and tying together, it became the film within the film. I will deal with the controversy surrounding these segments in the FAQ, so I’m gonna leave that for then.
Ok, so once “Final Round” was finally complete after the two day gauntlet (we shot the entire action in reverse: everything from the appearance of the FF/KBB Hero crew to the end of “Final Round” the first day, everything from Shuyindus’s entrance to that point the second day), all that was left was narration for the scene, as well as the narration for the main film from Connery. Each was not without its costume related problems: for the narration, I never acquired a Yugi Moto (duh, from “Yu-Gi-Oh”) wig, which meant that I had to find a backup to compensate for that. Hence why we have Agent Smyth filling in, which lead to yet ANOTHER revamp of the lines in the original “script” to compensate for this…and leaving another gaping hole in the story. Joy. The narration was the most frustrating as the Connery makeup turned out to be a train wreck-and-a-half, so my original intention of close-ups, moving shots, etc. had to be cut to compensate for this by nothing but static long shots…although I admit, getting to work in my friend’s dad’s recording studio, much less in an actual sound recording booth, was quite a joy and made up for all the frustration. ^___^
The rest was basically a mad dash to the finish since I basically had two days, and (surprise, surprise) the two weeks I had originally scheduled to do this before everything came crashing down on me would have indeed been a blessing. For starters, I couldn’t do certain cleanup shots, and much to my frustration had to recycle certain shots and even an OUTTAKE to patch up missing things due to people not giving me access to locations again. Also, the time I would’ve spent meticulously trying to adjust audio levels and such went right out the window because the DAY BEFORE the premiere, I encountered a hard drive problem that set me back almost an entire six hours…as you can tell, six hours that I didn’t have. 0_0; To my even worse dismay (although it ended up being a blessing in that it allowed me to show a mostly finished product), the footage I had completed by then was put onto a DVD…which didn’t work. 0_0 With time having run out, I had to cancel the premiere screening the first day of Anime Next to sacrifice most of that convention to stay home and finish the film…which didn’t come without its fair share of problems as well. 0_o;
So from there, it all came down to hoping that both discs would work at the convention since I was concerned about the problem that set me back the previous afternoon returning when the film screened; it didn’t, and there was much rejoicing. From there, since I was still expecting a screening at Otakon, I went and did the minor patchup work I needed to do (I couldn’t do more than that since I had a submission deadline to meet for that con and knocked off making cast/crew DVDs that same week), and from there it was all about waiting…
Even with Otakon, I admit it was a little touch-and-go since it wasn’t until a week before the con that I found out via a fair amount of pestering (which I didn’t want to do, but really didn’t have much other choice but TO do) for real that I was gonna be able to show the film there. Which it did, and although there was still one more screening afterward, the way I see it, the main journey of working on this film ended after that…an appropriate end (even if it was flawed) to a long, difficult, life changing, and above all satisfying path.
I’ve left out a lot about some of my mindset of why I did things a certain way since I wanted to recount the journey this film was with the most brevity I can give it, as well as leave things for the FAQ section, but alas, even that proved to be impossible given my penchant for narration. ^_^; Now that it’s all said and done, even though I know there are already critics out there who believe it sucks, and many more people who think it’s the most awesome thing they’ve ever seen, I can safely say that for the time being, I’m happy with what I’ve created after all the sacrifices made, and I’d like to invite you to share in my gift of entertainment, since that’s what drives me to do this in the first place. Because whether you’re entertained by the tales I tell, or even if you get your entertainment in picking it apart (like I do all the time, hence why I LOVE working with parody, heheh ^_~), as long as you derive some pleasure from my work, I’ve done my job. And that brings me joy in the end. ^___^
Mario E. Bueno