Moment Invitational | How This Was Shot | David Zu Elfe

Filmmakers David Zu Elfe and Philipp Stefan take us behind the scenes of their Moment Invitational film 'Forever'. Learn about the importance of sound design.

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David Philipp Title

We launched a film festival dedicated to the mobile creative, “The Moment Invitational”. 11 filmmakers made heartfelt, visually juicy short films with their phones. They each proved you can create incredible work with the devices we use everyday. Best part? We got to sit down with each filmmaker to learn just how they did it.

David’s cinematic masterpiece, “Forever”, incorporates stunning fast-paced visuals, mind-blowing sound design, and a rad vintage car for all those automobile lovers out there. He not only goes deep into what influences himself to stand out as an independent filmmaker, but what it takes to work with a team that is so technologically talented in an ever-growing industry of the mobile world.

David Philipp Still

What are the advantages to composing a film rather than finding a track?

Let’s assume we’re talking about a score rather than a soundtrack. The key difference is immersion, capturing the fine nuances present and enhancing those rather than tracking down the closest fit to visual and narrative. Altering a complex composition to the individual timing of a given sequence can be extremely tedious and sometimes just impossible. If your narrative has no tension curve or clear plot no score is going to change that though, custom or not. I’ve fallen victim to that problem many times of not finding the right track when in reality it was just my film being badly structured.

Why is good sound design important?

I am not going to quote Spielberg, but think of it this way: How many times would you reset a light to get the feeling just right? Why should the eery footsteps be any less valuable? Apart from the obvious increase in frames per second, the key difference to photography is sound and its ability to grab us into a scene. We are very good at recognizing familiar things, the same way we can play visual games with a silhouette we can play games with sound. Only after I started to work with Phil on nearly every project I realized how much I missed out, and how much a different art form can amplify a vision (or destroy your already weak film… :D).

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How did you find props? Specifically, how did you find that car?

Weeeeell, as I spend an awful lot of time around old cars due to various reasons, there is bound to be a network. I am very lucky to be just a handful of calls away from pretty precious metal. Cars like the featured 1968 Alpine A110 „Rallye Vitara“ are nearly impossible to find, and getting one of these out on a damp winter day is something many owners would outright decline. I had shot with Jürgen on quite a few occasions before so even though it took a little convincing he was done to shoot the very next week. Ultimately, I don’t think the film would work without it. If you’re into cars, you know the varying emotions they convey and the raw and incredibly captivating brutality of those rallyecars really drove it home (no pun intended…).

How did you go about shooting the muffler shot?

Months of planning and complex rigging.

Of course not. The first version of the cut was done and it felt lacking. Having seen similar shots in the past I started looking into my options. In the end a quick trip to the hardware store later I settled on 40cm plumbing pipe, a little WD40 (but anything flammable will do), a box to put the tube level to tripod height and our kitchen table as a dark backdrop (tip, do not do this inside, the smell is bad). I put the Tele on to fill the frame and shoved into one end of the pipe, spraying WD40 in the other, carefully igniting it from below. Took a couple of tries and a few flames shooting way past the phone (the Moment Tele is ignition proof as it tuns out) and that’s it. The flame is nearly impossible to predict so taking five or six different approaches and guessing the exposure was enough for the edit. I did the spark plug the same way, as car nut you have those laying around anyway.

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How has filmling on your smartphone impacted your work for Moment’s Invitational? Do you expect to more of people’s use of accessible technologies, like phones, in this industry?

It sucks. No fancy slow motion, no creamy bokeh, no perfect resolution, partly instable software and a horrible form factor. Just getting my existing gear to work with the phone took multiple days and I had several hickups on set. I said it during the Invitational already, if you can shoot your film on a phone, you can shoot it on anything. The second you strip all the gear from the equation your story is bare. Your lighting, your composition, your edit, everything has to be right, you have nothing to hide behind. (Shameless plug) As I am currently shooting the whole restoration of our car mostly on the phone the convenience is very important, and I think that is true for most other projects. Especially in a fast paced underdog documentary environment it is more about whether or not you got the shot as opposed to the perfect shot you missed.

As an independent filmmaker, bringing creative projects to life your spark. What sorts of project are you typically most most drawn to?

To aim for something that hasn’t been done before is always a tall order, but looking for unconventional ways for a subject is a reasonable goal for me. I usually work with very little, rarely more than four people on set, and with limited time thrown in. Getting a unique opportunity and creating something equally unique or at least special gets me going.

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What non-film medium most influences your work and why?

 Going really broad, it can be anything from a certain song, the passing mountains, a scene in a movie. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes it’s right there.

What was the “ah-ha” moment in the decision to revolve your entire short film around Dunbar's poem?

The idea of a poem or at least a voiceover was there from the very beginning. We made a whole bunch of car films in the past and given the timeframe, availability and plot ideas it became obvious shooting a real story was impossible. I actually found the poem a couple days before the shoot.

How does a film’s soundtrack affect the way the story is told?

Coming full circle to the first question, score and soundtrack. For me, a score is there to enhance, to embed. A soundtrack on the other hand grabs you, takes your attention and pushes the visuals back for a while. A score can slightly shift a perspective, change a mood. A soundtrack creates its own mood and the story plays within. Think of the Lord of the Rings versus La La Land. One stays true to itself, the other creates his own world just through the audio.

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Director’s Notes:

A film by David Zu Elfe
Recording, Sound design & Score by Phillip Stephan 
Voiced by Rick Whelan
Poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 - 1906)
Car provided by Juergen Clauss / AlplineLab.DE

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