FILMING "ACCORDING TO OTTO"
Welcome to the world of sixteen year old Otto Brooks, today he is coming out!
According to Otto is a new independent Australian feature film. It’s a coming of age story about a young man who "comes out" on his sixteenth birthday. It is based on the award winning play by writer/director Wayne Tunks and made by the producers of After Nightfall, and production took place between the 7th and 26th of January in Sydney.
FILMING IN A SYDNEY SUMMER
Why would anyone choose to shoot a film in Sydney during the hottest month of the year... welcome to the world of micro budget filmmaking. According to Otto is set in two key locations, the Brooks house (which some people might recognise as the McLeavey house from After Nightfall)and Otto’s private school, with a bunch of minor locations including a hospital, an office and several dream sequences.
In terms of sourcing locations, we knew Sydney Props would be perfect for the hospital and dream sequences, so that only left Otto’s high school. Luckily Newtown High School of the Performing Arts said we could use their campus during the summer holidays, and just like that we were off and away, filming an indie feature film in the middle of an Australian summer.
FROM THE PRODUCERS OF AFTER NIGHTFALL
In early 2018 Wayne and I were in the final stages of post production on After Nightfall season 1, while he was also rehearsing his new play According to Otto. I was lucky enough to see the play performed live at The Depot Theatre in Marrickville as part of the Mardi Gras Festivaland it was obvious how filmic the story was - think Ferris Bueller meets Love Simon - and immediately Wayne and I were talking about it being our next project. Looking back it seems a little presumptuous considering After Nightfall hadn’t even been released, yet we did it anyway.
In March After Nightfall went live, in May we started filming After Nightfall Season 2, and in November we won Best Mystery/Thriller Web Series in New York Web Fest.
We were on a roll and decided the best way to keep the momentum going was to shoot our first feature film. Wayne was adamant about keeping the original cast, so we shot a video for a fundraising campaign (via Pozible), organised a reading and some rehearsal dates, and by January 2019 we were ready to start filming.
FILMING ON A TIGHT SCHEDULE
With such a tight shooting window - between New Years and the end of the January school holidays - and a talented cast who already knew the material, we decided on a shooting schedule of just 18 days. We had to do it all in three weeks straight, with just two Sundays off for recovery.
We had a week of pre-production from the 1st-6th of January, during which Wayne was trying to cast new characters, find extras, organise locations and source a whole bunch of school uniforms. Of course it’s a terrible time of the year because nothing is open! Sydney was empty with everyone away on their summer holidays.
A lot of the locations, like Sydney Props, I couldn’t organise until we were shooting, luckily for me Lemac was open and I was able to organise some gear, including a mini jib for what would be the first shot of the film; Otto waking up in his bed. I also got a set of the Schneider Hollywood Black Magic diffusion filters, which I would use in different amounts for reality, flashback and dream sequences.
FILMING STARTS ON ACCORDING TO OTTO
We started filming on Monday the 7th of January, and the first shot was also the first shot of the film, Otto waking up on his 16th birthday.
Our first 6 shoot days were spent in Killara filming at the Brooks house, including interiors, exteriors and in the playground around the corner. It was such a luxury to be filming in an air-conditioned house during the second week of January, when predictably the weather was all over the place. We had two forty degree days followed by three days of rain.
We tried three times to shoot a scene where Otto walks out his front door delivering a monologue to camera; I was adamant that it had to be a sunny morning and the only time of day when the sun was in the right place was between five pm and sunset. Of course the days would begin hot and sunny and by the afternoon a thunderstorm would roll in and it would pour with rain. It wasn't until the last day at the location when the sun finally made an appearance and we got the shot.
CAST AND CREW
Being in the one location allowed the cast and crew to get used to one another. The transition from stage to screen is a difficult one for everybody but most of all for the cast who are used to the instant reaction of a live audience. With film there’s lots of waiting around, then a bunch of takes and the moment it works the director yells cut, a host of crew walk onto set moving everything around and the cast can often be left wondering what just happened. Sometimes simply letting the actors know we’re doing multiple takes for camera and not for performance can make the process much easier, as does letting the director speak to the cast for a moment before moving on to the next shot.
We had a fantastic camera crew for According to Otto. Shooting on a micro budget meant there was no money for grips or gaffers, instead I had a really tight knit camera department of Dean Strothers, Soumya Lakmé Iyengar and Cayla Blanch. Between the four of us we lit and shot the entire film, which included shooting full frame with a shallow depth of field and working with a lot of available light. We were all exhausted by the end of the shoot but it was a wonderful experience and I’m so happy to have been able to share it with this amazing team.
As a cinematographer I’m always thankful whenever I get to work with talented and professional actors - working with great people makes my job so much easier. It was also a learning process for me, translating the comedic moments from stage to screen. Many of the jokes had previously worked for a live audience, which means a much bigger performance, but that all changes when the audience is seeing the same joke on a close up. Lens choices can have a huge effect on both performance and delivery, and it was amazing to watch the actors make subtle changes to their performance based on our lens choices.
It was also a great week to establish the colour palette of the film, introduce the transitions in and out of the fantasy and flashback sequences, and shoot most of Otto’s pieces to camera. I was conscious of wanting to give According to Otto quite a different look to After Nightfall, which has more of a contrasty, dark, noir feel to it; I wanted Otto to be softer, less contrasty, with an overall warmer feel to it. I chose the Schneider Hollywood Black Magic Filters to give the film a dreamy quality, plus the diffusion would help deal with the super bright summer light.
WEEKS 2 & 3
The second week of shooting was on the road around Sydney. We had to bump in and out of a make-shift gay bar on Oxford Street, guerrilla shoot on an oval in the middle of Alexandria, spend a day in a studio at Sydney Props, and brave through a couple of crazy hot days outside. The highlight of this week was shooting the dream sequences, including one with Mr Darcy himself.
We had managed to stay on schedule through the first two weeks but we knew we had left the most difficult scenes until last. We only had five days to shoot all of the school and library scenes, and Newtown High School of the Performing Arts had very kindly allowed us to use their campus as a shooting location during the last week of school holidays. We were restricted to eight hour shooting days, had a construction site next door, planes overhead and a week of hot, humid and wet weather. It was a massive challenge to get through but when Friday afternoon rolled around we had managed to shoot all of the school scenes. The relief of finishing in such a tough location felt like we were wrapping the film but there was still one day left.
Given the choice I would much prefer to shoot in an Australian winter; our winters are often very dry and the sun sits low in the sky throughout the day. I had been spoilt on After Nightfall as whenever we shot outdoors we had lovely natural light that would either sidelight or back light the actors. In summer time however, the sun is high in the sky by 10am and stays that way until 3pm. As well as being brutal to work under it also gives the actors a very unflattering Panda eye look. Luckily shooting in the concrete school yard meant there was lots of natural bounce to go along with the heat and humidity.
FINAL DAY OF SHOOTING
Our final day of shooting was January 26th, Australia day, in Glenorie, a rural suburb on the outskirts of Sydney. All the key cast were present for the big wedding scene and of course it was the hottest day of summer. For each shot we would assemble the cast on the verandah, wait until the shot was set and then the actors would sit in for two or three takes before they melted in the scorching heat.
As tough as the weather was it was wonderful to have most of the cast and crew present for such a lovely final shot and to celebrate the achievement of finishing the film.
I also want to say a huge thank you to the very talented Wayne Tunks, who has been my partner in crime on this journey. Together we’ve now made two seasons of After Nightfall and shot a feature film. It’s been a great ride so far and I’m looking forward to what comes next.
According to Otto shot on the Red Monstro VV
with Schneider Xenon FF Prime Lenses
Schneider Hollywood Black Magic Filters
Schneider 4 x 5.65" Rhodium Full Spectrum Neutral Density Filters
Schneider 4 x 5.65" Linear True-Pol Polarizing Filter
DOP | Cinematographer
P. (02) 9427 4444
Nicholas Price is a Sydney based DOP | Producer who has made commercials, video clips, TV, documentary and short films. Nick is a Masters graduate of AFTRS and is always striving to bring a unique visual style to any project he works on. He recently shot the award winning web series After Nightfall and feature film According To Otto.