The movie industry is picking back up again after the COVID-19 pandemic rocked production timelines and audiences. And, just like in the pre-pandemic world, many filmmakers are falling back into the same old pattern of producing cookie cutter blockbusters with simplified storytelling and generic special effects.
Every project tries to go bigger by simply spending more. The upcoming Lord of the Rings series on Amazon Prime is budgeted at nearly $500 million for just the first season.
And yet, in the midst of all this repetition and big budget blockbusters, a film from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (the Daniels) is providing a rare moviegoing experience for viewers. Everything Everywhere All at Once achieves something deeper, inspiring and more profound.
I’ll admit, I knew very little about this movie before I went to see it. I expected another typical sci-fi action movie that would be a fun watch but wouldn’t do anything extremely different from any other movie in the genre. Like how a lot of movies are these days. However, I was surprised afterward to learn that it only had a $25 million budget for a movie that had Marvel-level effects and graphics. And, even more surprisingly, the film only had a 5 man team for 500 visual effects shots.
So how did they achieve a movie like this on what’s pretty much a shoestring budget? Well, they did something right that most of the video and film industry constantly gets wrong. Let’s dive into that and why it matters for you.
Capturing the Best Shots in the Film
The Daniels, as they like to call themselves, got their start making music videos and working on extremely tight deadlines. They were used to being intimately involved in every part of the production and even did a lot of visual effects work themselves. Over the 10 years of doing music videos and working on indie films, they gained experience in practical special effects and puppets.
Zach Stoltz, a visual effects artist who worked with the Daniel’s for years explained in an interview with Wired about how the duo used practical effects throughout the film:
“In seeking how to do this on a minimal budget, they took inspiration from one of the first sci-fi movies, a trip to the moon made in 1902. One of the visual effects elements that stood out to them was a jump cut to smoke. So they used that all over the film saying, “That they got to cheat because they have after effects in the modern world.”
And, crazy enough, After Effects was the primary effects program used for this entire movie because that’s what they were most familiar with. This is something many in the industry should take note of. It’s not always about having the newest or best technology, but how you use the technology you are skilled with.
The Multiverse Scenes
The duo also used some interesting technical camera work to speed up the visual effects processes. One scene involved the main character traveling through hundreds of multiverse universes. With each of these universes, they needed footage that showed the character traveling through them in that universe’s version of the character.
So Daniel Kwan actually took, as he says, “a pocket camera that shoots 4k,” with him everywhere and filmed with a slow shutter to make it super blurry. He then took all of that footage and got the actress to act in front of a green screen and, as they called it “99 cent LED screen,” so the actor could react to the footage at the same time. In post, they added as many elements to sell the motion as they could. This included barely visible anime streaks, glass that would shatter, and anything that would help to sell the movement and the craziness of the shot.
So Simple, a Novice Could Do It
Most of the visual effects in this movie were so simple, you could honestly do it at home if you had enough time.
Daniel Kwan sums up their experience saying:
“It really is all about the story, 500 visual effects shots done with five guys done in their bedroom during the pandemic. And they’re not perfect, but they work and they’re beautiful because they have their own unique style.
We need to encourage other independent filmmakers to understand this language. This is how all movies are going to be made now, there’s always gonna be some element of visual effects, even when you can’t tell, because the technology has become so easy and effortless to use.”
So what does this mean for the everyday filmmaker?
We get so overwhelmed by all of the different skills we think we need to learn and improve on to be successful in this industry that we don’t take the time to go back and really learn the principles of filmmaking.
Most of our industry will just throw money at the wall until something sticks and think that’s the best way to make good films or content. With more money comes more oversight, with more oversight comes muddied creative vision, and with less clear vision you get mediocre content at best.
Overall, don’t let the thought that you don’t have enough funding, money, equipment, experience, or the right skillsets keep you from trying to achieve your creative vision. Sometimes tight-knit ragtag groups, like the team that made Everything Everywhere All At Once, can achieve what big studios and corporate production houses cannot.
Good content and high quality storytelling.