How To Be Human - SCI-FI LONDON
Wednesday 7 June 2017, by
If you were forced to flee your own war-ridden country, would you sacrifice what makes you human to survive?
How To Be Human is a crowd-funded ambitious and visually impressive short recently screened at SCI-FI LONDON that follows two sisters, one human, one android, as they escape a devastated, post-apocalyptic London. According to the production team, "the film is about the current refugee crisis but in reverse and we have two British citizens leaving the UK in order to survive."
We caught up with director Bruno Centofanti to find out more about the process from funding and conception to production and casting, and if a feature version is in the pipeline.
How did the idea for the film emerge? Who first came up with it and how did the collaboration begin?
The project was initiated by Louise Salter (lead actress and producer of How to be Human). She is the one who came up with the concept of the film and then partnered up with Jeffrey Michael (costume designer and executive producer of HTBH) to create the short. Myself and Jeffrey worked together on a commercial project I was directing in Belgium, his work as a costume designer was super inspiring. One day, he told me about How to be Human and that they were looking for a director. I liked the concept and I was interested in taking part in another project with such visual effects, so he pushed me forward as a director. What drew me in is that ultimately this is a film about basic humanity.
The first step for me was to gain the trust of the team so I could bring my own vision to the project, which is always tricky when you’re working with a new team. But we all bonded very quickly and the writer (Darren Rapier) is great. His TV experience meant he’s used to working with notes and feedback and executing changes pretty fast. I was very lucky here again, without an experienced writer I don’t think we would have been able to keep things within the given time-frame. Having a great writer willing to collaborate is essential, we need someone who can put ideas into a timeline, create a dynamic and consistency between them - it’s a highly skilled job.
The first version of the script I received was quite cold. It was a story of struggle and hunger; Kimi (Louise’s character) was depressed and about to jump off a building. I received this at a time when I didn’t really want to direct a story about depression, I wanted to work on something with a more positive vibe, so my first notes made the characters more engaged and lively, they explored the destroyed city of London, and created a stronger relationship between the sisters, I left it to the dystopian background -instead of the central characters - to convey a sense of sadness and loss. I wanted it to feel more like an adventure with a nostalgic feel.
I think Sci-Fi often gets the tech details right whilst the humanity of the characters is neglected. We are very adaptable to environments but our core emotions are still the same. So I decided to experiment a little with this, in terms of acting direction and shooting style. It’s a Sci-Fi film that goes again all the usual clichés of the genre, such as lens flares, tracking shots, cranes or big setups, it was really shot as a documentary, with a warm colour palette instead of the cold one used in most futuristic films. I needed someone curious, flexible, energetic and with a great eye as a director of photography.
In terms of performance my approach was very minimalist, I gave the actors a lot of freedom and space to explore their characters. We would rehearse the scene as a whole and then the camera and sound would capture the story without locking the frames, it was just like capturing a scene in a documentary. It allowed us to make How to be Human a very compelling, intimate and bold story to tell - I wanted the audience to get the sense that the film could be set a few years from now, not in some very distant future.
How did you constitute your team? (Cast & Crew)
I was more involved in putting the post-production team together. In terms of production I chose our director of photography, I wanted someone that could understand my approach to the shoot and Lorenzo Levrini fit the bill. He really threw himself into the project and added his own touch.
When it comes to our cast, I was insanely lucky to work with Frances Ruffelle (Les Miserables), Sophie Kennedy Clark (Philomena, Nymphomaniac) and Louise Salter, Annabel Bates, Brian Bovell (Love Actually), Michael Winder (Misfits), Katrina Ward, Ari Phillips and the young actresses that were involved.
Neto Jones edited the film, he is an old friend of mine I met in the industry, he edited my 2nd short film, Speechless (2013) and then I’m Zombie (2014), and a lot of commercial work.
For our VFX we had Marc Hutchings (Guardians of Galaxy) as our Visual Effects supervisor. Marc and I go way back and are good friends. He was able to bring his team on board, which really made for a fantastic collaborative shoot.
Our colourist was Theresa Crooks at Molinare. We were very lucky to be introduced to her as she really understood the feel that I wanted to achieve with the grade.
In terms of sound we had some problems with our first team and ended up working with a fantastically ambitious group of students at the SAE London and Graeme, one of the teachers there, was particularly involved in the end project.
On the music front, Debbie Wiseman was on board originally as our composer but she was super busy with features and TV shows, so we couldn’t match our schedules. I’ve known Debbie for a long time, she is amazing and I love her work, she is probably one of the most influential female music composers for film and TV. However, this led us to meet Mim, our composer, who is based in Iran and brought a lot of Middle Eastern culture to the film. We overcame the distance by communicating via emails and Skype calls. His work is really impressive. I was actually a lead singer myself and had a contract with MTV around 2005, so I love collaborating with sound and music artists.
Can you tell us a bit more about how you financed this project? Was crowdfunding your very first step or did you begin producing early footage and then reach out for more funding?
I think everyone tried hard to bring investors on board, many promises were made and then dropped closer to the time of filming, but Louise managed to raise the money required for the four-day shoot. In post-production, we created a crowdfunding campaign, it was really hard work, Louise worked so hard on this with her team and I helped by creating all the content for the campaign, including the main pitch. Our target was £10K and we raised 21% on top of this, so £12,080 overall. With that extra money, we managed to get our VFX team and colourist on board.
Can you tell us a bit more about the post-production process and the impressive special effects?
Yes, I love the VFX of the film, we can always improve things with budget and time but what we achieved with all limits we had is frankly impressive. This was due to the great work of Marc Hutchings, his team and some help from Territory Studio as well. I’ve known Marc for many years and he has a strong passion for storytelling and a sharp, critical eye. VFX teams are made up of extremely talented artists, it needs honed skills and experience to make the scenery believable. I’m super excited to work with VFX again.
Once you had the final cut, what did you do with it? How did you end up hosting a screening at the BFI?
We finished the film on Sunday (23 April 17), on Tuesday (25 April 17) it was screening at the BFI and Thursday (27 April 17) premiering during the opening night of SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival. We had it all planned. The hard part was to meet the deadline, but we did it! Now we will start submitting it to festivals and it will hopefully screen as part of various film programmes.
What are the next steps, what are you hoping to do with it? Any plans for a feature film?
We have many plans for the future. It’s easy for your mind to run wild with the possibilities but we are very down to earth and understand the process; things take time and a lot of dedication. We are starting to hold talks with some major players in the industry interested in working with us and investing in the project. So our mindset is: work hard and let’s make it happen.
On the festival side, I’ve recently said in a podcast (Tesselate - Geeks) that I don’t like the traditional festival route, I think it can be very old-fashioned. They pretty much lock your film from online distribution for 1-2 years, which is a shame because you want your film to be seen across platforms without restrictions. The point is to engage audiences, share the story, listen to their thoughts, build up a profile and a following. Saying that, we decided that we would push for festivals as it can benefit the project in other ways. Don’t get me wrong, we are of course excited to go to festivals, we love them, but we wish we could also share it online, even if only through the festival’s app or website. We experimented with this through SCI-FI-LONDON and had it online for 24 hours on the app; it was very cool; we had people from different parts of the world watching and sharing their thoughts!
Can you tell us a bit more about your individual plans for the coming year?
My plans are to keep the momentum going with my career development and branch out into longer formats, features or series, but also keep pushing my business. I’m launching a content agency, through which I hope to work with some cool brands and online channels to create engaging content.