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“There’s Nothing Like Being in a Room Together and Bringing a Project to Life” | Ben Klein & Violet Columbus, The Exiles

Still from The ExilesStill from The Exiles

The last two years have prompted much contemplation and reconsideration of the reasons why we make our films as well as the ways in which we make them. What aspect of your filmmaking—whether in your creative process, the way you finance your films, your production methodology or the way you relate to your audience—did you have to reinvent in order to make and complete the film you are bringing to the festival this year?

We conceptualized this project in 2016 and started shooting in 2017. We shot on and off in various sprints until March of 2020. When the pandemic hit and made it impossible for us to shoot any more, the silver lining was that we finally had a chance to stop, take stock of what we had, and make a plan for post.

We had made pitch decks and sizzle reels in the past, but the versions we made in the early days of the pandemic were the first ones that accurately communicated our vision for the film, and thus the first that were able to help us raise the funding for post.

Although we had wrapped most of production, we had always planned on shooting a final sit-down interview with our subject, Christine Choy. This would be the interview that would tie the whole film together and help guide the viewer through an often dense and layered story.

For many of the crew who worked on this interview, this was one of the first shoots back from lockdown. We worked under strict protocols, but in an excited and truly collaborative manner.

We spent countless hours planning how the interview would look and feel, ultimately deciding on a black-box theater with a simple backdrop, and shot on three digital cameras as well as one 16mm film camera.

We knew the interview would be long and wide-ranging, but we only had a limited amount of 16mm film and would not be able to roll the whole time. Our cinematographer and editor Connor Smith thought of a last minute trick in order to be able to sync the sound: attaching a lav mic to the 16mm camera so that we’d know exactly when he started rolling. These camera sounds actually wound up being included throughout our film as a creative device.

Although our post-production process started virtually and remote, thankfully we were able to spend a good chunk of 2021 editing the film in-person. While we are very grateful for the tools that enable remote work, there’s nothing like being in a room together and bringing a project to life. We hope that audiences can gather again soon and enjoy this film in the theater, as we envisioned in the editing process.

See all responses to our annual Sundance Question here.

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