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Berlinale talents: Canon short film competition

Simon Pitts

‘The Touch’

Based on a script by the writer Carol Younghusband the short film ‘The Touch’ tells the very simple, yet strikingly effective, tale of a soldier who is suffering from a type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Please click on the window above to view the trailer and read on to find out more about the idea behind the project and how it was developed, shot and produced.

Treatment of the brief

The key to ‘The Touch’ is simplicity, as director Simon Pitts explains: “‘The Touch’ is an exciting, deeply compassionate and humane story. With minimal dialogue the slick and surprising two-minute film can be understood and felt by audiences in any language everywhere. Shot simply with available light a naturalistic treatment will emphasise, as I seek to do in all my work, the non-flashy beauty of kindness.”

Why the film was chosen

The judging panel chose this film because of the strength of its proposed storyline, which is told mainly by actions rather than words. The judges felt that the minimal dialogue could add to the power of the film, which would therefore increase its potential audience, whilst simultaneously managing to convey the clearly damaging impact of war within the suggested straightforward, yet powerful, narrative.


Simon Pitts

Simon Pitts has worked for the BBC as an executive producer, arts editor and director and has over 14 years’ experience of directing and producing TV, radio and online arts, music and documentary programmes. Selected by the British Film Institute (BFI) for its ‘Think Shoot Distribute’ scheme for promising feature film makers, his drama ‘The Boy and The Bus’ was shot by top DoP Christopher Doyle in 2013 – so far the film been selected for showing at seven major film festivals. His previous short film, the Alzheimer's drama ‘Ten Glorious Seconds’, was selected for the New Jersey Film Festival and is available to watch online. To date viewers in over 80 countries have watched it. Simon is currently developing his debut feature film – the drama ‘Sunny’ – with writer Simon Armstrong.


Why did you decide to enter the Canon Short Film competition?

“We had a strong script that seemed to fit the brief. Any time someone supports your film-making, it's a great opportunity to try something new. And having shot with a lot of Canon gear – the EOS 5D and the C300 – I wanted to experiment with the C500 at 4K RAW, and was excited to see how it shaped up in our colour grade at the top-end Framestore facility in Soho, London.”

How did you get the idea for your film?

“Carol Younghusband is a writer whose scripts I really love. [Actor] David Suchet featured in the short Alzheimer's film ‘Ten Glorious Seconds’ which she wrote and I directed. Carol had this wonderful compassionate script and I developed it further with input from military consultants and the cast for production.”

Please explain what the film is about?

“The film is about a young British soldier who comes back from war in Afghanistan and wants to reconnect. It's challenging for him because he has a condition called Hypervigilance, this is part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There's no message [in the film] but I'm interested, in all my films, to explore how people deal with and recover from trauma.”

Can you tell us more about the characters and narrative in the film?

“It's very economical storytelling. The soldier is called Ryan. He's back in his suburban London neighbourhood and wants to meet his old friend Amy. They have not seen each other for a while and, in the very few minutes that they have to reconnect, they learn how much things have changed for them both.”

What were the challenges or surprises you faced when making the film and how did you overcome them?

“The biggest challenge was to create a sense of the war. We needed FX shots and we overcame this challenge by the generosity of the great FX guy Mark Chapman. The other, more practical, challenge was managing the huge amount of data that the C500 generates when paired with the Codex boxes which we used to shoot 4K RAW. Without the support of Western Digital we couldn't have made the film.”

Had you shot any previous projects with Canon cameras?

"’Ten Glorious Seconds’ – which I talked about earlier – was shot with a mix of the Canon [EOS] 5D and Red One. We used the Canon for all our exterior scenes and it gave us beautiful images with just enough latitude in the grade.”

How long did the film take to shoot and what crew did you work with?

“We shot the film over three separate days. The main day was at a suburban London location; there was a location day (as Afghanistan) out in Kent, southern England, and half a day for effects in-studio. The production offered the opportunity for me to meet and work with new people including the fabulous – and fabulously pregnant – producer Georgina French, as well as specialists in prosthetic make-up and pyrotechnics and a wonderful fight director. In post-production I worked with key crew that I met for the first time on the Canon-sponsored Berlinale Talents scheme: the brilliant, intuitive editor Anna Meller and bass-bin shaking sound designer Martijn Helle.”

How did working with the Canon cameras and lenses help you to shoot the film?

“We shot with two C500s, either cross-shot or side-by-side. They are super-mobile and very, very easy to move around with on location. We were shooting on a street and had to be a lot like a doc crew – simply to get out of the way when necessary. The cameras are also light on the backs for crew, although when we added the Codex boxes to the rig that was great for balance.”

How did you set up the Canon cameras for the shoot?

“We set up for 4K, very useful for re-sizing in the edit, and DoP Mat Hale varied shutter angles extensively.”

What was the performance of the Canon cameras like in terms of the quality of footage produced?

“The 4K RAW images are excellent. We have a ton of latitude in the edit to make our shots tell the story best – re-sizing them so that the resolution stays sharp when output in 2K. In the colour grade there's tons of flexibility. It's a typically clean, digital, look which, like everything, needs a lot of treatment for storytelling.”

How was the footage ingested and was this straightforward? How did the Canon cameras fit into the overall workflow – input and output - of the film?

“We took the footage from the Codex boxes and our DIT Philipp Morozov bounced it on to the Mac and then off, via firewire, to three mega Western Digital drives for back-up.”

How did you record sound for the film?

“Sound recordist Nathaniel Kastoryano recorded the sound on a boom and external mics and mixed himself. In post we added ADR and, of course, layered the film with FX tracks.”

What is your overall impression of working with the Canon equipment and would you use Canon cameras for future film projects? If so, why?

“I loved working with the C500s and would use them again, like a shot, for the feature film. We got great images! There are a few things [I think] Canon could add into future models, including a better viewfinder. Also we shot with a C500 [that was] specced with EF mounts; next time, for compatibility with cine lenses, I'd shoot with PL mounts.”

What are your plans for future film projects?

“Next we're working on ‘Sunny’ – it's a film about two young strangers who have slipped through the cracks. They have met to commit suicide but form a relationship and begin to find reasons to live. It's atmospheric and the great DoP Christopher Doyle, who lensed my last film ‘The Boy and The Bus’, will be shooting [it].”