by Alyssa Hunt
Phyto, or as we like to call it, ‘The One Hit Wonder’, is a physiological thriller about a girl and her dying rose. This unexpectedly successful and experimental storyline had only three elements: one greenhouse, one actor, and five pages.
Phyto is creativity with set limits. Before I could even write a word, I was given my limitations. I always had this preconceived notion that creativity was a process with no limits. This script is an excellent example of creativity with limits.
Kelanie had decided that our next location would be in a greenhouse. Since I had never been inside the greenhouse that we were planning to film in, I looked up pictures of what a greenhouse typically looked like and then went to work on plot. After dabbling in a few genres, I decided that Phyto was going to be a silent thriller. When I began writing, my first draft was full of floral imagery. After showing Ryan and Kelanie, they said it was good and we went with it.
When we received access to the greenhouse, we were completely shocked when we saw NO PLANTS. What type of greenhouse has no plants? Turns out, there were plants, but they were still in the pits of the soil and had yet to sprout. This resulted in a scrapped script and the dreaded (but necessary) process of a rewrite.
I soon fell prey to writer’s block. Then, when I least expected, IT happened. IT being that one idea that is surely an Oscar winner. I stopped what I was doing and wrote for almost an hour, and the real Phyto was born. I didn’t bother to fix my grammar errors or tighten my action lines before showing Ryan and Kelanie. After they read it, we all had that moment of, “YASSS!”
The script ended up being five pages of straight action. I got lucky with Phyto. I had no outline, no real preparation, just an idea that actually worked on paper. My character arc happened to fall into place and a coherent story formed by chance. I don’t plan to test my luck again with this freestyle writing. I have now implemented a solid outlining process. I’ll talk about that progression in a future post.
Sequences, Plants, and More Sequences
Based on one of the many lessons we learned from the first short we did, we knew that this time we needed a crew. So, we recruited one of our amazing filmmaker friends.
Since we were in our early ‘shy’ stage and only had one extra crew member, we didn’t have any forms. No call sheet, contracts, production report, continuity logs, assistant camera logs, nothing. All we had was a shot list. We figured, the less we had to keep track of, the less we would have to worry about.
Once we received access to the greenhouse and learned there were no plants, we had to start figuring out props. With our banging budget of our own personal funds, we scavenged thrift shops for any fake plants that could pass as real.
When we had a variety of fake and real plants, Ryan and I worked for three days to create our greenhouse masterpiece. It ended up turning out rather well. We then gathered other props from what we had lying around the house to complete the look.
We had two rehearsals. The first one was a simple walk through of the greenhouse. It was quite small which restricted the set. Due to the script being entirely action lines, we had to break it into six sequences for blocking.
Ryan and Kelanie made an overhead diagram that looked like a map. Each sequence matched a specific numbered location in the greenhouse to ensure everything in the film was intentional.
It was tough for everyone to memorize the sequences and everything started to feel a bit repetitive. We definitely had moments of confusion and miscommunication with what sequence we were actually rehearsing.
But, our last rehearsal calmed our nerves. We had finally got the hang of the sequences and nailed everything. The movement was blocked just right and the sequences flowed perfectly.
Movie Making Magic
Another lesson we learned from our first short was that rarely anything good can be finished in a day. To avoid making the same mistake, we planned for Phyto to be a two-day shoot. Each day was scheduled to allow plenty of time to get all our shots, pick-up shots, and craft services from our favorite Mexican fast food place.
Estimated Filming Time: 12:00pm – 5:00pm
At the start of the shoot, Ryan, Kelanie and I were nervous. Looming over us was the possibility that Phyto would flop just like our previous film. None of us wanted to be negative Nancy and say it out loud, but we all felt it.
Since I was acting, I felt the pressure. My character is fraternizing with this rose and I knew it would be awkward. I didn’t want to be that actor that complained about nerves, especially since I wrote it the script. So, with all of us battling our own inner fears, Ryan, the director, called action and the first sequence began.
Each sequence took about 2 – 4 minutes to film. Even though there were only three crew members, it felt like forty–it was definitely hard having all the attention on me. When Ryan finally called cut, everyone was awkwardly quiet. Then, he smiled and said, “That was… really good.” We all breathed a sigh of relief and dove into the rest of the day.
To keep a solid flow of the shoot, we filmed each sequence once as a wide establishing shot, then went in for diverse shot angles. This helped us get comfortable with the scene/sequence and also with coverage for editing unlike our first short film.
We ended up filming everything we had planned in half the time. Even though we had the perfect opportunity to get more coverage, we decided to stick to the schedule and call it a day’s wrap at 2pm. That meant we were ahead of schedule!
Estimated Filming Time: 9:00am – 5:00pm
The second day we ran into little issues that set us back a few hours. We didn’t start filming until about 11:00am. But, since the previous day ran so smoothly, we weren’t stressed.
We chose our second day of filming for the more challenging sequences. This included blood and water. Phyto has many takes were there is blood in the scene, so we experimented with fake blood for the first time. This was very challenging, but totally awesome. The blood looked so real and it smelled like barbecue sauce.
After all the blood scenes were done, we moved onto filming with the water. There is a scene in Phyto in which the character has water dripping on her in a very particular way. We thought this would be more difficult than it was. I made sure that we had sponges, paper towels, a blow dryer, towels, anything I could think that we would need to film this scene.
Since the water had to fall just right and be timed perfectly, we were all prepared to shoot this a hundred times. Surprisingly, we got the shot in under ten takes. Everything was going so well until I started shivering. Unfortunately, we hadn’t thought to bring a change of clothes. So, for the rest of production, I was freezing. However, I would still say that if being cold was the only problem on set, we couldn’t complain.
Even though we prepared for an 8 hour filming day, we finished in record time. We were entirely wrapped by 2:30pm which means, once again, we were ahead of schedule. Day two of filming was even better than day one, because we no longer felt the shadow of our previous project looming over us. Next Monday, we will share with you our post production experience and the marketing of Phyto.