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How did the short film ‘O.I.’ get produced? We take you behind the scenes of the film’s production here.

Backstage: How the short film ‘O.I.’ was created

O.I. (Original Idea) is a recent dark-comedy short by N’cee Van Heerden that takes the concept of being ‘mind-blown’ literally, and with great effect. The story follows the protagonist Barry – played by Ben Cotton – after he wakes up one morning with an incredible new idea. The downside? He’s the only person that can handle it. In fact, telling the idea to anyone has devastating effects. Barry may have to face this burden alone – or so he thinks…

Find out everything you need to know about the film in this feature – from the film’s production to the head-exploding VFX, we’ve got you covered. 

The man behind the film 

Born and raised in South Africa, N’cee started his career in theatre writing, directing and managing a range of productions. His focus was Berkoff inspired minimalist plays and it was theatre where N’cee honed his skill and passion for directing and character-driven stories. 

He made his transition into film in 2005, starting at the bottom working in various departments. He’s racked up an impressive resume, working on major productions including District 9, Avatar, Elysium, Chappie as well as many shorts, music videos and commercials. His range of cinematic experience has led him to a career in film direction releasing O.I. and developing his upcoming short, Hunter’s Cabin, premiering at festivals in 2021.  

The idea for the film came to N’cee during a month-long writing exercise. With the time limit set, N’cee attempted to come up with 5 film ideas a day, reviewing them after the exercise was completed – O.I. was one of these ideas. But there was still a significant portion of writing and plot development to complete, as N’cee states: “As far as writing goes, O.I. was the first time I sat down and worked out the structure of the story properly before I started writing.”

Production

The final film only took three full days of filming before editing and post work. This was largely due to the influence of N’cee’s theatrical background and a resulting emphasis on rehearsing. 

“While studying theatre (no set or props for me!), I learned the importance of rehearsals. It’s where the actors can play around with the characters and find what makes them tick without a crew staring down at them. Here’s something to get you started if you are unsure of how to approach a rehearsal. Get the actors to say their lines as fast as possible. Do that for a few days, then run the scene at normal speed a few times in between. It works like a charm!”

This approach to rehearsal led to the 16-page Tiki bar scene being completed on day one of filming!

Mind-blowing VFX 

The central feature of exploding heads is made possible with a fusion of both practical FX and CG, blending seamlessly into the scene. First, the scenes were filmed live with the real actors. The special effects team at Objects inc then exploded a gore-filled cantaloupe (tasty!) on-scene. World-renowned VFX studio, Image Engine, then blended the two images, sliced the tops of the heads, and added more blood in VFX.

The end result is a series of memorable ‘mind-blowing’ scenes that match the production value of a feature film. The film’s VFX Supervisor, Keegan Douglas, had great fun working on the scenes, adding: “Working with such an inventive and fun director on O.I. made it a truly memorable experience. N’cee loves to shoot practical elements as much as I do! So photographing melons, and blood explosions on set to composite in later was the highlight for a VFX supervisor.” 

Other shots include added CG prison bars while the camera drifts ‘through’ them, transition FX between shots, and blood splatter on the camera in the police interview room. 

The final film

Beyond its visuals, the film’s core tenant is originality, and more specifically, what it actually means to be original. Despite the word’s connotations, nothing is truly unique, at least, that’s what the director N’cee was trying to convey: 

“I really wanted to explore what an original idea truly means. You can’t have an actual original idea – it’s all based on previously existing experiences. It’s about combining ideas from different angles. Maybe that can be classified as new but it’s not as original as people might think. I just want people to think about it, and a comic tone can help with that,” explained N’cee.

All of the hard work put into the feature has paid off, with the film available on Amazon Prime and Alter – the latter has achieved over 120k views in a month! The film has also seen wide applause at several major film festivals, including Fantastic Fest (US), Clermont-Ferrand Int. Short Film Festival (France) and FilmQuest where it won Best Short Screenplay. Numerous other awards were received during O.I.’s festival run. 

“The festival success O.I. has achieved is overwhelming and I’m really thankful to the cast, production, and post team for their incredible work. Feedback from viewers has been positive so far and it’s been a pleasure to have the short streamed on Amazon Prime and numerous festivals around the world. The film will remain available to Prime viewers, but with October’s free release on ALTER, I want as many people to see the short as possible,” N’cee adds.

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