'3:27:00am' is June 2020's Film of the Month winner

14 Aug 2020 in Film of the Month

9 mins
'3:27:00am' is June 2020's Film of the Month winner

We are very pleased to announce that the June 2020 winner of our Film of the Month competition is 3:27:00AM, from filmmaker Ryan in Liverpool - see the winning film above!

3:27:00AM (engaging for 14+) sees a clock counting down while a menacing figure appears in a corridor - but where is he walking to? This suspenseful animation is filled with mystery and will have you on the edge of your seat.

So much to like about this animation, especially given the context around production. Showed a lot of skill to switch to animation and get a great result. Looks and sounds really strong and I really liked the idea.

Film of the Month judge on 3:27:00AM

We got in touch with Ryan to find out more about his film.

Congratulations on winning Film of the Month! How long have you been making films?

I've been making films since I was about 11, and it's basically been all I've done in the years since then. I became almost instantly obsessed with the entire process after seeing a huge 5 hour making-of documentary for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The documentary dived deep into every aspect of the film's production from script, to shooting, and even to the more "minor" details such as colour grading and sound design that are often pushed aside when talking about films of that size. I've probably spent at least 30 hours of my life re-watching that one video. 

From there, I went straight on to trying to make my own films, and failing very often. Most of them never even got finished - but I think that taught me much more than anything. My first few films were school projects, but eventually I gained the confidence in myself to start making my own things, I think it might have taken a good 3 or 4 years before I had something I liked enough to finish and show to people. I was really ambitious and obsessed with telling stories of a scale way beyond my reach, but I think that taught me more than succeeding would have. Finishing them would've probably just given me an ego.

Can you tell us where the idea for 3:27:00AM came from?

I wish I had a story to tell behind the idea of this one - I usually do - but 3:27:00AM purely started as a college project. I was really late submitting my story for the assignment so I jotted down whatever popped into my head - and it happened to be this! All I knew before then was that I wanted to go a bit non-linear with the editing and try something new, so I storyboarded the film before writing the script, which I think helped a lot with the pacing of such a short film. It was supposed to be a live-action shoot, but the storyboards stayed intact when moving to an animated format, even when the rest of the world managed to collapse!

We love the soundtrack for the film and how creepy and foreboding it makes the whole film feel; can you tell us a little about how you put that together?

The soundtrack is probably one of the simplest I've ever made, but also probably my favourite. I think the great thing about working in animation is that everything is silent by default, which forces me to think about what everything sounds like, leading to a much more interesting soundscape than I would normally have. 

The basis of everything is the change in ambience between points in time; everything leading directly up to the murder has a deep, low rumble that I find quite unsettling, while the events beforehand have a much quieter room tone and the sound of the ticking clock. I think that use of sound helps detach the points in time from each other in a way that feels clear. Of course, until the end, when the sounds overlap and the music starts to rise, (hopefully) signalling that the murder happens as the clock ticks 3:27:00.

That long take towards the end with the tracking camera and moving characters is absolutely incredible. How did you do that?

The answer to this becomes a whole lot simpler when I tell you that none of this is actually stop motion; I'm not talented enough for that! It's actually all digital animation, aside from one shot of the body bags. I really love the handmade feel of stop-motion animation, but also the freedom of CG, so I ended up making a computer animation that looked as though it was all made of clay - but nope! You're looking at texture maps and polygons in the place of clay and cardboard. So really, the tracking shot at the end was done in the same way every other shot was. I animated the characters every 2-4 frames to get the stop-motion feel, but regardless of that, the camera was free to move however it liked. 

I guess one of the more complicated things about that shot though, is the shadow on the wall. In order to have achieved a shadow like that, I needed a really strong light on the left of the frame, in a really specific position to line everything up. Unfortunately, there happened to be a wall in the way. So, in that shot, the wall is removed entirely from the scene as soon as it leaves frame, and a red light that I placed behind it starts to fade in, leaving everything in place for that shadow to appear - you can actually see the red light get stronger if you watch closely.

What were some of the challenges of filmmaking during lockdown?

I don't think lockdown affected the making of this film much, of course everything existed inside the computer. But at the same time, it wouldn't have been animated had it not been for my college shutting down - which I think ended up being a benefit to it. 

Overall, I think lockdown has been quite helpful for my filmmaking. I've made a lot more stuff than I normally would have, and the restrictions have forced everyone to think creatively. I've been involved in two films with friends now that used screen recordings of Skype/Zoom calls to tell the story, or getting actors to record their own section of the story with miles between everyone. It seems all it takes is a global pandemic for me to be productive (they're not recommended though!).

Are there any films or filmmakers who influenced 3:27:00AM?

Story-wise, there's not really any direct inspiration I took, aside from maybe 3:27 being a re-ordering of room 237 from The Shining. Visually though, I took a whole lot of inspiration from a filmmaker on YouTube named Lee Hardcastle, who makes tons of stop-motion content; his horror work is especially interesting. I'd like to think I got a lot of his grimy stop-motion look into the film. 

In terms of lighting too, I've always loved the look of Blade Runner 2049 and plenty of Roger Deakins' other work - 2049 especially uses coloured lighting brilliantly, so I love to experiment with using a lot of colour in set-ups. The whole stop-motion feel using CG came from films such as The LEGO Movie or Flushed Away (which I love).

What three tips would you give to a young filmmaker making their first animated short?

Well, I'm not sure how qualified I am to give any - but here's 3 things I've found very useful!

Planning - Like, seriously: planning. I know a lot of the time this seems boring, although recently I've taught myself to enjoy it. With 3:27:00AM I had storyboards that were followed shot-for-shot, which gave me a good groundwork for what I needed to make/animate. If I knew the shot would only end up being from the waist up, then there's no point bothering with the legs. It sounds like cheating but it'll save you plenty of time in the long run. Another thing I ended up doing on a film I did after this, was to shoot and edit myself acting out the entire film before even beginning to animate. This gave me a fantastic groundwork for both animation reference and the pacing of the whole film; it doesn't need to be perfect, it's only for you.

Embrace the Medium - One of the fantastic things about animation is that nothing is really impossible; gravity is non-existent, everything is moldable, and things can be whatever colour you like. Lighting doesn't even need to have a source - go wild if you like! You're not making a live-action film, so don't try to. Animation allows for you to make anything, and if something you want breaks the laws of the real world, but makes sense within the story, then I say do it! Amplify the story you want to tell, animation isn't a lesser medium.

Sound - Good sound is massively important to any film that uses it, but I'd argue that it's even more central to selling an animated film. Sound is what grounds the things we see on screen - the animation could be abstract or highly stylised, but sound is what gives it that tactile feel. Your animation could be perfect, and almost photo-realistic, but a lot of the time, it doesn't really feel real until you add that wind in the background, or the light sound of a foot scraping the ground. Try thinking about what things would sound like early on in production, then you can start building the soundscape in your imagination to support the visuals you've worked so hard on.

Ryan's film will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of our Film of the Month films are now on the Into Film YouTube channel, and he has also secured a £100 Amazon voucher to help further develop their future films. Think you could win Film of the Month? Find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you've been inspired by 3:27:00AM then make sure to check out the following films:

  • Saboteur (1942, PG, 104 mins) Engaging for ages 11+
    Hitchcock thriller following a fugitive on the run from authorities and spies when he is wrongly accused of sabotage in a US aircraft plant.
  • Berberian Sound Studio (2012. 15, 89 mins) Engaging for ages 14+
    Atmospheric and suspenseful exploration of the Italian horror genre through the eyes of a sound engineer.
  • Memento (2000, 15, 108 mins) Engaging for ages 14+
    Ingenious thriller about a former a former insurance investigator suffering an extreme form of amnesia and trying to uncover the truth about his wife's murder - with the whole film told in reverse.
  • Flushed Away (2006, U, 81 mins) Engaging for ages 7+
    Lively computer-generated animation about a wealthy pet mouse who has to adapt to a whole new lifestyle when he is washed away into the sewers of Ratropolis.

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