Shot on MiniDV, edited in Final Cut Pro and with special effects created in Shake, all for just $8,000, the action-thriller short Broken is wowing film fans.

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I learned several things from making Broken," says Jorge Rodriguez. "I learned that no matter how bad a problem, there

"And, I also learned that while it's great to accomplish something alone, it's amazing when you're surrounded by a team of people who are just as passionate about the project as you are... that's when magic happens."

Magic would certainly be one explanation for writer/producer Rodriguez's collaboration with writer/director Alex Ferrari, which resulted in Broken - a 20-minute short film that is currently garnering a great deal of interest at US film festivals. Amazingly, the short, which contains over 100 visual effects, was made for a budget of just $8,000.

Although originally intent on creating a short that would act as a calling card, Ferrari and Rodriguez were nonetheless keen to prove that independent, non-budget filmmaking could produce a piece that could seamlessly replace 20 minutes in a big money movie.

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Broken is the gripping tale of Bonnie Clayton, whose comfortable life is disrupted by ever-more disturbing dreams. When abducted by a sadistic stranger, she discovers the key to her survival lies within those dreams. 
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Ferrari wrote the original script for Broken, based on an idea he had at college, before refining it over a three-month period with Rodriguez. 
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"When we started Broken, I told Jorge I wanted tons of rehearsal and prep time," says Ferrari. This amounted to a full 12 weeks of preproduction, which had to be completed at night and weekends as the duo had full-time jobs.
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"I was storyboarding the shots in my head as we were writing the script," explains Ferrari. "I wanted to treat this little short as if it were a $100 million flick. 
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"We may not have had the money in the bank, but we acted as if we did in order to gather together the talent we needed. Everyone believed we were making a big budget film because we acted as if we were."
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With the help of Dan Cregan, storyboard/ concept and visual-effects artist, the duo storyboarded practically every shot in the film resulting in over 60 pages of storyboards.
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Once the script was finalized, and between cash and credit cards enough money was in place to finance the film, production started with a casting session.

Gathering a crew and cast who were happy to work for free or next to nothing, and keeping them motivated over a 12-week period was the hardest challenge of the entire project says Ferrari.

"I kept showing everyone every VFX test, storyboard, concept art, character design, colour-correction test... anything to keep their interest in the project going," he recalls.

"I think a big part of us getting the cast and crew was a combination of them liking the story, and the fact that nobody ever makes an indie action film so they wanted to see how the hell we were going to pull it off," adds Rodriguez.

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The tiny budget meant the entire film had to be shot on location in just five days. Ferrari had written the script around a particular building, Florida

Things didn't go as smoothly as planned however, when a couple of days before the shoot, a hurricane hit the area, destroying part of the building and knocking out the area's power.

Postponing the shoot for a week then saw a slight clash with Rodriguez's personal life as his wife was due to give birth to their third child on the now rearranged first day. "Luckily, she had the baby the night before the shoot and I was the only one affected," he says.

Even so, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency using the hospital to dispense food and aid to the victims of the hurricane, who numbered 200,000 in the first week, getting to the location proved a daily challenge for the crew.

Basement battles

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The first scenes were shot in a small apartment located on the grounds of the hospital, which needed to be furnished as cheaply as possibly by the production team. The crew then moved to the hospital basement where most of the movie takes place. 
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"It was old, dirty and hot as hell!" recalls Ferrari. "We shot there for three and a half days with no air conditioning, tons of mosquitoes, and an average daily temperature of 98 degrees Fahrenheit." 
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By the third day, the team were about half a day behind schedule. However, working late every night with an extra meal for the cast and crew was already putting a strain on the budget, so adding a further day to the schedule wasn

"I suggested we split the grip and electric crew and have them set up the exterior shots while the bulk of the crew continued to shoot the interior stuff," says Rodriguez. "We didn't get everything we wanted but we got enough and finished on schedule".

Ferrari chose to shoot with two Panasonic's DVX 100A MiniDV for one simple reason he says, 24p. "The second I saw 24p I knew that I could finally be able to get that polished look without shooting film. I love film but it is too slow and cumbersome. My directing style is very fast. Digital lets me not only fly on set but also in post," explains Ferrari.

"I'd always been hesitant about doing a short film on DV. It looks like video. It looks cheap and not cinematic. I didn't want to waste time and money on a format that wouldn't garner any respect for the project and wouldn't push me forward as a director. Then I saw a 24p test that Panasonic was doing and I was sold."

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Ferrari had instructed his DP Angel Barretta, on the look he was after - a clean image he could manipulate in post. No filters, no gels, no in-camera tricks were used. To compensate for the camera

Despite being an Avid editor for over eight years, Ferrari is evangelical in his praise for Apple's Final Cut Pro, even vowing to edit the feature version of Broken on the program.

"The power this little program has is amazing, there's nothing on the planet that comes close," he says. "I'm able to get a unique look that you could never get on an Avid... it's like having Photoshop for a moving image. I also love the speed and scalability of the program."
The first cut was completed in two weeks, after which work began on the VFX plates. More than 100 visual effects were completed in just two and a half weeks by Ferrari, Cregan, and VFX supervisor and Shake compositor Sean Falcon.

According to Falcon, the most time-consuming effects to create were the muzzle flashes and weapon explosions. "I tried many different approaches, from hand-drawn to 3D to procedural, he says. "I found that a happy mix between hand painted and procedural yielded the best results.

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Initially, Falcon had considered creating a library of flame images, which he could randomly switch through, but it proved too time consuming and, as there was so much gunfire in the film, there was no guarantee that the same flame wouldn

Instead, he began with a basic flame shape - actually a rotoshape in Shake - and began layering in different warps to give edge distortion.

"Because Shake is node based, it offers lots of control over the image, so I could have the warp affect certain parts of my script while covering the entire frame," says Falcon. "This meant an effect that never produced the same-looking flame twice."

After creating a muzzle flash that everyone was happy with, Falcon made a template script based on the type of gun that was being fired. For instance, Christian's gun produced a multi-flame flash, while Tony's gun was a single-shot burst.

The flame and all the atmospheric effects were controlled by one side of the script, and the colour treatment for interactive lighting was controlled by the other side.

A new expression

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"This made for quick-and-easy swap outs of the footage serving as the main plate," he explains. "The use of expressions came into play heavily on these shots. I basically had a flame

"This was all accomplished by moving only one slider instead of 35. Since the warps were constantly changing on a frame-by-frame basis and the flames only lasted one frame, I was confident of having a different effect any time it was visible."

The 'shaking things up' scene, which sees chair-bound Bonnie and all around her shaking madly as if an earthquake was ripping apart the basement room, was great fun to work on says Falcon. He began by rotoscoping Bonnie from the background and layering her onto a new one. He then took the clean background plate and cut it apart.

"This plate worked really well for this type of shot because there were tons of items in the background that I could really shake the hell out of," he says.

To avoid uniformity, Falcon made good use of Shake's expressions. "Since almost everything we do as visual-effects artists has its roots in math one way or another, you can finally put all that trigonometry and algebra to good use.

"Implementing some basic trig functions into the expression allowed for some cool movement that would be tedious to do by keyframe, and even worse, having to make a change to a hundred different nodes," he says.

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"So I just categorized the movement into three or four different shakes and then made a few master nodes that controlled the 100 plus transform nodes inside the script. This in turn allowed for better isolation of different movements and the ability to quickly make changes to many layers while only having to worry about a few nodes."
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To achieve the final look of the movie, Ferrari spent time experimenting in Final Cut Pro and used various filter packages including Magic Bullet, G Film, and Stib

"I found that Simple Levels helped me crush the black in a way that the entire image wasn't affected," he says. "I also used garbage mattes to cut out sections of the frame and colour correct them individually."

It then took around 35 hours to render all the filters on a G5 Dual 2GB Mac with 4GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. Response to the short has been overwhelmingly positive say Ferrari and colleagues.

Interest at film festivals around the US, including this year's Sundance, has led to the team remastering the film for release on DVD. They are also in discussions for a feature-length version of Broken to be made.

The Final Cut

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Alex Ferrari relied on Final Cut Pro to edit the movie. "There

Brown eyes blue

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WE HAD OVER 60 PAGES OF STORYBOARDS FOR A 20 MINUTE FILM BUT THE PREP WORK REALLY SHOWS IN THE END PRODUCT<BR>
Dan Cregan
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<h2>Explosion</h2>
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STOP TALKING ABOUT MAKING AN INDIE FILM AND JUST DO IT! TELL YOUR STORY NO MATTER WHAT<BR>
Alex Ferrari
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