If takes a lot of original thinking, creativity and hard work to make a suddenly alone love story stand out; and Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan – cowriters/directors – keep you involved throughout their newest film, Bokeh, that will expand to 13 theaters across the country on April 14th.
For people who don’t know what Bokeh means (which was me until reading the Wikipedia description), it’s the subjective aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image.
About the only thing that didn’t go in/out of focus in Bokeh was the creative work of the actors and crew.
That was so bright, you have to wear sunglasses!
To give you a quick overview before we get into the fantastic production parts of Bokeh, the best way we can describe it is a semi-science fiction, light humor, love story. The film balances the universality of love with the loneliness of being in love.
Yeah … it’s complex.
During their romantic Iceland holiday, a flash of light shoots across the sky and the next morning Jenai (Maika Monroe) and Riley (Matt O’Leary) wake up to discover every person on earth has disappeared.
The movie is neither sad nor horrifying but you follow and grow with the two as they struggle to survive and reconcile the mysterious event. You accompany the pair as they learn more about themselves, each other and the world they woke up to.
Birth of an Idea
The idea for Bokeh came about when Geoffrey and Andrew had taken a three-day weekend break from their busy scripting, short film, interactive project work schedule. The two had worked together off and on for about 20 years and thought it was time to make a film that could be shot on a limited budget.
As every Indie filmmaker knows, it’s a long road from storyline to feature script–especially when there are daily bills to pay.
Less than six months after the storyline concept, the two completed the feature script for Bokeh – “all” they had to do was:
- Find two exceptional actors who could carry the story credibly without the luxury of extras or added creatives
- Find the best shooting/production crew around who were willing to commit to the film and rugged schedule for barely scale
- Bring together the best systems – cameras, glass, hardware, software
- Carry out a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film
Produced and posted in July 2014; Geoffrey and Andrew found the Kickstarter was less difficult than they had anticipated; thanks to friends, family and patrons who felt an apocalyptic, non-apocalypse film … elegant and refreshing.
It’s only after viewing the completed project and thinking about it (as you should with any good film) that you say to yourself “that’s a brilliant stroke,” which really sums up the entire film.
For an Indie film on a barebones budget, Bokeh has a lot of brilliant strokes–more than you see on a lot of screens today, where money is only a passing minor concern.
Having visited Iceland a few times, courtesy of the military years ago, I know it is a beautiful, diverse place; but not the first place you’d probably think of for a romantic get-away holiday.
But if stuff is going to happen, it’s a great place to be alone together.
Iceland is one of the few spots on the globe that has self-sufficient power, and that works in our couple’s favor. With some automation still available to them, their shrunken world isn’t a complete meltdown.
Orthwein and Sullivan said they wanted to have Riley and Jenai in a bubble where they didn’t have to have the usual physical struggle to survive. Instead, the self-sufficiency of Iceland would let them explore the metaphysical aspects of life and being.
“We wanted to look at this loving relationship and see how it functions in a social vacuum, where it struggles and how it impacts what they each believe,” Orthwein explained.
In that respect, Iceland provides an absolutely amazing backdrop for the story.
“Cinematically, Iceland has it all,” he said, “light, colors and textures that are unique in the world.”
The actors and crew took maximum advantage of the area, letting it play an integral part in the story as it progressed.
“We used some of the beautifully extreme, severe locations to emphasize parts of the narrative,” Orthwein emphasized. “There are parts of Iceland where the environment is a world at once our own and alien.”
Situated at the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland also meant they could maintain a tight production schedule.
“In June, when we did all of our shooting, we had 23 hours of daylight,” he noted. “We could shoot at 3:00 a.m. when the streets of Reykjavik were empty and it looked just like 10:00 a.m. We were on an overnight schedule for a week, working roughly 6:00 pm to 8:00 am, so we could shoot with a minimum disruption from the city’s daily activities.”
Shooting the Bokeh Experience
To capture the fading light, DP Joe Lindsay chose the low-light capabilities of the Canon C300 to eliminate the need of a huge lighting set-up.
To give the audience the feel of a large, empty world, Lindsay used anamorphic camera adapters for a full cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
Orthwein and Sullivan explain that much of the film is about loneliness and putting Riley and Jenai alone or together in the frame emphasized that wider, empty space.
As a result, the film is effective on both widescreen and personal devices.
In addition, Geoffrey and Andrew felt that color was critical to the story. The film starts with lots of saturation and then slowly drains color as the film progresses.
“We have a few key representative colors – red being the most obvious.” Geoffrey noted, “We use these colors, especially as we move into the monochromatic, grey locations, mapping them to the narrative as we go deeper into their situation and understanding of each other.”
While shooting in some of the more rugged, remote areas of Iceland was very taxing, Geoffrey and Andrew noted that the most difficult part in the project was creating a true feeling of the absolute isolating silence of an empty world.
“During the shoot, we worked with the actors, changing, reducing and throwing out a lot of dialogue,” they said. “We wanted to clear the way for that isolating quiet of an empty earth.”
“The couple is defined, not just by what they focus on, but what they choose to blur,” they added. “Their priorities shift as they gain a better understanding of each other.”
The Real Work
While pre-production and shooting took 27 days, post-production and final cut required several months.
“Bokeh isn’t the first feature film to be cut on a laptop,” Geoffrey acknowledged. “But we did everything on a lean, mean, bargain set-up – a MacBook Pro with two, OWC 16TB ThunderBay 4 RAIDs as our primary editorial and back-up drives, so our complete hardware post-production system cost less than $5,000. And I could easily work remotely, transporting everything in a Pelican case when I needed to hit the road.”
“The OWC ThunderBay RAIDs are fantastic,” he added. “But a proper setup requires redundancy, which is why we had a second ThunderBay RAID kept off-site that was backed up regularly.”
Back in his California studio, Geoffrey added external displays for the post work, editing on Final Cut Pro X, with Motion used for opening titles and some of the visual effects.
For the audio, he exported FCPX files via X2Pro with mixing carried out by Skywalker Sound.
Midway through the post-production, Geoffrey and Andrew took the film to the IFP Narrative Feature Lab which was very helpful in the direction taken in the final stages of the film.
As Geoffrey and Andrew were putting the final touches on the film, they brought in Preferred Content, a sales agent, to find the right distributor.
In discussions with Screen Media Films, the initial plan was for a 10-city theatrical day and date release. As the premiere neared, the release was expanded to 13 US and Canadian cities as well as digital release in the U.K., Ireland, Australia and most English-speaking territories.
Proving that a powerful story – and a strong creative team – will overcome budget every time, Bokeh will be seen in 13 theaters across the country and is available on iTunes, Google Play, V.O.D. and most cable On-Demand platforms.
Because of initial reviews and audience reception, Bokeh is currently getting a high dynamic range color grade to take advantage of HDR displays and platforms.
As for Geoffrey and Andrew, they are already at work developing various television and film projects.
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Geoffrey Orthwein – co-writer/director
Andrew Sullivan – co-writer/director
Doug Daulton – producer
Kent Genzlinger – producer
Brien Lermitte – producer
Joe Lindsay – director of photography
Keegan DeWitt – composer
Executive Producers – Andrew Sullivan, Dirk Jungé
Co-Producers – Hlín Jóhannesdóttir, Birgitta Bjornsdottir, Joe Shott, Liana Lehua, Christina Jennings, Harry Halloran, Jr.
Associate Producers – Peter Adkison, Michael R. Baldwin, Julie Carr, George Orthwein
Production Designer – Roger C. Ambrose
Editor – Geoffrey Orthwein
Casting Director – Emily Schweber C.S.A.
First Assistant Director – Dave Halls
Key Makeup Artist – Margaret Caragan
Costume Designer – Rachel Dagdagan
Supervising Sound Editor – David Sandwisch