Fan Film, Fan Films

Interview: Fanimatrix Auteur Rajneel Singh, Part 2

Steven A. Davis (left) and Rajneel Singh play back their latest take while shooting <I>The Fanimatrix.</I>

Steven A. Davis (left) and Rajneel Singh.

Welcome to part deux of our epic interview with Rajneel Singh, director of the classic Matrix fan film, . If you’ve already seen his 16-minute flick, you know it’s a pulse-pounding action flick made on a non-existent budget; if you haven’t seen it and you happen to dig Keanu Reeves’ second-best franchise, then you owe it to yourself to check this fan film out. If you missed the first segment, well shame on you. After you do, come back and find out how they did it with this installment of our multi-part chat with Singh. In the meatime, we’ll see you Tuesday after the long, holiday weekend. Stay outta trouble this time!

You directed, edited, co-wrote, co-produced and did all the camerawork for this flick. Who did the few things you didn’t do?

Well, the majority of The Fanimatrix was due to the work put in by myself and Steven A. Davis. Steve is a professional actor and a stuntman; he played “Dante” and also choreographed the bar-fight and the end-fight.  The Medusa vs Security Guards fight was choreographed by Louis MacAllister, our Wushu coach.

“The Agent” was played by Vaughan Beckley, a fellow martial arts student and friend whom I had known since grade school.  He was at medical school, so he was pretty exhausted most of the time to begin with. Meanwhile, “The Operator” was played by professional actor Fasitua Amosa. Many members of our martial arts school play the characters that get in on the fight action. We also had two professional stuntmen—Tim McLachlan and Matt Bennett—who performed stunts and wire-gags in the goth bar. Tim also supervised the wire-gags in the garage at the end of the film.

“Medusa” was played by Farrah Lipsham, another martial arts student who works as a professional animator by day.  She was a bit shy about having lines in the film, so we rewrote her character to be mute. The two “Goth Thugs” in the bar who give Dante a hard time were played by a professional actor, Mike Edward, and Chris Rigby, a good friend who was an amateur ball-juggler and also brokered our file-hosting.  Chris worked for Ihug, one of New Zealand’s most successful ISPs at the time, and the company was more than happy to host our site and our files for free after seeing the completed film (they thought it was a hoot).

Special FX makeup was carried out by Annamarie Connors, a very good friend who was training in her craft at the time. The rest of our crew was made up of whoever could turn up on each night to help shuffle lights and crash mats around the place—two of our biggest helpers were Gene Rugg (who was our behind the scenes photographer and secured our garage location) and Daniel Beeching. Although, having said that, we had a couple of nights where it was literally just myself, Steve and Vaughan, and I was moving lights around and filming at the same time.

The only post-production help we employed was another good friend—David Fraser—who had photoshop skills and painstakingly removed the wires from our wire-gag shots.

Clearly you had a lot of connections, so had you made films before?

Not really as such.  I had shot a handful of fight videos beforehand and we made an abortive attempt at a feature film, but The Fanimatrix was the first piece of narrative filmmaking I had ever completed.

One of the great things about this flick is that even though there’s a lot of fighting, there’s actually a plot—something that most fight-oriented fan films seem to forget. How long did it take to write?

My memory of the writing process escapes me, but I think it took about two weeks.  Steve took care of most of the writing and I only just edited scenes and restructured and reshaped it in the end. The honest truth is that the screenplay wasn’t that important for us at the time.  We were focused on growing our filmmaking craft, not our writing, at the time.

Doh! OK, so then how did you assemble your cast and crew?

With the exception of Vaughan for “The Agent” and Farrah for “Medusa”—chosen specifically because they could fight and had the best resemblance to the characters we had in mind—every other cast and crew member was filled with whoever put their hands up to help us.

That’s a lot of people to coordinate, especially on an on-going basis. How long did it take to shoot?

The movie was shot over 9 nights, spread over the course of 2 months in total. Most nights were between 8-12 hours long.

Since this was your first sizable production, did you find it relatively easy to shoot or were there any hurdles to be overcome?

The shoot was a lot of fun, but phenomenally difficult in terms of stamina.  We were shooting in the dead heart of winter and it was all night shoots and most of our locations had no heating to speak of.  The final fight sequence was constantly hampered by Steve and Vaughan’s muscles seizing up in the freezing temperatures and the video camera’s chasis would become so cold that it would burn my fingers.

The chase sequence was shot all over downtown Auckland—mostly illegally—and the sequence where Dante bumps into a pedestrian in the alleyway was interrupted by a security guard telling us to push off.

We were nervous about other locations we had to shoot in; for instance, the office building that Dante and the Agent run through was a location we snuck into afterhours, thanks to an inside man (it was a major IT company and the staff got quite a shock seeing their offices in the movie).

The sequence where Dante gets hit by a car was shot in a somewhat dubious back alley in a bad part of town and it was all our five-man crew could do to shoot the sequence as quickly as possible and then hightail it out of there.

In fact, that entire night, we were very high strung as it was the coldest and foggiest night of the year and there was a frightening series of arsons all across the city at the time. Everywhere we went, we were pursued by the sounds of police cars and fire trucks echoing in the fog.  The following day, there were reports on the news of security camera footage showing “a highly suspicious gang of people spotted all across the city at the time of the arsons” and we found ourselves crossing our fingers and praying to the film gods: “Please don’t be us, please don’t be us, please don’t be us, please don’t be us!” Fortunately it wasn’t.

The only other major difficulty, as mentioned before, was endurance for myself and Steven. The hardest night was the weekened we shot the final fight and the goth bar sequence. We shot the final fight sequence from 7pm till about 5am across Friday night to Saturday morning. After we packed up, returned the heavy crash mats and safety gear to the drama school where we borrowed them from, Steven and I made it to our respective homes by 7AM. We then had to wake up by 1PM in order to get to Goth Bar location, dress it up and be ready for extras to arrive at 4PM. We then shot at that location from 6PM (Saturday night) till 3:30AM (Sunday morning).

Steven told me later that his body was literally shaking from exhaustion and he was unable to sleep for hours because of the pain from the muscle spasms and the cold of winter. I was so exhausted by the time I got to bed at 6AM, Sunday morning, that I was delirious and wasn’t able to see straight!

Next week’s installment: Editing and the creation of a viral video hit!

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