Russian Roulette: A Master Class in Hiding your Budget Limitations

Accentuating your positives and hiding your negatives is a practice that most all people use in at least some facet of their life. In filmmaking, it’s no different. It’s not uncommon for major motion pictures to mask a faulty story with an all-star cast, or weak performances with heavy VFX work. The same applies for a budget of $80,000,000 or $80, which is exactly what the makers of Russian Roulette accomplished.

Russian Roulette – WINNER Sundance London, Official Selection Sundance 2015 from Ben Aston on Vimeo.

Russian Roulette is the story of a lonely woman in London and a Russian astronaut coming across each other at random on a chat site, each looking for something from the other to aid in their sanity. It was shot in an apartment on a Canon DSLR with two main actors and cameos from crew to fill it out, keeping the majority of the films attention on the performances of the two leads with largely locked-down shots and MCUs.

Russian Roulette pic features

The International Space Station set was accomplished with recycled bags, particle board, Ethernet cable, rivets, a poster of the Earth from space and a small light source to illuminate it from outside the “window”. To accommodate the budget set as well as accentuate the Chatroulette homage, the footage of the astronaut is horribly compressed and occasionally out-of-sync. Not for a moment does any of that detract from the story.

Behind the Scenes of ‘Russian Roulette’ from Ben Aston on Vimeo.

This isn’t told as a space film or a sci-fi film, even with the elements of surveillance technologies being abused in a time where the NSA has everyone convinced their webcam has been commandeered for a private version of The Truman Show. This is a simple story of connection at random, with an interesting hook added to keep the interest of the audience.

In using the shortcomings of modern internet technologies, they were able to mask their budget limitations with familiar visuals. In the same way documentaries and “found footage” narratives have found their success by taking the audience out of the soundstage, this puts the audience where most of them are most comfortable today: in front of the computer screen.

Russian Roulette was the winner of the 2014 Sundance London online short competition, as well as an official entry into 10 other festivals. The kicker? Director Ben Aston made the short during his off time in post production for his critically-acclaimed short He Took His Skin Off For Me.

He Took His Skin Off For Me from Ben Aston on Vimeo.

[via Tom Antos Films]

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