The Manifestation of the Dragon.
“Dragon” is an 8-minute short film that tells the story of Danny, a man taking a trip back to his childhood room in the search of a dragon toy he wants to give to his son. This leads him to reunite with Nicolás, the imaginary friend he used to see as a kid, who can help him find the dragon, but only on the condition that he agrees to play with him, and his toys, one last time.
This is the story of how Dragon was made.
Chapter I: Origins.
It all started with a quote. I was looking for something that could motivate me. I had already learnt that the only projects that work are the ones impulsed by passion and love from the people behind them, and that’s what I intended to give to this project.
On my journey of inspiration, I ran into a booklet from a temporary exhibition I had been to in November 2014, it was called Metamorphosis, and it portrayed the work of masters of stop-motion animation such as Jan Svankmajer. The exhibition had been an uplifting and inspirational trip for me, and so it seemed as fate to ran into it once more at that time of need.
On the booklet I found a quote by illustrator Alfred Kubin that said:
“When our excited imagination obsesses over a chimera, sooner or later, that chimera is set to manifest in front of our eyes”.
As soon as I read it, something came over me…
I closed my eyes, and I saw it: The face of a man, with the fascination of a child, witnessing the manifestation of a huge colorful creature… a dragon.
Now I had and image, a character, and the subject of my short film, I knew what I wanted to tell, but I didn’t really have a story yet. So I decided to go back to my own childhood to find it.
I realized I had a big nostalgia for those years where I used to find pure happiness in my toys, in my imagination, where I could construct stories without caring about anything else. It was something that I thought was so important to keep alive in myself. Why should we stop playing when we grow up?
We study, we work. Soon every child’s castle of innocence and imagination falls down, but we shouldn’t let all the pieces get lost in the aftermath. We need to keep that side of ours alive, that spark of creativity and imagination and fun that we can use in our studies and our work… in our life.
We should go back.
Now I had a story for Dragon. What I needed next? A team.
Chapter II: An Army of Dragons.
We had to make a pitch for class to our teachers and classmates, so to get feedback and start forming our team. And so I did mine for Dragon and fortunately, I had a warm reception and good points from my teachers to improve upon.
From my class I picked my direction team: Vania Liberoff and Laura Romero, two talented girls with a unique director’s eye. They would become not only my advisors, but also my close friends.
After the first pitch, our classmates from Film Production picked the projects they would be working on, and so our team started to grow: Itxaso Frau joined as Producer, filled with energy and a contagious smile.
Soon after that, Isabel Cárdenas came on board as our Art Director, ready to fill Dragon with color.
Finally, I was happy to be contacted by Ros Guerrero, who together with a proposal that not only fitted Dragon, but took it to another level, joined our team with enthusiasm and became our Director of Photography. Ros told me the day I met her that she believed in the power of imagination of children and was looking for a story that could let her explore that with creativity and emotionality. Lucky for me, our paths crossed.
Now, Itxaso, Isabel, Ros and me, had to prepare everything for our dragon to manifest. But there was still a big part missing…
We needed actual real people to play Danny, Nicolás and Danny’s Mom.
Yes, they couldn’t be imaginary…
So we did a Casting. But we couldn’t find the right Danny and Nicolás. We were only lucky to find Susana González, who would bring life to Danny’s sweet, energetic and enthusiastic mom.
For our leading man, Danny, I was looking for someone who could be the serious man he had become in my story, but keep a certain children’s sweetness and playfulness, and over all, a capacity of being amazed by the world.
Just when I was losing hope, Álex Larumbe knocked on the door and came into our Directing Actors class at the uni and started doing exercises with our teacher. It wasn’t the dramatic scenes he had to perform on class that made me know he was the one. It was what he did when he wasn’t acting that called my attention.
That energy with which he talked about his characters, how he joked, how he made questions. It was clear he was an actor who truly enjoyed every second of his work. He was a big kid playing.
I remember my friend Laura whispering to me — He’s your Danny. And she was right. After class I spoke to Álex, sent him the screenplay and he was on board. Now we had to find his imaginary friend.
A week later I got a call from Itxaso telling me an actor from our uni had called her in regard of the casting we had, wondering if there was still a chance he could audition. So we organized a second round of casting, to see the chemistry between Álex and Susana, a possible Nicolás from round 1, and the new guy, Kiko Rossi.
During the casting, Kiko did a great job playing a child-like character without acting like a child, and more impressively, he managed to capture the essence of the story, creating instantly a bond with Álex, making it seem as if they had been friends forever.
During this second round of casting, Álex said something that turned out to be a key for the rehearsals. When I asked him — Who was your best friend when you were growing up and how is your relationship with him now?
— It’s weird, because after we haven’t seen each other in a while, it’s like for a couple of minutes we talk about what’s new in our lives, a bit formal… but then. Something happens and it’s as if not a minute has passed since the last time we saw each other. The old jokes come back, we start goofing around, and we can talk about anything. Just as it used to be.
Chapter III: June 22.
So, after getting everything ready, which includes multiple meetings with the team, re-working on the screenplay, working on the storyboard, getting a location, losing that location, frenetically looking for a new location, finding it, doing lighting and camera tests, rehearsals with the actors, coming up with a sword fighting choreography, getting a bunch of toys, re-working on the storyboard again… we finally got to the magical day we’d all been waiting for: June 22, shooting day.
6 a.m. The sun hasn’t come out yet, but it’s time to get moving. I swallow my nervousness (and also some breakfast), and walk to the bus that will take me to the house where we’ll shoot Dragon.
8 a.m. The whole team is ready to go. We are starting with the kitchen sequence with Danny and his mom. The art, lighting and camera team are setting up and I’m going through the scene one last time with the actors.
Other than the fact that we forgot the milk for the refrigerator scene, everything seems to be going well. We are gonna use orange juice instead.
10 a.m. We still haven’t finished the first sequence. We are all making mistakes, the kind of mistakes you would laugh about if you didn’t have to finish shooting an 8-minute short film in a day. Vania, the 1st Assistant Director, is ready to cut off some heads.
It always takes some time to get started, to heat the oven… but suddenly… We are moving! We are getting the scenes right!
The kitchen sequence is over. Off to the room!
11 a.m. Kiko (Nicolás) is here, he brings a new wave of excitement to the house, he’s everyone’s imaginary friend for a day, somehow he manages to pop up everywhere, even scaring off some of the team members. He also reveals that he had brought milk for his breakfast and we could have used it for the kitchen scene. We decide to ignore him.
12 p.m. Álex, Kiko, and the camera team, are on fire. They have to get their scenes in pretty much the first two takes because of the shortage of time and they bring their A game.
The room is beautiful, it has a kind vibe, as if a kid really had grown and played there. Even the toys are great actors, the Frog Princess specially (although she tends to get a little diva at times, requesting for everyone to leave the set for her to “get into character”).
3 p.m. It’s time for a little break. Production has ordered some burgers and fries. Everyone is recovering their energy by eating and laying on the grass. There’s people laughing, goofing around, the guys from Post-Production are juggling, everyone seems to be having a good time.
5 p.m. Now we are talking. We are getting scene after scene like machines! The food break gave the team the new found energy we all needed and we are now moving fast. It’s time to do the sword-fighting scene. Álex and Kiko have been practicing on the garden (thank God Álex used to do esgrima, he’s the key for this choreography to go perfect). Elisa Mislov (Camera) gets ready for the hand-held action, the Arri Alexa is heavy, but that won’t be a problem for her.
5:30 p.m. Wow. We got that in one shot? Nice!
6:30 p.m. It’s time to dim the lights a little and do the night sequence. We are almost done, we just have two key scenes to go. The first one has Danny and Nicolás talking about growing up and leaving their toys behind. It brings the feels to the team. I can hear a distant -Awww… and Julio (from the sound department) gives a disapproving look to the person responsible.
7.45 p.m. Last scene: The manifestation of the dragon. Ros and her team have set up an amazing choreography of lights, creating a huge shadow projecting over Danny, and making fire magically fill the room.
It’s time for Álex to leave it all on the camera. I give him some last words that I hope will inspire him on this difficult scene, and leave him with Kiko’s epic line:
— If you want to see the dragon, don’t look for it. See it.
And he does. And it’s beautiful. If someone tells you I cried while watching it, they’re lying, okay?
9:00 p.m. It’s a wrap! Dragon is ready and it’ll hit the cutting room soon. Everyone is cheering and hugging each other, love is all around. We are happy! We made it!
So now you know how Dragon was brought to life. Of course, after the shooting was over, we had to edit it, Gonzalo Encinal had to compose the beautiful score, and the Post-Production team had to stop juggling and get to work and be awesome at it (and they were).
But eventually we got the final cut, and we are in love with it, and we can’t wait to get it out there for everyone to see.
If you are one of the people who’ve seen it, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts and hope you liked it. And if you haven’t seen it… What are you waiting for?
Remember, it doesn’t matter how big you are, you can always go back, get your old knights, dolls, and toys out, visit your imaginary friends, draw, run, play…You are allowed to let your guard down for just a little while and open your eyes to a whole new world you can create.
We, a bunch of people on their mid 20's, 30's and 40's, decided to go out and make a small film and have fun with it. We played the game of filmmaking and we loved it. And we can’t wait to do it again!
Written by Luigi F. Moreno Barragán (Luigi Moggeno)
Photos #3, 9, 11, 12 and 13 taken by Andrea Dorantes.
Photos #6, 7 and 10 taken by Marta Jiménez de los Galanes.
All drawings and storyboard by Luigi F. Moreno Barragán.
“Dragon” was made possible by Escuela TAI and a team of amazing talented people, it was produced and shot during the first half of 2015 in Madrid, Spain, and is currently awaiting for its first presentation taking place at the end of September 2015.