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The Making of Technostorks

Documentary on in-vitro fertilization shot with Panasonic miniDV and edited in Final Cut Pro By John Virata

In-vitro fertilization is often the last resort for couples who wish to have a baby of their own. While there are countless books that explain assisted reproductive technology, there wasn't a film that discusses virtually all aspects of the procedure, as well as the mental and physical, and not to mention monetary toll it can take on those who choose to embark on the journey in an effort to have children. So documentary filmmaker Andrei Kirilenko, together with his wife Shelley, who went through the process to conceive, made Technostorks, a 51 minute film that sheds light on many aspects of in vitro fertilization, the physical, the emotional, as well as the scientific. Kirilenko followed three couples through the process in his film, which was made with off the shelf software and mini DV camcorders. Below, he discusses some aspects on how the film was made.

DMN: When and why did you decide to make a documentary on in vitro fertilization?
Andrei Kirilenko: Shelley and I went through six year of infertility and multiple fertility treatments. We spent endless hours researching what was happening to us, only to realize that information about infertility and reproductive treatments is either very dry and technical (both of us have PhD's and we could not get it) or sensationalist. We both wished that we could have a one hour film that we could just watch in the privacy of our home, which would explain to us in an honest and entertaining way what lies ahead and what others are going through. We wanted to become better educated patients, so we could understand how to process the avalanche of information that hits you in the process, and be able to make more informed decisions. We could not find such a film. So we went ahead and made it. We were inspired by the creation of our son, Luke, who, against all odds, was conceived four years ago through in vitro fertilization.

DMN: How is Technostorks a departure from your six narrative films?
AK: Technostorks is a departure from my narrative films in a number of ways: genre, length, logistics to name a few. Unlike the narrative films, we did not have a full-length script before we went into production of Technostorks. There were no professional actors. It took place in real time. We had no choice over production locations, lighting or sound, and what people said or did not say. Technostorks is also much longer and hence logistically more complicated than my previous projects. It is a feature-length (51 minutes) documentary, while my narrative films are at the most 8 minutes long. Logistically, because the production dates and times were determined on short notice depending on how the couples' medical procedures were unfolding, I had to use several crews which I put together out of a pool of freelance professionals who were available on an as needed basis. Having many shooters and sound people posed a possible consistency problem in terms of the look of the film, so my directorial responsibilities were always quite intense.


DMN: How long did you work on the script and was it difficult to find the three couples who are in the documentary?
AK: I put together a draft script based on the project's synopsis before we went into production. It was only about four pages long, but it already had the three act structure that I wanted to use to tell the story. Being married to a writer and having directed several short films, I was quite familiar with the three act structure of narrative films and wanted to apply it to the documentary. The goal was to make an entertaining, cliff-hanger film based on the true life stories of several couples. I felt that the three act structure is very suitable for that. I also felt that having a tight structure would help solve several potential problems. First, since assisted reproductive technologies that the couples are using are very complicated, quite a few things would need to be explained. In order not to be boring, the timing and scope of these explanations would need to be carefully considered within the structure. Second, since the stories unfold over several weeks, the structure would be instrumental in moving the story along and assuring that the viewer wants to find out what's going to happen next. Finally, since we have three couples telling their stories, half a dozen experts highlighting the key points, and the voiceover explaining things, the point of view jumps around a lot, so the structure - the backbone of the film - is critical in keeping the story together.

However, when we went into production, I knew what structure I wanted to follow, but did not know how the film would look like within the structure. Only after we had shot all the footage, did I go back, watch all of it and start putting together the actual script. That took about three months. Having a structure in mind was absolutely critical for being able to link different pieces of the footage into a coherent story. It was like knowing that your puzzle is of a rectangular shape, while not really knowing what the final look of it is, how many puzzle pieces there are, or of what shapes they are. But, knowing that it is rectangular and not round or star-shaped is very important, because it eliminates a lot of possibilities. You start on the edges (beginnings and ends of the three acts) and keep building until it fits together.

 DMN: What cameras did you choose to work with?
AK: We used Panasonic DVX100 miniDV cameras. We shot everything in 24p progressive scan.

DMN: What about editing systems? Over the course of how many months was the editing done on the film?
AK: We edited in Final Cut Pro 4 and Final Cut Pro 5. In order to control the cost while maintaining the desired level of quality, I decided against using one post house to do everything and instead hired several editors with varying degrees of skills and experience (and prices). An assistant editor working part time under the supervision of the senior editor logged 35 hours of footage in low resolution using FCP4. It took him about three weeks to do that. I viewed all the footage and decided on the segments that were usable (based on a draft script that I had written beforehand). Viewing the footage and identifying these segments took another two to three weeks. We ended up with about 12 hours of usable footage, which my associate producer transcribed while I was working on successive iterations of the script. Getting the script to be fairly tight took about three months (and 6 iterations). The script included the time code consistent with the logged footage which was a great help to the editors. Once the script was pretty tight, I hired a junior editor and we put together first a long cut (about 1 hour 30 minutes) and then a rough cut (about 1 hour 15 minutes) using FCP4. It took us a couple of weekends to do that. There were still a lot of holes in the rough cut that needed to be filled with graphics, animation and canned footage; the picture and sound needed a good clean up; the scratch track needed to be replaced with a studio recorded voiceover; the score was not even written yet; but the structure of the picture was already in place and it enabled me to start working with the senior editor in a state-of-the-art post production house to get to the final product.

We used FCP5, Motion, Adobe After Effects, various royalty free canned footage and animation to lock the picture at about 51 minutes. We then used Magic Bullet to give it the "film look." All in all this took about two months. Another month was spent on cleaning up the audio, putting in the voiceover (narrated by Shelley) and the score (composed by Eric Weinberg). Cleaning up some loose ends took another week or two. So, altogether it took about eight months to do the post. I closely supervised the entire editing process.

DMN: How many people were involved in the production of Technostorks and what were their job functions?
AK: Here is the crew that worked on Technostorks:
 
Produced by Andrei Kirilenko and Shelley Kirilenko
Written and Directed by Andrei Kirilenko
Narrated by Shelley Kirilenko
Edited by Beezhan Meezan, Scott Stewart, and Marc Stoecker
Directors of Photography Thomas Beach and Andrew Schwartz
Original Score Composed, Conducted, and Recorded  by Eric Weinberg
Associate Producer Kiley Kraskouskas
Production Manager Hannah Chismar
Production Assistant Erica Huffman
Camera Operators Thomas Beach, Beezhan Meezan, Tim Fabrizio, Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Riddle, Andrew Schwartz
Sound Mixers and Boom Operators Lawrence Contratti, Patrick French, Shelley Kirilenko
Gaffer Michael Yodel

So, we have 16 people: Andrei Kirilenko, Shelley Kirilenko, Beezhan Meezan, Scott Stewart, Marc Stoecker, Thomas Beach, Andrew Schwartz, Eric Weinberg, Kiley Kraskouskas, Hannah Chismar, Erica Huffman, Tim Fabrizio, Alan Riddle, Lawrence Contratti, Patrick French, Michael Yodel.

DMN: How did you approach the medical professionals and Specialists with regard for your desire to make a film on This sensitive topic?
AK: I contacted the public relations office of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine - the national Association of professionals who work on infertility and Assisted reproductive issues - told them about the project And asked for suggestions. They put me in touch with Leading professionals in the field. They also accredited Shelley and I as media for the Society's annual meetings Which happened to be taking place not too long after our Initial contact. I contacted the professionals they Suggested with requests for interviews, put together a Schedule, and conducted (on-camera) interviews in the Course of two days that the meetings were taking place. Additional interviews were arranged directly in or around The press room. We ended up with about 10 hours of footage, Of which about 15 minutes ended up in the film. Since the Doctors we interviewed were incredibly articulate, there Was no need for follow up interviews. Most importantly, at The end of each interview I asked the doctors if they would Help identifying patients for the film. Most of them Tentatively agreed and that's how we started our search for The couples to be filmed. Which is a whole another story. For more information and to view the trailer, visit http://www.technostorks.com/ViewTheTrailer.htm


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:Technostorks, In Vitro fertilization film, Andrei Kirilenko,

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