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Format suggestions for low indie budget feature


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#1 Lav Bodnaruk

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 04:58 AM

Hey guys,

I am not sure how to approach this post, without offending anyone or starting up a huge argument, especially since this question, if viewed from different POVs (i.e. DOP, Producer, Distributer) will have a different meaning, relevance and obviously, answers.

Maybe you can tell me your thoughts, and why you feel that way, and hopefully everyone excepts that as such.

I have been given a low-no-budget film to produce. It is a character driven drama, no explosions, no car chases, no stunts of any kind - not even a gun! Most of the film is set in daylight, with half INT and half EXT.

Having produced/directed and shot a lot of stuff on film myself, and pairing with a director that never did anything other then 35mm shorts and big $car$ TVCs, we wanted to shoot this indie film on 35mm too. I am sure, if we were able to make the numbers work, that 'selling' the film as such would be the easiest if it originated on this format.

More and more, it is becoming clear that our funds will not be enough to make this film on 35mm (or could be, but JUST, with limited ratio and limited coverage).

So the question is, where to, if not 35mm film?

What would you, as cinematographers or ACs suggest (please do mention why too, and maybe what you do, so that the answer makes more sense)?

Looking at it from a producers POV, I want the film to be marketable. 35mm would be the best for that, no doubt. HD is interesting but more and more indie films are originating on this format and we would have a tougher competition to face. RED is so new, seems scary and unstable, but would that make it interesting? Would working out the workflow for RED be worth it, so that we have an indie feature on RED?

For some reason, just because this is a comedy, character driven drama, it seems OK to shoot on HD (lol) not sure why everyone thinks that... but yeah, maybe cause it isn't meant to be super stylized but rather 'commercial'.

The following article was interesting: http://www.studiodai...story/9097.html

We are in Brisbane Australia.
I am not sure how HIGH up HD scale we can go either, financially. I guess if we cannot afford 35mm, we won't be going Genisis either.
We can do s16mm... couple of indie features came out of this city in the last year or two, on s16mm, which went through DI and had theatrical release - sort of relevant for us since much of the same crew would be used and we would aim for theatrical release too (not just to DVD).

Perhaps the question is too broad...
Perhaps it is impossible to suggest one is better then the other, especially with limited info, but I am hoping you can let me know your thoughts on format that you feel would best suit and why.

No cinematographer is attached yet.
We will of course have these chats with our DP once we decide on someone, but I just thought I get your 2 cents worth...

Thanks guys
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#2 Rory Hanrahan

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 09:18 AM

Just a quick (and not necessary thorough) reply:

My first thought is to go 16. Obviously you're going to get some of the visual aesthetic you'd want with 35 (never been to Aus., but if you're shooting mostly daylight you can probably use a slower stock and keep grain to a minimum?). Also, 16 would probably handle the higher contrast of the outdoors better than HD, which (depending on your process & techniques) may be liable to clip (like I said, I'm making a lot of assumptions about the shooting conditions).

While it may seem like a lot of work (and doesn't necessarily answer your question), I think that, realistically, you need to do a budget breakdown for both HD and Super16. I find that HD isn't as "cheap" as many think it is, especially when the issue of file-backup and maintenance comes into the picture (especially if you're going P2 or Drive-based, rather than tape). You may find that shooting 16 provides you with a higher res master and the ability to spend more time in DI/transfer. You may also find that the cost of stock prevents you from any serious post-time. There are so many variables, its hard to give a single answer.

One way in which HD may benefit you though: well, there's the old idea that "with video, you can shoot and shoot and shoot", which I do not ascribe to, but hey, your director may like the idea of getting more takes without the constant worry of "How much did we shoot?!?".

I hope this helps in some abstract way. Best of luck.

Edited by Rory Hanrahan, 26 February 2008 - 09:19 AM.

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#3 Adamo P Cultraro

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Posted 27 February 2008 - 10:41 PM

Here is wisdom: A truly great director armed with a great script can produce a great film on any medium from IMAX all the way down to Nokia cell phone.

Ok, bit of an exageration, but you get my point. HD is a perfectly valid method of making narrative films. Some directors have chosen this medium even when they have had the budget for film (Collateral, Miami Vice).

In my case, I am making a film with a 300K budget shot on HD. We cannot afford film.....and I own all my equipment including lights, camera and grip - which are not fatctored into the budget. So there you go, I guess.
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#4 Mike Williamson

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Posted 27 February 2008 - 10:56 PM

Considering that you have a director who is used to the quality of 35mm, as well as a schedule that's roughly half day exteriors, I would suggest Super 16. Starting from scratch, with no free camera package, film stock, telecine or downconverts factored in, the budgets I've put together for features have been very close between HD and S16. I also find that it's easier for me to shoot faster with a film camera when necessary (magic hour, etc.).
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#5 Lav Bodnaruk

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Posted 27 February 2008 - 11:50 PM

Hey guys,

thanks for the posts!

I am definitely budgeting HD next to s16mm, to see the costs that will be between the two - and with my connections as a producer with lab and colour place in question, i doubt that HD will even be cheaper... I should mention I was looking at RED costs wise...

The worry with RED is that I am still not sure the recording onto the card, dumping onto the HDD and then getting it through a serious of programs that can handle RED data before we can find it in the Avid is all that worked out and ready for a feature film take - bu then again, maybe this is the perfect time for it, for an indie film that will ask for media exposure and attention from distributors in every which way...

The director is all for film, and so am I. I am very much stuck on trying to make numbers work on 35mm, shooting 3 perf, doing less takes, anything...

16mm will give us the 'organic' feel and with the harsh sun we face in Oz, there may be more benefits to shooting on film that are yet to show themselves.

It is a though one, and I appreciate your input. I think I will have to do a lot more research, see the samples of RED footage (outside the RED web site downloads I had manged to get) and possibly examin few other HD options - F23, etc...

Thanks!
regards,
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#6 Mike Williamson

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 12:03 AM

You should figure out how you want to finish the film, because if you need to make it to a film print, shooting 35mm and making a direct print may be a very competitive option. In that situation, shooting 3 perf will probably cost more than shooting and direct printing Academy 1.85 (or anamorphic I guess). The DI or blowup may cost enough that shooting 35mm will be equal to or cheaper than S16 or HD. Either way, be clear on how you want to finish the movie.
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#7 Chris Keth

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 01:21 AM

I'm certainly no expert on budgeting for all of these things but my gut feeling would echo S16. Your exteriors will certainly be bright enough to shoot a slow stock and keep grain down. Kodak's vision 3 500T stock is quite smooth looking, even in S16. A medium speed stock would also do well for interiors.

Perhaps the best part about it is that the format can handle the brightness range for your exteriors and it will make your crew's job easier than if you were lighting exteriors in bright, sunny Australia for a very high contrast format like most HD. The entire workflow is already well-established and familiar to most as well.
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#8 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 02:01 AM

Comedy, without a name, gonna be a TOUGH sell no matter WHAT format you're shooting on and THAT'S in the US. Hate to say it but producer to producer, you're probably kinda screwed on this one so DON'T make any back-end deals for your pay, get all your money up front. Most of your money will be from foreign sales, the problem is comedy doesn't translate well to other countries. What people laugh at in Detroit, people in Zimbabwean will be looking at the screen and scratching their heads. If you want to make SOME money, you really should be shooting a horror flick-6 teens having promiscuous sex in an abandoned warehouse being stalked by an axe, knife, machete wielding maniac and about 55 gallon drum of fake blood dumped all over the set... but be that as it is, you got what you got. You may get straight to video release if there's a lot of nudity and you have a REALLY GOOD poster and box cover, but you probably won't see a dime in profit, so again DON'T MAKE ANY BACK END DEALS FOR YOUR MONEY!!. IF you CAN get a foreign distributer interested, then it REALLY needs to be shot on 35,

I would frame for 1:85, basic 3-point lighting setups that are reversible to shoot the other side of the scene so that ALL your lighting and grip equipment can fit into an Ford Econoline van, use a lot of short lenses (comedy seems to pay better with short lenses), Use a lot of hand held shots and tripod shots so you can move VERY quickly, do as MUCH in-camera editing as is humanly possible, severely restrict the number of takes, If an actor flubs a line or screen SOOO bad it can't be fixed in editing, take the scene from a different angle and a continue from JUST before he screwed up. Shoot a lotta cut-aways to cover mistakes. Get a student on the crew so you can get any student discounts possible, shoot on shortends, preferably with discontinued stock that you can get REALLY cheap. Do as much MOS as possible to cut down on crew costs, find locations you can get for free, keep your cast and crew to a bare essential minimum and have EVERYONE help with the grip-work (IE lifting and toting.). Budget for a 3 to 7 day shoot try to do as much as possible in master shots with little or no coverage. (Jim Jarmish films) DO make back end deals with cast and crew if possible (they know they're not going to get any money on the back end but it makes them feel better and help justify all the work their doing for short to NO money up front to themselves) DO NOT scrimp on the artwork, THAT and THAT ALONE is the ONLY thing that's gonna give you a snowball's chance in Hell of recouping your costs.

Take a tip from William "One-Shot" Beaudine, perhaps the most prolific (and at times possibly one of the worse) directors in Hollywood history (He had some films that, a one report, made Ed Wood look like freakin' Stanley Kubrik, but THAT doesn't mean we can't learn from him :D ). He was at the beginning of his career an well respected director but through necessity, he learned how to shoot a feature with almost NO budget. The name One-Shot came from the fact that he often used the first take and moved on. He also worked from the early Teens to the 70s as a director and made over 400 movies and directed countless TV eoisodes so he was no hack, he just tailored his directing style to the budgetary needs of the picture. THAT'S what IIIII would do so take it for what it's worth. Also take a cue from Rodger Corman, he shot The Little Shop of Horrors in 3 days and it's now a cult hit and was made into a major musical and a musical film ( I THINK it was shot on 16 originally though STILL it was VERY CHEAP to do!) B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 28 February 2008 - 02:05 AM.

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#9 Freya Black

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 02:29 AM

I think S16 sounds good too!
Even very high quality video productions seem to suffer on exteriors on video. I guess it's because it's easier to have tight control over the lighting on a set etc, so you can be careful and take the time to make sure you have something the video camera is happy with.

I don't know but shooting exteriors you might even be able to shoot a fair bit of the film on 50d too which would be really nice even in S16. It seems a nice portable S16 camera could mean you could shoot exteriors with very minimal kit and work quickly and still get outstanding results. I'm not sure about the style of the video but you might find being able to work fast on the exteriors will keep the budget down too. It could even be a refreshing way of working over 35mm, I'm thinking French New Wave here, but I'm not sure what you have in mind so I shouldn't let my imagination get too carried away. ;)

The other film option that sprang into my head was 2 perf. Isn't there a place that does 2 perf convesion in Australia, which might mean there are cameras for rent out there too?

The thing I always have about shooting on video is that making a movie of some kind involves so much work, and such expenditure in thought and effort and time and getting it all together and making it happen, that it only happens every so often and it's worth making sure you have made it as well as you could have, which makes me want to use film all the time. Having said that, the awful stuff I've gone through lately means that I suspect I will be shooting more and more on video, but probably more trivial projects too...

Your project just sounds like a film to me too. It's partly the large amount of exteriors you have.

You say you could shoot it on 35mm if you heavily compromised things, could you not shoot on S16 and have minimal compromises for the same amount? Don't forget, 11 min run time for each of those little 400foot cans. It can go a long way to help I would have thought.

love

Freya
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#10 Lav Bodnaruk

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 02:40 AM

thanks for the replies guys!

We are favoring s16mm at the moment, but as i had mentioned, i am yet to see what will come from meetings with the post production house and what the costs of DI and blow up will be. As Mike pointed out, that is something I must not over look - the finish of the film.

I am also looking forward to seeing the HD vs 16mm compared on excel sheet, once all the quotes come through - although if close (or even if out but not by a huge margin) we will choose film over video.

We did initially budget for 35mm, and were just short of making it on the ratio we wanted, so dropping it to 16mm would not be a huge problem and would allow us to possible get a day or two extra out of production (ease up our schedule).

Thanks for a detailed reply James.
We do have some names attached to the project, mind you, they are Australian names - so the most that can mean is that they would be looked at here and that they will NOT have a problem with going to DVD. Further more, I am certain that a feature film on 16mm in Brisbane will do well, as there are not many films made here... Those few that did do it before us, are perfect case studies and whilst they did not make huge amounts of money, they all did OK and most importantly, they got to do it again. I guess that is what we are aiming for...

But I do want to stress that I understand what you mean in your post and that you make a valuable point for me in suggesting that the only way the foreign distributer will get interested is if it is n 35mm... I seem to agree with that and am still trying to make these numbers work and see if we can make it on 35mm.

No money of my own is invested in the film :D - I am a producing the film after all, so I know not to do that. (hope no investors are reading this - just kidding). Although I am not investing into it, the scheme that we have it running under will most definitely be profitable for all the private investors attached, guaranteed (but that is a conversation for a whole different thread).

It is interesting you bring up the framing ratio, I wonder what is the right way to go. I guess this will be something a DP should have influence on too, and hopefully a valid argument will be put forward for it. I would think we will go for 1.85.

Whilst I do own a stretched Ford Econovan hahaha - I think we will have a budget for a bit more then that. More precisely, there shall be grip trucks, gaff trucks, camera trucks on this shoot as we are to do this over the course of 18 days (maybe more if s16mm).

Oddly enough there are students on board of the film, but only as runners. The ONLY reason there are students on board of this project (and sometimes I wonder if i will regret it as people might trip over them and they are an extra mouth to feed) is because I had stayed in good touch with my UNI and want to offer the experience on a feature film to 3rd year film students as their work placement. It is hard to do something like that in QLD, so I figure we can make it work for 3-4 lucky students :)

Thanks again James.
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#11 Chris Keth

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 02:46 AM

DO make back end deals with cast and crew if possible (they know they're not going to get any money on the back end but it makes them feel better and help justify all the work their doing for short to NO money up front to themselves)


Just so you know, back end money from little productions don't make any crew feel better about shitty pay. It may be good "producer math" but in the end it makes more problems from people developing animosity toward production, being overworked for poor pay, doing bad work or slow work, quitting, et cetera.

You should at least pony up for something minimum-wage equivalent up front. It's really not that hard. Your crew won't immediately dislike you and will work harder and happier for it.

A comedy with a lot of on-set animosity can't turn out well.
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#12 Lav Bodnaruk

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 02:51 AM

Hey Chris,

I couldn't agree more. What is even more relevant is that the people working on this film, the team that I work with, has made shorts and TVCs with me before and the last thing I would do is get them on board of something where they are not getting the most out of it too... It is a strange world here, but because the industry is smaller (especially the INDIE world), everyone knows everyone and all is recorded... If you cross an AC with a pay one day, it will come back and bite you in the ass for life...

I guess that means you either end up with a really tight team (like I like to think my team is) or you just stop making movies... that is downunder for you ;)
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#13 Freya Black

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 02:57 AM

Oh god it's a comedy! I'm glad you were paying attention James. My excuse is it's early over here.

I got talked into working on a comedy once. They just told me it had the devil and a giant pink tarantula in it! (They knew how to pitch things to me!) Unfortunately they neglected to tell me about the other angel and the fact it was a comedy. I was very, very dissapointed when I found out, and the tarantula just slept in it's tank all day and didn't move at all except to eat.

The really bad thing about that shoot tho was it turned out the comedy wasn't funny!
I was like "see if you had shot a serious film with the devil and a giant pink tarantula in it and it had gone wrong and turned out to be funny then it would still be okay, but instead you shot a comedy which turned out seriously unfunny and now you just feel embarressed".

...and we shot it S16 too! eeerrrrk!

Kimya Dawson gave me a lift home in her magic van and actualy managed to cheer me up a bit but...

...not a highlight for me. This is why I think people are saying it might be okay to shoot it on video.
In fact now I've realised it's a comedy I'm inclined to ask if it couldn't be shot on a DVX100 instead? Nice cheap tapes and maybe you could keep the budget, realy, really, really low and end up with enough money left over to shoot a second film on S16 too, but like one that isn't a comedy...

I've seen some nice things shot on the DVX100.

Comedy. *shiver*

love

Freya

Edited by Freya Black, 28 February 2008 - 03:00 AM.

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#14 Freya Black

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 03:28 AM

Hey Chris,

I couldn't agree more. What is even more relevant is that the people working on this film, the team that I work with, has made shorts and TVCs with me before and the last thing I would do is get them on board of something where they are not getting the most out of it too... It is a strange world here, but because the industry is smaller (especially the INDIE world), everyone knows everyone and all is recorded... If you cross an AC with a pay one day, it will come back and bite you in the ass for life...

I guess that means you either end up with a really tight team (like I like to think my team is) or you just stop making movies... that is downunder for you ;)


Hiya Lav!
Well I just read your latest posts and it sounds like you have funding in place and some minor names and presumably a writer with some experience who might be able to make the thing actually funny.

Given that context I'm even more inclined to say definitely shoot on film. The one big upside to shooting that comedy we worked on, on Super 16, was that a few people got some lovely film footage for their reel. Shooting on film might make it a more positive experience for the crew and cast, who will believe in the project more and not just think of it as shooting a tv movie or something. They might at least see the thing as really useful experience, especially in a place like Australia where film shoots are a minimal thing.

If you shoot it on film, and it looks beautiful then people may well forgive a moments unfunnyness because they have something else going on. Also if you can shoot beautiful exteriors on 50d, then these will look great in publicity stills and help you sell the movie, not just to distributors but to people intrested in seeing the film.

Don't shoot this on video unless you can embezzle the saved money somehow.

love

Freya
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#15 Lav Bodnaruk

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 03:34 AM

Oh god it's a comedy!


LOL - think "something's gotta give". I know that comparison won't help, you probably have to find it on imdb to know what I am talking about, but anywho, that is what it is... shall be different next time ;)

You can check out my other feature that I made a 35mm teaser for 2 years ago:
http://www.translati....com/video.html
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#16 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 04:34 AM

Oh hell, the way you described it, I thought you were working on a no-budget feature someone was trying to make for under 50K, and actually I was talking from a US production stand point, Australia maybe TOTALLY different in the way things are done :rolleyes: , WELL hire one less grip truck and one less camera truck and you should be set. :D But seriously, you're hiring that many people and you're worried whether or not you can afford 35mm?! Cut down on the crew, cut down an the frills and put the money up on the screen. I mean if Brisbane is your primary market, fine shoot 16, but if you're actually looking to pull in a profit instead of just break even, I would be thinking global and global means 35. Hire a director who can shoot on a budget and make him stick to the budget. I mean it seems obvious to me. But really, if you're in charge of a shoot with name actors, more than one grip truck, separate lighting trucks, and more than one camera truck, do you honestly need our advice on what format you should be shooting? :huh:
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#17 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 04:48 AM

Just so you know, back end money from little productions don't make any crew feel better about shitty pay. It may be good "producer math" but in the end it makes more problems from people developing animosity toward production, being overworked for poor pay, doing bad work or slow work, quitting, et cetera.

You should at least pony up for something minimum-wage equivalent up front. It's really not that hard. Your crew won't immediately dislike you and will work harder and happier for it.

A comedy with a lot of on-set animosity can't turn out well.


THAT'S why you make it a SHORT shoot! :rolleyes: (But come on now, be honest, when someone tells you "Plus back end money", you KNOW there's never gonna actually BE any be any back end money unless a miracle happens Right? I DO TOTALLY agree on ponying up at least minimum-wage equivalent. That's only fair, but sometime you can get better people with back end points AND minimum-wage equivalent than minimum-wage equivalent alone....even if they never expect to actually GET the back end money, Capish? Being a producer isn't always pretty but SOMEONE has to get the best people for the money they have available, PLUS I always believe in feeding my people well and treating them with respect, that goes a LONG way to make up for lack of money in any business!) B)
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#18 Matthew Parnell

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 04:50 AM

Lav,
Its great to see more and more local productions kicking off here in Brizzy!
Cheers,
Matt.
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#19 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 05:18 AM

Kimya Dawson gave me a lift home in her magic van and actualy managed to cheer me up a bit but...

Magic Van??!! :huh: Can if FLY??? :blink: (I'm thinking the Harry Potter car...because like he's English too) :D

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 28 February 2008 - 05:20 AM.

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#20 Freya Black

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 05:53 AM

Magic Van??!! :huh: Can if FLY??? :blink: (I'm thinking the Harry Potter car...because like he's English too) :D



Well Kimya Dawson is american but the van was hired I expect. I was thinking more like the mystery machine although that isn't that magical, or maybe like further, the magic bus. There were some brits in the van too tho, we packed it out.
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