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“Sold,” a gripping short film about the illegal sex trade, and a look at filmmaker John Irwin’s indie/DIY film technique


John Irwin is a writer/director acquaintance who’s making some kickass projects. Commercial work, music video, short film — and all with impressive results. John recently showed me his short “Sold,” a very intense piece about the horrific world of human trafficking. Very well written and told, the tension and story grab the viewer quickly; suspension of disbelief can be hard to achieve when you’re watching a project that was made by someone you know, but this one had me wringing my hands from the start. Afterwards, I asked him for details about the film, the filming techniques used for some of the tighter spaces, and  the motivation behind it. He graciously supplied me with a thorough rundown — check it out below.


By John Irwin.

Sold is a short film that focuses on Maya and another young girl, Alexa, who are trapped in the trunk of a car on its way out of town, and their eventual confrontation with their captors.

Up until very close to filming, we didn’t know how we were going to film the interior trunk scenes with the time, money and resources we had. On good ol’ craigslist, we found someone with our “villain” car that agreed to let us rent it for a day. This is the car that shows up at the end of the short. We were desperately searching for a trunk lid in junkyards across LA that would match the make/model of this car (a Mercury Marquis). The plan was to put the lid on top of the trunk and cut holes in the four corners so we could lower our small DSLR camera down and film the inside from each hole. A great plan in theory aside from all the dangerous sharp metal that we would have had to deal with — but we called every single junkyard within 60 miles of Los Angeles and not a single one had a trunk lid that matched.

Luckily, our art director, Effney Gardea, found a trunk of a taxi cab at a cinema vehicle place.  Just the trunk itself, no car attached to it. The back half of a taxi was on rollers. It had removable sides and a hole at the axle to film from. It was perfect. We quickly painted it light blue to match the car at the end and got it to the small stage we shot in. We ended up having a lot more flexibility of shots than we would have with the original idea.



We shot the whole short in 4 days on the Canon 5D Mark II with a set of nice Zeiss Prime Lenses, but the key was my amazing cinematographer Andrew Waruszewski. So many people either own the 7D or 5D that I think on set, we had 3 or 4 backups that people were using to take production stills. And yes, as shown in one of the photos, we used an ipad for the film slate  – we were very 21st century on set.


For most of the locations, I have Craigslist to thank. I put up ads that described each location I needed, and voila! The location for the office scene and the basement/alley scene was in a building on Sunset Blvd. that’s usually rented out for parties on the weekend. The outside location was filmed on someone’s private land in Angeles Forest and the motel sequence was filmed at Pink’s Motel in Sun Valley, CA. We were very fortunate to have David L. Snyder on the film as Visual Consultant. He and his wonderfully talented partner, Effney Gardea (Art Director) served as a wealth of knowledge to draw from for the design challenges we encountered. David was nominated for an Academy Award for the Art Direction and Set Decoration for Blade Runner in 1982. He also did the Production Design for many really cool films like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, among many others.

Another quick aside and a good lesson for those that skirt around getting insurance for filming: At the motel we filmed at, Day 4 of filming (our last day), a crew member drove the small art dept. cube truck under the low clearance overhead near the lobby. It cut through the top of the truck like butter. Luckily it did only very minor damage to the motel and we had insurance with the truck rental place… unfortunately the deductible was $1200. OUCH.

I edited the film on Final Cut Pro and used FCP’s color correction tools in conjunction with “Magic Bullet” by Red Giant.

The whole experience was amazing and quite a challenge and I’m really proud of the outcome. We made the short to act as a demo for the feature version that we are currently seeking funding for. We screened the short at more than a dozen film festivals in 2011, most recently at the Austin Film Festival and won BEST DRAMA at the 2011 Malibu and Hollyshorts Film Festivals. A spot edited from the film won the highly competitive MTV contest to raise awareness for human trafficking on television and with MTV’s global concert campaign.

The short stars Fernanda Romero (Without Men, The Eye), Maria Elena Laas (Pastor Shepherd, The Hot Chick), Hector Jimenez (Sin Nombre, Nacho Libre), Jesse Garcia (Quinceanera, Under the same moon), Maria Olsen (Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), Andrew Keegan (10 Things I Hate About You, O, Independence Day), David Alan Graf, Ashley Sawyer, Wilmer Calderon, Rey Borge and Carmen Corral.

Human trafficking is not usually a hot topic of conversation or a commonly discussed social issue. Yet it’s the third most profitable crime in the world (just behind drugs and gun sales), providing around $30 Billion in revenue, worldwide. This is not just a foreign epidemic – in the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 100,000 children in the sex trade.

We hope that the demo for ‘Sold’ can help raise awareness for human trafficking and get people excited about the feature film that is currently in development. The site for the film is http://www.soldfilm.com/

John’s got a few other projects worth sharing as well: Picture Hop, a “new, really weird youtube channel that has a bunch of vfx tests/shorts that I’m putting up once every two weeks:” youtube.com/picturehop (with behind-the-scenes clips available at  youtube.com/picturehop2).
And  check out his clip done for the Moby/Saatchi&Saatchi “hello, future” video contest for the song “After” — he’s got the freaky future down pat.

Moby – After (hello, future.) from John Irwin on Vimeo.

This is my entry for the Saatchi & Saatchi ‘hello, future’ music video challenge. Thank you for the fun opportunity! I hope you all enjoy — make sure to watch till the end!

My take on Moby’s track “After” –
In a sterile and controlled future, suicide rates have risen and the powers-that-be are looking into the cause.  An operator resurrects a female victim and sifts through her psyche, trying to understand the mechanics of her suicide.

Here’s a quick peek behind the scenes (those lights that the DP found were so cool, all connected to a remote). Take a look:

Concept, Direction and Editing by John Irwin

Featuring: Ashley Sawyer

Co-Produced by Kathrin Eder and Eduardo Mayen
Director of Photography: Eduardo Mayen
Production Designer: Kathrin Eder
Associate Producer: Vanessa Ragland

Key Make-Up Artist: Katie Middleton
Leadman: Andrew Alexander
Gaffer: Jesse Jaraczewski
Key Grip: John Loveall
VFX: Sean Barrett and John Irwin
Addt’l Photography: John Irwin

Special SiFi Lighting provided by LITEGEAR
Special Thanks to Al Demayo and to the cast and crew who graciously volunteered their time and talents for the project.

Shot on the Canon 7D in my apartment and up the hill from where I live in 2 days. Concept to completion was 8 days. Budget: $350

Also, I can’t miss the chance to post a link to one of my personal favorites by John, a super fun Meanest Man Contest (two of my closest pals) video for their song “Partially Smart.”