“Expiration” is a unique production unique because it's an example of what simply wasn't possible ten years ago. Made during his last two years at McGill's film school, writer/director/co-star Gavin Heffernan had the benefit of not only affordable technology, but the prevalence and acceptance of drama produced and distributed on video. There have been several examples of breakthrough movies shot on video – “Chuck & Buck” and “The Blair Witch Project” are among the best known – but “Expiration” is a feature film shot by film students during their school year but outside of the film program; it's a feat that during the 16mm film school era required rich parents, major family favors, or the demise of a very fond and rich relative.
Heffernan's commentary track, recorded about a day after final editing on his own computer, manages to be fairly coherent, though some advance preparation and breathing space would have given the film's author some time to organize thoughts and subjects. There's a lot of trivial nods to props, behind-the-scenes work, and locations, but then “Expiration” is also the product of generous cast and crew members. Begun at age 21 and finished 2 years later, Heffernan's film benefits from a huge cast and myriad of locations, but the real draw are the diverse storylines and memorable characters which interweave at key points during a pretty solid narrative structure.
The DVD's transfer showcases the attractive Digital Video cinematography, often achieved with a Spartan lighting kit. The sound mix is quite vivid, and Heffernan admits to gaining inspiration from the sound design featurette from the “Cast Away” DVD – proving DVDs, when embellished with worthy extras, have excellent educational usage when class budgets can't import an industry speaker.
The only flaws in the transfer are some dialogue passages smothered by background noise in a subway station, and Heffernan's commentary track sometimes fights for attention when the film soundtrack plays strongly. There's also a bit of a missed opportunity, in terms of discussing the type of affordable gear used in the making of the film, as was done in lengthy featurettes that accompanied the DVD for “The Last Broadcast.”
Extras include a trailer for the film's April 2003 premiere, and an excellent “Behind the Scenes” featurette, which efficiently follows “Expiration” from cast auditions (including replaced actors) – through final mixing and scoring. Some post-filming cast interviews with actress Janet Lane reflect the support that kept the crew going, as oddball occurrences typical of any production created delays. The best parts, however, show the serious low-tech solutions to the film's slick look, including 3M tape for a hood mount, and an ingenious panning gizmo that will elicit a major laugh.
Film school productions often reveal raw talent in need of experience refinement. Though “Expiration” has its rough spots, a school project it's not; it's an independent feature film made, as its director states, without any help from the institution, and an excellent example of what talent and ingenuity can achieve. At the time of this writing, the only way we know of to obtain a copy is through the film's website at www.sunchaserpictures.com but it is expected to premiere at the Victoria Film Festival in February 2004.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan