The award-nominated HSC Video Drama filmed in a garage green screen studio


How Harvey Abrahams created a post-apocalyptic world without leaving the house, writes Francisco Dominguez.

The HSC isn’t the end of the world, but Harvey Abraham went there anyway for his HSC video drama Substratum. The Sydney Grammar School graduate created an apocalyptic dystopia for his HSC Drama Individual Project starring 11-year-old Bob, his friend’s brother, as the reluctant heir to a military dictatorship, with Harvey’s own father playing the heartless dictator.

Having used 3D modelling tool Blender since Year 7 and producing short films throughout secondary school, Harvey’s HSC Drama Individual Project meant he could successfully join a hobby with his HSC studies.

Harvey spent 4 days filming in a makeshift garage green-screen with a borrowed camera, followed by long hours of painstaking animation, 3D modelling and video-editing to build a convincing underground lair. The result was a touching exploration of the tension between empathy and a family tradition of autocracy, which was selected for OnSTAGE and nominated for the Next Gen Youth Prize in The Best Australian Short Film Competition.

Image of the HSC video drama Substratum being made in the 3D modelling tool, Blender
Using the 3D modelling tool Blender to create elements in Substratum. Image credit: Courtesy of Harvey Abraham.

The premise, Harvey said, came from his interest in geopolitical events, also informed by his Modern History studies on Power & Authority in the Modern World.

“I wondered about the process of becoming a dictator, how you can lose your sense of empathy and treat other people like completely disposable chess pieces,” Harvey said.

“In Substratum, the dictator’s son exists in a closed world fashioned by a long line of autocrats – a literal echo chamber. He is prompted to attempt a more compassionate connection with his father, but ultimately chooses to please his father and suppress his better instincts.”

Image of Harvey Abrahams making the Substratum video drama on a green screen
Making the HSC video Substratum with a green screen. Image credit: Courtesy of Harvey Abraham.

Video Drama was new for Sydney Grammar School but, with his teacher’s guidance and encouragement, Harvey used a combination of live action and digital effects to realise his post-apocalyptic vision. Most objects in the film were designed digitally by Harvey, apart from some furniture 3D models from a digital library preserving Ukrainian artifacts at risk of destruction.

The ambitious project was challenging but rewarding.

“As daunting as it may be, with Video Drama the possibilities are limitless,” Harvey said.

He also stresses the importance of planning for any students considering making their own video dramas.

“The more effort you put into pre-production the better – especially story boards, call sheets and lighting schedules. I shot a lot of footage, but sometimes wished I shot even more for editing options.”

Despite extensive research consulting YouTube tutorials and ancient blogs, technical issues were unavoidable. Costumes caused a surprising issue too: the gold buttons and trimming of military outfits became transparent in front of the green screen. Fixing it took weeks.

After working on such a complex digital project, Harvey sees the unexpected importance of file management. Just 6 minutes 30 seconds long, the film ended with 24,000 files (532 gigabytes across 649 folders). Harvey felt using a better file structure would have shortened production by weeks.

Towards the end of production some files reached up to 25GB, making his computer crash and even lose progress. Smaller files and proxy files were the solution, and simply remembering to save.

“The amount of times I worked in a flow for hours, only to realise I hadn’t pressed save when it inevitably crashes, is unbelievable. I definitely lost at least 10 hours of progress,” said Harvey.

Image of Substratum, a HSC video piece created by Harvey Abrahams
HSC video drama Substratum. Image credit: Courtesy of Harvey Abraham.

As well as a filmmaker, Harvey is a talented musician. He performed alongside his twin brother Milo at the Encore Showcase, but the short’s soundtrack was a solo effort.

After years of coming to OnSTAGE as an attendee, it was a proud moment for Harvey to see his work screened at The Seymour Centre.

“Making a video drama takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s all worth it when you are able to sit back in the audience as someone else pushes the button,” he said.

Harvey’s filmmaking journey has only begun and he is now studying Screen Production at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Harvey hopes to take his HSC skills to new heights and make a career in film production.

“I’m meeting all sorts of creative and inspiring likeminded students and teachers with a lot of different skills and backgrounds in industry and elsewhere, it’s fantastic,” he said.

Discover more students from this year’s HSC Showcase Season by visiting our Instagram page.

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