As Tez assists his heavily pregnant wife into the maternity unit for a check-up, he is stopped by a nurse. “Can’t come in with her unfortunately. COVID,” she says. “Perfect,” he thinks, and takes a seat. He checks his inbox to see a flurry of messages from the voiceover artist in Marrakesh. He types away frantically to get his message across before the Moroccans go to bed.
This was film directing in 2020.
A few months prior, Tez Vi Truong (credited as Tez Frost) could never have imagined managing over 100 artists in a full-scale Guinness World Record attempt from his mobile device. Thanks to the COVID-19 global pandemic, he had no choice but to work with his limitations.
It all started in 2017 with his personal film exploring how the roles of teachers and students are often reversed. Little Hands was well received during private screenings and even led to a spot in the writing team for Disney China’s 3D animation Stoney and Rocky, which became the number one series upon opening week. It was later when Little Hands premiered at the Adelaide International Youth Film Festival, which became the impetus to this world record journey.
As the Melbourne born director explains, “I was getting play-by-play updates on the festival screening and I was surprised to learn that the film was playing to a crying audience of… twenty people.” It was then that Tez wanted to expand his global audience by translating the film into multiple languages.
By 2019, Tez got together with his sound designer and long-time collaborator Markus Kellow to formulate a strategy to achieve the translations. It soon occurred to them that there was possibly a world record somewhere in this colossal audio post-production challenge. After a number of rejections, Guinness eventually accepted an application to attempt the record for the most translated short film.
By January 2020, the world record attempt was in full swing. The project had local voiceover talent locked in, studio time booked, and accounting professionals to witness the kick-off for this arduous, yet exciting journey. On January 25th, Melbourne saw its first case of COVID-19. Soon after, most people couldn’t even see family, let alone record in a confined studio.
With state government restrictions in place, the Guinness World Record dreams were shattered. For the safety of the participants, cancelling the attempt was the right thing to do. But before abandoning the project completely, Tez took a step back as an artist, and stepped in as a marketer to consider other viable options to achieve this. One possibility was to carry out the entire attempt remotely.
After discussing with Kellow, they concluded that this was a possible method, yet highly impractical. They had to find over 100 voice actors globally, each with voice acting experience, the ability to take direction in English, and have access to their own recording studio during the global pandemic. It was a logistical nightmare, but Tez endured.
Directing and recording remotely was not only possible, but also very effective. With multiple job commitments and a one-year-old, focusing on completing one recording at a time proved to be a workable system. At least until baby number two came along.
“I had to direct performances via WhatsApp at 4:30 in the morning with my daughter clinging to me in bed. Why did I feel the burning desire to finish this? Because it was no longer about the film anymore. It was about adding another layer to this story and using this journey to encourage creatives to persist during uncertain times. I really wanted to prove that working with limitations is where creative magic happens.”
By the end of 2020, it was confirmed that Little Hands broke the Guinness World Record for Most Translated Short Film (Dubbed) with 21 translations.
Tez Frost is currently working on his upcoming feature film We Don’t Say Retard Anymore. For more information on his work, click here to follow him on Facebook.