Just to start off, I'm not a writer by any means and this is kind of like a stream of thought process for me so hopefully I can keep everything in order...
Man... this one was a doosy. The crew was literally me(Spike), Mike and Deshon the writer/director along with 6 cast members all living in the house we were shooting in. We had a few stragglers come in and out to help with things like food, make up, and sound. The good thing was this was all one location, the bad was this was all one location. To start this off the day before shooting the lead actor decides to drop out so we had to do a last minute casting with no way to audition him. Then our sound person has a personal emergency and leaves after one day. Even with this against us we pushed forward...
I thought I had way more behind the scenes photos but I think we were so busy I forgot to snap them. One of the pics I thought I had was when Mike and I had to share a twin bed for the first few nights before the air mattresses came. Maybe my girl still has it. Lucky there are enough screen shots to augment this.
I wound up doing the cinematography, sound, and scheduling while Mike picked up camera opping, gaffing, set design and various other things. Deshon was directing, cooking, shopping, making sure everyone was happy which we were. Lucky I scheduled off days and light days sprinkled through out the shoot. They came in handy.
This probably was one of the most hardest but funnest(if there is such a thing) shoot we have been on. To make up for the hard work during the day we threw parties at night. I think Deshon said his credit score went down a few notches with all the food and drinks he got. The bad thing about parties every night was we woke up later and later each day turning over to getting up in the evening. Lucky this was accounted for in the schedule where I planned the night shoots closer to the end of the project. I was mixing and matching days on the fly as we shot.
I even had a scare where I didn't know if I was dying or not. Got a crazy stress attack or something where I was getting all symptoms of a heart attack. That was scary but I made it. Lasted only a few hours I think. Matty had a nasty pinched nerve in his back where he had to lay down in between takes for a week or so. Deshon even took him to a chiropractor to help him out.
Speaking of backs... as we were shooting Stephanie did a back walkover and we were like dang, that looks creepy, we should use that in a shot. So we changed up one of the scenes to incorporate it. We shot it with her walking back to the couch and then in post we reversed the footage to make it look like she was heading to Matty. This also gave the movement a weird cadence to it which doubled the creepy factor.
Then we find out that Leah can also do the back bend thing being a cheerleader and all so we used that too.
Leah's shot was really cool. I decided to rotate the camera with her head as she came out of the back bend to lend another aspect to the creepy factor. Those blacked out eyes were great but were terror on her eyes. We had to rush through the shots with the contacts on because of the pain they put her in. Not everything is hunky-dory in film making.
A little side note on this shot.... She was supposed to be wet so I poured water on her for the shot and everyone started joking that I jumped at the opportunity to pour water on her. That lead to the water on me during one of those parties...
On to other things... did I mention I did the sound too?
Among other things we had to deal with one of them were these thousands of millipedes that would crawl up the house every night and some how get in so you would step on them in the morning. I didn't get a pic of that but we did use them in one of the last shots.
I'm guessing they were all around the house at night because of the lake right next to the house. The water was really thick with the alge and weeds so I didn't want to get in it. Kudos to Leah and Tina for taking it for the team and going in there.
Since we didn't have an effects make up artist we had a local artist come down and do what she could. We had to change the script up a bit and took out a lot of the visual scariness and added suspense instead. I have to say after watching the screening... it was a good choice. We used old school techniques of building suspense and they worked like a charm. Both the visuals and the music went hand in hand with giving the audience a sense of something was going to happen.
To make up for the stuff we had to take out we added a few things in there both VFX and practical effects. The first is my favorite and got people screaming in their seats.
I forget how exactly I came up with this shot but I had to plan it out to a Tee to make it work. It also dealt with mirrors so I had to think about that too which helps sell the effect.
First we had Richard gets out of bed and walks to the closet as if something was in there making noise. Leah is next to him in bed. Since we can see the mirror the whole time Leah had to be in her second position after we pan off her in the bed.
Here is a clip from my phone during the premiere of the movie.
Another one of these little gems was when India gets pulled around by the ghost kid Jackson. We did a mix of VFX and practical effects for this one. I think India got a little rug burn on one of the shots. Sorry!
So first we did the practical shot where after India faints from Leah jumping out at her. She is coming to and she notices she is being dragged down the hall slowly like. She then looks down and sees this.
What we did here was have her hold her leg up and we placed her on a blanket and pulled her then reversed the footage to make it look like her leg was being dragged. Then she breaks free of the hold and runs upstairs only to be snatched up again but this time more violently. She is pulled in a zig zag fashion across the floor to make it cooler than just being dragged straight.
So I shot a plate and then shot India being dragged by Ant and had to erase him in every frame. It was crazy tedious because:
1. When he was dragging her they got too close to the couch and rug and she hit them moving them over a few inches. This made me have to cut up the plate into around 8 little pieces and animate the same move but not get any of his shadows on them.
2. Both of their shadows had to be worked on. His removed and hers put back in when they over lapped his. OMG, the shadows.... you would think just use a really feathered mask to make shadows... NOPE!!!
There were a few more VFX shots but don't need to break them down. The night car lights scene was even more tedious than the dragging scene and breaking it down in a blog seems even more tedious than that.
For the shot where Ant gets pulled up and into the room was all practical. We had him crawl out into the hall way about half way and all 6 of us grabbed his legs and lifted. Not nearly as easy as it sounds. The dude is big. The first time we lifted only his legs went up and his foot went through the ceiling. You can see where we tried to fix it in this shot above her.
It took us a bunch of times to get it right because he was so heavy and we couldn't really get his top half to move like we wanted. This is as far up as we could get. It still sold the idea so...
Since we did not have a lot of blood, gore and sex in this movie we decided to go with the old school suspense as I mentioned. We prolonged scenes along with building music to put you on the edge of your seat composed by Paul Illge Jr. I met Paul on another feature shoot my partner was DPing and some how we got to talking about music. He showed me his youtube account and I saw some great potential. He was only 19 but his production quality was really good. He said he liked horror films too so at least he had an understanding of the part music plays in horror films. He did an excellent job. Here is a link to his youtube. https://www.youtube.com/user/pule54
I also did the sound design and mixing on this film which I hadn't planned on doing but it came down to the wire to get the film to Osiris Entertainment. Yes, the film got distribution before we even finished it. Youtube can produce interested distributors from trailers. We actually got 3 interested in buying the film. More on that later.
So since Osiris was breathing down our backs to get this to them before Halloween and we hadn't secured someone to mix and master yet I had to learn. I took around 3 weeks to get it to the point it's at now. The first week and a half was watching a million tutorials on youtube and lynda.com on this subject and the rest trying to implement them. I had Adobe Audition to work with but even though the tutorials were in programs like Logic and Protools the ideas carried over since the tools are the same. At the time I was using G35 gaming headphones to edit on and I wasn't sure if that was working because they make everything sound good. What I would do was do some editing then I would open a studio movie and compare how they sounded to see where I was at. The first week it all sucked.... Then as I went on into some more tutorials about frequencies I was able to get things sounding a lot better. The audio we recorded on location was from a Zoom and sounded ok but there were some scenes like when we stedicam around everyone at the lake. There were 3 people walking with camera in that 360 shot and there were leaves on the ground so we had a lot of crunching going on. It was terrible. A gaming friend of mine is also a composer and he said to try isotope RX which is a visual way to erase frequencies. It worked like a charm. The footsteps are all but gone. Thanks Mike Long! Mike also did the music for the fire scene. Here is a link to his site. http://www.mikelongmusic.com/
Besides the mixing I added all the sound effects and sound design. Over the years I have been collecting sound libraries in the off chance I would have to use them. It's almost 200 gigs worth of stuff... guess what... it takes FOREVER to go through everything and find what you are looking for(most of them are named with just numbers) and even with all of those files there were still some sounds I didn't have(like creepy kid laughs). I wonder why so many sound design compilations have so many explosions and thunder storms in them? Lucky most of the sounds are recorded well and sound great out of the box. I send everything over to Osiris thinking ok, it's done. Then I work on the short film Orange Bright and did the cinematography, editing, and sound design. In doing sound design I figured a few more things out and wanted to go back into The Lake on Clinton Road's audio and remix it. I can't talk tech on any of the audio stuff because I forgot it all! LOL.
Lucky for services like Copy.com where you can just share folders so I was able to remix the audio and send over to Osiris where they reassembled. I did notice during the premiere screening that the bass wasn't rumbling like it does on my headphones and now installed studio monitors. I guess I have to have them boost it at the theater? It's in stereo, I'm not up to 5.1 yet. :)
For editing I used Adobe Premiere because it can play back Epic footage natively and so I can have access to the R3D files for most of the duration of the edit. I was able to jump right in. I only have a 1 gig NVidia 560Ti which I had to force-recognize in Premiere by adding it to an ini file to get the Cuda cores to playback the footage in real time using the Mercury Engine thingy. I need a new card badly. I played with a few different looks in REDCINE PRO before settling on this one.
I think I had 4 different looks sprinkled though out the timeline in the first 2 edits. Then I made a LUT of the final and applied them accordingly. There is a nice little plugin that allows you to re-load all the RMD files into Premiere in one shot. Here is a link to that. http://www.fallenempiredigital.com/blog/2012/07/29/batch-reload-redcine-x-rmd-raw-adjustments-in-adobe-premiere-pro/
I had to tweak a little here and there depending on the shots but I'm happy with the final. One thing about being a DP who also edits and colors is that you can visualize what a shot is going to look like when you add curves and such. The raw may not look so good but in your head you know what you can get out of it.
Also being a film maker and a DP you shoot for the edit. You know how your shots are going to transition and fit together from editing experience and can avoid weird cuts and other weird shot mistakes. The one thing that Premiere sucked for was when I made the VFX shots I exported .TGA files and Premiere can't play those back smoothly. I had to make .mov temp place holders. I think I remembered to change it back over for final render.... hope so. The whole dynamic link with After Effects isn't playable at all with R3Ds. I learned that on the Wyclef Videos. My machine is running an i7 2600k 4 core/hyper to 8 with 32 gigs ram home built in a coolermaster case. It's enough to just plug in the USB3 drives and edit away with no transcoding.
After I did a few edits on my PC version I was able to send the project file over to my partner Mike to tweak on his Mac version of Premiere. It went cross platform and back again with no hitches.
Now the bad thing about editing from the R3D files on a feature film... THE RENDER TIME!! I don't know if compression of the R3Ds effect render time but we shot this at 8:1 on our Epic MX. I figured if I didn't have enough lights for something and had noise in the image an 8:1 should give me the leeway to do noise reduction. I didn't have to do any. :)
It takes about 3 1/2 days to render everything out so if any quick changes have to be made forget it... What I did was after all edits were locked i made a DNxHD 1080p version of the film and used that for my master. Now if there are any changes I just have to render those out and add them. I left the audio tracks how Osiris needed in case I needed to make something for them. The channels were stereo left, stereo right, dialog, music & effects left, music & effects right. You can't render out the movie like this for Bluray or online because having the multiple layers increases gain. Quick tip... if you need to add volume to something, instead of going to the clip and adding a gain plugin, just copy and paste it in the next channel and it doubles the gain. When I export for Bluray I solo the first 2 tracks.
For cinematography the biggest challenge was making 1 location interesting through out a whole movie. I mean we had like 4-5 scenes in that small ass kitchen all lit by natural light and daylight china ball. Needless to say it was a pain to shoot it differently each time. We didn't have many lights to work with so I had to make the best of it. I think we had a few china balls and a 2k. The biggest area was the living room but the china balls were able to give me the shaping I needed. We have been using our ZEISS ZFs since the days of our HVXs and they still hold up. all 1.4 except the 25mm I believe and we didn't have the Sigma 1.8 zoom yet.
I didn't worry about getting too fancy on the shots on this film. They just had to make sense and move with the story. When I could, I threw in things like the 360 around everyone, the pans into moving shots, the stedicam in the beginning of the film... Let me tell you about that... That scene was supposed to be cut up but being that everyone woke up like at 2 we didn't have much time to shoot. Why did everyone wake up at 2pm you say? Because it was the last day of shooting and we headed back to civilization the night before. Everyone decides to go to Atlantic City for a party and get fucked up. Poppin bottles YO!!! Unfortunately the opening scenes were to be shot this day and everyone looked busted. I condensed the outside scene into one long stedicam to get it done in time which worked out very well I think. It introduces all the characters as they arrive. We had just gotten the stedicam so I wasn't the smoothest with it yet and we didn't have the right battery pack so I had a wire running off of me which made the camera pull to the side a little. You can notice it when I turn the camera, there is a little delay when the wire would get caught. The audio is a little off because Deshon had to do it since Mike left us for another project the day before which left me to do the stedicam. He followed me the best he could with the mic but i noticed he was far from me some of the time. It took us a bunch of takes to get it right. I used a 5D to map it out at first, then switched to the Epic. I wish I had our DJI Ronin back then. Ok back to the fancy shots...
I'm sure every cinematographer wants to make shots that blow peoples minds when they shoot a feature but in reality when can you really do that when you are under the gun? I tried to get a good variety of shots in this film and moved the camera as much as possible. I even did some cell phone footage during the drive there scene. I wanted it shot the tall way to make sure people knew it was really a cell phone. We rehearsed a few times and then sent them down the road to film. Leah did an excellent job the first time out. We just needed a few more takes to fill in some spots of missed dialog. We did hand held for most of the film but held it as steady as possible so not to feel hand held. Mike did a great job handing the camera. One thing about hand held scenes is that you have to make sure you get enough takes to cover you if the characters are moving around a lot. This scene was really hard to edit but I got enough coverage to make it work. The actors did different things each take like turn and bend down which made it that much harder to put together. What we did was try to stay on a single character each time. Sometimes when they would move too much we would switch to another character to try to keep the camera smooth and switch back when we could. Some of the edits don't match exactly but I don't think anyone will notice.
All in all I'm happy with what we shot besides the scene where they are watching the video on the laptop. We shot that the day after Atlantic City also. There is only one shot I really hate but we had to use is when she throws up the seaweed. They moved right under the light so it gets really bright but we didn't get more than one angle for some reason. I tried to fix it by animating curves but it's still noticeable to me. Sleep derivation may have played a part in this. Sleep? Who has time to sleep?
So at the end of the day we basically busted our asses making this film with little money and took on everything ourselves learning some things on the way. This movie is definitely one of those films where if you see it you would never know it was just 3 crew members. We released our first trailer and within a week we got over 10k hits and sure enough, we got emails from 3 different distribution companies looking for a screener. I say sure enough because a few years ago we released another film's trailer and it got over 10k hits within a week and Sony hit us up looking for view the first 10 minutes of the film. I think 10k might be the magic number if your trailer looks good. We take pride in the fact that our production value is high in everything we shoot.
Anyways, we sent them the first rough cut of the movie and they sent contracts back wanting the film but said to cut it down. At that point the rough cut was like 2 1/2 hours-ish. We cut out A LOT! I have to say the movie moves along at a nice pace now. There is a slow spot around 45 minutes in but it's not that bad.
I tell you, after looking at this thing a million times I'm numb to it all. I sent the fine cut to a few teens to see what they thought and they all said they got scared but I took that with a grain of salt. I thought yeah, this will go to video on demand like Netflix and that's it. Well after going to the premiere Deshon held in NJ in a nice big 300 seat theater I was impressed. It was like watching the movie for the first time. I even laughed at times from the dialog. We pulled in 340 people and I from what I experienced in the middle of the theater, I think this could hold up in a theater run. I was really happily surprised at the vocal reactions to all the scare scenes and the people laughed at the dialog. When I say laughed, I mean they were feeling what they were saying. When interviewing people after they said it felt real with how they dealt with situations and reacted which made them laugh. For example... Mark, witnesses one of the guys being yanked into the lake at blistering speed. He goes on to say "ghosts are white people shit, black folk don't do ghosts" and that he's not scared. Then later after some other things happen he goes to Alex and says "You happy? Now I'm scared" for some reason people really cracked up at that. The clip I posted earlier with the reactions was from that screening. The next one we will put up gopros facing the audience. :)
That's it for now and if you read this before January 7th 2015, you can see this in a theater also.. Here is a link to buy tickets for it.
Here is the trailer to the film.