Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cast and crew.

Over in the blog comments, someone asked for a listing of the Interplanetary cast and crew. So here, off the top of my head, it is.

The actors:

Melissa Bush
Mia Frost
Chuck Hartsell
Kyle Holman
Sylvester Little, Jr.
Amanda Myers
Michael Shelton
Kevin Van Hyning

Special guest stars (to name but a few):

Barry Austin
Nick Crawford
Chris Garrison
Jeff Hallman
Sanford Hardy
Chris Hartsell
Richard Kirby
Lisa Mason
Kyle McKinnon
Rod Robinson

The crew:

Behind-the-scenes stills: George Smyly
Documentarian: Julia Lewis
Audio stuff: Kenn McCracken
Lighting Ninja: Chris Hilleke
Costume Designer: Peyton Blankenship
Music Composer: Eric McGinty
Art Director (or is it "Production Designer?"): Carl Ross
Director of Photography: Jim Roberson
Producers: Stacey Shirley and John White

And I'm the writer/director.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Now showing in HD.

When I get a couple of free hours (ha), I'll write the epic post about our trip to the lab on Friday to witness the transfer of Day One footage to high def. Until then, here are a few screen grabs from the footage.




Chuck cropped to widescreen, just for kicks...

Click any of the pictures if you want to see the full-sized high def version. Also, I wish I could show you more, but the Day One stuff is full of what the kids on the Internet would call "spoilers."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day One details (cont'd).

I've mentioned before that we designed the sets for Mars Base Two in a modular way. Take a few flats, line 'em up, and you've got the walls for the "Steve" character's room. Move a few of those walls, add some more, and you've got the walls for the Engineering Lab. It's a simple plan on paper, but the actual execution can be time-consuming.

Actually, we got the walls for the Engineering Lab set up quickly on Day One. I'd guess we started this process around 4 or 5 p.m. But the Engineering Lab is a pretty big room, 20' x 12', and it's full of all kinds of gadgets, shelves, and tables. There's even an outer space diorama. And Engineering is bigger than Steve's room, so we had to move lights around to cover the increased space.

(Me, Mars, and Stacey.)

It was probably 7 p.m. before we were ready to shoot in Engineering, maybe a little later. Michael went out for pizza at some point, so there was some eating of dinner happening during the setup. I'd originally hoped to have the actors done with their stuff by 8 o'clock, but I was starting to realize that this probably wasn't going to happen.

We didn't assemble all the Engineering walls at first. Jim and I had planned some shots using "wild" walls, meaning we'd leave out some of the walls not seen in the shots so we'd have more flexibility with our camera movements. Speaking of camera movements, we started using the dolly at this point. The dolly allows for nice, smooth tracking shots, but it's also one more thing to set up, break down, and move around between shots. And doing a dolly move isn't as easy as it looks, so it tends to add at least a couple of rehearsals to each shot.

(Engineering Lab, minus the "wild" walls.)

As you might guess, at this point there weren't really any quick setups. Every new shot required resetting and rehearsing the dolly or the addition of a wall or two. On top of the usual actor rehearsal, light metering, and measuring for focus. So midnight came and went and we still had three shots we needed to get.

(Peyton adjusts Chuck's space suit.)

I think it was around this time that I almost lost it. I remember looking at the script and my shot notes and not being able to figure out what any of it meant. I should mention here that we don't really shoot coverage. Coverage, in a nutshell, means having the actors run the scene several times while the camera covers the scene from several different angles. Sometime multiple cameras are used to get multiple angles at the same time. Then, at some later time, an editor takes all the footage and figures out how to cut it into a coherent scene.

(John stands in for Amanda while Chuck rehearses a scene.)

We're shooting on film, Fuji Super 16mm, and film ain't cheap. So we figure out how we're going to edit the scene beforehand and just shoot the bits we need. I couldn't figure out what bit we needed at this point, I was past tired, and I was about to panic. Thankfully, John took me aside and did what all good producers must do on occasion -- he told me everything was going to be okay. He was right. I went back to the set, Jim and I figured out the shot, and we got it in two takes. Then Jim and Stacey suggested a third take for protection. I jokingly protested with a line from Ed Wood: "What's to protect? It was perfect!" I doubt that's the last time I'll say that on an Interplanetary set.

As late and cold as it was, cast and crew stuck it out until we completed our last shot around 2 a.m. One more note about the cold -- I love our Aaton camera, but it will occasionally jam when the temperature is low. It locked up on the second take of the last shot -- the first time that ever happened to me while shooting indoors. Brrr.

(Michael operates the boom mic from on high.)

John, Jim, and I took a few minutes to drink a beer and discuss the day. John said that it had been a very long day, but he felt the things we spent time doing were all adding to the production value of the shots. I think he was right. I'm very anxious to see the day's footage and find out for sure.

Photos courtesy of George Smyly.

Chuck in space.

Michael just sent me this great photo of Chuck in his space suit from Day One...

Day One negative: positive.

I just heard from CineFilm, the lab in Atlanta that's processing the film for Interplanetary. The "negative report" for the Day One footage we sent them is good. This means that there was no major camera, shipping, or processing catastrophe, and that there is some kind of viable image on the film negative.

We'll drive over Friday to supervise the film-to-tape transfer and see exactly what kind of image we captured.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More Day One photos.

Here are a few more photos from Day One, courtesy of George Smyly.

Carl and Kenn McCracken in the "Hallway" outside Steve's room...

Carl and Jim check the helmet's audio wiring...

Kenn recording audio...

Setting up for a shot...

Hilleke adjusting a light or two...

"Steve's" room -- our first shooting set...

Jimbo works the tilt while Hilleke, I, Chuck, and Stacey watch the monitor...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Day One details.

Peyton, our costume designer on Interplanetary, met me at my place, and we left for Atrox around 7:30 Saturday morning. Call time for the actors wasn't until 10:30, but there was still a lot to do before we could roll the camera. Heck, there was still a lot to do before we could load the camera.

The crew and I had been pushing hard to make our Saturday date because it was one of our two days to shoot with actress Amanda Myers. When I'd booked her a few weeks ago, February 17 seemed a long way off. Next thing I know, it was February 16, it was late, and John and I were still at Atrox, trying to get a few more things ready. I finally gave up -- I still had to go home and charge the cam batteries -- nowhere near prepared for shooting.

It's no surprise that, by noon on Saturday, we still hadn't rolled camera, though I did get it loaded by that point. Cast and crew were getting hungry, so we decided to eat lunch before shooting anything.

(Here's Todd, Julia Lewis [our documentarian], and John.)


We weren't running late because of any slacking, though. Carl and Todd Hornsby were putting the finishing touches on our first set, the "Steve" character's living quarters, and it was really starting to look like a room in an underground base on Mars. Or my idea of such a room, at least. John got our first space helmet finished up, and it, too, was looking great. And Jimbo and Chris Hilleke were checking the lights and figuring out the camera setup for the first shot.

After lunch, we finally rolled that first shot, a relatively simple pan around the room to reveal the "Steve" character, played by Michael Shelton. The shot did take advantage of the Aaton camera's recently-installed video tap. Jimbo was operating the camera without even looking at the camera -- he was framing the shot using a 7" video monitor that displayed a black and white image generated by the tap. You see this kind of thing all the time in behind-the-scenes footage from Hollywood movies, but I'd never used a tap on any of the film projects I'd worked on before.

(Me, watching the feed off the video tap.)

And the tap is cool. Dragging a monitor around takes a little extra time, but I think it's worth it to have two (or more) pairs of eyes on the shot. And it makes framing a shot easier. Instead of Jim and I taking turns looking through the camera viewfinder, I can see what he's seeing via the tap, and we can usually come to an agreement on the framing pretty quickly.

I forgot to mention, it was cold Saturday. I think the high was supposed to be in the 40s. And Atrox is so huge, we haven't even bothered trying to figure out how to turn the heat on. It'd probably take a week for the building to heat up, and I don't even want to think about the electricity bill.

Our second shot of the day featured Amanda wearing a space helmet. About ten seconds after she got into the helmet, which is basically a clear acrylic ball, it started fogging up. Thankfully, somebody (Hugo Marx or Hilleke, if I recall) was smart enough to run down to the auto parts store and get some Rain-X. Rain-X is the stuff you can apply to your car's windshield to keep it from fogging up in the rain. It also works on space helmets. I wonder if NASA knows that little trick?

(The helmet fogs up.)

The cold was also hard on our actors. We crew members could wear whatever we wanted, but the actors were stuck with their movie clothes, and neither Amanda's nor Michael's characters were wearing much. Michael finally resorted to laying on the set's bunk and covering himself in blankets between takes. Stacey set up some space heaters in a small room near the set, so Amanda could hang out there while we changed setups.

(Amanda, bundled up between takes, and John.)

We got some good stuff from Amanda and Michael and finished up shooting on that first set sometime mid-afternoon. I'll fill you in on the second half of the day in my next post.

Photos courtesy of George Smyly.

Day One of Production.

So we survived Day One of Production. I'll post some details after I've fully recovered. In the meantime, here are a few photos.

Actor Michael Shelton...

Actress Amanda Myers...

Actor Chuck Hartsell...

Producer Stacey Shirley and director of photography Jim Roberson...

Lighting ninja Chris Hilleke...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

T minus 70 hours...

...and counting. That's how long it is 'til Day One of Production for Interplanetary. As we're still not quite ready, I'll keep this post short -- just a few photos from the last few days, starting with the beginnings of a space helmet.

We were excited when John cut the first hole (for the hose), and the sphere didn't shatter into a million pieces.

Crewless cohort Chuck Hartsell stepped in Saturday to do some 2nd unit directing. Here he is talking to actor/deputy sheriff Rod Robinson about the next shot.

John posed for a moment so I could see what kind of light we're getting from Carl's newly installed over-the-door fixture.

Tom started getting the lines of the Mars buggy defined (in steel!). I think this thing's going to end up lean and mean.

Finally, here I am, trying to actually get prepared by putting together a shot list in advance of Day One of Production.

Friday, February 9, 2007

It's coming together.

We're a little more than a week away from Day One of Production. And there's still much work to be done. But we got a lot knocked out this week. For example...

Received our first "branded" props: two Interplanetary Corporation coffee mugs from Cafe Press.

If you ever need a short run of props featuring a custom logo, Cafe Press is a pretty good way to go. Plus, you can sell replicas of your props to your many fans. That being said, if any of you would like your own Interplanetary coffee mug, they're available now for only $10.99 (plus shipping and handling).

Director of photography Jim Roberson stopped by, and we planned out the first day of shooting. Helping out Carl and John with the production design/building has been a blast (and an education), but I was glad to finally get some actual shooting preparation done. Jim and I got the first day of shooting whittled down to only 10 or 15 shots -- on paper, at least. We'll hopefully get together at Atrox this weekend, walk through the shots, and see how they hold up on the actual set.

Speaking of sets, John and I got more walls assembled Tuesday night.

These walls are going to serve as the basis for several rooms inside Mars Base Two, including the engineering lab and Steve's bedroom, the two locations we're using for Day One of Production. John and I left several of the walls "wild," meaning they're relatively easy to move in and out, to facilitate more flexible camera placement.

John and I also started laying out switches and lights for our sci-fi control consoles.

And my mom, who is the best mom in the world (no, I'm not biased), started helping out costume designer Peyton by taking over some space suit sewing duties.

And I ordered a couple of thousand dollars worth of Fuji film stock from Ever hear those stories about the scrappy indie film producer who talked somebody into donating a bunch of film stock for their scrappy production? I've had trouble getting anybody to sell me the stuff lately.

Some sales people have been slow with returning calls and emails, and some haven't returned them at all. So I was happy when Darren at Film Emporium was quick to respond to my email, immediately picked up the phone when I called, and had answers to all my questions. On top of that, he discounted the film he sold me a penny per foot (that adds up when you're talking about thousands of feet of film). The next time you need some Fuji (or Kodak if you want to spend more per foot) for a flick, don't even bother with the other guys. Call Film Emporium and ask for Darren.

Believe it or not, that's not all. Crewless co-owner Chuck Hartsell is shooting some 2nd unit stuff for INTERPLANETARY tomorrow, I talked to the lab (CineFilm in Atlanta) about processing and transferring the footage from the upcoming First Day of Production, John got the steel that Tom will use to build the Mars buggy... but I'll write more about that stuff after the fact (and after I get photos).

A banner day for independent filmmaking.

Just got back from the local Target. Got two office chairs for $19.99 each, eight rolls of paper towels for $5.50, hand soap for $1 a bottle... good deals all over the place.

During the making of a movie, I spend a lot of time worrying about the cost of film stock, props, lumber for sets... and it's easy to forget about all of the other stuff you need. Like paper towels and hand soap. A penny saved is a penny earned, especially when you're making an epic sci-fi/horror movie on a tiny budget, so it's a good idea to keep an eye out for bargains on the less-obvious items that come in handy on the set when the camera isn't rolling.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


NASA space suits always have a patch on them, usually specific to a particular mission. You can see several examples at AB Emblem's Web site.

Since we have space suits in Interplanetary, I figured we need patches, too, so I asked Ted Speaker to take the Interplanetary Corporation logo he'd already designed and turn it into something that'd look good as a 3" x 3" circle. He came up with...

I love the design, and I love the approach Ted took in creating it. After first confessing to being a science fiction/astronomy/physics nut (aren't we all?), he explained:

"You probably already know some of this, but... the major key to unlocking the secrets of space travel, the physical universe, and the theory of everything is a unified field theory -- a theory that bridges quantum mechanics with relativity (E = M C squared), or the bridge between the very very large and the very very small."

"So, on the patch, the stars represent Einstein's relativity and the atomic model represents quantum theory. And of course the Pi symbol 'appears routinely in equations describing fundamental principles of the Universe, due in no small part to its relationship to the nature of the circle and, correspondingly, spherical coordinate systems.'"

Monday, February 5, 2007

That didn't take long.

We haven't even loaded the film into the camera yet, but we already got some press on Interplanetary:

Be warned, said press is in Italian (I think). From what I could tell from the Babelfish translation, Marco at SplatterContainer is looking forward to Interplanetary. I'll have to remember to mention that when we start looking to get the movie released overseas.