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.