How to Economize Your Film Shoot

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be fully prepared for each day of shooting before you arrive on set that day. We learned this the hard way on the set of Death Grip, particularly on the Museum shoot at the Petaluma Historical Museum.

Writer / Director Eric Jacobus discovered how much not having a well thought out shooting script can really slow things down on set. Director of Photography Drew Daniels and Eric managed to work around it together the first day of the two-day Museum shoot. But the second day, they came better prepared with a solid idea of which scenes to shoot in what order based on the area of the location and the setup each required. Armed with that, the day went much more smoothly than the day before, and we all left the set feeling much more satisfied with what we’d gotten done.

To further illustrate this point, here’s another exclusive behind-the-scenes video, shot and edited by Alex Ng, where Eric explains more about shot economizing and other important stuff we learned at the Petaluma Museum set.

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The Value of Pickups

After over three months since the completion of principal photography, we discovered we needed a few more shots. So we decided to film some pickups this past weekend, including an entirely new fight scene.

The beauty of filming pickups is that it allows you to set up jokes or explain action you didn’t “sell” enough later in the film. You can strategically place a significant prop that will be referenced later in the story, or use a specific martial arts move that has meaning for a character. Now it can be tempting to do this too much – i.e. “let’s reference that pitcher of water in the background at the end of the movie too!” – but you run the risk of becoming hokey. We did manage to hold ourselves back reasonably well though, and only did it with a few things, so hopefully that means that we’ll come off more “witty” than “hokey”.

That is of course provided the new footage looks exactly the same as with the rest of the film. To ensure this, that meant renting about $600 worth of equipment for two days of filming, plus hiring 7 people for cast & crew, at a cost of over $1,000. Continuity isn’t cheap, but the last thing we want is for the film to become disjointed at the 8-minute mark.

And this is also all provided you forget you read this post (and the corresponding post on The Actionist) when you see the film. 🙂

How Many Takes it Takes: To Get One Long Shot

If you’re a connoisseur of fight scenes, then you’d know that many fight scenes in this modern movie making age are a compilation of cuts and edits that highlight the actor’s movements. Some times the edits are to emphasize certain movements, but most of the time they are done in a way that makes an actor (who doesn’t know how to fight) look like they know how to fight. True martial arts prowess is not demonstrated through a fight scene with all these jarring cuts and edits, but rather through wider angles and (if you dare it) longer shots.

Since we boast that Rise And Fail’s action centers around fights that do showcase martial arts ability, we tend to prefer these long shots that allow the audience to fully grasp the extent of our actor’s skills.

While this sounds like a great idea, the problem is that with longer shots, there are a lot more places to make mistakes – one wrong move and you have to start the whole sequence all over again.

Watch this video to see for yourself the effort (and number of takes) it took to make a single long shot.

Really makes you appreciate these long fight scenes a lot more, doesn’t it?

Filming Equipment: The Jib

We had handy a great many useful pieces of equipment on the set of Rise And Fail. But one we did not think to bring in until very late, which turned out to be possibly the most valuable of all, was The Jib.

Our Cinematographer Drew Daniels quickly found himself married to this handy all-in-one wonder tool. Not only did it create some gorgeous shots, but its maneuverability allowed Drew to get a wide variety of steady shots without having to readjust a clunky tripod. The jib can double as a tripod, a dolly, a crane — pretty much anything you want — all-in-one! It’s the super spectacular jib, and we got to use one for our film!

Listen to Rise And Fail’s Writer & Director Eric Jacobus talk more about this wonder tool, and what we had to do to get it.

Filming Locations: Museum Bathroom

Note: This is part of a series. Find the first post here: Film Location: The Museum

Now, you might think that a bathroom set would be an easy thing to procure. After all, restroom facilities are plentiful and can be found in nearly every building where people reside (this is a direct cause of most civilized people’s preference to use specialized waste facilities rather than taking a shit in the woods). However, finding a bathroom set for “Rise And Fail” became a bit difficult when we gave our requirements: 1. It had to be the right size for a fight sequence. 2. Other people wouldn’t be allowed in it for a few days. 3. We wanted to destroy it.

With these criteria in mind (especially #3), it’s no surprise we had trouble finding someone willing to loan their bathroom to us (I say loan, but we’d really be destroying it, so it’d be more accurate to say “giving it to us”). So instead, we decided to build a bathroom of our own!

Here are a few shots of the set:

This is the Before shot of what the area looked like.

This is the aftershot. As evidenced by these photos, we can see that Eric does a lot of sitting around. But at least he manages to change his clothes to fit the scene.

The Bathroom from another angle.

You might be asking “How did you turn that musky old warehouse into a pristine bathroom?” (Oh, you weren’t asking that? Well, whatever I’ll tell you anyways). The answer is quite simple, but involves several steps.

First, our production designer Ejay Ongaro erected a wall of 2×4’s and sheet rock to partition the warehouse into a space appropriately sized for a bathroom. After we painted the walls and the floor their respective colors, Ejay returned to erect the stalls, add the toilets and sink, and a few more decorative set pieces. Then we finished it off by adorning the room with flowers and lights and pretty framed pictures – anything we’d be willing to break.

Unfortunately, we don’t have many photos involving the construction of the bathroom, since we used all our time and energy documenting the destruction of the bathroom. And while much of that footage will be used in the actual film (that I won’t spoil for you), I’m sure we’ll be able to procure a few Behind The Scenes clips and photos of the destruction for you in an upcoming post. So stay tuned!

Filming Locations: The Museum

This is part of a series

You can find the other one here: Film Location-Bathroom

As you may already know, “Rise And Fail” is filmed entirely in northern California, around the San Francisco bay area. In the next few posts of this series, we will be looking at the various locations where we have filmed, as well as prospects that had once been location hopefuls.

The Museum Scene:

In “Rise And Fail”, the museum serves as a very central and key location: That is, where the Coin of Judas is first seen and several important characters of the film are introduced. As such, it was important to find a location that was fitting for such a scene – one which wouldn’t look out of place holding an antique coin…. something rather like a museum. And we found it, the Petaluma Historical Museum in Petaluma, CA!

No place more fitting for resembling a museum than a museum right? Actually, I have no idea why it says “free public library”, as it is clearly a museum on the inside.

As luck would have it, our filming schedule fell right when the museum was in between exhibits and therefore shut to the public! So we managed to squeeze in a few days, installing a whole exhibit to match the theme of the Coin of Judas: a Roman themed exhibit. Now to be clear, we aren’t talking about togas and pita bread (that’s Greek anyways), but rather glass cases filled with gold and red Roman shields and armor resembling that worn by the Spartans in the movie “300” (or Spartacus if you prefer to be historically accurate).

Something you’d wear to a Ren Fair.

his merry men wore this too

And to top it off, the scene necessitated having polished-looking members of society to attend the showing of the renowned Coin, which meant finding extras with that certain… something. Not an easy task, but I think we did alright. Since you can’t see the whole scene yet, here are a few shots to whet your appetite:

Commentary (sidenotes):

It might be of interest to you to know that all of the exhibit pieces featured in the film were supplied by our Production Designer Ejay Ongaro, who just happened to have boxes of Roman weapons and full suits of armor lying around in a warehouse somewhere. How odd, imagine that as a sort of conversation starter, “Did you know that 99 out of 100 men don’t have suits of Roman Armor in their storage? I’m quite rare, you see…” While I doubt people will immediately begin worshiping the ground you walk on, I have little doubt that they won’t really be able to argue that having suits of armor is quite the rare trait.

As a piece of trivia, this is also the scene that required having the most extras on set.

Bloody Screen: Creating the Effect, the Easy Way

If you’ve lived on the planet earth the past decade and have heard of video games, then you have probably heard of the First Person Shooter genre (Call of Duty, or Battlefield for instance) and the trademark “bloody screen” effect that shows whenever your character gets hurt. Now if you think about it, this effect is a little odd- as it basically would be the equivalent of bleeding profusely from your eyes whenever you get shot or cut. But despite it’s weirdness and counter-intuitive qualities, it makes sense to us- and also works quite well.

Imagine your eyes bleeding like this everytime you got hurt in any part of your body. It wouldn’t be pretty, but then again, you probably wouldn’t be able to see it.

However, despite how inappropriate it is for when you get shot in the chest or in the leg, it is obviously appropriate for when you get blood in your eyes. Which is why we tried to replicate the effect in one scene.

Obviously, the scene in mind was one in which one of our characters had blood thrown in their eyes. The simple answer to get the effect was to just spit directly onto the camera. But anyone who has owned mildly expensive camera equipment would be able to tell you that camera equipment is not the short of cheap durable and disposable item that you can throw detergent-based fake blood (i’ll explain in another post) on without massive repercussions.

So we went with plan B: Find a glass or plastic pane and use it as a sort of splash shield. Luckily we have a massive list of supplies in the warehouse we were filming in, unluckily we needed to clean them off and remove any scratches that were on the pane using our rather useless.

Side Rant: You know those “plastic cleaner” pads that come with plastic cases? No? Well, good. They are worthless. Seriously, I don’t know if it was the ones that we had or what, but for something that is meant to “clean, fix scratches, polish and buff plastic” it’s never failed so hard on so many levels. Polishing the dirty screen with those wipes was like rubbing coarse sandpaper over a chipped window, each wipe caused more scratches than it fixed (this was post wash cloth), it smeared the screen more than it polished it, and it clearly didn’t make it cleaner. I was on the verge of punching my fist through the pane of glass before we found the miracle-fix in the windex  and made things better again. /Rant.

Here are some shots of the aftermath:

We ghetto-ed it out. It resembles an old fashioned camera set up. All we need now is the phosphorus lamps.

Bloody Screen.