Unleash the Steampunk!

Time for an update on our long-awaited web serial. Things are moving fast now, so I will be posting much more frequently! As a reminder, here is the test scene we shot as a proof of concept – click through to watch the video…

Voidship_overhead



This was a great experience – cast and crew were wonderfully enthusiastic, the CG sets are fantastic, and we’re very happy with the results. Now it’s time to repeat the process on a grander scale to create 8 episodes of about 8 minutes each. It’s comparable to shooting a feature.

The most important news is that the project has a new title. “Winter” has been a great working title, but it doesn’t convey anything about the story. So henceforth the flagship story of the Voidships world will be…

“The Lazarus Machine”.

And we’re going to need more help. We have a KickStarter campaign poised to launch, and a lot of very exciting news to reveal, particularly if you’re a fan of great actors, steampunk music or behind-the-scenes VFX breakdowns. We have all manner of ways to keep track of our progress, and we need you to share our ramblings with anyone who likes steampunk, or independent filmmaking, or science fiction, or good drama:

  • Email! Go to monstrousproductions.com and sign up to the mailing list.
  • Twitter! Follow @Voidships or @adaddinsane or @Qixotl.
  • Google+! Join The Lazarus Machine community.
  • In fact…check out the G+ community right now for our first casting reveal!

    Advertisements

    First Steps to World Domination

    So, it’s been a while. Sometimes I get very busy at work, so not a lot of filmmaking happens. But this weekend writer Steve and I met for a discussion of the Winter project and set some short-term goals, so it feels like things are moving again.

    The chief difficulty with a greenscreen project is that it requires vastly more preproduction than a conventional shoot – although actual production is logistically simpler. Every virtual set needs to be concepted, blocked out, lit and tested in a rough cut beforehand. The actual shoot will be entirely in one room with very careful lighting changes, and focused on helping the actors feel comfortable performing in a green void. I’m inclined to shoot chronologically on this project because the whole story will feel so much more coherent to the cast that way.

    But to get that far, we require the application of considerable artistic talent, for an unreasonable length of time. It’s hard enough to find collaborators who can generously spare a weekend for shooting, let alone weeks of late nights hunched over a computer. The guerilla filmmaking model doesn’t really work for what we’re trying to do.

    Fortunately, it’s not a roadblock – just an uphill struggle. We have a plan for building a pool of committed talent, and as Steve refines the script I’m going to refine the list of assets we require – replacing some full 3D sets with digital mattes, and re-using assets wherever possible.

    Step one is to kick things off with a signature image – our first item of pitch material. This will be our best tool (other than our winning personalities) to attract talent and investment. I’ll let you know how that goes.

    There’s also the small but critical detail of coming up with a name for our alternative steampunk universe, which I suspect will be by far the hardest task…suggestions welcome!

    Teaser details for “Winter”

    Scriptwriter extraordinaire Steve Turnbull has announced details of our latest project on his blog, adaddinsane. This is the flagship project in our shared story-world, which is very exciting because the setting Steve has created is far too rich to fully explore in one short serial.

    The words “epic” and “independent” are strange bedfellows, but I think we have the right mix of skills to pull it off. I’m particularly impressed with the script – it’s technically draft 2, but in practice it’s a complete rewrite, bringing the core storyline into our shared world. Somehow Steve has managed to fix all the issues various readers had with draft one, AND throw in a host of additional layers of story.

    Head on over to his blog for some tantalising hints about the story – we’ll reveal more details once pre-production starts in earnest…

    Monsters trailer shoot wrapped!

    My knee hurts.

    Somehow in all the running to and fro between the location and our “trailer” (Steve’s house) I did something to it, and now it’s a bit swollen and painful to bend it. It’s particularly ironic since our volunteer stunt team spent two solid hours hurling each other into walls, kicking each other, lying in freezing puddles and – in one case – getting kicked in the head. And they all went home unscathed, I hope. They were fantastic, and we have some really brutal-looking footage for our fight scene. So much so that we’re planning to re-edit the mini-pilot to include this fight, because it won’t all fit in the trailer and it would be a travesty for no-one to see the whole choreographed sequence.

    Our make-up artist Donna did an amazing job, travelling from London on short notice to do fairly extensive facial prosthetics. These were required for very brief shots, but ones which were wholly dependent on makeup for their impact. She had obviously spent some time working on these before the shoot and had even prepared some additional pieces just in case we needed them!

    Our Director of Photography was forced to pull out a week before the shoot (one of the hazards of expenses-only projects) but we were saved by John, who stepped in with about 48 hours notice. I’m very glad he did, as his eye was invaluable, and his camerawork far better than mine.

    So a big thank you to the entire cast and crew – everyone was enthusiastic, even though some spent most of their time waiting for something to do. And finally…thanks to Steve for producing this shoot himself.

    Time to get cracking on the edit…

    Fun and games with the Canon 5D

    I’ve just spent half-an-hour going through the settings on the 5D we’ve hired for our Monsters pickup shoot. I had hoped to use the lenses from my wife’s 350D, but they don’t fit – the 5D has a monster mirror to go with the monster sensor, and EFS lenses are too deep to allow it to flip up!

    So I had to hire a lens from their limited selection – most of the primes were out. I’ve got a 16-35, which goes from awesomely wide to…still pretty wide. I’ll have to get within a foot of the cast to get any close-ups, but the centrepiece of today’s shoot is a fight scene, which I’ll be shooting handheld, so the wide lens will minimise wobble. DSLRs are notoriously hard to hold still, but I’m used to a camcorder that weighs even less, so I have a few tricks that will help. I’m gonna be holding it out in front of me all day though, so by tonight my arms are going to be screaming. How I suffer for my art!

    It’s a great camera though. Just tinkering indoors I can get a lovely soft bokeh behind the cats…if only they’d keep still. Looking forward to blocking out today’s shots. Spotted a couple of nice wide angles I want to use in an X-Files repeat last night, which was serendipitous.

    I’d hoped to catch up with my making-of posts by now – particularly the previous Monsters shoot – but what the hell. I’ll post a report and some stills tomorrow anyway.

    More Monsters shooting…

    Under a week now to our Monsters pickup shoot on Saturday, and we’ve just lost our DoP, which is unfortunate. We’re just filming a handful of action scenes and dramatic reveals of characters who didn’t make the mini-pilot, which I’m looking forward to – should have time to experiment a bit with the blocking and framing, which is a nice luxury.

    I’ll post more regularly in the run-up to and aftermath of this shoot. Not long to the deadline for the Trailer Festival!

    Finding a Niche

    I’ve been trying to learn Blender on and off for a few days. Sadly I’m too busy at work and prepping for next week’s Monsters pickups to really get into it, but there’s certainly a wealth of tutorial material, and lots of inspiring examples.

    I’ve also recently followed a bunch of other filmmakers on Twitter, to the extent that my feed is swamped with examples of low-to-no budget films. It’s motivating to know what other people are doing, but also slightly intimidating. How will I get anyone to notice my work amongst so many?

    But the conjuction of these two preoccupations made me think – I can stand out by playing to my strengths. My fascination with VFX and experience with CG in video games puts me a rung or two above many professional directors (in that field, at least), let alone film school graduates. Rather than playing safe with simple contemporary dramas, like everyone else, I should be working on more ambitious effects films – because in that niche, I will stand out.

    I could be wrong, of course. Time will tell. But the Monsters pickups will require some effects work to properly convey the full scope of the story, so we’ll soon see if a few VFX help a project stand out…