Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Podcast Interview with Hollywood 2.0

Last week I did an interview for the podcast Hollywood 2.0, run by Peter Katz and Rich Silverman. In the 50 minute interview, we discuss how I got my start, the work I'm doing at Dare to Pass, Level 26 and Cybergeddon. Enjoy!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dig: Online Premiere

Winner: Silver Screen Award (Short Film Competition) - Nevada Film Festival

Official Selection:
2011 LA Shorts Fest
2011 Carmel Art & Film Festival
2011 NewFilmmakersLA (Fall)
2012 Durango Independent Film Festival
2012 Beverly Hills Film Festival
2012 Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival
2012 Dances with Films
2012 HollyShorts Film Festival
2012 Action on Film International Film Festival

Beware! This post might wander into self-deprecating mode if I'm not careful (though it might have already).

Dig was and remains an incredibly important film for me on a number of fronts. It was the first film I directed that I didn't feel was shortchanged in any way, it was the first film where I wasn't continually bothered by something in it, and I feel was a real elevation of my work, essentially helping to kickstart me both in regards to my career and my aesthetic. 

You can follow the writing, pre-production and post-production phases of the film by starting at the bottom of this page with the post titled In Preparation for Writing Dig and scrolling upwards.

It's funny to look back on these posts from more than two years ago. Hard for me to believe that it's been that long and I'm only just now releasing the film online. As you can see from the list above, the film enjoyed a healthy festival run, though not as healthy as I would have liked (more on that later). Had I know the film would only play in a handful of festivals, mostly in the LA area, and won no awards save one, I would have probably just released it online and been done with it. But I honestly felt like it had a really good chance. It was, in many ways, designed for it. 

A tough subject matter. Recognizable actors. High production values. High level crew. But it was not meant to be. As rejection after rejection rolled through and award after award was handed off to other filmmakers, I was left wondering what happened. 

I had festivals tell me they rejected me due to my choice of actors. Another, because they had already programmed two features that were about the holocaust. Festivals in which I had other films, much lesser quality films, rejected me. I couldn't even get the film played in my home town of Seattle, WA. One festival offered to provide filmmakers with the judges written comments about the film:

1. I never thought that I would find a "holocaust" film interesting, ever again.  This is the one, the subject was treated in an original way, it was beautifully filmed and the production values in general were very high.  I appreciated how the desolate landscape reflected the desolation of the boy.  The actors were both good choices and had good direction.  The cinematography was innovative in it's use of shadows and sharpness/blurriness.  The music enhanced the drama and came to a crescendo at the perfect moment.

2. This short works mostly because of its incredible production values. The midsection is draggy, and the plot is a little weak, however the performances and the direction help make this work. Notably Mark Margolis, who it’s always a pleasure to see (and wonderfully in a leading role). The atmosphere and cinematography are top-rate, and the film has a beautifully crisp color palette.

3.  I loved blending the exploration of morality,Nietzsche's ideas along with the discussion of the students and the kidnapped Nazi in this thought stirring short.The actors did a great job of showing a range of emotions without overplaying them and engaging the viewer to feel those emotions.The struggles between ideology and the characters reality were apparent and left a lasting reflection for the viewer once the film was over. It presents some challenging thoughts on moral code.The lighting the cinematogtraphy and music were perfect in enhancing the story.

They rejected us as well.

Now, I'm not writing this post seeking sympathy. I'm not trying to make you feel sorry for me. The film has brought me a lot, including advancements in career and more directing opportunities. It's a film I'm incredibly proud of. I put everything I had into the making of this film. Nearly every screening has brought positive comments from Festival staff and the audience about the acting, cinematography and music. Mark Margolis who plays Heinrich in the film told me that he thought it was one of his best performances (this was after he had played Uncle Tio in Breaking Bad for which he received an Emmy nomination). 

In fact, I don't really know why I'm writing this post. I think that if this had played in 100 film festivals, won Sundance, and got me a three picture directing deal, this post would be easy. "Look at me, I'm amazing." But when I started this blog I told you that I would be honest about the process, about the ups and downs and my reaction to them.

I guess that, at the end of the day, I'm surprised. Unless everyone I know was bullshitting me, I got excellent feedback on the film. Travis thinks it was the length and at the end of the day, it might have been. 26 minutes is long for a short. We had endless debates about whether we should cut it down and resubmit but I knew that would take time and money and it wasn't guaranteed to make the film better.

To some degree, I had the luxury of not needing to cut it down. I could make the film that I wanted to make. And so I did. And Dig, all 26 minutes of it, is exactly the film I wanted to make.

Now, I know in this day and age, watching something that's 26 minutes long on the internet feels like an eternity. Stick with it. I think it's a really good film, that presents a really interesting moral dilemma, one that doesn't have easy answers. I'd be curious to see what you think of the film, so please leave a comment either here or on the Vimeo page.

I wouldn't recommend watching it in the tiny screen posted above. I'd click over to the Vimeo page or watch it in HD.

I look forward to seeing what you think of the film and if you like it, please pass it along to others.

Monday, September 17, 2012

AZP/BlackBoxTV - 'Execution Style'

Above, check out the latest Anthony E. Zuiker Presents short on BlackBoxTV. The film was directed by Lexi Alexander, written by Duane Swierczynski and stars Rene Auberjonois, Goran Visnjic, Bill Bellamy and Nicki Aycox. I served as a producer on the film, originally developing the story with Duane and then shepherded the project through post-production, including doing some editing work on the piece.

It's a fun little short and continues the tradition everyone at Dare to Pass and BlackBoxTV are attempting, which is to bring high quality content to the YouTube audience. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dig: Official Selection - Action on Film International Film Festival

I am pleased to announce that Dig is an Official Selection of the 2012 Action on Film International Film Festival. The festival runs August 17th - 25th in Monrovia, CA at the Krikorian Theater

Dig will be screening on August 21st, 2012 at 4:00 pm. 

Krikorian Theater
410 S. Myrtle Beach
Monrovia, CA 91016

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here.

About the Action on Film International Film Festival:

The AOF festival is one of the fastest growing, high profile international affairs in the film and video industry today.With meager roots, it has grown to an epic size by the virtue of its loyal following of filmmakers and writers who understand the value of being associated with an event that appreciates and supports their work.

We have received tremendous celebrity and industry support and been to launch the AOF channel, a weekly television series which showcases the talents of our filmmakers and allows them to be introduced to the world via traditional broadcast models.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dig: Official Selection - HollyShorts Film Festival

I am pleased to announce that Dig is an Official Selection of the 2012 HollyShorts Film Festival. The festival runs August 9th - 16th and all films will be screening at the Chinese 6 Theaters on Hollywood Blvd.

Dig will be screening on August 15th, 2012 at 6:30pm as part of the "Cinematography" category. This is most likely the last time Dig will be screening in the Los Angeles area so I invite you all to come if you haven't had a chance to see it.

Chinese 6
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028

You can purchase tickest here.

About HollyShorts Film Festival:

HollyShorts is an organization devoted to showcasing the best and brightest short films from around the globe, advancing the careers of filmmakers through screenings, networking events, and various panel and forums. The HollyShorts Film festival showcases the top short films produced 30- minutes or less. For more information, please visit www.hollyshorts.com. Filmmaker news available here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Once More With Feeling

WARNING: Spoiler ahead. Stop reading if you haven't seen the movie.

This isn't a review and it's not a blog post picking apart The Dark Knight Rises. I'll say from the beginning that I thought it was an epic and amazing film. I was drawn in from the first frame and left breathless until the last.

That said, a lot of people really didn't like it and multiple bloggers have laid down their case either for or against on various blogs and sites around the Internet. One of the reasons I've decided to write this is that despite the many flaws of the film, I still found it to be an enthralling and entertaining experience. And so have many others. Why?

I actually think there's a great lesson for filmmakers here, one that even the best directors and writers continually fail at. I believe it's what separates great films from good ones; memorable films from forgotten ones. 

Why did I like The Dark Knight Rises so much, despite it's logic flaws, despite those things that have already been pointed out by other writers/reviewers? Why can I forgive those things? Because unlike most movies these days, The Dark Knight Rises made me feel. I connected with it on emotional level. I was left reeling when Gotham was turned upside down. I felt a collective sense of hitting bottom, wondering "how can they come back from this?"

I felt loss when Alfred left. I wondered, how on earth, we could come back from this? And I was right there with Bruce Wayne, in that prison, as he pulled himself and said "nope." I wanted him to climb that wall, I wanted him to make that leap, I wanted him to return and save Gotham.

Now of course, you're probably saying, "Well, yeah, that's what everyone wants." But for me, it's less about what I "want" and more about what I "felt." I felt it. This movie about a man dressed as a bat connected with me on an emotional level. I don't fully know why and choose not to dissect it, but it represents and executes what, in my opinion, movies are all about: that feeling of being a little kid and looking up at a giant screen and seeing a hero right there before your eyes. 

I think that, generally speaking, movies these days have become less about making you feel something and more about being cool, or showing off cool shit -- in fact, I think superhero movies are collectively the guiltiest parties. I don't care about Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk. I don't feel anything when I see them. I saw Gladiator five times in the theater because having gone through what you do watching that movie and you hit that end scene, it's just: magic. I saw Traffic five times for the same reason. It's why I can be flipping the channel and see Forrest Gump on and start bawling, even though I've seen the movie a million times.

Knowing I would be seeing The Dark Knight Rises on Sunday, I spent Saturday re-watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And you know what? As much as I love The Dark Knight, as much as Heath's performance as the Joker blew me away and will never be forgotten, I didn't feel anything watching it. I didn't feel loss when Rachel died, I didn't care about Gordon's kid, I didn't care about the people on the ferries. I thought it was a brilliant film, amazing on every technical level, and really cool. But I didn't feel anything watching it, nor did I watching Batman Begins (though I did find it to be a much better movie than I remembered, still a touch too fantastical, but whatever). 

And at the end, when I thought Batman had died, I not only felt loss, but I felt...okay with it. I'd like to pretend that Alfred's sighting of Bruce is really nothing more than a vision, than an idea that, while dead, perhaps Bruce has now gone to a better place, free of his demons, free of the weight he carried with him. I'd like to think that part wasn't real, that it wasn't part of some trick to make you go "Whup, look!" I'd like to think that Nolan is smarter than that. He has too much power. He could have done whatever he wanted. I very much doubt he would have tacked on a happy ending because the studio made him. (Funny enough, I was just discussing with my wife and we both thought that Alfred was going to look up, smile, but that we wouldn't cut to what he was seeing, that we would have been left wondering...in many ways, that would have been better.) I think Batman died saving the citizens of Gotham from one of the worst things imaginable -- that he gave them "everything."

I felt the same way I did when watching Gladiator for the first time. "What?! He died? How is that an ending? He came all this way and now he's just gonna -- oh! Right, the afterlife with his family, is where he wanted to be all along. I'm okay with that." I think it's the same. Think back to The Dark Knight, Harvey's quote and one of the last lines by Batman in the film: "You either die a hero or you live long enough to become the villain." Batman died a hero.

I'm sure many people will speak to the moment of realization that the auto-pilot was always working as a clue to saying "Oh, he must have jumped out (or something)." I'd take the opposite look at it: that, in fact, the auto-pilot did work, but that Batman knew he couldn't leave something like that to chance. That the only way to ensure that Gotham was safe was to do it himself, as he always had before. And that having done that, having returned and become the hero, Bruce Wayne is now in a better place. Alfred's "sighting" was just a vision, a hope, a belief that, perhaps Bruce has finally found peace.

What do you think?

Friday, June 1, 2012

AZP/BlackBoxTV - 'Reawakening'

It's been a long time coming but the premiere of 'Anthony E. Zuiker Presents' on BlackBoxTV has finally arrived. And we're kicking it off with Reawakening. Directed by Robert Legato (two-time Academy Award winner for VFX on Titanic and Hugo), written by Adam Simon (Haunting in Connecticut) the film is a modern day retelling of Frankenstein in which a police officer descends into merciless evil as he gets an unusual opportunity for vengeance. 

Orlin Dobreff and I produced the film, alongside our BlackBoxTV producing team, Steak House and Valerie Stadler. It was a great pleasure working closely with Rob on this one and watching it all come together from solely a producing stand point was a new experience. Corey Wallace, the phenomenal composer who created the music for Dark Revelations was brought on to bring a new twist to the typical noir sounding music and exceeded all our expectations.

We shot the film on the ARRI Alexa. As Rob explains: "I used the ARRI Alexa and recorded it in LOG space (which means it has the same dynamic range as film) and is very low contrast and needs a LUT (Lookup Table) to make look like a regular contrasty and saturated image. The same camera and system used on features. Just much more flexible in post to change the look than a 7D or 5D but can ultimately look the same."

I was even fortunate to direct 2nd Unit on the short, which was a lot of fun.

Here's a short behind-the-scenes interview with Rob and star Travis Fimmel:

Dig: Official Selection - Dances With Films

I am pleased to announce that Dig is an Official Selection of the 2012 Dances With Films. The festival, which takes place in Hollywood, CA will run from May 31th - June 7th. 

Dig will be screening at the festival on Tuesday, June 5 @ 5:00pm as part of the Fusion Shorts: Group 2 at Mann's Chinese Theater.

Mann's Chinese Theater
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028

Here is the info on tickets. Individual tickets are $13.

Congrats to everyone involved with the film!

About Dances With Films:

DANCES WITH FILMS was formed in 1998 by a group of filmmakers who envisioned a festival where “who you know” didn’t matter, only the quality of the work.

Our name, DANCES WITH FILMS, was actually a play on the plethora of ‘dance’ film festivals that cropped up left and right at the time - Slamdance, Digidance, Nodance, TromaDance. Truth be told, it started out as a rebellious joke. Originally the fest had the long title of "Dances With Films: Festival of the Unknowns" - something of a send up to all the 'Dance' Festivals that seemed to spring up over night. Then, after a battle with Orion Pictures, it became a symbol... of our irreverence and commitment to challenge the system. It's actually a pretty funny story. 

Unlike Digidance, Nodance, TromaDance and even Orion - DWF is still going strong as is our commitment to indie films. Our belief in our filmmakers is rewarded year after year - as we watch our DWF Alumni move on to produce, write, direct and/or star in blockbuster movies and TV shows.

We hope you'll join us in celebrating the film stars of tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dig: Official Selection - Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival

I'm am pleased to announce that Dig is an Official Selection of the 2012 Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. The festival will run from May 3rd through May 10th. I couldn't be more humbled to have the film included.

Dig will be screening on May 6th as part of their 'Night of Film, Photography and Music Program' at the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. 

Sinai Temple
10400 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA. 90024

You can purchase tickets here.

Program Info:

A Night of Film, Photography, and Music 
Presented by ATID & American Friends of Tel Aviv University 

The entire community is welcome to join us for an evening of Jewish Culture with a filmmaking workshop, food, music, Jewish-themed photography and short films made by emerging artists and filmmakers in their 20 s & 30s. 

5:15 pm: Filmmaking Workshop with Director/Producer Dan Katzir. 

6:00pm: Exhibit with wine & cheese and live music.  

6:45 pm: Film screenings followed by a Q & A with Hollywood Producer & Executive Mike Medavoy.  

About  the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival:

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF) builds community awareness, appreciation and pride in the diversity of the Jewish people through film.

The mission of LAJFF is to preserve and celebrate our rich Jewish heritage; to cultivate Jewish values and the quality of Jewish life in our community (not only for the affiliated but unaffiliated); and to create and maintain a sense of community by providing important and exciting programming for individuals, families and organizations.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dig: Official Selection -- Beverly Hills Film Festival

I am pleased to announce that Dig is an Official Selection of the 2012 Beverly Hills Film Festival. The festival, which takes place in Beverly Hills, CA will run from April 25th - 29th. 

Dig will be screening at the Beverly Hills Film Festival on Thursday, April 26 @ 9:45pm as part of Screening Block 4 at the Clarity Theater.

Clarity Theater
100 N. Crescent Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Here is the info on tickets. Individual tickets are $12.

Congrats to everyone involved with the film!

About the Beverly Hills Film Festival:

Entering another successful year, the Beverly Hills Film Festival (BHFF) is an international competition dedicated to showcasing the art and talent of emerging filmmakers in the city globally recognized as the headquarters for VIPs to the motion picture industry. 
Dedicated to independent filmmakers, the BHFF creates a wonderful screening environment allowing participants to feature their films in the highest quality venues available to consumers around the world. Professionals and industry tastemakers representing all facets of the movie industry have been spotted attending year after year.
Designed to bridge the world of premiere independent cinema with the renowned city of Beverly Hills, the BHFF welcomes over 20,000 attendees annually who congregate for 5 days of screenings, poolside celebrity panels, special events, seminars, VIP after parties and deal making. 
On the fifth and final night of the Festival, the jury (usually made up of professionals from all over the globe) presents it awards in every category usually found in top notch festivals. They honor the finest in cinematic achievement in filmmaking displayed during the competition at an exclusive and heartfelt black-tie Gala Awards held at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel each year.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Careers Are Prototypes

As I was perusing through Zite articles on my iPad when I saw this post from Scriptpunk.com: "10 Things I Learned at the Guerilla Filmmakers Masterclass." In addition to several great tips, #2 caught my eye:

2. Careers Are Prototypes: Chris had a really interesting five stage model of career progression for filmmakers.  (BTW Chris – you need to publish this!) It went from Day One Newbie declaring “I want to be a filmmaker” through to being Chris Nolan.
I found this an incredibly interesting way of looking at your own development. Your development is in your own hands. Intellectually we know this, but seeing it laid out on the screen brings it home.

There is not a set amount of time required for each of the five stages. and the big thing to remember is everyone’s career will be different. Also good to see is that there is no ONE big break. There will likely be a series of breaks. In fact, you are best thinking of your career as a game of snakes and ladders. Sometimes you go up, sometimes you go down. There may be an element of luck in some of the “breaks” but mostly it is a strategy, a laser vision and MASSIVE action involved in getting to the next stage.

During a general meeting with a writer today, the idea of one's career and the progression it takes came up and I remembered this article. It's really easy to get caught up in what everyone else in this town is doing, how they're ahead of you, how they've been given opportunities you haven't. 

I went through this in the couple of years following my win at the MTV Movies Awards. As I've mentioned on here before, I fully expected my career to just be handed to me following my acceptance of the Golden Popcorn and it was a cold, hard wake-up call when I realized that wasn't gonna happen.

For me, the next major benchmark in my career is the feature film and I'm actively pursuing making that happen. I've always seen that as the first major step I need to take in order to move my career to the next level and my management concurs (as far as directing is concerned). But it's important to try and not look to others with jealousy or anger. Otherwise, anyone older than Josh Trank (25, director of Chronicle) should just give up.

I thought the post made an interesting point. How have you dealt with your own setbacks, goals, wishes, seeing others get further, faster than you? Share your thoughts below.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

3Questions: Doug Richardson - Screenwriter

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Doug Richardson, screenwriter of Die Hard 2, Bad Boys, and Hostage, (among others) and author of the novels Dark Horse and True Believers. As Doug puts it, "I'm an author/screenwriter. Which means when I'm fed up with Hollywood, I work on a book. So what I do depends very much on my mood. Presently, I'm promoting my most recent novel, The Safety Expert."

HBAD: How did you get your start?

DR: I got my start like anybody else interested in writing. I got behind my typewriter and wrote. And I did whatever I could to maximize my time at the keyboard. Write, get read, rewrite it, and move on. Eventually I got noticed.

To fill you in a little bit more, this is from Doug's bio: Doug left Northern California for Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema. For as long as he could remember, Doug had wanted to be a movie director. But in pursuing his goal he discovered how movies are really made: in the writing.

After finishing college, Doug signed a two-year contract with Warner Brothers. In 1989 he garnered national attention when his spec screenplay was the first in Hollywood to sell for a million dollars. Doug’s first feature film, the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder, was produced in 1990. He has since written and produced feature films including the box office smash Bad Boys and, most recently, Hostage. To date, Doug’s features have grossed over 800 million dollars worldwide.

HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?

DR: Other than the obvious and somewhat overwhelming competition in the screenwriting trade, I'd say it's keeping a moral center. Hollywood isn't a gentle place. Honesty is in short supply. It's very easy to become cynical in this town. Yet after a lot of years, I still believe in movies and their power to entertain, uplift, or transport. For me it's a healthy mix of cynicism and faith.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to break into representation?

DR: Simple. The road to success is paved with the bones of talented who've been run over by relentless people. If you don't find that fire in you to succeed, to put in an effort beyond everyone else who claims to want what you want, then you can't expect to ever arrive at your destination.

Visit DougRichardson.com for more info and follow Doug on Twitter at @byDougRich

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dig: Official Selection -- Durango Independent Film Festival

I am pleased to announce that Dig is an Official Selection of the 2012 Durango Independent Film Festival. The festival, which takes place in Durango, CO will run from February 29th - March 4th. Check back here for more updates, including screening times and locations!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Level 26: Dark Revelations -- Production Journal - Day 5

Warning: Potential book and cyber-bridge spoilers ahead.

Day 5:

Call time: 10:00 am

Burbank. Undisclosed hotel location. The fact that we were able to shoot in a working hotel in the manner we did was such a coup I can’t even begin to explain. This was another massive day: 10 pages / 5 scenes. Looking back on it now, this really should have been split up into two days but operating with the budget available to us, there was no way to build our own location on a stage and, unfortunately, it would have been a little risky to do two days at the hotel.

We had a lot of different scenes with a lot of cast, effects, a few small stunts and a tight confined location (which didn’t help with the lighting).

We started the day with a flashback scene that comes in the middle of the third bridge. As Labyrinth is talking to Charles Murtha he thinks back to this scene. Labyrinth, essentially, was a Jason Bourne type of assassin for MI:6 in Britain, having come up through the SAS. One of his first missions was to assassinate this man named Lisandro, who was a revolutionary leader in Santiago, Chile (invented, of course). This was the one scene completely invented separate from the book and Travis and I wrote it to explain the moment when Labyrinth began his journey towards where he is now. Lisandro challenges him in a profound way that alters his vision of what he’s doing and why.

Photo by Alex Minkin
We’re filming this scene in a practical bathroom with mirrors everywhere so it took a little working out. For the gun shot, Bruce, our prop master, brought in a guacamole gun, which is essentially an air powered device that can shoot blood, guts, etc. to mimic a gunshot. It’s pretty awesome but, of course, it’s messy. All I can say is that Hal looked badass in his black gear with the silenced Browning .22.

I actually learned something really fascinating on this shoot. Initially, in the scene, I had Labyrinth using a silence .45. Bruce, who was a former member of Delta Force and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan back in the 90s, told me that the only gun that can actually be silenced is a .22. Anything larger and you still hear the gun shot. In fact, if you were to fire a silenced .22 all you would hear is the click of the hammer. Crazy!  Wanting to maintain as much authenticity as we could, we switched it to the .22 and it plays really well. We never fired the weapon as the shot happens off screen. It took us quite a while to wrap this scene up, after which we moved immediately into what will be cyber-bridge 5.
Photo by Alex Minkin
In this bridge, Labyrinth has kidnapped Shane Corbett and brought him up to a hotel room where the three of the many women he raped (remember the scene we shot yesterday?) are given the chance to get their revenge.

There’s a lot of movement in the scene, from Labyrinth dragging in Shane, sitting him down, getting in his face, turn to stop a girl from attacking too early, going back to Shane, tying him up, standing back, pulling out a phone, kneeling down to film as the girls approach Shane and cut him. Paul and I decided to shoot this whole scene hand held and in order to capture a certain amount of energy from both the actors AND the camera operator, we decided to try the angle looking towards Shane in one long shot, as opposed to breaking it down. The idea was to then turn it around and shoot the angle looking towards Labyrinth and the girls in one take, using two cameras (as most of this shoot did). We did several takes of it and the energy of both Hal, the girls, Shane and Nate (camera op) was fantastic. And I could see the bits and pieces I know I’d end up using in the edit, which were usually parts of a shot or angle that would be tough to explain to an operator to get or that happened accidently because of how everyone was moving through the scene. (Hence, my reason, as explained in yesterdays post, for shooting long takes.

Photo by Alex Minkin
 After finishing the angle on Shane we broke for lunch. Afterwards, we came back and shot the other angle out, followed by shallow focus slow motion shots of the girls slicing Shane to death, followed by some inserts of the glasses being broken. We next had to get the girls, Nathalie, Jennifer and Haley, bloodied up to show the progression of the kill. So our make-up artist, Jennifer Mann, took them into the bathtub and went Jackson Pollock on them.

At this point we had gotten really behind on our schedule. Coming up were two scenes that took place in a hotel room both involving the same actors and technically the same location but I was being told that we couldn’t continue shooting in the hotel until 3am. Beyond the fact that it would have been nearly five hours over our day we also had guests staying on the same floor. So, I was informed that I needed to cut a scene. Without a doubt, I knew which scene I had to cut. While both were important, only one was crux to your understanding of the story in the book. I felt terrible about it, especially because I had asked a friend, Bella Dayne, to come out for it and that she and Alain would be speaking in English, French and German. I was heartbroken when I had to tell her but I knew in the back of my head that I’d find a way to shoot the scene, since I wasn’t cutting it because it wasn’t important, it was because I had to choose one. 
Photo by Alex Minkin

The scene we did shoot that night was probably our most traditional. Lending itself to the nature of the scene and to do something different, we shot the back and forth interview (it wasn’t suppose to be a taped TV interview however) in lock offs with your more traditional master/medium/cu format, albeit, with a little tweak in the framing to satisfy my desire to not do something traditional. It was nice to just let the camera run as these two battled it out and the two actors, Thomas Mikusz playing Alain Pantin and Christopher Frontiero playing Johnny Knack, really killed it. 

Lastly, we had to get the beginning portion of the scene with Lisandro, where he’s standing by the window on the phone saying goodnight to his wife. The scene plays via Labyrinth’s POV view through a closet as Lisandro dismisses his bodyguards and retires to the bathroom. We shot the scene quickly. Jesus Diaz, who played Lisandro, did an amazing job bringing humanity and strength to the character.

And with that, principal photography on Dark Revelations was over. The next day, Saturday, Paul, Hal and I went down to Angels Flight in LA to shoot a quick scene of Labyrinth overlooking the location where the bomb goes off. We totally stole the shot and got what we needed but not before having to kick a homeless man off a bench.

At the end of the day, we shot a 53-minute film in five days, capturing an enormous amount of varied content that, having seen it in its final form on a big screen, feels really epic, really big, very cinematic and incredibly satisfying. I know Zuiker loved it. And I hope you like it as well.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Level 26: Dark Revelations -- Production Journal - Day 4

Warning: Potential book and cyber-bridge spoilers ahead.

Day 4:

Call time: 8:00 am

Malibu. Otto, our Line Producer and 1st AD, picked up Paul and I on the way to the beach. It down poured the day before, when we were on the stages, but it was looking like today would be warm with clear blue skies. Of course, you never know what’s going to happen out in Malibu but it was a beautiful early morning drive in. 

Photo by Alex Minkin
Photo by Alex Minkin
We were shooting at a small beach house out near Point Dume. The scene is pretty much the entirety of cyber-bridge 2, wherein Labyrinth holds hostage a Hollywood actress, her producer boyfriend and orders them to strip naked before turning them against one another.

It was a roughly six-page scene, with nudity (nothing you’ll see in the final cut) and there was a lot to get through. To add to it, we were in the living room of a house, which on one side had a huge bank of windows. Obviously great for light, but it also meant we had to bring in some of our own. We were also fighting light; since we couldn’t be shooting once it got dark (and honestly, didn’t want to anyway). In addition to the bulk of cyber-bridge 2, we had one small series of shots to get of Labyrinth standing on the beach as well as another scene, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Today would be a closed set due to the nudity. As mentioned, you won’t see anything in the final cut, since we’re not allowed to show it anyway, so aside from a key shot here and there, we never see anything and the actress was never fully nude on set. However, for the comfort of everyone involved, the set was closed down to all except the very essential personnel.

To play the role of Faye Elizabeth, I called Tiffany Brouwer, who’s been a friend of mine for a while now and has appeared in several of my projects. In addition to needing to be beautiful and attractive this was a really emotional scene, with the character being put through a fairly harrowing experience and I really needed someone that could deliver on the performance. I had absolute faith that she would (and she did) as well as knowing that she would be comfortable working with me in the described situation. While this role was technically a “day player” there was so much more that had to happen in it that I really needed someone I knew would deliver and could trust.

David, her producer boyfriend, was played by actor Daniel Probert, and of course, Hal was on set as Labyrinth. The scene wasn’t difficult to get through, it just took time. As a director, even when switching angles, I prefer to try and shoot as much of the scene straight through as possible. This allows the actors to have better starting points, allowing them to really get into the scene, but also because I like the surprises that come from it. I’d rather have the actor (or the camera operator) make a bold choice late into a scene and have something really great, than shoot bits and pieces. So, of course, it takes a while to get through but I find that I’m better served by it in the editing room. But it’s also why I don’t spend too time doing too many of takes of any one angle.

This scene was important in a number of other ways. It was the first time we see Labyrinth interact with anyone so I wanted to make sure we had the tone and function of the scene down. While I was somewhat rushed during the other scenes from previous days, I really wanted to take the time to get it right.

Once we had finished angles on both Tiffany and Daniel we needed to get Hal’s. Rather than staging him so the camera looked into the room, we set him up so the camera would be looking right outside, with him in the foreground. Because of this, we needed to deal with the disparity between the outdoor and indoor light so Hal didn’t play as a silhouette.  It was fortunate that we started getting into the end of the day as we shot this so it wasn’t super bright and sunny outside.

While Paul started lighting, Nate (camera op), Tom (1st AC), Hal and myself went outside to get the stuff on the beach. Initially we were going to finish the scene in the beach house before doing this but it was smart we decided to do it when we did because we didn’t end up wrapping the beach house scene until close to sunset.

Once we wrapped cyber-bridge 2, we had another short scene we wanted to grab at the house, where one of the rooms stood in for a dorm room.

The scene is a flashback scene for cyber-bridge 5, where three girls are being raped, individually at different times, by this character named Shane Corbett. I’ll talk about the cyber-bridge itself tomorrow but the point was that we had to shoot the rape scene while out at the beach house.

I had found the three girls during my casting session with Jennifer Cooper the week before, three really amazing actresses: Nathalie Fay, Haley Strode and Jennifer Holland. They all came in for the same role but I knew that whoever was playing these girls would need to be really accomplished and despite the limited lines, perform in a believable and emotional way. I actually rewrote their scene for cyber-bridge 5, based on the casting session, in order to differentiate between the three of them and give them all moments within the scene.

While we were waiting on lighting I sat down with the three of them, and Jared Ward, who would be playing Shane, to discuss the scene. We worked with our stunt coordinator to figure out a struggle that would look real but keep everyone safe.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Nathalie, Haley, Jennifer and Jared’s willingness to bring it to the scene. After one particular take, our stunt coordinator said that he was three seconds away from jumping in and pulling Jared off before slugging him in the face, it was that believable.

I decided, for the comfort of everyone involved, to operate the camera myself. We went through two versions of the scene, one that was very specific for the flashback as written and a longer one to give us more material to cut with.

Despite Nathalie, Haley and Jennifer going through the same routine, each girl made it profoundly different and everyone, including myself, was very disturbed having gone through it. Despite the fact that no clothes are being ripped off, no nudity, no simulated sex, the scene itself comes off as incredibly violent, both due to the performances of Shane, Nathalie, Haley and Jennifer and the camerawork and lighting.

I can’t imagine it was a pleasant experience but everyone was extremely professional about it, it was a huge asset and comfort to the girls to have our stunt coordinator there to take everyone through everything and honestly it shows in the scene. It’s a testament to the professionalism of the cast and crew that we shot some pretty harrowing, difficult and disturbing scenes and got everything we needed.

Tomorrow: Day 5 of Production

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Level 26: Dark Revelations -- Production Journal - Day 3

Warning: Potential book and cyber-bridge spoilers ahead.

Day 3:

Call time: 8:00 am

Photo by Alex Minkin
While Paul started lighting the main CSI:NY set for our bomb squad scene (which intercuts with the interrogation room scene we shot on Monday) we flipped the lights on in the autopsy room and shot two quick plates of the television for the final scene just before Dark walks out.

In addition to the main scenes we had to shoot, the bulk of which was the bomb squad scene, we had a few pick ups from the day before, include the rest of the black ops hospital scene (Labyrinth’s angles only) as well as a shot of Labyrinth in his costume from the fight scene calling out to and taunting Dark.

But first, we had the bomb squad scene. As mentioned above, this is the second component to the first bridge. We couldn’t have higher production values than on this scene. Not only were we shooting on the main CSI:NY set where the lab, video room, Gary Sinise’s office and more is located but since it’s a bomb squad scene we went all out. Our amazing costume designer, Amanda Riley, went out and found the same bomb suit that was used in The Hurt Locker.

Photo by Alex Minkin
We had three awesome actors playing the bomb squad officers: Voltaire Sterling, whom I worked with on Dig; Garret Davis, who played one of the pilots of the doomed FedEx plane in Cast Away; and finally, Andres Perez-Molina, who came into play Cruz, the technician in the suit. If there was a scene in which we had some amazing production value, this was it. And the bomb suit looked fucking amazing. I couldn’t be happier with the result.

While shooting one of the close-ups as he’s opening the box, I watched as this bead of sweat rolls down Andres’ nose. So amazing!

It took us a while to get some of these shots off however. We had to move the character from one end of the hallway to the other, one of the angles was on a dolly, moving through a room and it was a big space to light. This got us into lunch.

After lunch we moved into one of the offices to shoot Labyrinth’s side of the Charles Murtha scene. Contrasting with the dirty, grimy feel of the basement, we decided Labyrinth’s angle should be warm, elegant as he talks with Charles from his office in New York. I hope the contrast will play up well.

Photo by Alex Minkin
Photo by Alex Minkin

This included a few pick-ups on some lines of dialogue; insert shots (in which my hands doubled for Dark’s), and some intro and outro shots of the scene. Despite the lower page count for today it still took us a while to get everything shot since we had five separate scenes/settings to go through.

In addition to that, this was our final day on the stages before moving on to Malibu, so we had to get everything loaded up onto the trucks and wrap out the stages. 

Tomorrow: Day 4 of Production

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Level 26: Dark Revelations -- Production Journal - Day 2

Warning: Potential book and cyber-bridge spoilers ahead.

Day 2:

Call time: 7:30 am.

Big day today. Three scenes, 9 3/8 pages, a fight scene, gun fire. It’s a lot to try and get through. What’s going to make today even more difficult is that we have one hallway that needs to be made to look like five different spaces. It’s somewhat fortunate that the scene itself is supposed to be dark but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Any time we turn the camera around, we’ve got to change lighting and figure out the exact logistics of how this works.

I had done much of the work ahead of time while planning out my shots but it’s still a challenge. And that was just shooting everything leading up to the fight.

Adding to it, we were under a lot of pressure to get these three scenes done today because we only had Daniel Buran (Steve Dark) for one day and it was Hal Ozsan’s (Labyrinth) first day on set as well. Just a big, big day overall.

I’ll take a minute here to talk about Hal Oszan. I’m giving some things away here about Labyrinth but fuck it. Obviously, with Labyrinth acting as our protagonist, it was extremely important that we find someone the audience would be believe is capable of both the crimes he’s committed as well as the deep sense of humanity and conflict he undergoes throughout the cyber-bridges. He also needed to be British.

Hal was recommended to us by our amazing casting director, Jennifer Cooper, and after our first meeting I immediately knew he was the guy. Beyond the fact that he “got” the script, the politics of it, the whole idea of what we’re trying to do with this character, he had a charm to him, he knew when to lay it on and when not to and there was a real sense of humanity in his eyes that could be masked by darkness. All in all, he was the perfect picture of Labyrinth before he even opened his mouth.

We immediately hit it off and continued to do so when I met him at his house to discuss the character on Friday before the shoot. He’s an incredibly gracious actor to defer to me despite his experience in the business. You hear stories about actors coming onto the sets of first time feature directors and just railroading them, taking over, being a pain in the ass. Hal was none of those. At the same time, during our meeting, we both came to a mutual understanding of who Labyrinth was, where he was coming from, and why he was doing what he was. Because we were both on the same page, it made our interactions on set that much easier.

I’ll talk a little bit more about my philosophy as a director later on.

Anyway, the scene begins with Labyrinth observing the aftermath of an attempted assassination when Steve Dark tracks him down in the basement hallways of a building in Edinburgh, Scotland, leading to a chase and a showdown.

Photo by Alex Minkin
Photo by Alex Minkin
Photo by Alex Minkin
The first thing we shot were the bits of the chase, then moving on to the initial confrontation. As Dark takes a couple of shots at Labyrinth, we had Bruce, our props master and armorer (who is a really awesome guy, former Delta soldier) loading up the Glock 17 with blanks. Unlike Dark Prophecy where the one bit of gun fire was done separate to the action, we integrated the shots into a longer take so it felt more organic and real than by shooting them as inserts, as I had done on Dig. It’s just so much better not having to have it cut it up. The energy just flows better throughout.

Photo by Alex Minkin
Photo by Alex Minkin
That took us up to the fight scene. We shot in Dark’s direction first and Dan did all his own stunts save for one moment. Meanwhile, since Labyrinth was in a mask and costume we had our stuntman perform as Labyrinth. Because Labyrinth is supposed to be a master at various fighting styles it was important that he be lightning fast, pointed and controlled. Having the stunt man play him during the fight allowed Labyrinth to look and play as if he’s a badass motherfucker and didn’t require us to cut the shots to hide anything.

In addition to staging the fight similar to the down and dirty fights from the Bourne films, I wanted to take that extra step of putting the audience into the fight as it was happening. So, we rented an HD lipstick camera, which allowed me to get right in there with Dan and the stuntman. It’s gritty, shaky and is going to look fucking rad once everything is cut together. 

Photo by Alex Minkin
Once Dan’s angle on the fight was done, we came around on Labyrinth’s angle and finished the scene with Hal stepping in to perform a final reveal and dialogue of the bridge (this moment will only be available in the full length version of the bridges, released after the book comes out.) I’m telling you, the scene was fucking amazing, despite the need we’ll have for VO from Hal because of some restrictions. It’s too bad it won’t be included in the regular cyber-bridge but the plot point was just too significant to not have in the book.

We spent a good chunk of the day shooting the fight scene, more than we should have, and had to book it up to the autopsy set on Stage 3 to shoot the eighth cyber-bridge. This was a big scene, four pages of dialogue between the two characters and it was a hugely important scene. This is the final confrontation between Labyrinth and Steve Dark and it’s actually the final moment in the book, i.e. the book, and the entire series as a whole, ends on this cyber-bridge so it was really important we take the time to get this right.

Due to the amount of time we had available we decided that we needed to shoot out (finish) any shots where we saw Dan’s face. The reverses on Hal could be done with a stand in, since they were all OTS (over the shoulder). 

Photo by Alex Minkin
Photo by Alex Minkin
However, once we got shooting and started wrapping up Dan’s shots, I decided, after discussing with Hal, that we should come around and get a couple takes of him. Despite the shortage of time and the amount of material to shoot (4 pages for each angle) Hal was just really on fire and I thought it would be a shame to 1) break and come back and 2) not have Dan there for Hal to play off of. So, I made the call to turn around and get Hal’s coverage of the scene, knowing that if we needed to, we had the next day to pick up the non-performance sections of the scene. In the end, it was definitely the right decision and Hal delivered a great performance.

The third scene we had to shoot was actually done during the scene described above. While lighting for another shot, myself, Paul, Nate (camera op), Tom (1st AC), Maria (Script Supervisor) and Dan went out to the front of the CBS Radford Admin building to shoot the final shot of Dark in the series.

As mentioned above, there are spoilers here, so if you don’t want to know what happens, I would suggest you stop reading.

The Level 26 series has never been black and white, at least for the audience. Clearly, Dark sees both good and evil as very definitive things, but for the audience, they’ve been on a ride with a deeply tormented and divided protagonist. Steve Dark is not your normal good guy, walking a fine line between the establishment he represents and the bad guys he attempts to put behind bars. I have to applaud Anthony for creating a character so three-dimensional. Travis and I really wanted to use Labyrinth to challenge Dark, to really put Dark’s faith in the system to the test and I believe we succeeded, having seen the final cyber-bridges and heard reactions to it.

Labyrinth is not your typical bad guy. I’ll admit he plays more like one in the books, but as mentioned in an earlier post, we really wanted to make him a protagonist for the purposes of the bridges. In that sense, Labyrinth is really someone who wants the world to be better, believes that humanity is capable of it, but just needs a push. He is that push. He is that spark that will ignite the flames of revolution, so to speak. He’s chosen victims who, by all accounts, probably deserve what they’re getting, and is doing so in the name of making the world a better place. To quote Thomas Jefferson (which was included at the beginning of the script):

"What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?
The tree of liberty must from time to time be
refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
It is its natural manure."

-- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Labyrinth is merely acting on the same principals as the revolutions long before him. However, he is facing a world that is lazy, that is unable to fathom the thought of revolution, and sees murder as the only way to call attention to the injustices visited upon humanity by a select few – the elite.

As mentioned before, we wanted the audience to agree with what Labyrinth is saying (though maybe not his methods). In this way, with Dark a protector of the status quo, he in fact becomes the villain of the bridges, finding himself perhaps on the wrong of the fight.

This is what Labyrinth hopes to challenge Steve Dark on. In the same way he was challenged many years ago by a revolutionary in Santiago, Chile (Cyber-bridge 3) Labyrinth manages to get into Dark’s head.

The book ends with Dark capturing Labyrinth, thus winning the battle, but the war rages on as Labyrinth’s message spreads from country to country. The revolution has already started and can’t be stopped. So while Dark wins the battle, he doesn’t win the war. As Dark attempts to stand stoic against Labyrinth in his finale moments, Labyrinth calls him on it, leaving Dark with the feeling that he does protect the elite and that, in fact, Dark is not a hero.

The last shot follows Dark walking out of this government building, presumably a black ops hospital where Labyrinth was being held and as he stares off, thinking about Labyrinth’s words, the building stands tall and looming above him. He’s trapped until he makes a decision on which way to go. And the crazy part is, we never see him make that choice. We don’t know what Dark ends up doing. But that, in a sense, is the point. Dark is the reader, someone thinking that they’re on the right side, as we (Labyrinth) start to question that. It doesn’t matter which way Dark goes, the question is, which way will YOU go.

That, at least, is the intent. We shot the scene at dusk to play for morning, did several takes until we were out of light and moved back onto the stage to the finish the day.

Tomorrow: Day 3 of Production