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

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