Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The dicotomy of women...

I've always liked the fact that sci-fi can put things in front of an audience that are accepted as real, but in real life may cause some controversy. I think there is some pressure in modern life for women to be both hard and focused on their goals, and at the same time soft and romantic.

Jorie's character is a good example. On one hand she is the tough, former space-marine and battle veteran determined to hunt down Devastators and save the earth.

At the same time she has to be surprised that Theo would kiss her, and react (after a moment of orientation) in a flirty manner.

Of course, the scene wouldn't be complete without Zeke (who's really the comic relief) sticking his head in and making comments like "Cooling off yet?" Creating a full circle of emotions.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Really, really on location...

We had an interesting time shooting on location in the woods. First, we had to get everything there. That means everything. Food, water, lights, camera, just everything.

It's a little spooky when you're out in the middle of nowhere and half the people with you are carrying automatic weapons (or good copies anyway), bullet proof vests, and some exotic weapons that don't exist. You hope no cops get the wrong idea.

Just the camera itself weighs 25lbs. Add to that a box of 9 metal and heavy glass lenses. The tripod is another 25lbs. And then the lights with stands. The lights don't weigh as much, but then a couple of big batteries are needed for each light. Add in an ice chest, food, etc.

Even if the actors were freezing out there until one in the morning, the images are excellent and worth the effort.

Still photography by Erik Fischer.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cars, not a camera's best friend...

Cars have presented special challenges to cameras ever since cameras were invented. First, the car is darker inside than the light outside. At night its even darker inside.

One fix has been the installation of small battery operated lights in the car down by the actor's feet. These act as the glow of the dash board or in this case a computer/scanner in Jorie's lap. It works well as long as its not near the feet and the actor doesn't try to hit the brakes and instead steps on a lighting unit.

Sometimes you can get away with putting the camera on a tripod and shooting through the window. That works when the car is sitting still, but a moving car... not so much.

Then it starts getting tricky to mount a camera on the car. Movie cameras are heavy. Each bounce and jiggle of car makes the camera seem heavier (momentum and all that.) Even though a camera is mounted its nerve wracking to watch. Imagine $30,000 worth of camera hanging on the car. If there is a big jolt and the camera goes flying the entire production will be shut down for repairs or a replacement. Now watch that and act relaxed. :-)

Running beside the car while carrying the camera is not an option. :-0

Of course the audience doesn't see or know anything about this. They just want to see the people, and they do see them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hidden converstions and tiny mics...

When you work with a small group of people on a movie set, its sort of like family. You're going to be close to these people one way or another. There are lines to run over and over, costumes to change and food to share.

And each day, in addition to the shotgun mic on the end of a boom pole, there are also little tiny wireless mics. The mic is attached to a little transmitter the size of a deck of cards, and it transmits crystal clear sound a couple hundred feet.

Each of the actors and actresses has these little mics at one time or another, but they are so tiny that when the boom pole is gone, they forget they are wearing them when the camera stops rolling to set up the next shot.

People are warned over and over, plus jokes are told to impress on them what happens, but sooner or later someone forgets and thinks they are having a private conversation or runs to the bathroom. The director, sound man and/or camera man suddenly knows a lot more about what's happening on set than they ordinarily want to know.

You know they are professional when you suddenly see the sound man, camera man or director yelling out that their mic is on, or pulling wires out of the receiver.

This movie has a good crew and they quickly pull wires or shut down audio. Still it's pretty funny to watch as they try so hard to give people a little privacy.

Still photography by Kira Robles.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Heard of location, location, loc...? Erh, no.

The mantra from real estate is that the three most important things to real estate value are location, location, location.

The movie industry it a little different.

Actually a lot different.

You have the actors up there doing what they do best in front of what the art director and director want you to see.

The reality is something else because the camera shows you certain things but it also excludes certain things.

The front yard of one house that they present to you may be the front yard of another house. The living room may be to a completely different house or a different room.

Or, in this case, by using one wall with a different color, different colored drapes, moving the furniture, changing the light fixtures and putting a slip cover over the love seat, you have a the house where agent Wa-hain's body is found.

Which was shot 5 steps away from this location with the same love seat. Instead of blue drapes they're red and gold. Instead of red walls they're tan. Instead of a blue loveseat its brown leather, etc.

Still photography by Hannah Gwen.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Themes, touch stones and other neat things...

Every movie has a theme. I don't want to give away any surprises, but I think this movie has the same type of theme as a lot of Clint Eastwood's greatest/latest movies seem to have.

I'm also curious as to what genre the critics will say it falls into. Is it a romance? Well yes it is. Is it sci-fi? Yes, it's that too. Action? Yep, got it. Is it funny? Strangely it has a lot of "fish out of water" humor as well as romantic comedy humor. That's the surface fun.

Then again, some of the best movies have some layers of symbolism and touchstones. A touchstone doesn't have to be something that someone actually touches (though sometimes they do because that has meaning to them.)

Instead, it might be an expression, an idea, a place or a thing that keeps popping up for a reason. This movie has those, for reasons and meanings that the audience must discover.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Even though this movie has its share of shoot outs and special effects, at it's heart it's a story about a woman that commands a strike team, Jorie,

that's sent to protect the earth, but when her she is isolated and alone she turns to Florida Homicide Detective who's investigating the bodies, Theo,

But then has competition from another alien who's interested in Jorie, Kip.

All that is in front of the screen.

Behind the screen there are other dynamics going on. The director and cameraman have to work out the shots together, which can look kind of funny as they speak a language that sort of sounds like English but isn't understandable by ordinary people.

What the heck is a "key" that doesn't go in a lock, or a "fill" that doesn't go into any container? Why do lenses have so many numbers and settings? Fortunately they speak the same language.

Then the techno speak has to be translated into actor speak, another foreign tongue.

Then translated again for the script supervisor.

Then again for the crew as they wait for the next set up.

From the noises that are made, it almost sounds like the aliens have already landed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Alien props and costumes...

I was fascinated to see the props and costumes on a set that has aliens and futuristic technology.

Sergeant Theo Petrakos of course needed a badge and gun. Those weren't too hard. Likewise the M4 rifles for the cops are simple decommissioned airsoft guns.

The female aliens though needed something militaristic and uncommon to wear, but somehow still sexy. The solution, believe it or not, came from Miley Cyrus in the form of those cute little leather vests.

In this picture they are standing in the shadows cast by the jail cell bars.

Then there are a variety of weapons. The laser pistols carried by the aliens started out life as Barretta airsoft pistols in order to use the grips and trigger areas.

Then about 2/3 of the outside was covered over in various bits to change the overall shape and outline to something no 'earth' pistol has.

Finally it was textured to show 'scratches' in the black surface as though heavily used.

The laser rifle started out as the shape of prototype developed for the US Army for the future, but was never adopted by the Army. This was then modified and textured to show wear.

Jorie also has to use her 'optic' headset to see things like force fields, and it also has a communication device with ear buds built in.

Don't ask where that device came from as it actually is a working model. If I told you what part of the future it was from they would have to... Opps.

Still photography by Kira Robles.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Space Ship interiors at CML Studios...

All of the interior of Jorie's space ship were shot at CML Studios in Glendale. It presented some unique challenges.

Its funny that everyone expects studios to be glamorous, but in reality making a movie or TV show is manufacturing. Most of the studios are big industrial buildings. Instead the glamor goes in front of the camera.

CML Studios has the nice brick front for the offices and green room, but around back its the usual (actually a bit nicer than usual) gated parking and industrial buildings for loading and unloading large amounts of gear.

One of the nicer things about using a studio is you get dressing rooms, offices, rehearsal rooms, multiple bathrooms and a green room.

Coco, the makeup artist, actually had the right height chairs, lights, counter tops and space to do her magic. Here she is with Nathalie and Aaron.

The studio has several "cyc" screens. It requires a kajillion (technical term, LOL) but the cyc screen is what helps create those images where there is no horizon and people seem to float in white because there is no corner on the floor.

The end result is that when the crew is beamed up with a disorienting "Emergency Transit" they seem to appear in nothingness.

But that isn't the end of the special effects by any means. There are aliens and holograms to create. For instance Jorie has to try to entice Theo to relocate with a hologram of "Paroo. The trees smell sweet." Wait until you see things move in the hologram. Click the image to see it bigger.

Still photography by Kira Robles. FX by Marshal Bradford.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chaos central...

Anyone who has ever been on a movie set thinks its chaos central. There are people running around all over the place, moving one thing or another.

The make-up artist has to work on the actors one at a time. Costumes and props need to be coordinated with the scenes where they will be needed.

The craft table has to be set up with food and coffee. (Did I mention that starving artists isn't a figurative term. They're really hungry.)

The director of photography and the gaffer will need to get the lights into the weirdest places to bring out the shape of the actors in the scene. It really is sculpting with light.

The grips will move the furniture and props where the art director wants them. Everything is positioned according to what the camera sees, not where you think it might go.

People think you can stand way back with a shotgun mic and get good sound. Its a myth. The sound man needs to get the mic in as close as he can, but still keep the boom and mic out of the shot. Its very physically demanding. The sound man has to be a contortionist with arms of steel to hold the mic steady in just the right spot.

Then the camera man and the director need to decide on which series of shots will convey the emotion or idea needed for the scene.

Its really more like ballet. Everyone is moving in synchronicity until that final moment when the last things are checked. Then everyone takes there final positions, they decide who should be in focus and who isn't in that shot, and the director says....

Photos by Hannah Gweun.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The thinking battle...

As with any movie script there are lots of decisions to make. The director, producer and DP consider what they need to do and make decisions, and lists, and more lists. Then they arrive on set and BOOM!

I think the military phrase "No battle plan survives the first engagement" adequately describes it.

Then the director gets to make new decisions with input from the actors, camera operator, etc and the pressure is on to get it right even if others may not have the same vision as the director.

One early decision was to shoot all of the night scenes at night. This was a tough decision because most video cameras produce terrible images at night. Pixelization and noise creep in and make the image look like video.

That's where this new Sony F3 camera came in. The huge sensor drinks in light with photo receptors four times bigger than SLR photography cameras.

In theory it promised to do wondrous things in low light. Director Duke Marsh tested it extensively and came to the conclusion that it delivers the goods. It was worthwhile to risk a full production on new equipment.

(By now several other movies and TV shows have been and are shot on the F3, including Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" and "The Layover", but at the time of planning it was a newly released camera with no camera operators experienced with it.)

Mr. Bourdain's camera operator, Zach Zamboni, has been generous with his time and suggestions when he hasn't been flying all over the world eating strange food and filming strange restaurants.

So every thing from Kip getting his butt kicked by Commander Jorie to Lisa's collapse in the doorway can be shot with very little light and still look great.

Not too long ago all these shots would have been shot in daylight to look good, and then special effects would have to be applied in post to make it look like it was shot in the night time.

That frees up some director time, which leads to other decisions 'Which costume should I wear, this one or that one?" "Hair up or down?" "Can I change this line?" "Where do you want the camera?" "Where can we get a different prop?"

This is a passionate group and this takes lots of thinking, but its all fun if you have the movie bug like they do.

Then again there are times when you want to pour on the light for a specific reason. Boom, its there.

The passion allowing them to take the risks is paying off handsomely.

Photos by Hannah Gweun.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Another face you may remember...

If you were a fan of the old Star Trek, the original show, you may remember the face of Derek Partridge who played Dionyd, the bad guy in the Plato's Stepchildren. That episode became internationally famous when Kirk and Ohura had the first interracial kiss on TV.

In the "Down Home Alien Blues" the ever dapper Derek plays Captain Pietr, the captain of the star ship that sends Jorie (Nathalie Biermanns) to earth.

Most recently Derek narrated the feature film "Leslie Howard - the man who gave a damn". For those too young to remember Leslie Howard was a big star most remembered for his role as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone with the Wind" who's plane was shot down by the German fighters in 1943.

Ironically Howard survived WWI after being shell shocked only to be killed in WWII as a non-combatant.

More ironically, Howard's group got on the KLM plane that was shot down by bumping a child off the plane, who happened to be Derek Partridge. The circles of karma surround us.

Derek was also one of the leading roles in the feature film "Dearly Departed" where he went from his usual good looking self (jealousy rears its head here, how do some people stay so good looking their entire lives) to a slightly less attractive version of himself. LOL

Derek also won a Tele Award for his work in "Single and Searching" also directed by Duke Marsh. You might also remember Derek from the Financial News Network, or his numerous narrations and voice over work.