Darkening of the Light, Part Two

Recently I took another 10 day trip to West Virginia so that me and my Second Family could shoot more on our upcoming Star Wars fan film “Darkening of the Light”. If you missed the first report, scroll on down and check it out. If you’re all caught up, then please read on.

I took Friday, Feb. 8th, the entire following week, along with Monday, Feb 18th off of work for this trip (total 7 work days). I left Atlanta after work on Thursday the 7th and stopped by my brothers in NC for the night, which is about halfway to WV. I had planned on getting up at about noon and leaving for WV then, but I found out my nephew James wanted to come with me, so he could stay with us at my Mom’s (Granny to him of course) for the weekend. So I waited until he got home at 3:30, and we packed up and hit the road.

James and I were talking about playing some Xbox over the weekend, because he had just got the Star Wars Lego game, and Madden 08 (which I thought wasn’t even made for the regular Xbox). He was talking smack, telling me that he was going to kick my butt. I told him that I was going to kick his butt. He said that there was no way that would happen, and that he would kick my butt. Then I responded with what I thought was the ultimate slam: “You couldn’t kick my butt even if I were asleep!” But the quick mind of my 6 ½ year-old nephew put me in my place: “Then I would wake you up!” he said. Hilarious!

Not long after that, we got stuck at a traffic light that was red for what seemed like a short forever. After feeling like I had wasted a significant portion of my life, I exclaimed to James: “Man this light is going to take 10 years to change. By the time it does, you’re going to be 16 going on 17.” Of course, the next millisecond after I finished that blurb, the light changed. I said, “Oh…I guess not,” and figured that would be that. But James had other ideas. “Nope…I’m still six,” he said. LOL! That’s funny stuff.

That night I hung out with Kris and we started rehearsing. On the schedule for this leg of the shoot is just one scene, #26, but it’s one of the biggest set pieces in the film. The other big set piece it its sister scene, #27, with the both of them being lightsaber fight scenes that also include a ton of dialogue. Each scene is about 6 and a half pages in length. So Kris and I rehearsed not only our dialogue, but also the moves of our fight sequences – making up a lot of it as we went along. We rehearsed until 1am, and then it was time to get some sleep as we were scheduled to head out to the location at 10am Saturday morning.

The location this time around is Pipestem State Park, which is about a 30 minute drive from where we all live in Princeton. I chose this spot because we needed a wooded area with level ground, and there is little to no level ground outside the shelter around Pinnacle Rock State Park, where we will be shooting most of the rest of the movie. Kris and I drove around to several spots last summer on one of the days we weren’t shooting, and looked at several places. Eventually we settled on the area around shelter “B” at Pipestem as we could reserve this space, and therefore control other foot-traffic around it.

I know it’s more or less a cliché now for fan films to shoot scene in a forest like area. It’s cheap and easy, after all. However, for this particular scene, filming in the forest, especially during the winter, serves a purpose in the story.

We are shooting everything else during the spring and summer, and while most other scenes aren’t outdoors you can clearly see that everything is green and lively. However, in the past in this particular location a Sith Lord supposedly died. This destroyed most of the plant life in the area, rendering it withered. This is why this scene has to be shot at the time of year, despite the potential for cold temperatures and perhaps even snow. Luckily the weather forecast was looking to be in our favor, for the most part, for the week. During Saturday, we had sunny skies and mid 40’s weather.

We got out to the location on Saturday, and it looked perfect. No leaves on the trees, and dead leaves all over the place. Many of the trees limbs were all twisted in strange, eerie shapes. It really set the mood that I want to set. Once we got out of our coats and were walking around in just our costumes, though, it was really cold. But like I told the others: sometimes you have to suffer for your art.

This time around I had created an extensive shot list so we would know exactly what had to be done, if it had been done or not, what tape it had been shot on, and so forth. Last time we did a lot of stuff on the fly, by the seat of our pants, and when you look at the footage it really shows. We didn’t rehearse enough and plan ahead enough. This time we had hours of rehearsal and my spiffy shot list.

Despite the preparation, we didn’t get much done on Saturday. We spent a lot of time figuring out where the lights would be set up, setting them up (which meant getting extension cords out there for power), getting our huge flat board of wood out there so we could do some tracking shots (the wood is so we could push our dolly on it and have it roll smoothly), and so on. Also we discovered, much to my chagrin, that the tripod had broken at some point between now and the end of the last leg of the shoot. The handle that controls pans and tilts, and also of course keeps the camera upright on the tripod completely broke off. We eventually figured out a way to tape it on (woo hoo for duct tape), but the camera couldn’t be panned or tilted unless you of course moved the entire tripod…which in a major way pretty much makes the tripod pointless.

Also, I left the belt for my costume as Sheila’s house, but thankfully on Saturday we had Jordan there (and Jordon’s roommate Taylor) so they were able to go back and get it. While they were gone we dealt with the last of the setup issues, but we were waiting for a bit for the belt to arrive so it did eat into our shoot schedule. All my fault, of course. No matter how much planning and preparation I do…something always sneaks through the freaking cracks.

So, in the end, we did only 4 set ups on Saturday. We managed to get in one set up where Kris and I start our actual fighting, but by the time we got to that point it was getting late and colder. The scene itself starts out with a good bit of dialogue, so at that point Kris and I were cold and tired. Not to mention that I think there was a bit of nervousness with us finally getting to this point – shooting our awesome fight scene. What did all of this add up to? Well, Kris and I both did something that neither of us have done since we started this – we hit each other with our dowels.

In order to make doing the rotoscoping (the process of doing the special effect to the lightsaber that makes it glow) easier, especially to match up where the lightsaber blades are at any given point in the scene, we have one inch diameter wooden dowels (rods) screwed into our hilts. This also gives us something more substantial to strike instead of the plastic rods that come with most of these toy lightsabers. We also use the dowels because the plastic blades are not consistently the same thickness from end to end, so it sometimes throws off the rotoscoping process. In any event, that’s what the dowels are and why we’re using them. We have drilled a small hole into each hilt, and through the wooden dowels, and have screwed them into place in order to make fighting with them easier. Anyway, hopefully you can imagine what it’s like being hit full force by a solid piece of wood. It does not feel good.

The first take of the beginning of our fight scene, we flubbed because we lost track of what we were supposed to do next. On the second take, at about 5 seconds into it, Kris struck me on my right index finger. Initially I thought it might be broken, but that was likely because it hurts even more being hit hard by something when your skin is very cold. At it happened, it only gave me a blood blister…which is actually still under the skin of my finger right now. I like to think of it as a war wound LOL.

Thankfully Sheila is a RN, so having her on set is great in case of such accidents. Not to say that she isn’t otherwise needed on the set of course. (She is our costume master, so we NEED her on set for that. Also, she was running the camera because I was, of course, “acting”.) She looked at it and didn’t see a problem. I learned that having a broken finger wouldn’t necessarily preclude me from being able to move it – that is a myth. It would, though, hurt a great deal if I tried to move it. So since I could move the finger without excessive pain, then it wasn’t broken. So after several minutes I shook it off and was ready to continue.

Unfortunately for Kris, that wasn’t such a great thing. On the very next take, almost at the end of this portion of our fight, I struck Kris on the hand/wrist. We thought it was broken but thankfully that was not the case. His wrist swelled up a lot, but he was otherwise okay outside of the pain of aggravation of getting hit. With these two incidents, and the setting sun, we decided to wrap for the day.

We met later at Sheila’s to watch the dailies, during which I was in for some depressing moments. Look… I knew before all of this that I am overweight. I’m carrying about 60 pounds more than I should be. But man…on screen I just look like shite. My Jedi outfit, without the standard brown cloak, is white / off white and I look like a real life Pillsbury Dough Boy in it. Blah. Seeing myself in the footage just made me ill. I look sort of like some kind of caricature of a Jedi rather than a Jedi. I thought seriously about telling everyone that I just couldn’t do it – that we should get Nick or someone else to shoot the scene. We could just shoot them fighting, use that for Kris’ project, and forget the rest of the movie. That’s how crappy I felt after seeing myself. I guess it’s one thing seeing yourself in the mirror every day, and then seeing you as, I suppose, other people can see you. It was…depressing to say the least.

After much internal debate, though, I decided that quitting would be an awful example to set. There are going to be about 1.2 million times in your life where you are faced with moments and/or situations that you don’t want to face. It’s easy to give up, you know. I wouldn’t want anyone to think it’s okay to give up – especially all the teenagers involved in this project.

It’s cliché, yes, but it’s also true that nothing great comes easy. If it did, then everything in the world would be great. And we’d all suck ass because we’d have no character. You have to work for what you want. Sometimes you have to work harder than you though you could. Sometimes it seems everything in the world is against you, but even so you have to keep pushing forward. What else are you going to do? It’s true that we’re not always going to succeed. However, there’s a difference between giving all you got, but failing, and giving up. In the end, hard work, patience, diligence, and faith are rewarded. One way or the other – even if you fail, you are rewarded with self respect and the knowledge that you gave it all you had. When you quit, all you get is a whole lot of nothing. I’ve done both. I’ve given up before, and I know the difference between the two. I choose to give it all I have.

Okay…sermon over hahahaha.

Besides the negative self-evaluation of my appearance, I was happy with the footage. Sheila did awesome on the camera work, and Kris and I really work well together. He’s going great with his dialogue, and the fight choreography we’ve put together is great in my opinion. We didn’t get much done in terms of set ups, but we were on our way. That’s always a good thing.

Let me just say something here about trying to direct a movie when you are actually acting in scenes at the same time. It’s harder than you might think. I mean…I’m no actor. How do I direct myself? It’s also very disconcerting because I can’t be behind the camera creating the images I want to see. I have to explain to someone else what I want and hope they can capture that. We don’t have the time or money to do on set playback, really. I mean, we can always go back and watch it in the camera but we just don’t have time for that. So…that’s just another pitfall on the road of Super Independent Filmmaking (SIF). This isn’t independent filmmaking…it’s Super Independent. Everything that can go wrong with movie making goes wrong, and then even more when it comes to SIF. I can’t see the screen to tell myself, let alone the other actor(s) in the scene, that we’re hitting our marks or whatever. I’m having fun playing my character…don’t get me wrong. I’m just bitching I suppose. Which will lead me into my next bitch fest about having to be on the set with just three of us…again…but that’s for later.

Okay, so on Sunday we decided we couldn’t drive out to Pipestem due to the weather (it was much colder and very windy) so we decided to do something at Sheila’s. Right now Sheila and Rob are having additions built on their house, and one of them is a new master bedroom. There’s no way to get to the room right now except climbing a ladder, but it’s a huge room with a good space to hang the green screens. So…we decided to go for it.

We got up there, however, and realized we didn’t have much time on our hands to do many setups. Also, I hadn’t planned on shooting any other scenes, so I hadn’t done a shot list for anything else yet. After examining all our options, we decided to just have a photo call day. We took a bunch of pictures of all the main characters in our costumes against the green screen so we could composite them in whatever way we want for a “poster”. It was a lot of fun, and I have posted my favorites in the DOTL gallery. As always, you can check them out on the link on the right side of the page.

Well that was that for the first weekend. We had a lot of fun, but not a whole lot of progress was made on the shoot. Keep in mind as well that both our leads, Kris and Jordan, both have learning institutions to attend.

Jordan is in college at Marshall University, which is approximately 150 miles away from Princeton. So since it was becoming clear that we weren’t going to shoot any of Jordan’s scenes, she decided to not come in the following weekend. Therefore, the Sunday photocall was a wrap on Jordan for this leg of the shoot, as well as her boyfriend, Logan. We could have really used them on either or both of the following days we were on location, but of course the real world must take precedence. We are not professional filmmakers here…we’re SIF, remember?

Kris is a senior in High School, so he was of course in class Mon-Fri until a bit after 3pm. Mon-Wed we couldn’t shoot anything either because of school stuff for Kris, or weather related problems. There were several days in the time I was there where it didn’t get above the mid 20’s, and it snowed a couple of times as well. All in all, though, I suppose we did get lucky to have three really lovely days during which to shoot, even though it was never warmer than the upper 40’s when we were shooting. Two of the days during which we couldn’t shoot because of non-weather related issues, it got into the lower 50’s. Of course it did! It’s the glory of SIF. Hehe

In any event, we knew Thursday was going to be good for Kris to shoot some after school, and luckily the weather cooperated. So Sheila and I met a bit after noon so that we could get all the equipment packed up, and drive it all out to Pipestem to get set up before Kris was out of school and on his way. This way we could maximize our daylight and get as much done as we could in the roughly two hours we would have before sunset. One great thing is that Sheila purchased a new tripod, so we wouldn’t have to deal with that madness. Of course, we had a snag when Sheila couldn’t find the pants to Kris’ costume, and he had to stop by the house on his way out to get another pair. By the time he got out to the set and dressed, we had about an hour and a half to shoot. Also, I can’t forget to mention that, for the most part, Thursday was another 2 actor, 1 crew member day. Blah.

Man, I don’t want to have any more 3 person days on this shoot, or any shoot ever again for that matter. Every single freaking project I’ve worked on has had these types of days, and it just makes things more stressful than they otherwise are already. Although on Thursday, Nick and Kris’ girlfriend (at the time) Savanna came out to the set and pitched in some (which was awesome). The worst situation was to come on the last day we shot, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So Thursday went much better than Saturday – meaning Kris and I got through the takes of the fight scene without hitting each other again. Due to that incident on Saturday we never finished that particular set up, so we picked it up from there and managed to do that one and three others. Four set ups done in just an hour and a half – extreme awesomeness. We were helped by the arrival of Nick and Savanna, with them helping us move things around when needed, slating the takes, and basically being production assistants (PAs). We probably wouldn’t have gotten as much done without them, so woo hoo for Nick and Savanna.

However, when we watched dailies later, we saw that on every take of the last set up, Nick was in frame the entire time. This camera we’re using has a plastic masking that covers the left and right sides of the viewfinder, and it’s designed poorly because about five feet of both sides will be recorded even though you can’t see it in the viewfinder. So sometimes you think you have a scene framed great, but when you play it back on a TV you get an “Ah shite” moment like this one. So this meant that although we did do four setups, we couldn’t use a single take of one of them. Time wasted that we certainly don’t have. The frustrations of SIF continue to mount.

So here there we were, with one day left we can shoot on – Saturday the 16th. We needed to get this scene completely done before the wildlife starts to bloom as well, and we still had 18 setups to do. 18 setups, and they are all for the same scene! I’m starting to feel the pressure of my usual over ambition when it comes to creativity. Why couldn’t I write a simple story for this project? Why did I have to tell a morality tale? Why couldn’t it have been: “Ha, you must die, Jedi,” with the Jedi retorting, “No, your evil must end!” and they fight and that’s it? I mean…honestly! It’s not like I can drive 430 miles to WV every weekend, or take another week off for this particular scene. We had to get this done ASAP for a multitude of reasons. But we just had one day. 18 setups. And then the clincher: Saturday happened to be Sheila’s wedding anniversary, not to mention that her younger son, Trey, had a Scouts function. Jordan and Logan are in Huntington. Nick has to work all day. Kris broke up with Savanna on Friday (the freaking day after Valentine’s at that) so of course she’s not going to come help. So who in the hell can we get to come help us out? Hey, why not Kris’ 13 year old brother, Storm?

I can’t explain how exasperated I was at the thought of having to go out on location and be creative in that situation without being excessively rude. But I can’t tell the story properly without at least mentioning it, so you’re not going to get the full extent of my state of mine here. Just to let you know. It certainly was another ‘ah man F this shite in the A with a wiffle ball bat’ kind of moment.

It isn’t enough that we can only shoot just 3 out of 8 days I’m in town. It isn’t enough that we have to have 1 person crew days. No…I have to have a 1 crew day with a 13 year old. A 13 year old who has to be my camera operator with absolutely no PA to help him out. Man, shooting a movie isn’t like taking photographs or making a home video. It’s a completely different mindset, and I’m going to have to give a basics crash course to a 13 year old! Hello! So now I have to have that on my mind while also trying to “act” and not get myself or Kris injured while we swing these dowels at each other. Perfect, I kept thinking to myself, just what a perfect ending to this week of mishaps.

But you know what? Storm knocked it out of the park, man. He just kicked all the tail in the universe there is to kick. He did everything we asked him to, and he did it well. We did a whopping 9 setups, 10 counting a pickup we decided to shoot out of the blue, on Saturday the 16th, and we did them in about 5 hours worth of actual shooting. The rest of the time was taken up by us having to get ourselves dressed in our costumes since Sheila wasn’t there, setting up, getting Storm prepped to be a camera operator and his own PA, and me having to find a dry erase marker.

Neither of us really had much of an idea how everything goes together on our costumes since Sheila always handles that, but we eventually figured it out. It took us like a half an hour, but we got it. Just getting them on, though, is one thing. Getting everything perfected and situated like they have been in other takes is something else too. It just sucked ass not having our costume magician there. We had to spend a lot of time on that that we otherwise wouldn’t have had to.

The slate we use to mark our scene is basically a dry erase board with a clapper on it. It greatly aides the editing process to slate every take you do, so we have been doing so. However, as we were getting ready to start on Saturday, I couldn’t find any dry erase marker. Sheila had been in charge of that on Thursday, and I was sure I didn’t have one with me. So I had to leave Pipestem and drive back to Athens (10 miles) to get to the CVS there and buy a marker. That wasted about 30-40 minutes. Of course, later that day I discovered I had one in my pocket the entire time. Ah the glory of SIF!

If not for these pitfalls, I’m sure we would have finished shooting this scene on the 16th, but as it was we made great progress. And much to my embarrassment, we got a lot more accomplished with the awesome Storm than I thought we would. There’s only one setup he shot that I think we will have to reshoot, but we can use about 99% of what he shot for us. I can’t thank him enough. Not only did he do his job well, he was a pleasure to be around. So all hats off to Storm McPherson. You rule!

That just goes to show you how little being negative and worried can do to help you. I wonder if I would have realized I had a dry erase marker on me if I had only been in a more positive frame of mind. Lesson learned, folks – like I said, patience, hard work, and faith are rewarded. If only I had a little more faith on the 16th.

Since one of the step ups we did on the 16th was a reshoot, and one was a pickup that doesn’t count toward the main shot list, we still have about 11 setups to do (10 new setups, and one reshoot of the last setup that Storm shot), plus a pickup or two as well, before scene 26 is “in the can”. I’m going to go back to Princeton for the weekend here in the next couple of weeks or so in order to accomplish that. I’m confident we can do that as long as we stay positive and focused, and the weather holds out. And despite our good fortune with the one man butt kicking crew of Storm, I don’t want to go into another day of shooting with one crew member ever again. We need at least two, so hopefully we can communicate with each other better in the future and make better plans. SIFfing is complicated enough, folks. It really, really is.

Well…that’s about all there is to report for the second leg of shooting on Darkening of the Light. Another week of highs and lows, but all in all a glorious time was had by all. We used another 2 and a half tapes, so we’re up to midway through tape 6 now. Since there is an hour of footage per tape, we have shot about 5 and a half hours of footage already. It won’t surprise me if we fill 15 tapes before we wrap. We’re getting a lot of good stuff, not to mention some fun blooper stuff and an awesome gag reel. Hopefully we can get this done and ready to watch before we all move into nursing homes. We’ll see….

Before I close this out, I want to add something not related to DOTL. Every time I go on a trip, I usually buy at least some new music from iTunes and make a new playlist in my iPod. The playlist always includes the new music, of course, but also random selections from my iPod’s library. However, this time was different. I will always remember this trip as the trip where I discovered the glory of Sara Bareilles. You know how you often associate great times with whatever music you were listening to at the time? To this day when I hear the song “Cruel Summer”, I think of driving around Florida while on vacation with my parents and going to see “The Karate Kid” at the theater. Damn am I really that old?

Anyway, I was sitting here at my apartment making up a playlist when the Rhapsody / Tivo commercial with Sara playing her song “Love Song” came on. Now, I had seen this commercial before a lot of times, but I suppose I wasn’t in the “look her up on iTunes” frame of mind at the time. This time I was, and man I am glad I did. Her album, “Little Voice”, is one of the most perfect albums I’ve ever purchased.

My Dad once said to me that he felt like if he enjoyed at least 6 songs on an album, then it was a good purchase. He would feel extremely disappointed about an album if he didn’t like at least that many songs on it. Nowadays I’m buying more “tracks” than I am entire albums to be honest, but that “measuring stick” is something I’ve never forgotten. I decided to look through iTunes and see which albums are my favorites. Here they are, in alphabetical order via album name:

“1984” by Van Halen – 7 songs (out of 9 total tracks)
“5150” by Van Halen – 8 songs (9)
“Audioslave” by Audioslave – 6 songs (14)
“Balance” by Van Halen – 7 songs (12)
“Binaural” by Pearl Jam – 7 songs (13)
“Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson – 8 songs (12)
“Once more with Feeling” by Josh Whedon and the cast of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – 10 songs (23)
“Cracked Rear View” by Hootie – 7 songs (12)
“Fallen” by Evanescence – 7 songs (12)
“For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” by Van Halen – 10 songs (11)
“Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” by Sarah McLachlan – 10 songs (13)
“Hysteria” by Def Leppard – 9 songs (12)
“Looking for Lucky” by Hootie – 6 songs (12)
“Marching to Mars” by Sammy Hagar – 6 songs (11)
“Musical Chairs” by Hootie – 6 songs (13)
“No Code” by Pearl Jam – 8 songs (13)
“The Open Door” by Evanescence – 6 songs (13)
“OU812” by Van Halen – 7 songs (10)
“Secret Samadhi” by Live – 8 songs (12)
“Ten” by Pearl Jam – 10 songs (11)
“Throwing Copper” by Live – 12 songs (14)
“Tidal” by Fiona Apple – 7 songs (10)
“Van Halen” by Van Halen – 7 songs (11)
“Vitology” by Pearl Jam – 10 songs (14)
“VS” by Pearl Jam – 10 songs (12)
“When the Pawn” by Fiona Apple – 8 songs (10)
“Yield” by Pearl Jam – 7 songs (13)

Now I can add “Little Voice” by Sara Bareilles to that list: 11 songs out of 12. That makes it one of the most perfect albums I’ve ever listed to. Pearl Jam’s Ten, and two Van Halen albums (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and 5150) are the other three that come as close to perfection as “Little Voice”. Live’s “Throwing Copper” is really close, and I pretty much believe it should be on my list of “Damn Near Perfect Albums”, so there you go.

Anyway, “Little Voice” is an amazing collection of songs. Instead of listening to the playlist I made that included random songs and those from “Little Voice”, I have pretty much listened to just this album ever since I bought it. I listened to it the whole way up to WV, while driving around WV, the whole way back to Atlanta, and this week while walking to and from work. It’s just gorgeous stuff, and I believe I will forever associate it with this trip and working on DOTL. Therefore, it deserves mention here. If you think you might share my taste in music, I HIGHLY recommend “Little Voice”. Best $10 I’ve ever spent.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now. I hope everyone’s Valentine’s was awesome!

Until next time,

This isn’t about you
Even when you might think it is
Accepting no matter what it gives

At least I don’t
have to alter my ego
We’re not a star in the other’s sky
How honorable, but still a lie

I wish I could take these glasses off
And show you who I really am
The one inside the two
But would it mean anything to you?
I wish you would take this mask off
And see who I really am
What I’m sure we always knew
Will it ever be the right thing to do?

Slipped quickly away
Gone like sand between my fingers
Like a sweet dream it lingers

See me
I’m my alter ego
Under the facade that I hide
Maybe you’ve always seen the other side

I wish you would take those glasses off
And show me who you really are
What we could always see through
What is there and really true
I wish you would take that mask off
And let me see who you really are
For the sense it would construe
Could it be the right thing to do?

Now I know what I’ve known I have never known
Now I see what I have had I could never own
These dreams I see
All that is me
Is there in you

This isn’t about you
I open these doors so I can see
These days I do what I do for me

At least I don’t
have to alter my ego
Always the defender
Always your pretender…

…even if we take off the masks.

–“Alter Ego”
Wrote the ‘chorus’ on 2/13/08
The rest came on 2/21/08
J. Brian Terry