I’m posting this on my blog as both a normal post, since I haven’t posted in so long, and as also as a remembrance of the adventures of making a Star Wars fan film. I’m setting up a site for the flick, and will likely post this there as well at some point. In any event, here it goes….
I went on vacation in July, from Friday, July 13th through Sunday, July 22nd. I spent most of the time in WV, and most of the time there was spent shooting an independent movie: a Star Wars fan film named “Darkening of the Light”. But I’m getting ahead of myself….
On May 29th my best friend of 23 years, Sheila, emailed me and suggested that we make our own Star Wars fan film, given that we are huge fans of the 6 films and folks are always making their own fan films. Why not us? She knew I would be coming into town for vacation, but this left us with just 6 weeks of pre-production to hash out a story and secure locations, equipment, actors, costumes, and so on. It also happened that her son’s (Kris) senior project is coming up this year, so he is going to use a part of the film for his project. I will show him how to shoot, edit, and do the special effects. The beginnings of extreme excitement were brewing.
Sheila and her family went scouting around Princeton and the surrounding area for locations, and I started coming up with a story treatment that I could submit to them for approval before I wrote the screenplay. We needed a place outdoors we could shoot, but a place that had power outlets so we could power the lights and other equipment we needed on set. She found some possibilities, but at that time finding a place with power was proving difficult. She sent me pictures, though, to help drive my imagination.
We also determined that the two of us were going to act in the film, along with Kris, Kris’ friend Nick, Jordan (technically Sheila’s step-daughter, but as far as Sheila is concerned Jordan is her daughter), Jordan’s boyfriend Logan, Sheila’s younger son Trey, and possibly my nephews.
On June 17th I finished the treatment and sent it to Sheila for her and our two leads Kris and Jordan to review. I wanted to make sure everyone was happy with their roles and the general story before delving into the screenplay. Everyone returned thumbs up and I commenced writing on the screenplay on June 26th. I now had less than three weeks to bang out a script for what was shaping up to be about a 45 to 60 minute flick in just under three weeks.
I started to wonder then, and the feeling increased every day that my vacation date got closer, that I was aiming too high with the story idea. I kept wondering if I should pare it all down to about a 15-20 minute flick. Unfortunately, I have a hard time thinking small time like that – I don’t do so well at reining in my imagination. This story contains things I’ve never done before – namely complex special effects like green screening. (Although I have rotoscoped lightsabers in the past – that is easy although it is a frame by frame exercise in tedium. Consider that video runs at 30 frames per second, and then you might begin to grasp what I mean by frame to frame tedium.) Also, we were going to have a apply stage make up to one character to make him look like an Emperor type character — a decaying Sith Lord. I had no idea if I could accomplish much of this, and there really wasn’t time or money to test it. I didn’t want to get everyone’s hopes up for greatness, and the let them down.
On the other hand, there’s no time like the present. I had been involved with an upstart production company with other friends of mine in the past, and we had actually made several flicks and a music video. That faded away, and I’ve missed it off and on ever since. Who knows if we will ever get everyone together to do this again? Might as well aim for the stars, and if we fail then at least it won’t be because we didn’t give it our all. You will never achieve greatness by playing it safe all the time. Sometimes you just have to go all in – put it all on the line – and be true to yourself. So even though my ambitions for the movie were sometimes concerning me, and still are to be honest, I decided to just go for it.
Of course none of this matters if the others working on the film aren’t all in as well. Sheila became Producer extraordinaire – organizing everything from getting the teens involved, securing the location, sewing costumes, getting props together, obtaining a wheelchair for tracking shots, getting green screen paint mixed, getting huge sections of muslin cloth for the green screens, painting the muslin with Kris, and I’m sure there more that I am unfortunately forgetting. Sheila certainly threw herself completely into the whole movie making concept, and I definitely tip my hat to her greatness.
As for the teens – they seemed to be gung ho. My biggest concern with them is that they would be in awe at the thought of making a movie, but then when they realized how much work and tedium it is that enthusiasm would quickly fade. Movie making can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a *ton* of work. Especially when you’re working in a location where you have to tear down the set every day, and then put it back up the next time you’re shooting. Learning lines can be problematic too if you don’t memorize things well.
We also had a lot of support from Sheila’s husband, Rob. He had the idea to wrap the green screens around PVC pipes so we could hang them easily. That idea turned out to be huge. He’s not much into Star Wars, but he’s a devoted husband and an all around awesome dude for humoring our geeky aspirations.
Sheila was able to secure the usage of the shelter at Pinnacle Rock in nearby Bramwell, WV. We were going to be able to hang green screens from the rafters there where necessary, thanks to Rob’s idea. Things were starting to take shape nicely, but one important snag arose – the camera we were going to use.
Back around 1999 or 2000, me and several friends formed a start up production company we called “Insomnia Films” – due to the fact that all of us were night owls. We completed principle photography on one horror movie (but never edited or did other post production on it), and completed one short film and several music videos for some local bands. For that production company, we bought a Canon XL1 professional digital camcorder that was state of the art back then. It’s the same camera that Steven Soderbergh used to shoot the feature film “Full Frontal” with Julia Roberts.
One of my partners in the now defunct company is a good friend, Brian Sullivan, and he still has the camera. He lives about an hour away from Atlanta, and we kept trying to sync our schedules so we could meet and hang out, and also so I could pick up the XL1 from him. Alas, that never came to pass. My other partner in the company, Kevin Stevens, has a now infamous (for its night shot feature that will “see” through clothes if you use it) Sony Digital 8 Camcorder, so he agreed to let us use that. I was disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of an awesome camera like the XL1, but the Sony Digital 8 takes great shots too so I was glad to have it.
All that was left was to finish the screenplay. As you can tell by this blog, I like to write. I take that after my Dad. But I hadn’t written any fiction for years. I used to fancy myself a novelist / screenwriter but my love for computers and technology eventually overtook that passion. I use to write poetry all the time too, but stopped doing that sometime in the late 90’s as the creative writing side of me continued to die a slow death. I wrote a couple of treatments for Insomnia Films, one of which was used as a basis for our first film (Sullivan wrote the screenplay for that). Beyond that my Prose Well has been mostly dry for quite some time. Even when I do write, I write slow – like Thomas Harris used do before he started writing crappy Hannibal Lector sequels and prequels that seem half baked. It’s like a movie plays in my mind and I watch over and over so that I can best articulate what I see.
In any event, I was still writing on the screen play the night before the shoot was scheduled to start on Sunday, July 15th. I ended up staying up all night to finish it, and email it to Sheila for printing. I took a power nap for like 2 hours and met everyone at Pinnacle Rock. Due to this, no one knew their lines very well on any of the four days we shot. So every day we had to rebuild the set, rehearse, block, choreograph lightsaber fights, and shoot all at once. It’s amazing that we managed to shoot 3 hours of footage in those four days, really, but we did.
The first day of shooting was awesome. We were there just figuring out things as we went along. We had the script and therefore a basic plan of action, but it was all by the seat of our pants. I had never applied stage makeup to anyone before, so now was the time to get the Sith looking like a Sith.
Before I go into that, though, I just want to say that Nick, our Sith acting teenager, just kicks ass. I don’t think he realized what he was getting himself into, but man he never complained once. It took like 2 or 3 hours to get the makeup on during the first day, basically because I didn’t know what I was doing, but he just sat through it like a trooper. It was hot outside, and I’m sure hotter under the makeup, but he didn’t give us any shite about it. He had fun with the whole thing and was just awesome to have on the set. Thank you, Nick, for kicking ass.
In any event, I had purchased a myriad of make-up supplies at “Atlanta Costume (Norcostco)” on my way out of town on 7/13. I had some wax/gel based scar and wound mix, a clear version of the scar effect stuff (smelled like nail polish but I don’t know what it was made of), neutral set face powder, white face powder, and some blue and purple makeup to make his eyes look sunken. So I started with the wax/gel based stuff. You had to heat the bottle so the stuff became liquid so you could apply it in the first place. I put this stuff all over his face. It’s only supposed to be to make individual wounds or scars, but I wanted his whole face to look damaged. I had no idea what this was going to look like, but it ended up making his face look like it was melting off – it was extremely cool looking – but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. I also expected it to dry and be more solid, but it ended up staying very pliable. It was sort of like silly putty all over his face. I wanted it to dry so when he moved his face muscles around, it would crack. But that didn’t happen. So I decided to apply the clear scar stuff on top of the wax scar stuff. When this stuff dried, it did crack so it made it look like parts of his melted flesh was flaking off. It was better than what I had in mind, and it happened totally by accident. However, I couldn’t really notice what the clear stuff was doing at first, so I kept applying more and more and more. Then finally I thought I would apply some of the neutral base and see what would show up. It’s when I applied that stuff that we could really see what was happening. It really looked awesome if I do say so myself. I then applied red make up under the pieces of flaked “skin” to make it look all nasty. Then I mixed the blue and purple make up and applied it around his eyes to make them look sunken. Finally, I applied some of the white make up around everywhere where his skin was exposed – ears, neck, and so on. The end result was beyond what I hoped I would be able to pull off. Now if only the CGI turns out like this, we will be in good shape!
After all that, we shot all the scenes with the Sith where I am going to turn him into a hologram during post (production). I wanted to get as much of the Sith’s stuff done as we could so we wouldn’t have to have him sit through the make-up process too many more times. Also, we were probably not going to have Nick on Wednesday the 17th due to the fact that he was having his wisdom teeth removed on Tuesday. However, we were getting to a point where Jordan had to leave so we had to move on for a bit. We proceeded to shoot scenes that are near the end of the movie, when the pinnacle rock location comes into play. We shot some of Jordan’s stuff so she could leave (unfortunately she and Logan had to sit around most of the day – sorry about that. It was all that ‘seat of the pants’ stuff I mentioned earlier.) We weren’t going to have Jordan for the 17th either, because she was going out of town right after shooting Sunday and wouldn’t be back until Wednesday night. But we’d have her for Thursday, and we were planning on shooting an extra day on Friday as well (at that time, the Friday shoot, the 4th day, was just proposed and not confirmed). Jordan would have to try to get off of work for that, however, so we would see.
In any event, the rest of Sunday’s shoot went really well. It was time to shoot some of Kris’ scenes, as well as Kris interacting with Nick – Sith and Apprentice. We had a blast. Kris and Nick were flubbing lines left and right, so we’re going to have a fairly extensive blooper real after all is said and done. Not to mention that retard me left my laptop and other supplies directly in the line of the camera during some of those takes. We’re going to have to go back and reshoot that whole scene because of that, amongst other gaffes that happen on the first day of shooting. There is a “restrooms” sign near one of the entrances to the shelter, and that kept getting into the frame in those scenes too. I’m going to have to reblock the whole thing when we reshoot it. Oh well – it’s all good. We had a blast and learned a lot that will help making shooting more expeditious, not to mention produce usable takes, in the future. All in all, though, we only shot about 40 minutes of footage on Sunday.
During shooting on Sunday, I determined that one of the lightsaber fights couldn’t take place at or around pinnacle rock due to the ground in the surrounding area not being level enough. So it was decided that Kris and I would take some of one of the following days “off” to drive around and do location scouting. We scheduled that to take place on Tuesday the 17th.
It’s so hard to believe that Kris is going to be a senior this fall. I can only imagine what Sheila feels like. I still remember when she told me she thought she was pregnant – even before it was officially confirmed. I still remember baby Kris, infant Kris, and child Kris running around like crazy. Back in 1992 I took a 4 day weekend and travelled from GA to WV to visit with Sheila. She was single-mothering it in a house in City View Heights in Princeton. I guess Kris was like 2 or something. We hung out. We played. We were just a couple of dudes chillin’. Ah I tried like mad to get Sheila to move to Georgia back then, and I think at one point I was close to succeeding. Alas that never happened, which of course is good because things are great now for all of us. Well I suppose I can’t speak for Kris because being a teenage guy is a completely, totally, and in all other ways insane place in which to exist. That aside, things could certainly be worse for him.
He has a totally awesome Mom, a cool and supportive step-dad, and his real father is close by so he gets to spend a lot of time there. I know I wouldn’t change a thing although I do wish I had lived closer back then and could have visited more often. I wish we all lived closer together now as well. But the past is past, and now is now, and Kris is definitely about to be a senior in high school – believable or not. I’m glad that we were able to spend this time together, and we are working on this project. He’s an awesome dude, if a tad too impatient. There is very little instant gratification in any worthy endeavor, let alone in filmmaking or memorization. Anything awesome is going to take time to nurture, shape, and grow – just like a kid from youth to adolescent to teenager to adult and beyond. Just breathe, Kris. Relax, brother, just relax, work, dedicate yourself, and the accomplishments will follow.
So Kris and I rode all over the place on that Tuesday and had some good times. We talked a lot about the movie and the direction it’s headed. We talked about the lightsaber fights (more on that later), and doing the special effects. We also talked about the inherent, inborn, and profound insanity that unfortunately exists in all women. Yes, even his Mom. (Which is cool because Sheila is the first person who will acknowledge that all women are at least somewhat crazy, and that includes her.)
We were talking about an ex-girlfriend of his, and that he didn’t have any potentials lined up yet, and I told him to not be in a hurry to do so. Man, be young. Enjoy it. There’s plenty of time for commitment. After my failed marriage, and two disastrous engagements prior to that, my philosophy on women has changed. I’m not sure if I ever want to get married again. Don’t get me wrong – I think the female is God’s most amazing and fascinating creation. Controlled exposure to them is wonderful. Prolonged exposure, on the other hand, can be maddening. Where drama does not exist, they will create it – out of thin effing air if need be. They can’t just Be. Happy. And. At. Peace. I understand there are a lot asshole men in the world. Really, I do. But being a jerk isn’t the same thing as being loony. It just isn’t. I suppose, though, that exposure to lunacy may be the price for His Most Glorious Creation. I suppose this is the bottom line — all things in moderation, brother, all things in moderation.
In any event, we drove around Glenwood Park and found a couple of locations we really liked, and saw that they had power outlets. Then we drove back to the gate to find out how much it would cost to reserve either one of those shelters. We also drove out to Pipestem State Park and found an even better location there, which also had plenty of power outlets, and got the price on that as well. So it looks like we will be shooting the lightsaber fight between my character and his character out at Pipestem, but that won’t be happening until probably sometime in December during my Christmas vacation. It’s an exciting development for us. We’re psyched about it anyway.
So Wednesday the 18th came along and it was time to get back to shooting. Our Sith, as I wrote, was out following his wisdom teeth extraction, and Jordan was out of town as well. So that left us with just Sheila, Kris, and myself as the total cast and crew for most of the day. However, Rob came out and helped up get set up and raise the green screens. My hat is off once again to the greatness of Rob. Despite our thinness at cast and crew, we managed to shoot an hour and a half of footage on Wednesday! We shot Kris’ side of the hologram scene, plus several set ups for the other scene that takes place in Kris’ character’s room. Highlights of this day include Kris struggling to learn his lines, me and Kris passing gas at strategic times during takes (“Ah, sorry – I didn’t even feel that one coming.”), having to come up with several creative ways to get the twine to stay attached to Kris’ pillow so he could move it with the force, wishing that I could string up the lights and light the scene from above to avoid shadows, getting the corners of our three walled screen screens to stay together, and using fabric as markers for where the windows and doors will appear in the scenes. We had a true blast.
Sheila and Kris are natural performers. They both emote well and alter the inflection of the voice at appropriate times. Sheila has some theater experience, so she has slipped into her role easily. Of course, it’s not really much of a stretch beyond the sci-fi nature of the story. She’s playing the mother of her son’s character, so it’s a role that pretty much comes naturally. But she delivers her lines with believable grace. All of this is important because it’s easy to direct when you don’t have to pull a performance out of the actors. Outside of his impatience with his lines (apparently it is GAY to have dialog in a movie), the same holds true for Kris. The angst of his character really shines through in his facial expressions. Outside of the fun we had simply making the movie on this day, I personally really enjoyed watching these pieces of the story in my head spring to life through these two awesome friends of mine. All hail to Sheila Renee and her son, Kris a.k.a. “Special K”.
Another cool thing we accomplished on Wednesday was that Kris and I started choreographing our lightsaber fight. Kris turned out to be a real asset in this area as he had a lot of cool ideas for not only our fight, but all the others as well. There is no way I could have made the fights this cool on my own. In fact, I’m sure they would have sucked in comparison. We really worked well together on this aspect of the film, and that was really cool. He would come up with a few moves, and I would be able to play off of his thoughts, and he would play off of mine. It was an interesting synergy. I think the saber fights are going to turn out extremely cool because of this.
Wednesday came and went and we all reconvened on Thursday for further shooting. We had Jordan and Logan back on this day. Jordan is a trip because she is a little Princess Leia – she likes telling people what to do. I call her “Princess J” – or “Your Highness”, of course. She will come up to you and say, “Put this in your pocket”, but she will say it in a manner as if it doesn’t occur to her that you might refuse – or that is even an option. But, wow, the girl is just absolutely, completely, totally, and in all other ways gorgeous. If Denise Richards (Starship Troopers, Wild Things) and Jeri Ryan (Star Trek Voyager, Shark) were related and had a little sister, it would be Jordan. Get her some acting lessons, and she could make a living in front of the camera, I’m sure of it. Not saying that she didn’t do well in front of the camera during our filming, but let’s face it – we’re certainly not professionals here. She has an eye for detail as well as she was constantly reminding me that I hadn’t shot this take or that. I could have used her as the script supervisor to help me keep the shot list in order, and be in charge of continuity. But, alas, she already has a lot on her plate as she is preparing to go to Marshall University this fall. In any event, she poured herself into doing this as well. She and I both wore blisters on our fingers from too much lightsaber usage, but she didn’t complain. She said her lines, hit her marks, and performed her moves and it was a pleasure to have her on set. Actually, I only wrote all of that because she told me to…. LOL!
Jordan’s boyfriend Logan is awesome as well. We didn’t have much of a role for him as Sheila asked me to write him in at the last minute. Even if I had known earlier, I’m not sure what else I could have done for him. Despite all of this, he showed up, sat around a lot (sorry about that again), but when it was time for him to join in he did so with panache and dedication. He always seemed to be in good spirits, made us all laugh, and generally was a great presence on set at all times. I really can’t say enough about this dude. Thanks for being awesome.
Despite the fact we had everyone back on Thursday, we didn’t shoot much of anything. It was going to be a short day because I had to leave at 4:30 because Mom had scheduled family photos at the Wal-Mart portrait studio for her, my nephew James, and my brother, and myself. So we shot the last of Kris’ major green screen work, and then used the rest of the day to rehearse lightsaber fighting, and did some line rehearsal as well.
And then, suddenly and without warning, we were at our last day together for this leg of the shoot. Friday was upon us. I was so depressed knowing that my time with all these awesome folks was coming to a close for now – I still am. I really miss them all so much. My vacation, which wasn’t a vacation, or was it, was coming to a close. The four days we shot consisted of me getting up at 9am and us staying at Pinnacle rock until 9 or 10pm that night (except on our short day on Thursday). Surely others get up earlier than that, but I am not a day person. Given my druthers, I’d sleep until well into the afternoon. So it was a….different sort of vacation. It was a lot more work, that’s for sure, than what happens in your standard vacation. But, man, it was a blast, and every day I’m back here I continue to miss it.
So on Friday we shot about 40 minutes of footage – all just one particular setup. But this was the first lightsaber fighting action we shot for the movie. Sheila and Jordan’s characters are confronting the Sith (woo hoo I got to make Nick up again as the Sith. It was a lot easier and quicker this time now that I understood what I was doing hahahaahahaha). Then finally Logan gets into the action with a short duel with the Sith, but this is Logan’s short moment of glory as his character is quickly dispatched by Nick’s Sith. Sheila then gets in on the fighting action, but is going to strike the Sith down in anger and revenge, so Jordan intervenes and faces the Sith herself. It’s awesomeness. Again, it was great to see the things I have seen played in my mind be acted out in front of me. Brilliant!
So the end of the day came, and everyone was leaving. We tore down the set yet again, and moved the picnic tables back into the shelter (which we had to do every day at the end of shooting). Sheila and I sat on one, after everyone else had left, and reflected on the day and the days prior. I was feeling terribly sad to be leaving, and the tears were welling up. I’m an old softie, that’s for sure. We reminisced for a bit. It was sweet. It was too short. But aren’t the good times always as such?
So that’s how my summer vacation went, and those are the details on the first of possibly three weeks of principal photography on Darkening of the Light. It was excellent. It was awesome. I just want to thank everyone who devoted so much of their time to making the flick.
Especially Rob, who didn’t have to help at all but was an important factor to getting us on the path to greatness. Not many guys in the world are worthy of the greatness of Sheila, but you indeed are.
Kris – you rule the world, that’s all I have to say about you. That, and you had the funniest gag in the footage I think. Kris stepped in front of the camera with his ass in full frame and let one rip. Then he turned around and spoke to the camera, saying, “That was for you, Jordan.” Ah it was classic.
Jordan – I look forward to being ordered around by you in the future. Hey, aren’t I the one supposed to be giving the orders? Go fix me a turkey pot pie, woman!
Nick – I’m not sure if there are many others who would have let me apply all that gook to them for 2 or 3 hours straight, and not bitch about it. I can’t thank you enough for being just flat out cool.
Logan – For all the sitting around we made you do, you sure were in good spirits all the time. Thanks for having so much fun with the painfully little we had for you to do. I hope we make a sequel so I can write a more worthy part for you in it.
Sheila – Perfect. Amazing. The best friend ever. The Force runs strong in my family. My father had it. I have it. And…my sister has it. Oh yes!
I miss you all, and I look forward to the next leg of this adventure. Until then…keep on rocking like 99x! I will see you all soon….
It’s so late no I don’t wanna look at the time
I can’t sleep because she is still here on my mind
Now I’m feeling like some silly crazy freak show
Every moment since then I am caught by surprise
Even though I know my heart is the king of lies
It will stay here inside where I will never know
Cause I am no Romeo to her Juliet
I am just a guy who still can’t seem to forget
Or let go of the things that I know I can’t hold
I’ll just lay here and dream
And soon it will fade
Crossing the line
From aware to asleep
It will fade
I would if I could only turn my heart to stone
Pictures in my empty room where I’m so alone
Caring, memory, and truth are life’s best torture
Though it’s not nearly all bitter awful frustration
When she smiles at me it’s the sweetest sensation
Inspired me to lift my self-imposed censor
Suppose it is so Romeo and Juliet
Took my breath when I noticed her silhouette
Wonder what a sight it is I am to behold
Walk to the ledge and scream
Soon it will fade
Crossing the line
From asleep to awake
Like a dream
It will fade….
I’ve gone from A to M
Searching for her in REM
Can’t escape I’m stuck at here
For a wish or three
Can’t go from M to G
Could be the final frontier
Brainwrap on our frame to stay
Rest of it can melt away
What is possible is unclear
For tonight I no longer care about the time
She was with me in a dream and now I feel fine
But the smell of her hair is quickly receding
I am too tired to hold onto this hook for long
It is too no and way insane and right and or wrong
Though the slightest chance makes it worth believing
Still I am no Romeo to her Juliet
I am the one who is left to explore my regret
Time always counts keeps counting and I’m getting old
Hope is both slight and extreme
But this will fade
It always fades
Crossing the line
From light into dark
It will fade
And soon it will fade
Crossing the line
From aware to asleep
It will fade
J. Brian Terry
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