It occurred to me that if you haven’t seen the movie or read the script, you may have absolutely no idea what’s going on here. Why is a chicken battling a large purple monster in front of Mann’s Chinese theater? It’s complete chaos and it makes no sense, which is what most films are about until you put it into context. Hopefully this will all make sense someday. In the meantime I’m chalking it up to one helluva learning experience.
DAY 1, Aug 11, 2012 – Vampslayer
Since Monique was scheduled to be on “Iron Man” until the end of August, we figured we’d shoot as much as we could without her. Ironically, her date kept getting pushed back and she eventually didn’t go at all. Apparently, we weren’t the only film having timing issues.
We scheduled our first day to shoot our movie within a movie, “Vampslayer”, a classic 80’s action flick with me in black leather and a mullet. The film also parodies a terrible movie I had starred in years ago called “Dragon Fury”, in which the lead actress actually says “I will answer all of your questions after we rest and have sex”.
I tried to get the rights to use the film, but the current owner (Troma) wasn’t going to let that happen without a tidy sum. No, it was cheaper for us to create our own film which could be adapted to fit the story better. And it was a blast to shoot!
It wasn’t, however, the easiest first thing to shoot. Our call time for our first day was at 6pm on a Saturday at All Olympia Gymnastics Academy. I had trained at the academy for ten years and I knew a few of the coaches, so we were able to get the location for free. I figured this was the perfect place to shoot some of the wire gags, since it was already set up for that. And they had a back parking lot where we could shoot exteriors and set up a huge 10’x20′ greenscreen ($40 on ebay) for a motorcycle gag. But we were doing this without the express permission of the owner, who could shut us down at any minute. Thankfully, the entire gymnastics team (including gold medalist Kayla Maroni) was at the Olympics, but they could be back at any time with a huge press corps in tow.
We had to work fast, but then we hit our first snag. The head coach was having his car serviced which contained the only working remote to the back gate of the facility. We tried everything, but there was no way to open the gate. No back gate, no location, no greenscreen. This was also the first day that Tex Wall (our writer) showed up with his camera to shoot behind the scenes footage. And here’s the director on day one crawling around on his hands and knees with a flashlight trying to figure out how to open a gate. It was quite symbolic. But I wasn’t about to be shut down on our first day, on camera, so I took it as a challenge and eventually figured out how to open the gate by removing the chain drive.
It was then we saw the magic of Josh Gill, who went to work transforming the back lot into an awesome looking scene with just a handful of shop lights. At the same time, we set up the greenscreen while there was still daylight, which unfortunately flapped in the breeze of an incoming storm front. I chose not to worry about it and shot out establishing shots of the motorcycle based on my storyboards.
We were working quick, but we had a lot to do. And there were a few things that took way longer than expected, like putting in hair extensions which took a good 20 minutes.
Moving inside, we set up for a wire gag which required me to do a back layout while drawing 2 swords. I actually did a CG previs of this shot to make sure it would work. I had also done some wirework years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this gag. We did a few tests with a gymnast, so we knew it could work, but my lower back had been seriously jacked for some time and I was fully aware that any injuries here could seriously jeopardize the rest of the shoot.
The rig was another challenge – trying to suspend our new Red camera 15ft up without a crane, just ropes. The owners were dubious and not at all thrilled. And how to operate it? We actually tried putting a harness on Josh to strap him to the ceiling. To his credit, Josh was up for it, but I could see right away that this was impractical. We’d have to run the camera remotely. Unfortunately, the remote only controlled on/off and not focus. And the new 25′ HDMI cable I had bought was useless when our monitor (recently salvaged from the trash) decided not to work. I had thought about pulling out my little Canon T2i, which would solve a few of the problems, but we needed to shoot this sequence at 120fps and it was fairly dark. Definitely a job for the Redcam.
Our solution was to turn around the little LCD monitor on the camera, which was just enough to allow us to line up the shot from a distance. We would then lower the camera after each take to watch playback. It was a hit and miss operation, one which required me to do that backflip over a dozen times. We also shot footage of our vamp thugs Josh and Tyler, who would be comped into the final shot. Unfortunately, it was all a bit dark, and would require some serious roto in post, but with the help of some CG magic we finally got a pretty bitchin shot.
At that point, my back was more than a bit tweaked and it was time for a break. And even though Jess said she would never order pizza for dinner, we had some of the best pizza ever! It was then we realized why most productions running night shoots order pizza. It’s the only thing open after 11pm. At that time, the rest of our cast and crew showed, which included the amazingly sexy Michelle Lee and our sound guy, Josh VanDyke, who brought along one of his students, Jesse.
We then moved back outside to shoot on greenscreen. I realized at some point earlier in the day that if we had a greenscreen, we should probably have fun with this “Vampslayer” movie, so I had Tex crank out a couple new scenes for myself, Michelle, and Tim Storms, who we dressed up as a mad scientist in Jess’s old lab coat. Tim and Michelle were fantastic and we had a blast! We also shot a bunch of publicity stills on greenscreen which we would later use to create the poster art for the mock film.
We had so much fun with the sequence that I almost forgot about the motorcycle gag – the main reason we set up the greenscreen. This was a recurring theme of the shoot (forgetting to shoot something) and it has to do with being rushed and not keeping track of the script and my own shot list. And it got worse as I lost more and more sleep.
One of the scarier stunts I came up with seemed simple enough. While riding a motorcycle at two vamp thugs in the road, our hero stands up on the bike, draws his swords, and backflips into battle. The backflip we did with wires, but standing on the bike, that was something that seemed like it might be easy to do practically. I had never done it before and I asked my stunt buddies how hard it was. I had several different answers, but I erred on the side of caution. And I’m glad I did. I borrowed a bike stand from my buddy Spike and stood on the bike in front of the greenscreen with a giant fan blowing at me. This was one of the few sequences I had done a previz of in Maya just to make sure it would work.
It was after midnight when we finally wrapped the gym, but we still had a full night of shooting ahead of us. It was then I realized we couldn’t base our shoot days on 10 and 12 hour days – especially if people needed to get up for work early the next day. The best we could manage was a 6-8 hour day, which meant we would wrap at 2am.
I had specifically planned the second half of the shoot as late as possible, since I was going to be riding down the middle of the street with no helmet and doing a swordfight in the middle of an intersection with no permit. Yea, it sounds all kinds of dangerous and illegal, but the location I had scoped out was a street right next to the Hughes hanger, which at the time was practically deserted (now the location of a huge development called Playa Vista). I also wasn’t planning on going crazy on the bike, just fast enough to see wind in my hair and jacket so it would look right when I sped up the footage.
The biggest danger, however, I discovered in the first couple minutes when the bottom of my leather coat got sucked into the gears. Luckily, the back wheel locked up before I got pulled off the bike. Good thing I didn’t try and stand on the thing. We saw only one police cruiser while we were there, but we had planned to be as discrete as possible, sitting our cameraman in the hatchback of Jess’s car, which we would only open when we were shooting.
The fight scene was another story, and I figured we’d only get one or two shots at it. We quikly positioned two cars on either side of the intersection for lighting and jumped right into the fight scene. When we didn’t get stopped, we did it again, and again, and then got some more coverage. Almost two hours and no one stopped us. I almost felt cheated. I had fully expected to get stopped or perhaps even fined for riding without a helmet, but somehow we managed to pull it off.
BAMM! Day one was wrapped! After all these years and all the crazy planning, it all came down to this – running around like kids, breaking into gates, acting like goofballs, doing crazy stunts, sitting around eating pizza, and just makin movies. Upon posting photos online the next day, everyone was convinced I was going to have a mullet throughout the entire shoot. But they were rightly impressed. The photos were pretty bitchin. It was actually a show in production. It was happening. And suddenly everyone started taking us a bit more seriously.