Thursday, November 23, 2017

Zombies and Heroes

I know, I know. Long time. Gimme a break. We had a baby, the beautiful and jolly Cordelia. On top of that, with the exception of three or four days,  my vfx studio has had non stop projects to keep me up late knocking out shots. Most days I get up with the girls at 8a, watch them and have family time until that evening when I start to work and keep going until 3a. Lather, rinse, repeat. I love my time with them and dont want it to go quickly, but there is a part of me looking forward to them both being in school so I have weekdays and normal hours within which to get work done so I can start getting regular sleep.

Enough complaining.

July 16th, the great George Romero passed away. It possible you only think of him as a director of some cheesy zombie movies. If thats the case then you must have found this blog through a very indirect google search. I mean, its probably true to an extent. But in this world of Walking Dead, Marvel and DC zombie variants of every character, it seems like zombies are everywhere.
But he was the Dude. The man. The guy who made zombies zombies. Before that they were the voodoo breed only. No rotting corpses walking around. But they werent really rotting corpses. They were a metaphor and horrific. Your nearest loved one could suddenly be tearing your intestines out and using them to floss their teeth. There was no safe place, no one you could trust. If there were people, there was the chance of being cannibalized, ripped apart while you screamed and gurgled.

We didnt watch a ton of scary movies when I was a kid. My Dad would have nightmares and he was a scrapper. He wouldnt run from the scary things in his dreams, he would punch and kick. So for Moms sake we didnt see many scary movies. We didnt have cable or any of that, so we would either get watered down versions of scary movies or rentals from the local VHS palace. So Critters would have the best parts cut out, aired on Sunday afternoons or we would get the borderline creepy, like Gremlins and the like. The first scary thing I can remember watching was when I was 10, on a tv show called Monsters. Kind of a variation on Tales from the Crypt. Weekly creature feature. One week they had soldiers in a fox hole, the dead enemy combatants pulling them into the walls and ripping them apart. Plus, this all time creepiest Goosebumps book.

 Zombies were stuck in my mind.

 So long story not as long, horror is now my favorite genre. Its usually the most inventive, has the most poignant social commentary, and will haunt your dreams. But zombies, those are my favorite. My first zombie film was the remake of Night of the Living Dead, which like the remake of Dawn of the Dead, I ended up preferring over the originals. But that said, I loved George Romero.

He shot his first films on next to zero budget, borrowing from friends and local businesses, ignoring Hollywood standards. Night focused on the question of "who is the true enemy? and race." Surrounded by friends and family now focused on your death, the bigger threat may be the person fighting next to you. This was all fallout from the Vietnam war. Dawn of the Dead focused on consumerism, capitalism and materialism set inside of a mall. I dare you to watch the shopping spree scene and not be reminded of Black Friday sales at your local box store. Day of the Dead may be he most poignant of the trilogy, rife with the political undertones of the Reagan era, the monsters become far less threatening than the military, all huddled away in caverns full of all of the hoarded items of yesterdays opulence, put there by people long since eaten.

IE, these werent just movies of blood, boobs and jump scares...look to Return of the Living Dead for that in all of its delightful glory.

Romero made smart movies in easy to digest wrappers. He shunned the Hollywood system, preferring to make as much of his films in his home of Pittsburg (until they tried to hose him and he went to Canada). So a young horror nerd who had high asperations of becoming a filmmaker, Romero was the man. The first film that I wrote and shot was a horror film, set in an old farmhouse, full of rotting ghosts and Romero references. I've got his autograph on my studio wall.

So when he died I mourned a bit. The local Alamo Drafthouse played Night of the Living Dead and I went dressed as Romero. And it got me thinking.

Why would I be so sad over the loss of someone I never met? Dont get me wrong, I tried. I drove to St Louis with friends over a decade ago to hit a Living Dead convention. We met the amazing Tom Savini, several actors from the films and incidentally, the incredible gem Tura Santana, who I also mourned at her passing. Romero was advertised as being the star of the show, but he was nowhere to be found. When I asked the information desk if we'd just overlooked him somehow I was told "oh, he wouldnt be here. He is filming in Canada."

I think it comes down to our modern day heroes.

Mainly, we dont have them. At least not like we used to. Or maybe its just me. There was no one I knew growing up that made me say " I want to be just like them!" No war heroes, no local leaders in sports, religion or life to idolize. My dad and grandpa were as close as it got, and they both made it a point to tell me to do better than they did, very aware of their flaws and shortcomings.

In college I started to look towards my interests for heroes and the list filled with directors. Spielberg, Kevin Smith, Rodriguez, Raimi and Romero.  Schultz, Davis, Frazetta and Drew Struzan were the art list. I suppose we create our own pantheon based on who we are and what we need at the time. I need(ed) creatives who came from nothing and made a name for themselves. Not for fame, but for the need to create. The older I get the more mortal they seem to become, but still we mourn when one of our heroes die and can no longer bless us with new work. A little less magic in the world. A few more Kardashians and Trumps.

Romero got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame a few weeks ago. An honor that is well past due even if its a little dubious in the nature of that honor. But regardless, Long Live the Zombie King.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fall Recap--- Life as a Production Designer and meeting childhood icons.

Before this October I dont think I had any clue as to what a Production Designer did. I could have taken a guess and been in the ballpark, but known nothing of the nuts and bolts. In early October a good friend of mine who I see as a standard of excellence in local projects (if she is involved then I know its worthwhile) asked if I would be available as an Art Director for an indie movie that was shooting in the area. Art Director I knew, I had been that on smaller scale stuff.

Imagine my surprise and brief panic when my contract said Production Designer.

So I googled.

Production designers are responsible for the visual concept of a film, television or theatre production. They identify a design style for sets, locations, graphics, props, lighting, camera angles and costumes, while working closely with the director and producer.

Turns out its mostly the same thing. On big films its almost more of an office job. They come up with color palettes, textures and the look of sets and all that goes in it. They are the big boss that set, props, wardrobe and all of that falls under.

With this being an indie, the crew was smaller and budget more limited. This mainly means I was more creative with ways to dress the spaces and learned the names of a few clerks at the local thrift stores (they have half price days once a month at the DAV, dontchaknow.) I also ended up creating a lot of art to dress the walls with on my own, rather than paying stock sites.

But, the big lessons learned for on set Art Department.

1) Ziplock bags of ice, opened and near the windshield helps to keep them from fogging over while actors are inside doing takes. Shaving foam wiped on then wiped off leaves a film that also keeps them from fogging.

2) Have multiple sets of license plates for the state and era you will be shooting in. Fake plates are always needed.

3) For props that will be handled by the actors, I found that small tupperware containers, each one designated to a specific character, saved me so much time and anxiety. I never had to dig for a fresh pack of cigarettes or remember which keychain I needed when I needed it.

4) Have on hand a broom, paper towels and window cleaner. You are in charge of cleaning up a set and making sure window smudges get cleaned between sets.

5) Unless they are supposed to be there. In which case come up with a way to do make it quick to reapply exactly the same every time. Our continuity supervisor was incredibly nitpicky, which probably prevented some issues in editing, but made our job a lot harder. For one scene we had a paper sign on a door. We only had the primary and a backup. Then the director decided he wanted the actress to plant a bloody hand right in its center. But then..."RESET!" We needed multiples to for each take. Luckily I had saved it on a jump drive and was able to send someone to print out new in the PO trailer. But this could have seriously messed with production and it would have been on me even though it wasnt in the script, discussed or planned in order for me to prepare. YOU MUST HAVE OPTIONS FOR EVERYTHING! The director wants the shot and if you are the only person who is keeping them from getting it then you either need to be able to think on your feet or be prepared to defend your position. Ultimately, this is why film budgets go so high. The Art Department must prepare for any eventuality, and if the scene requires building a cave, you had best make sure it can be shot from any angle. If its not, you can bet thats the angle he will want.

6) Actors who smoke in the scene do not want to try to smoke a cigarette each take. Second hand smoke hits the entire cast and crew. Use herbal cigarettes. They are all gross smelling, but the least gross were Ecstacy brand. However, any herbals proved impossible to find anywhere in Missouri outside of Kansas City or St Louis so I had to get them shipped in. Get lots.

7) Those 3m velcro hanging strips will be your saving grace to keep from angering the owners of the property you are in when you need to hang tons of new artwork and signage.

8) Because you need to fix/hide things fast, keep a pocket full of sharpies and several sizes of paper/post-its on hand. They hide logos or continuity mistakes quick and easy and if you are smart about what you write on them can add texture and detail to the scene.

We went through a LOT of Poloroids.

9)Take photos of everything, all the time. Label them in the shot if you can. If you think you only need the setup for one days shoot so you dont need to keep track, do it anyway. I guarantee you will need to match the prop placement. Plus, they will want it in the wrap binder.

Im excited for this film to come out. Its looking great and I got to work with some amazing people.

The lead is Clayne Crawford, who has been in a few incredible television series and next summer a movie called Spectral, which he described as Call of Duty meets these are two of my favorite things Im super excited to see this.

One of my childhood favorites also had a role. Ken Hudson Campbell plays the local private investigator who is hired to find the aforementioned Clayne. Back in the day Ken was in a tv series called Hermans Head, which was like the Pixar film Inside Out, but 20 years earlier and for adults. Ken played Lust and while most of the jokes flew over this then 8 year olds head, the ones that landed rolled me every time. He was channeling Belushi for sure. He was also the iconic Santa Claus in Home Alone, he who helps set Kevin on his proper path.

I loved working with this guy. His subtle character ticks and little bits of business made him a joy to watch. Plus, he knows more dirty jokes and obscene Hollywood tales than anyone else I've ever met. Hire him for all the things. I want to see him on screen more.

Can you tell how much I liked working with this guy?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Random ink----Mum-Ra!

I've been working on some traditional skills. This was just a quick play around with a new brush pen. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

I did a podcast!

And I swear I thought I posted about it here already, but...

I did an interview with @rosspayton on his fantastic Role Playing Podcast Radio ( I was cast as theLevel 7 jaded vfx artist).

Ross is a friend from way back friend who used to do a lot of local film work and has since moved onto mainly writing. He is one of the lucky few who get to earn a living doing what they love from the comfort of their home studio, a right hard won by a decade of work on his part. He was my assistant Art Director on the movie I worked on in the fall and many of the discussions had on the hour drive to and fro was the impetus for this interview. Check him out and if you love his work then please contribute to his Patreon!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The evils of Instagram.

I realized recently that since I downloaded Instagram I quickly quit blogging (which was already at a minimal state to begin with). Social media is so quick! Instant gratification! Then I realized how hard it was to find my own posts in my feed just a few weeks later. Social media makes you feel more 'active' but it's a dust in the wind scenario. Posts on projects and artwork quickly become hard to find. Sure, to those dedicated few they can all be dug up later, but we are lazy and distracted people. If it takes longer than twenty seconds to find then it may as well be Atlantis. 
So, with that said, I'm hoping that this blogging app will help me combine the ease of phone posts with the need to create a constant body of work. Cross your fingers and bare with as I do some catch up posts in between takes on set. 

Crew gift ---- life in 401st

When filming a movie in the deep Missouri woods during deer season, hunter orange is truly the best crew gift. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Instagram is the blog killer.

 So, as the title suggests, I set up an instagram. It was mainly to be a toy nerd and follow designers...and then it became toy sellers....and then....well, its just so fast and easy to post photos up that remembering to do the same here became difficult. Plus, the app for blogspot sucks unless you throw down a little cash and how can I claim the life of a starving artist if I go around buying apps and whatnot.
 To recap since almost a year ago. We moved back to Missouri in order for our beautiful baby girl to be near family. Skyping with cousins and grandparents just isnt the same as being able to bite their noses in real life. An added bonus is how much our monthly bills dropped by moving back. Sad things we miss...well, thats a long list that goes from weather, geography, insects, events, produce, friends, etc.
 I've been working as a remote visual effects artist with a surprisingly heavy average workload. Im Mr. Mom during the day while Rachel is off educating young minds. So most of my work gets done from 9p-3a, which is kind of how its always been. For the first time in years I have a real office, with shelves and posters of the films Ive worked on and toys and everything! Its oddly exciting.
 As I mentioned in a previous post, in addition to the freelance work Ive also been trying to clean out projects that I have left behind. This includes 2 feature films, one short film and 2 concept paintings. I have notebooks full of ideas and things I want to work on, but as is the central point in the book Getting things Done, unfinished work (whether still relevant or not) hangs in your mind and weights you down. Im looking to lighten the load.
 Part of the new work is to push the illustration and sculpture side so that I can start selling castings and prints. Also, it will be nice to feel like an artist again as opposed to an overworked drone. Working in movies is awesome, but the hours can be gross. As  I have been reminded lately, to be a successful artist you cannot just post to your social media. It is transitory and hard to reference back to. But a blog, that lasts literally forever (whether read or not).
 So look forward to more regular postings!