Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mickey Rooney's Strangest Role?

What can I say?  The role of B.J. Lang is easiest the strangest thing I've ever watched actor Mickey Rooney tackle.  He does an excellent job, I think, of playing the deranged make-up artist turned director in his own mind.  I say, "I think", because at times the audio in the movie is uneven and I missed quite a few lines.   At times it also just lost my interest too.  If you're not ready for a dialogue driven movie that creates suspense through isolation and the threat of violence rather than all out gore and carnage, then this isn't the flick for you.
B.J. Lang has taken Carlotta (Luana Anders ) hostage and is forcing her to act in a movie that is being produced in his own mind.  She is tied to a wheelchair a good portion of the time and his crew and other cast members are mostly mannequins, lightstands and empty costumes.  If you've ever worked on a truly low budget production, the director speaking to a lightstand might not strike you as strange right away.
Although slow moving at times the movie does occasionally manage to create some tension.  For example, we see Lang feeding Carlotta baby food and realize that, because she is tied to a chair and in an isolated warehouse, she is completely dependant on Lang for her survival.  Later, when it appears that the madman is having a heart attack or suffering some other serious ailment we realize that unless Carlotta saves him she'll slowly starve to death.  It's a gripping scene and done very well by both actors.
Unfortunately, the golden moments are mixed in with chase sequences that appear to have been shot entirely overcranked creating a sharp, but monotonous, slow motion effect.  The movie is about 90 minutes and easily could have played well as an 80 minute piece had one of these sequences been cut short or shot/edited at a more normal speed.   Of course, some undercranked stuff balances it all out.
We're also "treated" to glimpses into B.J. Lang's past through a series of surreal flashbacks that tell us a bit about the character.  But some of them are so bizarre that I missed the message they were trying to convey.  Maybe I should have had more to drink or smoked something before watching this one.
Keenan Wynn makes a short appearance that helps cement the danger that Carlotta is actually in at the hands of Lang.  It would have been nice to see more of Wynn.  The scene seemed rushed, but it served its purpose.
All in all this is an interesting look at an isolation movie being carried by dialogue, imagery and characterization.  It's a good movie for budding filmmakers to watch.  With one major location and only two leads it manages to take the audience for a 90 minute ride.   Could have been shorter.  Could have made a bit more sense at times, but as a descent into madness it definitely works. 
Worth seeing just for the oddity of Mickey Rooney playing such a dark, strange character.
P.S. The "uneven" audio is not so much bad audio as the movie switching from screaming to whispering and back again, so that some of the whispered lines were lost.  Had I turned the screams up a bit I probably wouldn't have had trouble hearing it, but I was watching this pretty early in the morning and I didn't want to wake the neighbors.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2 Films, 8 Bucks, Great Cause.

This is more of an announcement than a blog, but I'll roll some thoughts into it too.

"Slime City Massacre" writer/director, Greg Lamberson, is hosting his two films for a benefit film night.  Below is a posting of the information for the evening and info on how  you can contribute to the very worthy cause if you cannot make it.

>>Meet Benjamin Heppel, age 8. Benjamin has leukemia. His mother, Jen, manages the daycare my daughter Kaelin attends. Kaelin has gotten so much out of Little Angels, and my wife Tamar and I want to do what we can to repay Miss Jen for her help and attention.

For ONE NIGHT ONLY, I'm screening SLIME CITY & SLIME CITY MASSACRE as a double feature in Buffalo, where SCM was filmed. The films will play at the Market Arcade Film & Art...s Center, 639 Main Street, 7 PM - 10:30 PM; 100% of the proceeds from ticket admissions and raffles will go to Benjamin's medical fund. We'll also have swag and door prizes for Buffalo's horror fans. Admission is ONLY $8.00!

2 films, 8 bucks, 1 great cause!

You can read about Benjamin's story, or make direct contributions to his fund, and sign his guestbook, at CaringBridge:

Facebook has made it much harder to promote events, so please help me spread the word, and I hope to see you there!

Greg Lamberson<<

In an outpouring of generosity, other writers, directors, filmmakers and artists have been contributing things for a raffle and door prizes, so it should be a fun night.  For our small part, Hocus Focus Productions is sending up 100 CD-Rom copies of "Cult Goddess Magazine" and BCinemaTV is supplying 100 pairs of 3D glasses to go with issue 8.  It seems appropriate since 3 of the 4 issues have write-ups and photos provided by the "Slime City Massacre" folks, which really helped me round out the issues last year.  If you follow me on Facebook you'll see the invitation shared in my stream every so often.

Please do consider contributing to the medical fund.  The costs involved with the treatment of child who has leukemia are staggering.  Also, spread the word.  Let's fill every seat in that theatre.

Watching people rally to help Greg do something for this family is inspiring.  It goes back to my teamwork blog.  All too often we fall into the trap of competition, but the world should not be "us" against "them".  Except for the very small segment of the population that actually wishes to do harm to other people, there is no "them" to fight against.  The majority of the people on this planet should look at each other as "us" and we'd all be a lot happier.

I'm trying to get everything to Greg sent by April 25th, so if you've got some horror swag to donate, get in touch with me or Greg and let everyone know how to get some free stuff, see some cool movies and make the world an easier place for a family that can use a little help right now.


Monday, April 11, 2011

A Bit on Make-Up

With how small my movie budgets are I've been fortunate to work with some very talented people and get some cool monsters, wounds and blood in front of my camera.  I've also had to do some of the work myself when time and/or budget causes a conflict and unfortunately, it often shows.

When deciding on methods to use for make-up or creature F/X budget is always a concern that pops up on low budget productions, but there other factors to take into account that need to be addressed during post production to avoid snags later on.

For creature F/X, is your creature a straight on, rampaging monster or is there a character beneath that rough exterior?  This will be important for determining how visible the eyes need to be and how flexible the facial features should be.  For "File Error" our monster is a robot.  The less expression the better.  He's an emotionless killing machine.  But if you want a werewolf that can convey pathos over a kill that causes conflict in his human soul, you'll want those eyes to be visible.

Speech is also something to take into account.  Fangs, weird tongues, or facial appendages can make understanding an actor difficult.  A full over the head mask means that all of the speech coming through the mask will sound like someone talking into a cup and your actor's breathing will likely be compromised.

How long will your actor need to suffer through this ordeal?  Make-up should never suffer for the comfort of who is inside it, but the design does need to take certain things into account, especially where safety is concerned, but adding some comfort is a nice gesture too.  Whenever possible I don the difficult suits myself.  This means I need to trust my camera operator fully.  And most of the time, full on suits are only going to be worn for a scene or two a day. 

How durable does the make-up need to be?  In "File Error" I wrote in a gag that the robot's face keeps sliding off or getting knocked off. This was mainly because at the writing stage I knew how I planned to pull of the cheap skin mask and I knew it would be too heavy to stay in place for any amount of time since it wouldn't be sculpted to the actor's actual face and is made of straight latex, not foam latex.  My Werewolves in "The Lunar Pack" had to do some running and fighting.  Tabatha Gipe put together two distinct designs that managed to stand up to one of my favorite werewolf fights ever.  A bit old style Marvel TV series, but what I was going for and pretty dang cool.  Thanks to Steven Shea we got to do some neat POV shots of the wolves jumping too.  That was a case when we did have to keep reapplying make-up due to sweat and just plain activity, but the pieces survived the ordeal.  In fact, we used them again in "Shelter" for different stages of the transformation.

What lighting will be used to shoot the make-up?  I never like to answer this one until I'm on set because things on indie movies are so "in flux" that such things can change drastically, but for "Shelter" I knew where I was shooting, when and how I was going to achieve the low budget transformation using lighting tricks.  Stuff that's going to be lit dimly can be  a little less detail oriented.  Quick edits help with that too, but on "Shelter" I did have one new obstacle.  It was only my second time shooting a complex make-up composition in High Definition.  The neck wound in "Savaged" was amazing and I wanted our creature in "Shelter" to stand up as well.  HD is more unforgiving than the naked eye, so I called on Maryanne Schultz to take Tabatha's wolf pieces (Tabatha was working on something else at the time) and put her own twist on them to make them stand up to the 1080 lines of resolution.

I think the resulting creature stood up pretty well, especially on the budget we had at the time.

We were only shooting from the front as well, so that gave us some wiggle room on the back of his head. If you can plan out camera placement it can also help save some time, at least for specific days of shooting.

So, consider character, speech, comfort, durability, lighting, camera placement and work to make all of those work as best they can within your budget.

I'm sure make-up folks have a lot more to add, but from a filmmaker's point of view those are the most important, and often overlooked due to time and budget, things to consider when using creature make-up in a movie.
Examples of not preparing for some of these things can also be seen in my movies, but you can look for those yourself.