Watch the behind the scenes:
Film is Hard
It’s pretty amazing when a film actually comes together. It feels like magic. Our ambitious sci-fi epic almost didn’t come to be. At least a handful of times, if not triple that.
I am not a 3D artist or animator. I’m barely a visual effects person, only really knowing how to do cool titles. I’ve never created such integrated images before; my previous work has been on the simpler side of the VFX spectrum. And I didn’t plan to do any of this for PROJECT: Horizon.
In fact, over the course of production, I had met and worked with 3 different artists that were very interested in doing the VFX for the film. For various unfortunate and unavoidable reasons, my colleagues had to cancel and take care of other matters.
The film of course would not work at all without the visual element. An entire character is 100% CG! So imagine my sudden shock when I realized that I had about 2 weeks to learn a handful of new programs, teach part of them to Louis and complete the film on time.
These days, we see a lot of very impressive CG work done by people on their home computers. This inspired us. If they could do it, why couldn’t we? Bollocks to having no time to test things out and see what works: the clock was ticking and we had a film to finish!
So armed with online tutorials, a couple of quick basic sessions with the experts, and a whole lot of coffee and Red Bull – we locked ourselves into a workspace for over 10 days, working nearly 20 hours a day, and did the best that we could.
But this wasn’t the only road block that we hit during production. Just the most recent one before release.
The thing I’d like to tell you about though, is how this seemingly cursed production was able to overcome so many obstacles, and come out to be what you see today.
I’ve been making films for over 15 years now, so I’m no stranger to unexpected challenges. But I’ve never done a sci-fi like this, and every project I do, I swear to myself that I will gather people that want to help me tell the story, and I won’t do as many things myself. I literally said “I only want to write and direct. I don’t even want to produce.” Ironically, the exact opposite ended up happening. I ended up doing more on this film than I have on any previous film that I’ve completed to date.
Not seen in the behind-the-scenes, (because 3 minutes is too short of a time to show you all that went on) but pre-production was a pretty gradual, yet long process. We had a number of scouts out to location, with various people that were interested along the way.
The original DOP, the aerial pilot, and the VFX guy (who had actually designed the NOVA unit) came out to one such scout. We climbed dunes for the better part of a day. Everybody was psyched to get started, as our location is pretty incredible. Shortly thereafter, unfortunately the aerial pilot had a family emergency and needed to travel. So we were out of a high powered drone and my Phantom just wouldn’t cope with what we needed.
Luckily (or so was thought at the time), the DOP had the same drone, and we were going to use that instead for the shoot. And then, less than 36 hours before call time, he TOO had an emergency and would need to leave immediately. So there went our backup. I had no choice but to borrow some funds and go out and buy all this additional equipment to get the shots I needed. The production budget literally doubled after a single phone call. Oh, and Louis and I had to learn how to fly and operate a 2-remote aerial drone; something new to us.
So it’s day of, and here we are, out at the side of the road, about to enter the dunes. I had specifically asked for two 4×4 drivers with vehicles that could navigate through that terrain, so that we could focus on the film. At no point do they mention that this isn’t really their thing, and even though they have onset experience; never anything like this.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next: two vehicles ended up getting stuck. Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve been out in the desert and the vehicle has gotten stuck: I have been out on desert safaris, sometimes for leisure, sometimes for a client with their very heavy armoured vehicles. So here we are stuck, and we had no choice but to start digging out with our hands. Most of the other crew have never been in this situation. So when it was clear that the cars were not going to get unstuck, I did what any director that needs to save his film would do… dropped down into the sand, and started digging.
I got some help of course, and eventually we got one vehicle out. And since I seemed to be the only driver with experience of this, for the next hour or 2, I was ferrying people and equipment from where we were stuck, to a “base camp” location. To get the other vehicles unstuck, we had to call yet another car and essentially they spent the next 3 or 4 hours getting out.
At the end of the day – well, more like half way through the day – we were finally up with cameras and ready to go. So we started climbing the side of the mountain. Within 40 minutes, wouldn’t you know it, a sandstorm hits! I had to do the unthinkable: with literally about 90 minutes of sunlight left, and this part of the location unusable, I had to take a call and everyone moved down to base camp which was shielded from the sand storm by the mountain.
After about 5 minutes of frantic pacing up and down, I was luckily able to figure out another scene we could shoot, in a location that we hadn’t planned to.
But because of all the sand, there were technical issues with the gear! The signal would simply drop, and I wouldn’t be able to record. Sometimes it would work for half a take, most of the time it would cut in and out during the take, which later became extremely tricky in the edit. Oh, and also we had limited time due to the sun setting, and it was still pretty windy.
The silver lining to this though, was that we were able to get some INCREDIBLE magic hour light, which happens to match with our story timeline.
Day 2 was a lot smoother. In some ways. We had better drivers who knew what they were doing. The weather was clearer and we had an amazing cloudless blue sky. But we were short on crew. I’m sure due to how difficult and uncomfortable the previous day was with getting stuck in the dunes, and then hit with a sandstorm, we had less than half the amount of people. The previous day we had a person dedicated to just carrying equipment up a mountain, and a person for a BTS. On the second day, these duties ended up being combined. Oh, and it seemed A LOT hotter.
But the 5 of us, including Robert in full, sweaty, spray-paint fuming costume, pushed through. We even got many incredible aerials, despite never having flown or operated the Inspire 1. We did have minor issues with our screens overheating, turning off, and having to fly blind a few times, but we managed.
Nearing late afternoon, we were hit by a sandstorm again. Luckily, we weren’t up on a mountaintop at this point. But it got pretty nasty, and the last few shots and setups made sure that sand got into any possible crevice in the cameras that may have been missed the first time around. It literally took 2 weeks to finally clean all the equipment!
Of course, like every production, you don’t expect things to move perfectly along – a certain level of doom should always be felt; it’ll make you try harder to avoid it! And for the last few weeks, I didn’t even want to type out this story, thinking that perhaps I would sound too much like I’m complaining, or maybe unhappy with how some things happened.
But my dear wife and some friends have been telling me that the story is pretty incredible – considering what we achieved with what we had, and that it may inspire others too, and I quote “Never give up, Never surrender”.
Many people even expressed that they would like to see more of the story. And the great part is, Project: Horizon is actually a small part, a fraction really, of something that Dennis, Nidal and I have slowly been working on for about 2 years. We created a whole universe that we hope to bring to reality – and that starts with this short film. Be sure to ask me about PROJECT: Columbus, of which the feature-length screenplay has already placed and been recognized in screenwriting competitions.
So, as I said before: Film is Hard
It’ll take a lot out of you. But that just means you need to push on ahead, lock your gaze on the prize, get super creative, and most importantly: never lose hope in yourself, or your film. Because if you do, everyone else will too.
To throw another quote in, that Louis said while all this was happening “It certainly seems to be raining shit on Joe Cooper” (I’m Coop in this regard). AlI can say is: get an umbrella, and maybe wear a helmet. Also take a shower. It gets everywhere… EVERYWHERE (the sand that is).