So, I’m sure you’re wondering where Filmpunch disappeared to these past couple of weeks. Well, I can assure you that we weren’t on vacation (though that would have been preferable…maybe some nice beach somewhere far away, a quiet surf, a warm breeze, ah…). Far from it, actually. For quite some time now, we’ve been working on a new short…a sci-fi short…you know, like one that takes place on another planet with spaceships and stuff? Yes, that’s right folks; we were (our brains were, at least) much farther than some bungalow in the tropics. So where were we exactly? Well…
There is a world, hewn by the winds in solitude. A dry and barren sphere, yet fertile beyond compare. A place where gods swim across oceans of sand and men walk across the ribbons of space and time. Only power quenches thirst there, where water is scarce. Red skies, red sand, red blood, blue eyes, cloaks trailing in the wind – Dune they call it, Arrakis, the Desert Planet.
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
Our short was based off the classic science fiction cycle, Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s widely considered the sci-fi equivalent of Lord of the Rings because of its epic scope and extraneous detail. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the books or movies, you have probably heard the phrase “The Spice must flow…” from your Trekky friends, or you may recall seeing a blip when flipping through the channels of a hooded and cloaked man with glowing blue eyes – well, that’s Dune in a nutshell…blue eyes and sand people…oh, and giant sandworms that extrude a drug called the Spice that everyone’s addicted to and which runs the galactic economy. Okay, so it’s a bit more intense than I let on at first, but you get the picture. (I’ll be dropping terms, so don’t hesitate to click the green words.)
The ideas must flow!
As an independent, money can be hard to come by, whereas your dreams are not. In fact, I bet you know the feeling: working your life away at a perfunctory day job that ultimately squashes your spirit, or maybe you’re swamped with schoolwork; you have no money because it’s being relegated to your “worldly responsibilities” i.e., loans and bills…an expensive girlfriend, but amidst all this, there seems to be no shortage of inspiration flashfloods. An idea pops into your head, but you think your skill sets are too obsolete or substandard to pluck it from your mind and put it onto screen or paper. Perhaps you’re like me, and you have an adequate camera, and all of a sudden you envision an epic fantasy. In it, you see dwarves singing ominous songs around a campfire, or the shadow of dragon wings sliding across snowy mountainsides…Stop right there! I know what you’re thinking:
I could never film it. I could never write it well enough to satisfy my vision. Someone else with millions of dollars more than me (The Magical World of Walt Lucas, J.J. “Lens flares” Abrams, or Steven Spiel-hittingbrickwalls-berg) will have to keep me entertained.
Lies, all lies!
He who controls his resources, controls the universe.
Those fears will kill your creative streaks. If we all listened to those dubious voices inside our heads, nothing would ever be created. There is a way to make these ideas come to fruition, even now, with a little pocket change and stubborn ambition…and a few talent release forms. That’s just what we do here at Filmpunch: O’Ryan and I hatch up crazy ideas all the time and think about ways in which we can vitalize them. This Dune short was no different. The key is understanding your limitations and being innovative. First you have to tell yourself that your idea can happen. Then, you set yourself to the task of finding actors, props, costumes, locations, and all for as reasonably priced (if not free) as possible. Remember, we’re working independent here with a Great-Depression-size budget. Find a camera (preferably one with adjustable frame rates so you can achieve that cinema feel), set aside a date, and you’re off to a good start.
The Golden Path
Here’s how it worked for us: We focused a very nebulous idea, “Dude, let’s do a Dune short!” And within no time we had a brief script typed up and formatted. Next, we went location scouting to see if we could find something that could pass as a desert on film. For those of you who don’t know, New Hampshire is taiga (lots and lots of Christmas trees), so no deserts up here, which makes for shooting a film that’s supposed to be set on Tatooine’s big brother rather tricky. We didn’t let that stop us, though. Like I said before, think. We came up with the idea to look around for sandpits that were large, private, and unmaintained. It didn’t take long for us to find the perfect Arrakis, complete with Grand-Canyon-esque striations, scree, dune-like formations, silty patches—the works. But before we could continue on our quest, we had to ask permission. So we drafted up a simple release form, freeing the landowners of liability should any of us be consumed by a giant spice-yielding sandworm. Naturally, they agreed…I mean, who wouldn’t want a bunch of grown men parading around their property in formfitting hydration spacesuits and capes?
Always be sure to ask for permission if you are shooting on private property. Nothing says professional like being in the middle of a shoot and getting kicked off the property. Not only is it embarrassing, but your cast and crew won’t think very highly of it. When asking for permission be honest and upfront, be respectful, and don’t say more than you need to say.
Script – CHECK! Location – CHECK!
Now we needed actors. We were lucky enough to have a few friends visiting in town, so we appealed to their sense of adventure and told them they’d have a blast jumping off of sandpiles, and running around in crazy costumes for a movie we were doing. They happily obliged. Actors – CHECK!
The final thing we had to get together were costumes, props, and make-up. For the better part of two weeks, which included a couple of very late nights, we sewed feverishly into the wee hours of morning, modeled, tailored on a duct tape mannequin, cut, snipped, dyed, trimmed, adjusted, resewed our various fabrics until we had created the perfect stillsuit/cloak combo for our Fremen. And to seal the deal, we had a friend of ours carve us an authentic crysknife out of wood. It turned out awesome; check it out here.
You’d be amazed what you can come up with by disassembling and combining everyday objects. For instance, we needed a thumper, a device used to summon worms, but those are expensive pieces of machinery even on the Arrakeen black market. We ended up taking a retractable clothing rod designed for cars and screwed a metal drain fixture onto the top, and voila! It looked pretty sweet, but you’re going to have to take my word for it until we release the short. The point is: be creative and you’ll find the solutions can be affordable and satisfactory.
The saga (of post-production) is far from over…
After a frigid day, a late start, patchy available lighting, an early sunset, and a plethora of Frigo Cheese Heads, we finished the Dune shoot. No one got hurt, thankfully, and we even got a couple really cool jib shots. We went home got some audio and green screen shots, and anything else we could think of before we let our actors go. Now, post-production lies ahead. Currently, we’ve been talking to a really awesome composer about scoring for us. And we’re pretty excited to piece it all together. We’ll still have to mess around (a lot) with ADR, create some pretty extensive mattes, 3D model some things, color correct, color grade…and all the while preparing for Christmas, the premiere of The Hobbit, and of course, the end of the world following the Zombie Apocalypse. So much to do, but don’t worry, we’ll keep you in the loop with pics and status updates via our Facebook and Twitter. As for now, I leave you with these parting words from the Dune books as you contemplate your own projects:
Be cautious. Allow for surprises. When we create, there are always other forces at work.