Tag Archives: Shadow over Innsmouth

Making the Lovecraft Short Film – Post Production

Although we haven’t finished all our shooting yet, post production is well underway.  That might seem counter intuitive but when making a short independent film without a big crew, you do whatever you can to keep the project moving forward.  Since many of the scenes are already shot, I can edit them together now, and add in the remaining scenes when they are finished.

The editing is being done with the Adobe Creative Suite.  Adobe CC is the editor used, After Effects for special effects and titles, Audition for audio work, and probably Speedgrade for the color grading (so far Magic Bullet Looks has been used to create the temporary color grading to give an idea of the final atmosphere of the different shots.).  I vastly, vastly prefer the current Creative Suite over Final Cut, and if you do editing every day for a living, you probably feel the same way.  Without going into huge detail, the ability of even a slower computer to play back high quality video in real time with no rendering is a big selling point for people starting out (less of an issue when you have super powered editing computers).  I can easily drop in any resolution footage, throw on effects and transitions, and play through it with no rendering at all.  The integration with AE is another huge selling point – no rendering the project then exporting it out to a huge lossless format (to keep resolution) which takes forever, import into composting program (you will probably be using AE anyway since it is much better than Final Cut’s offering), make your changes, export it out again to lossless format, and finally re-import back into your editor. None of that nonsense – in Premiere I can click on my clip, select import as AE Comp, and there it is in After Effects.  Any changes I make show up on the Premiere timeline as I make them.  There’s a host of other reasons, but suffice to say that it isn’t the Adobe suite of the old days, and with a decade of experience using both suites, my choice was very easy to make.  On to a quick overview of my post production process!

First you have to organize your media, which in most cases will involve naming of clips, marking of in and out points, etc.  I think everyone has a different way of doing this, but if you work with a team you’ll all need to be on the same page.  Since I’m doing the editing myself, I can be messy and inefficient if I want to.  Since some of our scenes are shot in the RAW format of the Canon 5d Mark III, special work was needed to get them into our editor.  These clips are made possible by the creators of Magic Lantern, and are not supported fully by Premiere or anyone else.  A few tricks, such as turning the files into a DNG sequence and creating proxies to preview the footage with in your editor make working with RAW files easier.  Definitely check out the Magic Lantern forums if you plan on working with RAW footage, because the post process workflow is much much harder than simply dropping files into your editor.

If the scene has speaking, I do the syncing of the audio first.  We used a boom mic hooked up to a Tascam with XLR input to record the sound.  Syncing up the high quality audio was easy with the help of the slate, making the loud “clap” sound that we all know from the movies.

Since each shot has multiple takes, I spent a great deal of time going through each one and finding the best.  This part is a lot of fun, since you also get to see the outtakes.  Here is where you mix and match the shots to start creating the scene you storyboarded out long ago.

Although we have multiple cameras, we shot each scene with just one.  It’s easy to spend countless hours re-editing and adjusting a scene, trying to find the perfect balance of time between shots, the perfect place to cut, trying to trim a little off here and little off there.  I’ll revisit a scene and make adjustments after some time has passed, looking at it with fresh eyes and trying to get the very most out of each scene.

At this point I did some preliminary work on the music, although this is not my specialty.  We are hoping to hire someone to do the score (that will depend on funding from Kickstarter) but in the meantime, this helps set the tone and pacing of the scenes.  I also added sound effects where necessary, i.e. gunshots, doors opening, footsteps – these things are all recorded separately from the video in order to get them in high quality.  That means they need to be added in during post production to make sure the scene feels alive.

Moving on from there, I did some preliminary color grading.  As mentioned above I used Magic Bullet Looks, primarily the 3 color wheel, to adjust the highlights, midtones, and shadows, creating the atmosphere and look of the scenes as a rough guideline.  This helps me in the editing as I can get a feel for the final look of the film, and will also provide a starting point when I begin the final color grading with Speedgrade.  Magic Bullet is a great tool for color grading and probably more than adequate enough, but I’ve never used Speedgrade before and I want to see what it offers, being a tailor made application just for color grading.

Next up is the effects – although this could also be done earlier in the process.  In AE I did things such as motion tracking the shot, adding masks to effect lighting and color, creating the special effects (I can’t go into detail without giving anything away) and more.  There is a lot of time to be spent in this part of the process, and it of course varies tremendously depending on what type of effect I am creating for the scene.  There is a scene where I used camera tracking and added in stars and mist and you wouldn’t have any idea that it wasn’t really there, thanks to lots of careful masking, feathering, and some great video of mist keyed in over the shot.  After the film is released I’ll go into much more detail on how I made the different effects, some of which are extremely involved.

This is just a brief overview of the post production process.  As the film is finalized, I may do specialized versions of this guide – a step by step to color grading, for example, or a guide to removing background noise from your audio.  The best part of this process is that you get to re-make the film for the final time (remember that old quote that a film is made 3 times, well the final time is in editing).  When you bring those shots into your editor, you begin to rearrange them, you begin to work around some things that may be different from your original vision, and before you know it, things come together in a new way that you didn’t originally picture.  It’s an exciting process and I personally am enjoying watching The Crawling Chaos come to life.


Lighting an Outdoor Night Scene – Adventures in the Dark

Another post about our short film based on Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos.  To see what scene I’m talking about, please check out the previous post (which also has some photos to illustrate the lighting).  This was by far the hardest part of our production (so far) and we still need a little more filming done at this location.

Without giving away too much, we needed an outdoor setting in the woods far from civilization, and it needed to be dark.  I found a location while scouting around the Redwoods near the Santa Cruz mountains that was pretty much in the middle of a forest.  It fit the other criteria for the shoot as well, so now we were faced with a new choice – should we film day for night (film during day and try to make it look like night in post processing) or go ahead and film at night?  After reviewing both options I decided day to night was not going to work for us.

I got some recommendations from a lighting master named Edwin (he has lit Hollywood films before such as Zodiac) on how to approach the scene.  Since this was something we hadn’t done before, I had to rent the equipment we’d need.  In the end, we primarily used 2 large (I believe 2000w) fresnel lights sitting up about 20-30 feet in the air on heavy duty stands, angled down and acting as our light.  One of them was lighting our actors while the other was just barely lighting the background, giving a hint of the creepy location. By shooting with a really low aperture I was able to capture great light from the candles our cultists were holding, which acted as the fill lights for them in many scenes.  The big fresnels being up high gave me some nice shadows and looked like perhaps a moon was lighting the scene.  We also used an LED light shot through diffusion, and a reflector held by one of the cast to act as a fill (and even a key light in some scenes that were supposed to look very dark).  These two would be shifted around depending on the angle of the scene, since moving the big fresnel lights was just not going to happen.

Wait, how the heck are we powering this stuff?  It wasn’t through the power of Cthugha the Living Flame, I had rented a generator to plug in our lights and that thing was running the whole time.  I should also note that we had one other light plugged in, but that was to light the area off camera so we wouldn’t fall down and hurt ourselves in the darkness.  With the lights off, it was completely pitch black out there.

Doesn’t sound so bad, just a couple of lights!  The reality is that these massive lights were up so high and were so hard to move on uneven terrain (the rental place was out of the stands with the adjustable leg for this type of situation) that once they were set up, we just didn’t have the time or resources to move them.  One of the fresnel lights actually had the lens shatter suddenly, in the middle of our filming.  Most likely it had already been cracked before we got there, and the heat had eventually gotten to it (the rental place made me pay for the lens, which was expensive, ouch!).  We continued to use it without the lens but that made it even harder to adjust.  With most of the crew actually in the scene as actors, whoever was not on camera would have to do the reflector for me.  With a full crew this would have been a much easier shoot, but you won’t find anyone willing to do that for free like my cast and crew of friends was willing to do.

Other problems associated with the shoot involve the sound of the generator – that thing is loud.  There was no way we could get any audio with that running right next to us, so we had to record audio separately and sync it with the lips in post.  Stumbling around in the dark was a problem, and I ended up not being able to set up a lot of the stuff I wanted to do because we were running out of time (it was probably close to 1 or 2am by the time we finished).  In the end, the footage came out great though, and the scene took on a life of its own.  It’s hard not to shoot something creepy and scary when you’re in such a genuinely creepy and scary place.

I almost forgot to mention, the location was probably about half a mile or more from the closest place I could park – and uphill, on uneven terrain.  We all pushed and carried massive amounts of equipment up to the shooting location while it was still light, and it was a brutal and exhausting experience.  I felt terrible that I didn’t even end up using much of the equipment.  Such heavy items included lots of huge, unwieldy lighting stands, a massive generator, tons of lights, heavy tripods, sandbags (yeah, basically just heavy weight to be slung over the shoulder), camera rig, lots of lenses, and more.  If that wasn’t bad enough, when we finished our shoot we had to carry it all back down in complete darkness.  Using our phones and flashlights to light the path, we took down all but one light and the generator (so we could still see our gear) and had one person light the way.  The final trip was so physically exhausting that one of our cultists actually had to stop to throw up on the way, but he was such a trooper that he went right back to carrying equipment as soon as he finished.  I can’t thank these guys enough, they really went above and beyond!

Oh, and let’s not forget the giant spiders.  During the day we didn’t see much, but once it got dark these huge, spindly legged things came from everywhere.  They were mostly 3-4 inches across counting the legs, which is plenty big enough.  When I reached in to one of my bags in the darkness to find a lens cap, and instead found a huge spider sitting inside it, well that was pretty unpleasant.  After that I had everyone check each open container thoroughly with flashlight to make sure I wasn’t loading any more of these monsters into my vehicle.  We also passed through a bunch of loud croaking toads in the darkness, probably some relatives of Tsathoggua just showing us their support.  To top it all off, it was actually one of our actors birthdays that night.  I thought we would have finished much, much earlier and then went out to celebrate with him, but instead he got manual labor and darkness as his gift (I’ll make it up to you next time buddy!).  At least we had an adventure that none of us will soon forget.  Surrounded by trees and spiders in the dead of night, with nobody around for miles – just the all encompassing darkness.  I’m sure we’re all excited to go film a couple extra shots out there that we still need…


More Photos from our Lovecraft Short Film

He seems like a nice guy

He seems like a nice guy

Cultists in the middle of a ritual, no doubt summoning something Lovecraftian

Cultists in the middle of a ritual, no doubt summoning something Lovecraftian

Some cultists putting in work during a midnight ritual.  As you can see, they are out in some creepy looking forest in the middle of nowhere, lighting their ritual candles.  That wicked looking knife can only be for some nefarious purpose.  This scene was as intense to film as it will be to watch.  Our cast and crew will never forget the pitch black forest and the monstrous spiders that crawled into all our gear while we were filming.  More details on this shoot coming later, including lighting setup and the adventure we had making this scene.


The Crawling Chaos – A Lovecraftian Short Film

Our film follows an unnamed detective, hired to track down a missing teenage girl.  Her search leads her to a mysterious cult, and the edge of her own sanity.  Narrated like a classic film-noir, the film will take you on a visual and psychological journey as our protagonist comes up against eldritch forces from beyond the stars.

When we set out to create this short film, we had a couple goals in mind.  We wanted a film that stayed true to Lovecraft’s theme, style, and atmosphere.  Since Lovecraft almost always had the main character narrating the story, we decided to have our main character also narrate with a voice over.  Lighting and atmosphere were kept dark, shadowy, and bleak.  Although clearly in the style of Lovecraft, the story was to be original.

With that in mind, we wanted to take on something that would help us hone our skills, without being too big of a project.  When the script was drafted, it was a good solid story with just the right amount of production difficulty for us to tackle.  Of course, the more work we did, the more the story grew.  It took on a life of it’s own, like some malevolent object from Lovecraft’s own fiction, and before we knew it the story had become something new.  It was darker, it was more complex.  The scenes became more difficult to light, to film, to edit.  When it reached its final incarnation, we knew it was the type of film that people would talk about, would share with each other and watch again and again.  There was no going back – I knew I could make this film, although it might take a little more help than initially thought.

For me personally, I’ve been wanting to make this kind of film my whole life.  Through growing my own video/photo production company, which specializes in events, commercials, and corporate – I’ve finally amassed the tools and experience to begin taking on the projects I want to do.  With years of TV and Film experience under my belt, and knowledge of almost every aspect of filmmaking, I trained my small crew of close friends to help me on this path.  With help from them and my family, we’ve come a long way already and finished about 90% of The Crawling Chaos. The goal here isn’t just to make this one film, it’s to satisfy a lifelong ambition by becoming a full time filmmaker.  What started as a child’s dream will finally be achieved through hard work and perseverance – and without living the “starving artist” lifestyle that would force me to rely on the financial help of others.  I’m proud of how far we’ve come together, and with help from backers on Kickstarter I hope to complete this film in the next few months.

That’s where you come in.  We haven’t launched the Kickstarter yet, but it will probably go up by the end of the month.  We still have a few key scenes to film, some expensive equipment to rent (crane, big time lighting gear, etc) and much of the post production process.  So far the project has come together out of my pocket, and with a budget of very little we’ve created so much.  We need your help to finish the last 10% of this film and share our story with Lovecraft fans across the world.

Whether or not you can help, be sure to follow this blog for updates and photos on the filmmaking process.  I’ll post photos from shoots, video trailers, and more.  I’ll talk about the shoots (try getting your friends to haul equipment into the middle of a forest at midnight), the filmmaking process itself, and the people helping me create it.  When we launch the Kickstarter this month, you’ll be the first to know.  Next up, a teaser of something creepy – a still taken straight from the movie!


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