Features Great and Small (not All)

I’m just completing work on two feature films (and boy is every part of me tired). The two offer a contrast.

On the one hand, there’s the work as VFX Supervisor on All About Evil, the little film with the huge heart (and a bloody one at that). Shooting occurred back in February and March (with me on set for much of it), but our festival deadline and picture lock have only just now shown up.

All About Evil is, I predict, destined to be something of a phenomenon. San Francisco has deserved a writer/director who represents its twisted and slightly goofy soul but instead it tends to get soft pictoral types who fall in love with all of the beautiful angles. Enter Joshua Grannell, aka Peaches Christ, with a script that was good enough to attract a top L.A. shooter who in turn opened the door to putting the fabulously talented Natasha Lyonne in the starring role, with support from the likes of Thomas Dekker (from Sarah Conner Chronicles and Heroes) and even Mink Stole and Cassandra Peterson (better known to those of a certain age as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark).

Working on VFX on All About Evil meant everything I’d been craving – getting out from behind my desk and onto sets and locations (from my local branch of the SF Public Library, where one murder is committed, to Kink.com, home to two more killings – or was it three – four?). Not only that, but this is old-school black comedic horror that doesn’t rely on CG for everything – we had splendid prosthetic makeup from Aurore Bergere, blood splattering everywhere thanks to Terry Sandin, and a commitment to get what was wanted on camera.

Nonetheless, the work I did with my fabulous little crew (including ex Orphanage superstar Kyle McCulloch and up-and-comer Matt Law who was working on his first IMDB credit) is integral to the story, feel, look and tone of the movie. Two of our biggest sequences book-end the life of the lead, showing how she became so twisted (and why she has a white streak in her hair) and what becomes of her at the film’s climax.

We took a DV Rebel approach –filming a skillet of water on a hot plate for both the look of the boil and the steam, purchasing elements from Detonation Films – and it worked very well. I learned a bunch about what you can do combining good practical elements and a bit of compositing.

Contrast that with my work on The Most Expensive Piece of Entertainment Ever Committed to Screen or Any Other Medium Devised by Man. Watch the big fish that you saw swimming happily around his little pond above become a minnow in the Mediterranean. Word has it that every studio on the west coast of the US is working on Avatar, and that doesn’t even include the lead house, WETA. With the crew of One Thirty (the ex-Orphanage veterans responsible for the heads-up displays in Iron Man) we were creating – well, can I even say what? Suffice it to say that we were responsible for designs, not final shots, and with this particular director that can be a Sisyphean task to the max, dude.

And yet it was really great to work with the cream of The (late great) Orphanage, a teeny crew of half a dozen or so holed up in a local post facility. Why? Basically, it had been so long since I’d been at The Orphanage I forgot how much one can learn by osmosis. Even when the work seemed a little thankless, the level of knowledge, questions and general banter around the studio put everything up a notch. It was an opportunity to see After Effects and Nuke used mano-a-mano, and I can say that it left me intrigued to do more work in and around Nuke.

I have tended to move away from work on features simply because I was able to make more money on other types of projects, and supporting a family in San Francisco necessitates thinking about that. But now my appetite has once again been whetted that working on a feature can put one above the line (if it’s small enough) and among the best of the best (if it’s big enough). Those are good places to be.

13 June 2009 | Uncategorized | Comments

2 Responses to “Features Great and Small (not All)”

  1. 1 Mark 22 June 2009 @ 9:30 am

    Can you post it?

    Mark

  2. 2 Marco North 10 July 2009 @ 7:03 am

    Mark – -First of all, your book is the bible in my studio. It sits next to the DV Rebel guide – -in a sort of shrine.

    I have a question about pay scales for vis fx supervisors on US-based features. I don;t know if this is something you would answer publicly. I am being asked to bid on what could be our first feature in the US, and wanted to know what are standard rates and how they get calculated. (flat fee, weekly, etc).

    Thanks!

    Marco North

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