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Confessions of a Working Director - 2/18/2009

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This past Saturday was a day of insert shooting for RATLINE. These are the more time-consuming shots that we didn't have time to do on the original principal shooting dates. We did several gore shots, which ended up covering the entire room with blood and meat chunks. At the end of the night, we just took a hose to the walls and floor to clean up.

We also grabbed a bit more Nazi footage. Gus Stevenson plays Jakob Wagner, one of the Nazi scientists, and he got back into wardrobe for a couple more "Nazis working in their lab" shots. Michael Bradley, who plays a small role in ICE FROM THE SUN (his head explodes in the pre-credits sequence) came in to play a Nazi officer cameo part in RATLINE.

We also did a quick stunt shot, which didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped it would.

Jim Wayer, the primary FX artist on RATLINE is also performing most of the stunt double work. For one of the shots this past Saturday, Jim was doubling for Joseph R. Engel to accomplish a fairly simple stunt. Jim had a trash bag, streaked with fake blood, over his head (he had zero visibility), and Jason Christ needed to smash Jim's head into an array of (fake) pipes, cables, and metal duct work, which had all been set up to absorb the impact of Jim's head. Jim also had some padding over his forehead under the plastic trash bag.

Jason and Jim rehearsed the move several times while I fine-tuned the framing on 'a' and 'b' cameras. Unfortunately, like most people on this shoot, Jason's workload is insane and he is often a victim of sleep deprivation. The night before this Saturday's shoot, Jason got almost no sleep at all. So, on the first take of doing the stunt with Jim, a groggy Jason Christ completely missed our carefully-set-up array of pipes, cables, and metal duct work - and he slammed Jim's head into a solid concrete wall! Jason even managed to tilt Jim's head down so that none of the impact was absorbed by the padding on Jim's forehead.

Jim - the tough guy - shook it off and was able to successfully execute the stunt on take two. Only after this take did we realize that Jim's head had been cut open on take one, and that it was Jim's real blood, not the fake blood, dribbling from his hairline.

We let Jim take it easy the rest of the day, and we kept an eye on him to make sure he didn't have a concussion. Other than a lump on his head, Jim was fine. But he certainly suffered for his art on this day of shooting RATLINE.

This past Friday, RATLINE production designer Trevor Williams took a bunch of the RATLINE crew out to see the new FRIDAY THE 13TH "reboot" (as the hip kids these days are callin' it). The trailer for the new F13 was terrible, so most of us were expecting the worst. Sure enough, when the movie started (with an awful reenactment of the Mrs. Voorhees decapitation sequence), all signs pointed to a terrible hour-and-a-half ordeal of a shitty remake. But after the clumsy first 20 minutes of the movie, F13 found its groove and became enjoyable. Not good. But enjoyable. The movie wrapped up with a pretty lame ending, but again, F13 was not the unbearable torture we were expecting.

Still, the cinematic quality of this horror remake was not the point of going to the movies.

Instead, Trevor, with RATLINE production manager Bob Nealon, simply decided that we'd all been working our asses off and that we needed an evening off. The F13 remake was just the excuse. The real agenda was getting us all out of the office for some much-needed unwinding.

Making a movie can really take a toll, especially when the movie is being made under the crushing conditions RATLINE is being made under. On a financial, emotional, and physical level, we are really getting beat up (quite literally, in Jim's case).

Trevor, Bob, and others on the crew have, thankfully, been keeping an eye on everyone else, making sure we don't all starve or go insane from working non-stop. Making a movie like this is a little less intimidating, and a lot more rewarding, when you know your team has your back. Everyone is looking out for one another.

When I evaluate the world around us, I see how rare this level of camaraderie is. Generally, heroes of the business and entertainment world engage in much back-stabbing, greedy self-indulgence, and flat-out stealing. It's extremely ugly out there. Worse, it upsets me to report that I am usually called "weak" or a "failure" because I do not engage in back-stabbing or stealing. I try very hard to treat others with respect (those who deserve it, of course) and I try to always earn more than I actually take. I don't consider this weakness. I consider this integrity. I consider this indicative of a strong work ethic. I am proud of these aspects of myself, so being routinely looked down upon for having these attributes often weighs heavily on me. That's the trick, though... if you know you are right, don't let those who are wrong - even if they are in the majority - convince you to change. Don't sink to their level. In the long run, you'll find, integrity is more important than money.

A night out at the movies is not the only generous thing Trevor has done for me. Since RATLINE production began, I've found myself in a tight spot on more than one occasion, and Trevor has always been right there to offer his help. The support and generosity Trevor has shown me in these past few months has been amazing.

Jim Wayer is another who sacrifices in a major way for this movie-making machine of ours. He now works for me full time - and his income is not the better for it. He helps me with the business management at Wicked Pixel Cinema, he designs most of our marketing materials, he runs our MySpace pages, and he even chooses and prepares for FEARnet.com the images you see in this blog of mine. And that's when he's not working his ass off on the RATLINE project. Jim's dedication and sacrifice are a major reason why Wicked Pixel Cinema has the forward momentum we have today.

Jason Christ has also been a constant source of support, encouragement, and generosity. He's been in this organization longer, so he has a track record years long of coming to my rescue when I need help the most. Jason works very hard himself, and I know his own stress levels are through the roof. Still, he is constantly sacrificing to make sure those around him (including me) have what they need to make life a little less arduous. Jason is an exceptional friend. Looking back on some of the really bad patches I've had to endure, I don't know if I could have made it this far without Jason's support.

Lots of others in this group - Jeremy Wallace, Jessie Seitz, Emily Haack, Gus Stevenson, ol' timers like Bill Clifton and DJ Vivona, newcomers like Sarah Swofford and Bob Nealon, and many more - have all shown me a level of support that I know is rare.

I am overjoyed to see my team functioning this way, given the rarity of their frame of mind. It makes me extremely proud of them. And it makes me feel very lucky that I am included in this group of such high quality individuals. If everyone in the world possessed the admirable qualities of my team, the world would certainly be a better place.

Thanks for reading.

Eric Stanze

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