This past weekend we held a "pre-pre-production" meeting about a film I can currently say zilch about. We anticipate shooting it this fall, and the title starts with 'S'... but that's all I can divulge at this time. The production team is currently forming, and some of the top dogs already attached joined me for the four-and-a-half-hour meeting last Saturday: Eli DeGeer (star and associate producer of China White Serpentine), Jason Christ (actor in Ice From The Sun, and multi-hat-wearin' collaborator on China White Serpentine, Deadwood Park, and Ratline), Trevor Williams (production designer on Ratline), Jim Ousley (veteran stage actor, writer, musician, and entertainment journalist), and Jeremy Wallace (producer on Ice From The Sun, Scrapbook, China White Serpentine, Deadwood Park, and Ratline).
Jeremy showed up to the meeting with more than his charm, good looks, and home-made salsa (medium hot). He brought with him a huge stack of three-ring binders containing my shot lists, full shooting scripts covered in hand-written notes, and numerous other production documents from many moons ago. The least ancient documents are nearly two decades old (from Ice From The Sun). The oldest documents are 26 years old (from movies we made in high school.) The majority of what Jeremy has unearthed and delivered to me I've not seen since those films were completed.
Here is a small glimpse into the time capsule Jeremy handed me - documents from our film Ice From The Sun (1999)... specifically Scene 58.
I wrote, directed, and edited this behemoth in my mid-20s. Ice From The Sun is an experimental horror / art film, shot entirely on Super8 film, and cut on a linear broadcast video editing system before Avid, Final Cut Pro, and other non-linear computer editing systems were in use. (The film has a very hyperactive cutting pace, so this was quite the challenge.) Ice From The Sun isn't a typical low-budget indie film with four or five characters and one primary location. This production was massive - especially for its ultra low budget. Unprecedented in its scope for a film at this budget level, our lengthy 54 day shoot had us filming on more than 70 interior and exterior sets, at 27 different locations. We had a very large cast and crew, and numerous time-consuming special effects.
Previous to this project, my education had been in television production - I never went to film school. It's interesting to look at these Ice From The Sun pages ripped from my past, and see how little I knew about making a film "the right way" ...but how much I did know about getting a colossal job done when all I had at my disposal was about a buck-forty-five and a tenacious, kick-ass team around me. (Our current, top-secret project is reuniting many Ice From The Sun veterans.)
Now a look back to the mid-90s, and our production of Ice From The Sun...
In this scene, Keith - played by Tommy Biondo (1973–1999) who would later star in Scrapbook - has his mouth sealed shut and is forced to swallow live worms which begin to excrete toxins into Keith's bloodstream. He goes mad and tries to save himself by cutting open his own stomach and digging the worms out.
Until this past weekend, I'd completely forgotten that I had numbered every line of the screenplay so I could reference specific sections of the script in my shot list. I used this odd technique only on Ice From The Sun, Savage Harvest, and a really terrible movie I made in college.
Early Special Effects Breakdown
This four page document was provided to the special effects team so they would have a broad overview of what was needed when.
At the time this breakdown was issued, Scene 58 special effects included Keith (Biondo) having "metal melted and hardened over his mouth". I'm no medical professional, but I'm pretty sure that would just burn half his head off, not seal his mouth shut - which is likely why we changed the effect to a strange contraption that screwed into Keith's facial bones, preventing his mouth from opening.
Note the entry at the bottom of the page: The Un-Birth's Of The Presence. This would have had The Presence, the film's bad guy (played by DJ Vivona) becoming misshapen into a variety of grotesque, nightmarish forms in rapid-fire succession. I'd forgotten all about this intended sequence. Now I remember pulling the plug on this plan pretty early in the game. It would have been too expensive, and too time consuming for the twenty or so seconds of screen time it would have granted us.
The Shooting Schedule
The filming of Scene 58 landed on July 23rd, 1996. We were granted permission to shoot in an abandoned high school... for one day/night. In the afternoon, I got the few shots I needed of lead actress Ramona Midgett there, then we blasted through all 49 setups required to complete Scenes 56 and 58 on our "medical room" set. This was no easy task, as the night included multiple special effects gags, dialog, minor stunt shenanigans, and endless security problems. (On an efficient set, you're getting about 20 setups in a day. 49 setups was a small miracle, especially under those conditions.) Oh, we also had to dress the set from scratch when we arrived that day, and tear it completely down at the end of the night, due to the restrictions placed on us by the property owner. By dawn, it was as if we'd never been there.
The Shot List
The numbers in parenthesis, to the right of the shot numbers, reference those line numbers in the script I mentioned earlier. Notice shot 58U. This is a wide down angle shot of Tom, tied down on his back, unable to open his mouth, thrashing around wildly. He wets his pants in this shot - but when people watch the finished film, they never notice this! We only got one take of this magical moment, because we did not have wardrobe multiples or time to dry his pants for additional takes. I think the shot is cool, because it really looks like he pees his pants, even though it is actually special effects trickery. (In the film biz, we call this "running a tube up the pants leg and slowly pumping water through it".) Always dedicated to his art, Tom offered to actually urinate in his pants for this shot. Because we still had to spend hours in the sweltering heat on this grimy set with him, wearing the same wardrobe, I told him absolutely not.
However, two years later, I would find myself with a film crew in the grimy bedroom of an abandoned home shooting Scrapbook with the same Tom Biondo. In the sweltering heat of August, there was no air conditioning and almost no ventilation... and we're shooting a scene in which Tom actually urinates - peeing all over his (incredibly committed) co-star Emily Haack, and all over the cot she is on, as well as on the carpet - which already smelled pretty bad even before we arrived. I guess Tom showed me.
Music Editing Notes
In 1998, late in the post-production process, I made this hand-written list of final music score and other soundscape editing that still needed to be completed. Notes for Scene 58 are at the top of the page. I have not looked at this list, which runs six pages total, since Ice From The Sun post-production was finished.
I may dig deeper and post other pages ripped from my past next week.
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze