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Super 8 and Thin Ice - Part 1 Of 2


Ice from the SunIn last week’s blog entry, I reminisced a bit about an older film of mine, Ice From The Sun.  I don’t think about this film very often - it is from an extremely different, long ago era of my life.  However, after the blog entry went up, I was struck by the interesting questions I received, which focused on the technical and logistical aspects of this one-of-a-kind production.  (The fact that we shot Ice From The Sun on Super 8 film seemed to be of particular interest.)

To shed more light on the shooting of this incredibly strange horror/experimental film, I dug deep into the archives and found - by some miracle - our Ice From The Sun shooting schedule.  I had not seen this in well over a decade.

Using this 1996 shooting schedule as my guide, I’ll now take a more detailed stroll down memory lane, and reveal cold hard facts about the arduous adventure that was shooting Ice From The Sun.

JUNE 1, SAT, through JUNE 3, MON, 1996
Scenes 5, 17, 23, 24, 72, 76

We begin shooting Ice From The Sun armed with 160 rolls of Super 8 film.  (We will end up shooting 193 rolls by the end of production.)  The majority of these 50 foot rolls of reversal 8mm film are Kodachrome 40.  A few of the rolls are Ektachrome 160, to be used only for some of the abstract montage imagery.  A few rolls in our stash are very outdated film, donated to us.  I’ll also use these only for abstract montage imagery.

Years earlier, I had shot a few student shorts on the old Double 8mm film format.  Ice From The Sun is my first (and only) experience with Super 8.

We have three primary cameras, all higher-end, with decent lenses.  Most of the movie will be shot with these.  We also have four or five crappy consumer Super 8 cameras, purchased for $10 or $20 each at yard sales and flea markets.  These will be used for shots that require us to demolish our cameras.

Almost always, I shoot my films single-camera.  (Ratline (2011) was an exception - we had two cameras running, but only for a few select scenes.)  Ice From The Sun represents the only time I’ve ever had three cameras running simultaneously - though only for a dozen or so setups in the film.

David Berliner is my director of photography.  I will typically operate ‘A’ camera.  If ‘B’ camera is added, David will usually operate this.  Three or four different people will rotate through ‘C’ camera duties.  (Ice From The Sun is, to date, the only film of mine for which I was not my own cinematographer.)

For the first three days we shoot the “Dark Ages” sequences with DJ Vivona and Ramona Midgett.  We also experiment a lot, shooting much of what will end up in Ice From The Sun’s wacky montages.

JULY 13, SAT, through JULY 19, FRI, 1996
Scenes 1, 5, 23, 24, 51, 53, 54, 55, 57, 72, 74, 75

Shooting on location in Macon, Missouri.  After prepping the sets for a week, we start shooting: DJ Vivona beats up Angela Zimmerly while Tommy Biondo screams his head off.  On our last day in Macon, Angela Zimmerly is dragged naked by a truck down a gravel road.  (It’s a rough week for Angela.)

JULY 20, SAT, 1996
Scene 52

Without taking a break, we travel to St. Louis where we shoot DJ’s taunting of Angela, who is bound to a slowly spinning chair.  We film this in some kind of label printing warehouse.

Ice from the Sun InbredsJULY 21, SUN, through JULY 24, WED, 1996
Scenes 30, 33, 56, 58, 73

No break.  We travel to Elsinor, Missouri, and continue shooting.  Our first two scenes are in abandoned, dilapidated houses.  In one house, we shoot producer Jeremy Wallace’s cameo as Hunt ‘N’ Peck, with Ramona Midgett.  The location is disgusting and dangerous.  There are rats crawling over our equipment.  The floor gives out under Tommy Biondo - fortunately, there is no basement, so he only drops a couple of feet.  (This home collapses entirely during a storm not long after we wrap.)

Next we shoot in an abandoned high school building: Tommy Biondo is forced to swallow worms, then dig them out of his own stomach.  It is a complex shoot, requiring the set to be dressed from scratch the evening we arrive.  Time-consuming special effects also challenge our efficiency.  Making things more complicated, we endure numerous security problems.  Shattered glass smashes in on us when area hoodlums start throwing rocks and trash through the windows.  Half the crew continues shooting throughout the night while the other half patrol outside the school.  Even with all this chaos, we accomplish 49 camera setups - the record number of setups-per-day for the entire shoot.

JULY 25, THU, 1996
Scene 77

We shoot most of the movie’s final scene in Hillsboro, Missouri.

JULY 26, FRI, through JULY 28, SUN, 1996
Scenes 49, 65, 69, 70

We continue shooting various scenes in St. Louis.  We’ve been shooting continuously, without a break, for 16 days.  Finally, we take a few days off, and collapse from exhaustion.  

AUGUST 3, SAT, through AUGUST 18, SUN, 1996
Scenes 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 23, 24, 27, 31, 63, 64, 67, 72

We shoot all over the script: main characters’ dialog, Ramona Midgett’s suicidal meanderings, Todd Tevlin’s exciting chase scene, and a bunch of abstract montage material.  Also, we steal some exterior shots of buildings.

A couple of days are spent shooting in an apartment with malfunctioning air conditioning - right in the middle of a scorching August heat wave.  There are seven actors and the crew crammed into this tiny, sweltering apartment, pouring sweat, working fifteen-hour days.

AUGUST 24, SAT, through AUGUST 25, SUN, 1996
Scenes 7, 24, 32, 45, 61

DJ Vivona hands Jo Palermo the box that ends up sucking all the main characters into the ice dimension.  More abstract montage stuff, too.

We shoot a sequence on S-VHS featuring Alexander Crestwood’s talking to the camera, issuing orders to Todd Tevlin’s character.  Later, I’ll have to edit this sequence, then feed the edited video clip to a stack of mismatched television monitors, then film the flickering playback on Super 8 for inclusion in the movie.  This multiple-monitors shoot is scheduled for November 16th - which means I have to edit Alexander’s video sequence before this date.  I assume I’ll have plenty of time to do this.  I won’t.

SEPTEMBER 7, SAT, through SEPTEMBER 29, SUN, 1996
Scenes 5, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 50, 62, 66, 68, 71, 72

The shooting days are spread out a lot now.  For the most part, we’re only shooting on weekends.

The most insanity-inducing day of this month is September 14th - the shooting of scene 50 - when Angela Zimmerly’s character confronts Eye Boy, the Twisted Priest, and The People Pets in a movie theater.  A few days before shooting, our location falls through.  A mad scramble to find an alternate location ensues.  DJ Vivona saves the day by scoring us access to The Shady Oak Theater in Clayton, Missouri (which is reportedly haunted.)

Scene 50 was scheduled to be an all-day shoot, but now we have to wrap and be out by noon, before the theater opens for business.  To get the most of our day, crew call time is moved up to 3:30am.  If we’re efficient, we should be able to cram all of our shots into the eight and a half hours granted to us by the theater.  Staying awake will be the real problem.  Though we’re already exhausted, most of us simply don’t bother sleeping that night.  

All goes well, and we shoot one of the craziest scenes in Ice From The Sun - which includes a muddy, naked couple on leashes, crawling around on the theater floor.  (I’m sure the matinee patrons that day have no idea what transpired in that auditorium just a couple of hours prior.)

The next weekend, we travel to Ironton, Missouri and shoot in a long-abandoned church youth camp, far off the beaten path.  Mountainous terrain and forest surround us in all directions.  We’re fairly isolated from civilization, the weather is nice, and the day of shooting is fun and relaxed.  We all need a day like this after how grueling the shoot has been up to this point.

Will I find time to edit Alexander Crestwood’s multiple-monitors video before November 16th?  Why must we demolish some of our cameras?  Will we wrap before a painfully - and dangerously - cold winter descends upon us?  To be continued…

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze