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Blog Posts

Surviving Cinema: 'Stake Land' Behind-The-Scenes


Last year I had the pleasure of working on the upcoming film Stake Land, directed by Jim Mickle.  I was happy to be working for Jim because I really loved his debut film, Mulberry Street - and I was equally pleased to find myself on set with producer Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter) and his Glass Eye Pix team, as I greatly admire Larry as a filmmaker and I am impressed by his many contributions to indie cinema over the past two decades. 

I was a last-second addition to the Stake Land crew.  I directed second unit for the movie, but my involvement in the flick continues to this day. 

The behind-the-scenes documentary that will appear on the Stake Land DVD release was also a last-second project, rushed into production literally hours before the cameras started rolling on the first day of Stake Land production.  I offered my services to shoot and edit this documentary, and the producers hired me for the job.  Today, as I type this, the post-production of Going For The Throat: The Making Of Stake Land is in its final phase.

Post-production on my feature Ratline is also in its final phase.  Ratline editing slowed to a crawl, and on occasion stopped completely as the Stake Land documentary demanded more and more of my attention. 

I believe some people involved in Ratline (producers, crew, actors, financial contributors, and also the patiently-waiting fans) were a bit perturbed at the delays.  I most certainly did not want to back-burner Ratline to edit the Stake Land documentary, but the reality is that helming the doc is a paid job and Ratline is not.  In addition to enjoying the hell out of making this doc, the paycheck associated with it put money in my pocket, paid my key assistant editor, and it covered some bills here at Wicked Pixel Cinema. 

Ratline, on the other hand, will only generate income after it is released.  No salary for me as an editor is included in Ratline's budget.  In fact, Ratline only exists because my team and I were willing to make such sacrifices to create a movie that would hopefully generate more paid work later.  The downside is obvious: when a paid gig presents itself, Ratline post-production shuts down.

The Stake Land documentary is much more than a paycheck, however.  I've thoroughly enjoyed the process of making this doc - partly because I am making it for people I like and respect.  I have never made a documentary on the making of a movie, so this was a completely new experience - which was another reason why I was interested in doing it.  I learned that I don't want to make a career out of work like this - but I enjoyed shooting and editing the documentary much, much more than I thought I would.

I always watch the bonus materials on every DVD I get.  Sometimes, the documentaries are very impressive, and sometimes they are not.  After years of viewing such material, I was able to put my opinions into practice on this documentary for Stake Land

A big pet peeve of mine - that I see constantly in such documentaries - is the fact that many of them start with a description of the plot and the characters.  I just watched the movie - that's why I'm watching the bonus features - so I don't need the plot synopsis or character descriptions.  Annoying!  I also generally dislike seeing clips of the movie in the making-of documentary.  When the doc is edited by a real editor, who uses the clips to support various points and to better tell the story, the clips are fine.  Unfortunately, many making-of docs cut to clips of the movie in a random, clunky manner, making the clips feel like filler instead of an organic part of the documentary.  And lastly, while interviews can provide interesting anecdotes and insight into the creative process of making the film, I am much more interested in on-set footage of the movie actually being made.  It is a cheat when the title of the doc includes the words "The Making Of" - yet the documentary contains little or no actual footage of the making of the movie!

So, for my first and maybe only outing as a "making-of maker" I essentially created a "fly on the wall" documentary that contains mostly behind-the-scenes footage shot on set.  It's a good thing this is how I preferred to operate, as I had little choice in the matter, due to the time and resources I was given.  Actors and key production people were not scheduled for interviews, I had no crew,  and I had almost no gear beyond the camera I was provided.  So circumstances dictated that I primarily prowl the darkness of the set and covertly shoot what everyone did.  I also tried to capture the environment and mood of each shooting day, always keeping things as visually interesting as possible. 

My documentary is really different compared to what I tend to see in the bonus features of most DVD releases.  But I like it.  I enjoyed the experience of making it.  And hopefully, when Stake Land is released to DVD, fans of that film will appreciate the unique, on-the-front-lines, in-the-thick-of-the-action perspective my doc provides.

Thanks for reading.

-Eric Stanze