Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Swordbearer-The Big Fight Scene

Last Saturday morning started pretty early for me, the cell phone alarm (I don't trust to electricity on crucial days!) ringing at the ripe time of 4:15 am. Still, it wasn't entirely hard to get up, since I knew that the day ahead was going to be an adventure doing something that I really like.

Our crew call time was 6am, at Cove Spring Park in Frankfort, KY, a beautiful 275 acre park located just outside of downtown Frankfort. From Lexington, it is about a 25-35 minute drive, depending on what part of the city you live in.

I drove down with Nathan Day, our wonderful first assistant director, and Tommy Allen, a friend of mine who had recently gotten ahold of me, and was willing to dive in early on Saturday to help on crew side and be an extra. On the way down we touched bases with some of our core team, as Matt Perry was leading one caravan down, bringing gear and the all-important craft services.

Cara Worwick, our assistant producer, was one of the first on site (with Rox, one of the extras in the shoot), along with Kinnari Shah, who has been a great part of our makeup and hair department, and Lori Baker (costuming) and Robin (costuming) and Andrew Blankenship (crew and extra). The park did not have lights at the entrance, which was tough to see in the dark when we arrived, but we did manage to arrive at the main parking lot without incident.

The location was perfect for this shoot, as the tree-surrounded meadow, in which there is a great-looking, tall stone overflow tower that looks medieval, was a very short walk from a couple of shelters and a building housing restrooms. We were able to set up a nice base camp, in which one shelter was used for costuming and props, and the other was set aside for extras and for serving lunch.

The headlights began to cut through the dark, making it feel a little like Field of Dreams...if you film it, they will come, so to speak, lol. Crew, and then cast, and then extras arrived in greater numbers as the sky began to lighten. We had some very special guests, such as the author of Ascendant, which is the basis for Swordbearer, H. David Blalock, who came up with a friend from Memphis. Also coming in from Memphis were Allan Gilbreath, our fight coordinator, and Kimberly Richardson, a great editor and writer who was willing to be an extra (I should mention that Allan is also a great writer, and both Kimberly and Allan are main forces with the highly regarded Kerlak Publishing). Some of the others that made some large drives included Natasha Smith of Nashville TN, who jumped in to play one of the council mages, author Janet Harriet and her husband Elie from Columbus Ohio, and author Elizadeth Hetheringon and her husband Vance from Wisconsin. (Top Photo by Robin Blankenship, of several extras in Swordbearer, and 2nd Photo by Melissa Mohr, of another group of extras, including David Blalock)

(Photo by Sonny Burnette, of myself, with Kimberly Richardson, David Blalock, and Allan Gilbreath!)

Camera, sound, and other crew brought vehicles across the small bridge to the meadow for unloading, as Abby Cook took charge of the shelter area for costuming tasks. We had some great new designs for this shoot, created by Abby and by Maggie Miller, who both have been amazing in the amount of work done for this project. Abby, Robin, and Lori had their hands full as we got a fair number of extras, and had the main cast to prepare. (Photo by Stephen Zimmer, of Matthew Perry and John Wells, playing Jarl Thran and Baliak, showing costuming)

(photo by Andrew Blankenship, of insurance wizard Elie Harriet and author Janet Harriet, two of our gracious extras in their costumes)

The scene we were set to capture is the climax scene of the short film, in which the two great swordbearers meet for a fight to the death, as champions of two rival houses. Playing the part of the fighters were Al Snow (Hennock) and Benjamin Wood (Tchek). Al is a well-known pro wrestler, having been in the WWF/WWE/ECW/TNA and more, while Benjamin is a newer face on the wrestling scene, participating in the OVW circuit. They are both really good guys to work with and be around. As a director, I wanted them to concentrate solely on the fight choreography. The fight scene was very physical in nature, and as this is an independent project, we were only able to arrange a few sessions to prepare for it, including the major rehearsal with Allan Gilbreath that look place in late August. Though the blade edges were dull/blunt, the swords being used were still metal, and I wanted the fighters to have full concentration on the fight itself without having any micro-managing, as our camera team could adapt to the fighters when they were in the action. The focus on choreography and safe execution was paramount in my mind. (photo by Melissa Mohr, of Al Snow and Benjamin Wood at the cusp of the fight scene)

As such, we had Allan, Al, and Ben work together from the get-go, summoning them only when we needed to get their characters into the processional shot captured in the first half of the day's shooting. That part of the day involved the crowd shots, a subplot involving mages on the city council and mages serving the current Ascendant in the story, DJEMO (played by Roni Jonah), and the lead up to the fight itself. The procession, where Jarl Suum (Jason Crowe) leads Tchek in on one side, and Jarl Thran (Matthew Perry) leads Hennock in on the other, looked very nice and should really build up dramatic tension before the action begins. (photo by Melissa Mohr, of Al Snow and Matthew Perry, prior the procession in)

We were able to create a fairly solid semicircle of extras and cast, and had no less than 4 cameras on site for this shoot. First AD Nathan Day was phenomenal when we got the crowd shots, getting cheers, jeers, and everything in between, as camera operators floated amongst the extras and cast. Nathan and Justin Powell (who has worn many hats on this project, and was wearing a nice cowboy hat on this particular day, lol ) served to give the extras eyelines and whip up the cheers. Nathan did fantastically, and really exerted himself in getting the frenzy going. Thankfully, Justin was able to reinforce with some crowd appeal and action for the crowd's eyelines, resulting in some almost comical mock-fights between Nathan and Justin. (photo by Andrew Blankenship, of myself and First AD Nathan conferring on set)

(photo by Stephen Zimmer of Nathan Day, First Assistant Director)

(Photo by Stephen Zimmer, of Sonny Burnette and extras and cast prior to Sonny's dialog)

Sonny Burnette, playing Latacolc, a major council mage, was fantastic as he addressed the crowd and fighters. Sonny and I conferred on the style and delivery in how he should address the crowd, call the fighters together, and then question them. I had asked him to direct the first part of his dialogue in a public address, and the second in a firm, unwavering questioning of the fighters, in a style that demanded answers from each, and he performed as I knew he would. (and we even got the extras to do a big chant of "Sonny B! Sonny B! earlier in the morning, which was very cool, and most inspiring to all!). Personally, I was very excited that Sonny fit the part of Latacolc, as I've been wanting to work with Sonny for some time. He's one of the most active actors in Central Kentucky this side of Stacey Gillespie, and is a consummate professional that keeps getting better and better. I definitely want to work with him again!(Photo by Melissa Mohr, of Stephen Zimmer and Sonny Burnette discussing the approach to the scene)

The sub-plot with the mages involved Latacolc, and three guards, Djemo (Roni Jonah) Jarl Suum (Jason Crowe), the two Djemoan mages (Ronicah Jones and Abby Cook). All did wonderfully, from the guards, to Sonny, to the group with Djemo.

The weather was clear, and things warmed up considerably, and it was closing in on 1pm when we broke for lunch (after getting a great dolly shot with Baliak, played by John Wells, which is going to be the last shot of the film as currently planned). Matt had arranged for some great trays from Subway, and everyone had plenty to eat while we took about an hour off.

The second half of the day involved the fight scene itself. Four cameras rolling, Ben and Al going at it, and an energetic crowd were all engaged in what turned out to be a very smooth afternoon shoot. Having Aaron Champion as a DP has been amazing. The guy has a real depth of technical knowledge, mixed with a great sense of art and a "can-do" attitude. He and I communicate very well, as our meetings and discussions on shot lists prior to the shooting day go very well, to the point that Aaron keys right in one what I'm hoping to capture when on set. On set it is easy to talk to Aaron and make adjustments, as he has a very level-headed demeanor and approach. I hope to work with Aaron again and again in the future, as he is a major league talent that is absolutely pleasant to work with. (photo by Melissa Mohr, of myself and Aaron talking over where we are at on the shot list)

Allan had designed the fight with Al and Ben in segments of 5-7 moves, each segment with a centerpiece that allowed for efficient filming of the individual segments without having to have the guys do the entire fight scene. We captured the segements, and then selected a few key moments within each segment to get specific shots of, whether a POV shot or an extreme close-up of a strike.

The camera team worked together wonderfully, with DP Aaron Champion, Sven Granlund (who was simultaneously overseeing audio and makeup...the guy is amazing), Phillip Richardson, and Jordan Mynk assigned to given goals on each take. Shooting this way, segment after segment, with 4 cameras, adjusting some of the goals on various takes, and then getting some specific key moments in a segment, we were able to acquire a mountain of coverage. (photo by Andrew Blankenship, showing myself, with Jordan, Phillip and Aaron on cameras, Nathan Day, Ben Wood and Sven Granlund are in the background.)

(photo by Stephen Zimmer, of Aaron Champion, DP)

(photo by Stephen Zimmer, of Phillip Richardson, camera operator on Swordbearer)

The crowd stayed into it, and it did not hurt that the fighters were intense and incredibly realistic in all of their reactions (something that I know their pro-wrestling backgrounds were quite beneficial for). From Al throwing Ben over his shoulder, to groin kicks, sword clashes, and more, the fight scene looked amazing. We had to pause from time to time to add cuts and blood, but things flowed very well all throughout. We had to get a few specific shots for SFX purposes, which Matt and Sven outlined for the camera team and actors, as the finale of the fight is going to involve a very definite, unambiguous conclusion.

The vibe at the end of the day was very good, as I believe everyone knew that the shoot had gone smoothly, and everyone could see just how good the fight scene was. We wrapped things up a little after 5pm.

Aaron Champion, the DP that never sleeps, actually put together the fight scene in a rough edit from just the footage off of his Canon 5D (to get an indication as to whether the scene will cut smoothly), and the sequence looked REALLY good, which is tremendously promising once the footage from the other three cameras is added to the mix. Matthew Perry, who is editing Swordbearer, will have a ton to work with. The shots I have seen look fantastic, and I think that all involved area going to be stoked with this scene.

We had many heroes throughout the day, from Rhonda Bingham, who jumped in to pick up lunch, to Schaeffer Tolliver, who kindly went to get a resupply of water, to Cara Worwick, who was everywhere all throughout the day, to Nathan Day and Justin for their aforementioned help in working up the extras. Major kudos to all of the extras, who really put a lot of spirited effort into having a dynamic crowd scene, and who soldiered through a full day shoot out in the sun.

(photo by Melissa Mohr, of one of the three Moorkai Guards)

So as things stand, there are two more scenes to go, both taking place next week at the Cane Ridge Meeting House in Bourbony County Kentucky. Great locations, and these scenes will have some good moments for the actors involved, with some larger dialog sequences. Thankfully, these are interiors, so we don't have to fret so much about weather issues.


Janet said...

You also had a minor wardrobe malfunction early in the morning. In the photo of Elie and me by the waterfall, I'm actually wearing the red and white dress backwards! Your wonderful wardrobe person noticed right before the first take, and I got it turned around before cameras started rolling. The underlayer shifted a little in that maneuver, and I may or may not have given everyone to my right an eyeful. Partial nudity or not, it was a fun day!

sgzimmer said...

What is it with Janets? Janet Jackson, Janet Harriet...if your name is Janet you are at risk for wardrobe malfunctions I guess! LOL great to have you and Elie at the shoot!

bigbadmama said...

when can we expect the completed product? It was great fun to do and I'm excited to see how it all comes together.

sgzimmer said...

Hey there! We are targeting for a premiere in Lexington in late January. Beyond that, the 2011 slate of screenings is already underway in terms of scheduling as we have been asked by a couple of genre conventions to show it, and we will be doing several Convention and film festival screenings over the course of the year.