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A Civilization

Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland

It was sometime in the 1970s when I first saw Gone with the Wind. It must have been on TV as we didn’t have a VCR. The moment I saw this film it quickly became my favorite movie. The story, the actors, the sets, the music, it all worked on so many levels. Since that first viewing, I’ve watched it on laserdisc, DVD and streamed it. This afternoon I’ll see Gone with the Wind as it was intended – in a theatre.

Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh

What I always liked about the Gone with the Wind story was the sheer ambition of how it was made. From the “Search for Scarlett” to endless script rewrites to changes in directors, the production was fraught with issues. But in the end a masterpiece was created winning 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture. If you want to learn more about this epic film, I highly recommend the book Scarlett, Rhett, and a cast of thousands: The filming of Gone with the Wind.

Hattie McDaniel and Clark Gable

There’s no question in my mind that Gone with the Wind inspired my interest in this industry. What I’ve always been particularly drawn to are the “movers and shakers” behind the camera. In the case of Gone with the Wind, it was producer David O. Selznick. For every film made there’s one person you can point to that is responsible for its existence. Oh sure, the actors and crew are vital, but they wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for the producer—that one person who sees the vision and takes the risk.

Clark Gable

Selznick International Pictures produced another one of my favorite films, Rebecca. It was Selznick who brought director Alfred Hitchcock over from England. That one decision that Selznick made led to films such as North by Northwest and Psycho.

While the opening sequence references “A Civilization gone with the wind,” another civilization that is long gone is the studio system that made it. Yes, Selznick International Pictures was somewhat independent, but it was the studio system that made Gone with the Wind possible (MGM provided half the budget).

As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of this iconic picture, I look at the modern world of filmmaking. Although Selznick’s company disbanded decades ago, MGM is still around along with a literal handful of the legacy studios (sadly 20th Century Fox has been acquired by Disney). But the one thing that now prevails is the independent filmmaker. We chart our own course against a sea of seemingly endless possibilities and to destinations sometimes unknown.

When I attended the American Film Market this past November presenting First Signal and my other projects, I couldn’t help but think of the ambitions of so many under one roof striving to present their “motion picture” to new civilizations.

Tomorrow, is today.  

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Second Test

Arrival shot at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center

No sooner did we finish our first pre-production test on January 26 at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center did we plan our second one for March 4. This was going to be more than a handful of shots and walkthrough. Our second test would involve lighting, sound and set construction.

I believe pre-production is the most important aspect of planning a film. It is this phase where even the slightest detail gets ironed out. How does the set look? Is the audio clear? What lens will work best for this shot? Because before you know it, the first day of production has arrived and you can only hope you covered all your bases.

The primary set of First Signal

When we first arrived, the main room we were going to shoot in was empty like a clean slate. One by one we brought the tables in and configured them to the set I had envisioned. There is that surreal experience as a screenwriter when you see a set coming to life that until that moment has only existed as words on a page.

One other critical component to our test was in camera special effects. So often in our modern world of filmmaking when we see a screen or monitor in a movie it’s shot with the actors without an image. The image, or special effect, is then put in during the post-production process. That was largely the case with Justice Is Mind when all 170 special effects were put in during post-production. In camera special effects for Justice wouldn’t have been practical as the majority had to be custom designed. For First Signal, the presentation that takes place during the primary scene is largely a slide presentation of still images. Thankfully that portion of the test was successful.

Paul Noonan will play General Reager in First Signal

When we go into production I want the actors to actually look at something real. Not only does it help them get into the moment of their character, but it greatly assists with eyeline and saves an enormous amount of time in post-production. There is also something authentic about the lighting from a projector that can be used to enhance a particular character or moment.

The idea for doing in-camera special effects for this scene came from the movie Fail Safe. In the scenes at the Pentagon the image we see is rear projection. But in the command center it’s actually front projection. I can only imagine what the pre-production process was like on that film never mind the timing the actors and crew had to accomplish on set as that effect was film not a still image.  

Patience McStravick will play Major Sampson in First Signal

With our interior work completed we moved outside for a combination of drone and ground based photography. This is the scene where one of the major characters arrives at a “military base.” I’ve previously taken drone footage of the Discovery Center, but this was my first time tracking a vehicle. It’s all about practice!

Fail Safe

Suffice to say First Signal’s second test went great. None of this would have been possible without the expertise and dedication of Daniel Groom, the Director of Photography; Patience McStravick, one of the producers who stars as Major Sampson and Paul Noonan who stars as General Reager. And a special thanks to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. To turn their phrase, thank you for having us in your “universe.”

As we plan for an end of April start date with one dress rehearsal prior, some critical components of the production started to arrive this week…

…props.

A replica of the Apollo 11 plaque