Over the past year, I have been reading a variety of books that range in subject from WWII to the Cold War to continuity of government (COG). From the opus The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich to Berlin 1961 to Raven Rock, each of these books chronicled a unique place in history. While the first two books may have been specific to a particular time period with the third transcending decades, each has shaped our way of life in the 21st century. Then there was my read of Normandy ’44 and Countdown 1945, that further detailed world events that are still with us today.
It was during my read of Raven Rock that I realized part of that subject (COG) lent itself to my political thriller SOS United States. It was the following lines by the Prime Minister and the President…
PRIME MINISTER ASTOR
I don’t get it.
What you need to get with is a continuity program that hasn’t been seen on the History Channel.
… that got me thinking. While I’m developing SOS United States as my third feature film, I should add to the “franchise” by not only writing a companion book but expanding on the COG aspect of the story. Simply put, after reading Raven Rock I never knew the federal government of the United States had more plans for government continuity than any other nation in the world. The number of secret installations, standby executive orders, shadow governments and other planned initiatives and actions was simply unbelievable.
For those of us that follow these types of stories, we’ve all heard of Raven Rock, Mount Weather and NORAD, but what about the Mobile Consolidated Command Center, Deep Underground Support Center and the Committee on National Censorship Planning? From secret bunkers and committees, the breadth of COG planning is colossal, legendary and perhaps even a bit disturbing.
With all this new detail and background information I discovered when reading Raven Rock, my thought was that I could enhance the story not only with specific nomenclature, but real-world aspects on how the President of the United States would go off grid to a secret bunker, while maintaining a public presence through video conferencing and other methods of communication. Thus, it was just this week that I started to write SOS United States as a novel.
While I’ve written countless screenplays, I’ve only written one book (Frozen Assets) and one novella (First World: Covenant). As one can appreciate, it is a completely different form of writing. Of course, the nice thing about having a completed script is that of an outline. But now I have the opportunity to enhance the story for a new medium.
Outside Geneva, Switzerland
The nondescript warehouse became only slightly visible when an approaching vehicle’s headlights pierced the moonless night. As the vehicle approached in near stealth with the only interruption of sound being its contact with the dirt road, a feeling of purpose crossed the moment when it passed other parked cars. Reading like a United Nations General Assembly carpark, diplomatic plates from several countries dramatized the moment.
As the search for locations continues for SOS United States, I went to Newport yesterday for a day trip and took my drone (DJI Spark) in the hopes of producing some interesting shots. It was in Newport four years ago where I shot The Breakers along with various images of the ocean. While shooting The Breakers was a grand “Gilded Age” experience, it was practicing against the wind at the ocean that was the most important as I prepared to produce First Signal.
When I was directing First Signal in 2019, there were some particular drone shots that we had to get right. First, it was raising the drone to its recommended maximum of 400 ft to allow for a VFX spaceship to be inserted between the drone and the actors on the field. Then there was the lower shot of Major Sampson driving onto the field and General Reager arriving at Chièvres Air Base. Honestly, perhaps one of the most difficult to achieve for steadiness was the pull back shot when President Colton was sitting at the conference table.
Although inside shots have limited space to operate, the one thing they don’t have to contend with is wind. I count myself lucky that on the days we needed to use the drone when producing First Signal, the wind was minimal. While the DJI Spark can withstand speeds of up to 17 mph as it has wonderful stabilization technology, it really is impossible to tell wind speed at 400 ft from ground level. And the dreaded phrase you hear so many say during filming, “Fix it in post,” only goes so far when trying to steady an overly shaky shot.
My advice to anyone using a drone for professional purposes—practice! I know it sounds obvious, but so much must be taken into consideration as time is usually the one thing you don’t have much of when producing a film. As the DJI Spark battery only lasts 16 minutes, you really need to carefully plan your shots. Another recommendation is to have a couple of extra batteries. I learned the latter the hard way when practicing using only one battery. As an independent filmmaker you want to economize but given that the batteries take about an hour or so to recharge, that’s an hour lost on set.
In SOS United States there are a few drone shots that are not only sweeping but require careful timing (if anything owing to battery life). In SOS, we are flying along the ocean and then rise up to see the President of the United States addressing an audience on a battleship (I hope it’s the USS Massachusetts). While the shot itself won’t take more than a couple of minutes, it’s truly about getting everything ready for that call to action. When we do produce this scene, I’ll recommend two-three drones for redundancy. If one of them gets in the shot we decide to use, that drone can always be removed in post.
With time passing from First Signal’s release, the one thing that isn’t is profitability. While I love producing, I also don’t mind saying, I also love profits. I honestly didn’t know how First Signal was going to do in the VOD world on its release. There are so many films competing for eyeballs these days, but First Signal found an audience and broke through. To those that have supported this endeavor, my sincere thanks to all of you.