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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
With our next testing date for First Signal coming up in a week, my attention has started to turn to production design. Last year I went through the script page by page to see what we needed for props along with thoughts on the overall look of the film from a production design point of view. Fortunately, our primarily location at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discover Center provides the perfect backdrop.
One item I just ordered was a reproduction of the Apollo 11 plaque. Unlike what has been seen in some films, the plaques weren’t placed on the surface of the Moon, they were attached to the ladders of the descent stages. Although it’s just a reproduction, I can’t wait until it arrives. To know that the actual plaque is on the Moon is a testament to the achievements and dedication to the men and women that worked at NASA during those years.
The sad part of our present reality are the growing voices that believe manned missions to the Moon were a hoax. Let’s be clear on this; a civilian agency formed in 1958 that employs tens of thousands of scientists and engineers, has launched over 200 crewed missions, countless unmanned missions and has built facilities around the world or partners with other space agencies to facilitate these launches. When I posted this past week that I found it necessary to block someone on Facebook owing to their ignorance on this matter, thankfully there was resounding support for my action. Claiming manned missions to the Moon was a hoax, is akin to claiming that humans don’t live on Earth.
Although First Signal is science fiction, one of my goals is to spotlight science fact. From satellite technology to the Apollo 11 missions, to the museums that educate the public, the aim is to present First Signal’s story alongside the history of the space program and related technologies.
But it won’t be all about space, it’s also about coming up with ideas to enhance the story. By example, I thought of a particular pose a former President has in a portrait that will find its way into the story. Then there is the Doomsday Clock that will appear in one of the scenes. The Doomsday Clock has been featured in many movies. Look for it in Fail Safe (1964) in the scene with the President (Henry Fonda) and his translator (Larry Hagman).
What’s exciting about producing a film, is creating the world in which it lives. From costuming, to props to sets, it’s about bringing a story to life through the magic of filmmaking.