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…
There is that moment during pre-production when suddenly you shift into a higher gear. That moment came this week with location scouting in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Personally, I find location scouting one of the most interesting parts of the filmmaking process.
After the actors are cast, it comes down to the location. Of course they have to be captured brilliantly by a talented crew, but finding the right location encompasses a variety of factors. Does the scheduling work between the location and film? Does it work geographically for the actors and crew? Does it fit to the story? Unless a set is custom built to the script, there are always story adjustments after a location is secured.
Just as I mentioned last week, one of my jobs is to make sure a location knows exactly what they are getting into when they sign on to a film project. I’ll be working on a proposal to one of the locations this week. For me it’s all about planning and efficiency. I personally can’t stand disorganization on sets. As they say, time is money either literally or figuratively and film sets are no exception.
The one thing I believe is critical is testing equipment at locations well prior to the start of production. Sadly, I have been on my share of sets where camera, sound and lighting were simply never tested until the first day of production. There simply are some things you really want to know in advance. Where are the outlets? Are there reflections? Is there signage that needs to be covered? Can the house lights dim? Any strange background noises during the sound check? That’s why it’s called pre-production!
But it’s not all about locations. Wardrobe is another important part of the process. First Signal calls for two unique sets of costuming for certain actors. Two are wearing U.S. Air Force uniforms and two are wearing Nehru styled suits. After finding a great vendor in Colorado, the Nehru suits arrived yesterday. Not only was the price fantastic, but the quality was solid. A few alterations and we will be good to go.
With more location scouting over the next couple of days, along with numerous other details, the pre-production process continues as we move forward towards the June 16 table read.