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…
I programmed SpaceX’s launch date into my calendar. The upcoming launch of the Falcon Heavy was an event I wasn’t going to miss! But as can often happen with a launch, the time (and even date) can change at a moment’s notice. When the launch time did change, I went to the gym. As the time ticked down, most of the news oriented stations started to report on what was either going to be an historic success or a catastrophic failure.
I soon found myself paying attention to who was watching and who wasn’t. Yes, there were a good number of people watching (particularly in my age group). But then there were those that just didn’t seem to care. Judge Judy and Dr. Phil are fine enough shows, but you only get one chance at seeing history in the making and remembering where you were at the time. While I remember seeing the later Apollo missions on TV, at four years old I was a bit too young to remember Apollo 11. To this day I still remember those grainy black and white images. But today’s broadcast was being carried in vivid HD.
Watching the Falcon Heavy liftoff from the same pad as Apollo 11 was epic. It reminded me of what’s possible when we join together to create greatness. It’s this type of science, cooperation, ingenuity and forward thinking that makes this country great not myopic politicians. Although the political winds of the Cold War set the space program on the course it achieved in the 1950s and 60s, it’s private enterprise that will take us on the next step of this final frontier.
There’s no question that my following of the space program led to my interest in science fiction. While the 60s had Star Trek (again, a bit before my time), my introduction to science fiction was in the 70s with such programs as UFO and Space: 1999. Each of those programs had a base on the Moon along with a fleet of ships.
Launching oneself into the world of screenwriting also carries its own set of risks (but not nearly as much as an actual rocket launch!), the primary one being the risk of getting a story wrong. Writing an original story is not an easy process. It takes time and research. When I set out to write a story, I usually do some baseline research so when I start to write I don’t need to stop until I reach that next point of needed additional research. When I wrote Justice Is Mind the first phase of research was around thought identification with the second phase being the legal process around a court proceeding. For First Signal, the majority of the research revolved around satellite communications and the Deep Space Network.
As the submission process continues for First Signal, I’ll also be having a meeting this week with a filmmaker. I recently saw some of his work and he had that number one thing that’s so important when working with a crew – inspiration. From my own projects to others, I’ve been on a variety of sets over the last year. And while inspiration is expected from actors, it’s just as important with members of a crew. You can easily see who’s on point and who needs a sharpening.