This post will continue my series on sci-fi and low budget film making. The more I learn about how so many film makers are shoot more and more films in this genre the more I believe that someone is going to break out of the pact and we are going to see a low budget blockbuster in the same way that we witness the Blair Witch project catch fire almost fifteen years ago. Think about it this way. Producing a film that can have within it CGI that could rival that of the major studios can be done right now on a micro budget. We are at a point where the only things that are holding the low budget world back is ambition and execution.
Right now I would like to share my interview with the producer of what will be the feature length version of Arrowhead. I would like to thank Eric for taking the time to do this interview with in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign. The short film version of what is to come cost less than seven hundred dollars to produce. Most Hollywood productions spend more on coffee in a day.
This is my full interview with the executive producer of the film Eric Machiela.
You can find their crowdfunding page at this link.
Q) There is a growing trend in the low to micro budget film world toward shooting sci-fi features. How long have you been planning to make to shoot this film?
A) There was a time when sci-fi movies were either backyard VHS fan films or multimillion dollar blockbusters. Today the technology is so much more affordable that everyone’s able to create at a much more professional level. It makes sense that the kind of film geeks interested and crazy enough to push and play with this new technology would want to create in the same genre they loved growing up. For me the Arrowhead journey started around four years ago, but it’s really an accumulation of all the sci-fi movies and comic books I consumed as a kid. Now it’s more about making good sci-fi than it ever has been, because there’s so much competition.
Q) I forgot to ask the most obvious question. What is the film about?
A) The short answer is that it tells the story of a mercenary stranded on a desert planet, battling a mysterious creature with only a computer to keep him company. But on another level it’s about imprisonment, isolation, and what it means to be a ‘good’ person. Those are some heavy themes so we’re hoping that wrapping it all up in a colourful and exciting package will soften but at the same time reinforce them.
Q) Back in the late seventies / early eighties Australia started a revolution in post- apocalyptic road movies. You are the second film maker from your part of the globe that is attempting a sci-fi film on a low budget. Is it hard mounting a sci-fi film there through whatever studio system exist there?
A) There is a ‘studio’ system in Australia, although it’s a government funded film commission that we’re essentially bypassing because we’re involved with a subscription television channel. So I suppose the experience of pitching to a channel, being funded by them and then having to deliver a product for them to distribute is similar to the American studio process, but it’s all gone so smoothly that I can’t really say I’ve really experienced what it’s like to navigate through any system. We’re very lucky in that regard. If I had gone with the government model, based on history I think I would have had a hard time getting a science fiction project off the ground, certainly this project because of its scope. What we’re doing is a big risk on paper, as I imagine a lot of other less fortunate projects are, so it’s no wonder a lot of people attempt getting their movies off the ground using less traditional methods. And if Arrowhead’s journey in any way resembles part of another new wave like the one Australia had in the 70s and 80s, then I’ll feel like we’ve achieved something really special.
Q) The one question that every beginning film maker seems to ask no matter the size and or scope of the production is. What camera or cameras are you planning on shooting the film with? If you had an unlimited budget would your choices be different?
A) We’re shooting Arrowhead on the RED Epic, which is what they used to shoot The Hobbit, Thor: The Dark World, Pacific Rim, and countless other amazing looking productions. If I had an unlimited budget, I’d like to say I’d use 35mm film simply because of my love of classic films shot on celluloid, and to keep that tradition alive. But in the digital realm RED is the gold standard, and the end product is arguably no different. The movie’s going to look stunning thanks to these amazing cameras.
Q) When most hear sci-fi film they think special effect. I on the other hand think sound. From Forbidden Planet to Star Wars, to Alien, to Pitch Black I remember the smooth sound of those films. How important is recording quality audio going to be?
A) Sound is just as important as image, which is easy to forget because you can’t see it. You can’t put good sound on a poster. So our sound designers, location recordist and composer are all going to be working very closely together in the same way I’ll be working closely with the production designer, cinematographer and effects artists. We’re creating a desert world that has to sound unique but also has to generate a certain aural tone. The fact that our main character is alone most of the time means that filling that silence is even more important.
Q) What do you think of the state of sci-fi films and television these day?
A) In a lot of ways there’s never been a better time for sci-fi. We’re able to go and see several mega-budgeted sci-fi films on the big screen every year, so we’re very lucky. For every E.T. there was always a Mac and Me, so even though I believe the best stuff came from that 70s/80s period, it’s not like everything back then was great. These days I think the highs aren’t as good as they used to be, but the overall quality is more consistent. I’m a little put off by all the CGI saturation in everything, and the idea that sequels have to be bigger and more explodey is starting to get on my nerves. I’m a little tired of cities being destroyed in every summer blockbuster’s third act, so I’m hoping the trend will start to shift back again. Whether now is a good time to enter the game is another question, but there’s certainly enough inspiration to draw from.
Q) I guess that I should ask a few FX questions. Will this film feature a great deal of CGI or are you going to do a lot of practical FX?
A) We’re trying to base a lot of what happens in the movie on what skills we already have. That’s why you saw a lot of digital matte paintings (alien horizons, planets in the sky) in the short film. That’s within our skill set, so we’re embracing that again. There won’t be a lot of heavy CGI, partly because of budgetary reasons but honestly mostly because we embrace practical over digital with a strong passion. Anything that we can do in camera will be done - digital extensions will only happen if they’re completely necessary. When Kye encounters the creature, for example, it’ll be a real creation that will exist on set and that can be lit and interacted with for real. There’s not enough of this happening anymore.
Q) Are you doing the effects work yourself or are you going to outsource this work?
A) If we’re talking digital effects, we’re anticipating 80% of the work will be done within our existing team (myself, our editor and VFX artists), and 20% will be outsourced. We’re completely outsourcing our effects makeup and creature creation, because it’s something we haven’t personally done. The challenge as a director is making sure all of these diverse methods and elements come together to form a consistent whole.
Q) Part of the fun of being an indie film maker is inventing new ways to get things done. To get the most production value out of the least amount of money possible. Watching the short film version of Arrowhead Signal it is amazing to think that you managed to do that for about six hundred dollars. Were there moments of doubt that it would get done?
A) The biggest moment of doubt was the second day of our desert shoot, when one of our crew cars had an accident. Nobody was seriously hurt but for the next few days it was looking pretty scary, and we lost a lot of our props. So at that point I was worried we wouldn’t have a complete story, because that was our last chance to be in the desert. In the end though, it worked out better because we lost a lot of planned scenes that weren’t needed. The climax of the short film, where Kye and Reef stand together on the mountain, was shot months later at a much less spectacular location than we had planned. But aside from this we were spared a whole lizard hunting sequence that in retrospect would have involved some terrible CGI and slowed the pace down greatly. Aside from those exterior forces that we couldn’t control, there was never any doubt we could get that short film made, and it’s that same stubborn refusal to admit the crazy ambition of it all that is keeping us going with the feature.
Q) How will this all translate into a feature length film? How much will the cast grow?
A)The cast is still very small, and it’s still the story of one man’s struggle to survive. Cast Away had several characters but it’s only Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt and Wilson that you remember. So the cast will be similar to that. We’re hoping for audiences to be able to look back at the short film after having seen the feature and say ‘I recognize those elements. I remember that scene.’ But the feature is very different - its roots are in the short but it’s greatly expanded. I think fans of the short will be surprised but still feel at home.
Q) You are doing a crowd funding campaign for this film. How can those who are reading this interview help you to reach your goal?
A) We’ve been funded by the SF channel in Australia and our film is getting made - the current crowdfunding campaign is aimed to help our friends at Gorilla Pictures be involved. We’re in Australia but they’re friends of ours from a film school I attended in Michigan. As Executive Producers they’ve pledged a percentage of the film’s budget, as well as an overwhelmingly generous amount of equipment, resources and crew that will help us make the film bigger and better. They’re committed to helping us but if they can raise some capital to get themselves over here, it means they’ll be able to dedicate all of these assets and for a longer amount of time. If a few hundred people donated $50 then they’ll be able to help us out and offer supporters some pretty cool rewards.
Q) Does the campaign have a Facebook page? Does the film have a website yet?
A) The movie has a website (www.arrowheadmovie.com) where you can view our short film and behind the scenes materials, and you can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@arrowheadmovie). But our most active community is at Facebook.com/ArrowheadMovie.
Q) Will this film get made no matter what?
A) Not only will this film get made, but it is being made as we speak. Preproduction is in full swing - we’re building our sets and costumes, we’re close to finishing the casting process, and we start shooting in ten weeks! The only question at the moment is where we’ll be distributed, but we deliver to the network in late 2014 and the movie will be seen.
Q) Some final words with the film maker. Is this going to be your genre? Are you going to specialize or are you going to shoot whatever type of film makes the most sense to you at the time. Sort of like Ridley Scott or Spielberg?
A) I’d love to make all kinds of movies, in fact after this one I probably won’t want to look at a spaceship or space suit for a long, long time. All kinds of movies interest me, but my favourites are the ones that build worlds and mythologies and create places you want to go and visit. A lot of these are science fiction, but not all of them - I love genre movies but if I’m lucky enough to make lots of movies, I’m hoping each one will challenge me in a new and exciting way.
Thanks again Eric, looking forward to seeing the finished film. For those of you who wish to get involved you can do it by contributing to the Kickstarter campaign or by sharing the campaign page or this interview with others. This is I believe is my eighth interview with someone involved in a crowdfunding campaign and I have monitored all of the campaigns through to the end and the ones that hit their goals all had one thing in common. Social media got them over the top. Twitter, Facebook and word of mouth got them over the top. If you cannot donate money then take the time to share.
Okay that is it for today. I have something on Found footage coming soon, but this will not stop me from finishing the series of sci-fi post. My steampunk post is not going to come until January. I am having fun with the whole steampunk universe so I am taking my time to get it right.
Good luck guys and try to enjoy the film making process.
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