By Nic Brown
Special to Louisville.com
Nic Brown is a KY based author and web journalist for www.bmovieman.com. His new book: "Blood Curse: Werewolf For Hire Book One" is available now through www.werewolfforhire.com or www.amazon.com
The streets outside the City Block bar complex in Louisville Kentucky are quiet. It’s an early Sunday morning in January and little traffic stirs as a light snow falls. No one would suspect that inside the Coyote Bar movie magic is being made. Then again, few people think of Louisville when they think about film and television production. Mark Poole, the founder of Anubis Digital Studios, is determined to change that.
“Now when you hit your mark…” Poole says, as he indicates a spot of tape on the dance floor of the Coyote bar, “I want you to push like you’re opening double doors. They are really heavy and you have to strain to open them.” He mimes the action and actor John Wells, dressed in a flowing black leather duster, listens intently to the director as he outlines the rest of the shot. Several grips move lighting around the set and another makes a last minute adjustment to the green screen that is set up to cover one end of the dance floor.
Poole walks to his production station, a laptop computer and external hard drive taking a direct video feed from the HD camera mounted on a boom dolly. At Poole’s direction the camera operator slides the dolly back, smoothly widening the shot. Poole studies the framing on the screen in front of him. Wells is centered with a green background around him. Perfect. “Alright. Camera’s rolling… and ACTION!”
Wells strides purposefully towards the camera raising his arms and pressing against doors that won’t be present in the scene until they are added digitally later. He steps through the imaginary doorway and continues on for a few steps, a look of grim determination on his face. “And CUT!” Poole replays the shot on his computer screen and smiles at the results. Wells joins him and they watch the shot again. “That’s great! OK, let’s get set up for the next shot!”
Mark Poole isn’t wasting his time. He has scheduled three days of shooting during the month of January. Working around the schedules of both his cast and crew, they have a lot to get done. He’s shooting a promotional video for his new project: REQUIEM FOR THE FALLEN. Unlike his other work on films like DEAD MOON RISING, this time he’s looking to take on the world of television. “REQUIEM is something like LOST and HEROES, when HEROES was good that is! It’s a story of fallen angels and demons living secretly among us.” Poole’s eyes gleam as he talks about the story. “This isn’t another reality show. Audiences are crying out for something new and original, and that’s what we want to give them.” He moves his hands as though reading off a marquee. “Between Heaven and Hell Rages the Battleground of the Soul!”
It’s an ambitious project to say the least, but Poole is optimistic. “The CW just cancelled their entire Sunday night line up and most of the good shows on the Sci-Fi channel have ended. There’s a market out there for this kind of programming.” There may be a market for REQUIEM FOR THE FALLEN, but Poole also knows it will face a lot of competition. His plan is to start with a promotional trailer and use that to build a buzz of interest in the program at film festivals, conventions, and on the internet. He’s got a completed script for the pilot and a “series bible” outlining the mythology of the show and the overall story arc all the way through three seasons. “When we start approaching the networks with this, we want them to see that we’re serious. Coming up with a good pilot episode is part of that process, but for a series you have to show that you can carry the story further. It’s tougher in many ways than writing a movie because you have to have a complete story in one episode, but you also have to leave a lot of threads open for the next.”
To make all this happen, Poole draws on the lessons he learned filming DEAD MOON RISING as well as his years of project management experience. Each member of the crew has a copy of the shot list. Done in a spreadsheet, the list details each part to be filmed, what actors are involved, the locations, and any special props. If something delays one shot, the team can move to the next quickly. He also learned when he was making DEAD MOON RISING that you’d be surprised what you can get just by asking for it. “In DMR we had a scene with about 1200 extras, zombies and bikers. The city of Louisville let us close down the street in front of City Block [the bar complex] for the shoot. Derby City Customs, a custom cycle shop, let us use some of their custom choppers, most of them worth more than a new sports car. We even got a helicopter for one scene!” Now Anubis Digital is getting help from City Block as they let them film for all three days in the bar during the down time on Sunday mornings and afternoons. Derby City Custom Cycles was back for REQUIEM as well lending a new custom chopper to the production for one afternoon.
It takes more than locations and props to create a television pilot like REQUIEM FOR THE FALLEN though, it also takes dedicated people. Poole’s wife, Janice, is the assistant director and keeps the project moving by handling the details while her husband directs. Pete Robertson, a faculty member from Jefferson Community and Technical College, lends his experience with the school’s digital video production program to the shoot as the sound technician. City Block manager Joe Firth is the camera man running the boom dolly; Autumn Barefoot provides the make-up effects for the film and at one point even doubles as a puppeteer when a demonic teddy bear needs to be operated. At least a dozen other volunteers make up the rest of the crew, and it is their hard work and determination off screen that make what the camera sees happen!
In front of the camera, Poole has assembled a talented and dedicated group of actors. John Wells, a musician and artist, is the male lead Rayel, a fallen angel. His commitment to the project is best seen at lunch. While the rest of the cast and crew are wolfing down pizza, cookies and soft drinks, Wells has a much lighter lunch to stick with his strict diet. “I’ve been working out and dieting for weeks to keep the look Mark needs.” It shows. The actor looks like he could bench press a Buick. Katie Stanley, who just finished work on the new indy horror film HELL-EPHONE from ZP International Pictures plays the female lead, another fallen angel, Pixi. Her character is appropriately named as the diminutive actress is about 5’ in heels. Women of Horror actresses Tucky Williams and Sebrina Siegel are also in the production. Williams plays Styx, a half demon and Pixi’s nemesis. Siegel is cast as one of the few fully human characters, as detective Alex Sinclaire. Rounding out the principle cast at the shoot are veteran stage and screen actor Mike Seeley as Cayn, the “Head Demon”, Jessica Vautard as Mayhem, and new comer Antwany LeJeune as Magdalene whose character is the focus of much of the pilot episode’s conflict.
“They [the cast] are all real troopers,” comments Poole as the ensemble cast stands still for more publicity photos in front of the green screen. Photographer Bill Spangler has been shooting stills throughout the production, often asking the actors to repeat part of a scene or freeze in a difficult pose so he can catch the moment on film. “Mark has me shoot just about everything and the secret to getting good pictures is to take a lot of shots.” Spangler’s modesty does him credit, but anyone else would say they don’t see many bad pictures come from his camera. Poole knows the importance of good pictures. “A lot of independent filmmakers forget about still pictures and they rely on screen captures and such. You need good quality stills from your production to help promote your film with the press both in print and on the internet.”
In another scene, Antwany’s character is lifted up by Wells “like a puppy by the scruff of her neck.” Poole had some trouble setting up the shot until Joe suggested they use the jack for moving pool tables in the bar to lift her. Now the young actress stands on the large square jack and a group of grips works the device and makes sure she doesn’t fall. It requires several takes to get the shot, but when it’s done Poole and the others laugh gleefully at how good it looks on the screen.
A later scene with Tucky Williams and Katie Stanley presents a different problem. A green cable hangs from the rafters of the bar in front of the green screen, a piece of gaffer’s tape marked off about six and a half feet up its length. “Now just haul off and hit it!” Stanley steps forward swinging her sword. The actress has to stretch to make the mark and it looks awkward and somewhat off balance. “OK, let’s try it again.” Poole has the mark lowered about six inches and after a couple of more false starts, Stanley swings the sword in a vicious arc that hits the target perfectly. Now it’s Tucky Williams’ turn at the shot, coming from the other side. Williams, who stands nearly a foot taller than Stanley, has a much easier time with the shot, although both women had to take off their shoes to avoid slipping on the dance floor’s polished surface during the moves. Poole will digitally merge the two images later when he adds the background. “It’ll look like they were really going at it with the swords! We can get a lot more power in the swings if they don’t have to worry about hitting each other.” the director explains as he happily watches the playback on his monitor.
It may be hard to believe that an independent film can produce the same kind of virtual backgrounds found in major Hollywood productions like 300 or SIN CITY. Poole doesn’t like showing off, but he wants everyone to see what Anubis Digital can do. He brings up a shot from the second week’s shoot. “This four second clip will be cut down to two seconds in the trailer. We spent about an hour setting up and shooting it, and it took about four hours to get it into this rough state. So a lot of work goes into such a small scene.” Poole lets the clip roll and we see actress Katie Stanley, dressed in black lingerie, look quickly over her shoulder and the camera zooms in on her face. When it was filmed Stanley stood in front of the green screen with no background. On the monitor we see her standing in a Roman style bath, golden light flowing in through windows in the vaulted ceiling above. The hours of work on this short scene have paid off.
Finally, it is the last day of production and there is a problem on the set. A group of young women have arrived to play Cayn’s half-demon daughters in the last scene scheduled to be filmed. The script calls for the women to be “lounging around the bar in outfits that leave little to the imagination.” The only trouble: the heat is off in the bar and the temperature on the set is hovering at around 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), but, as he’d commented earlier, everyone is a real trooper. The women gather on a rotating dance floor in the Rockit Lounge. Grips position a couch and futons and actor Mike Seeley takes the seat of honor in the center of the group. He’s dressed in a smart black suit and looks both dapper and sinister as he sits surrounded by the women.
Poole calls action and the extras remove their coats and fawn around Seeley, all dressed in the before mentioned “little to the imagination” clothes and working hard to ignore the chill in the air. After several takes he gets the familiar gleam of inspiration in his eye and has Joe turn on the rotating dance floor. The noise of the floor’s motor sounds almost exactly like a jet taking off. “We’re going to redo the dialogue in post anyway.” Poole explains when asked how they’ll get the audio with all the extra noise. The stage spins, surprisingly fast, and the actors go through the scene again, but this time at a faster pace so they can complete the shot before they rotate out of frame.
When it’s all over, Poole calls the cast and crew together. “Group hug!” everyone huddles together and enjoys the kind of rare moment that only comes when you have people working together to get something done and they are proud of what they’ve accomplished. For his part Poole smiles, but he knows his work is far from done. With hours of footage to sort through and post production still ahead of him, he knows he’s far from finished with this job. Still, he hopes to have the promotional trailer ready by the middle of February. He’d better, since it’s scheduled to premiere at the Connooga Multi-Fandom Convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee in February. If he’s worried about making the deadline though it doesn’t show on his face. All that you see there is that gleam in his eye.