This week we wrapped A Watcher by the Dead by Ambrose Bierce, again adapted by Travis Mills. I haven’t worked on many of the 52 films yet, but this was one of my favorites to be involved with. It’s a psychological thriller, revolving around a wager between a student and his professor to see how the “fear of the dead” can affect the mind.
After reading the script, I had a conversation with Mills about the horror genre. This adaptation really struck me as a great horror story; so much better than the Friday series or any Freddy Krueger film. “If we’re going to do horror, we’re not interested in zombies, vampires, or slasher flicks. We’re looking to reach the same kind of horror found in Kubrick’s The Shining and Roeg’s Don’t Look Now,” Mills told me. I know some of the RWF crew might be disappointed with that statement (sorry Chris), but I’d have to agree with Mills. The horror film genre needs more psychological twists and turns instead of more blood and gore; the mind contains anything scarier than the reality in which we live.
In the blistering Phoenix heat we began filming for Watcher. This was my first shoot being behind the scenes, and I definitely did not know what to expect.
First were the lighting challenges. Holy cow, I underestimated the importance of light in a take. We started with a scene that takes place inside a car (which is tricky on numerous levels, not just lighting. Crew had to be packed into the back seat to capture the two actors in the front, the car had to be off in order for the sound to be decent, everyone’s dying of heat, etc. I volunteered to help and Nick Fornwalt (Director of Photography) used me as a lighting prop. As I held the reflector that illuminated the actors inside the car, all I could hope for was no breeze and no clouds. Of course, I received both in the timeliest of manners. I also received death glares from our intimidating director, but Fornwalt was much more understanding. I am new to this, after all.
As the sun was setting, we began shooting inside a dark, empty room. Shifting light seemed to be the challenge of this shoot, so we rushed to finish the scene. Fornwalt experienced some difficulty regarding a candle, which he refused to comment on for this post (it was quite amusing to watch, I’ll tell you that much). Mills looked like he was enjoying himself too much as he bloodied up some of the props (and actors), I got to be a dead body, and we all ended the night with high spirits.
The next day of shooting was short compared to the night before. We spent a few hours on ASU campus in one of the lecture halls without air conditioning (obviously challenging). Finding that location was also difficult; our original plan had been revoked when we found only locked doors. Upon further adventuring we found the lecture hall we ended up using for the scene, though we had to work quickly without formal consent from the university…hey, you have to take risks to make great art.
All in all, it was a successful shoot for a film newb like me. And by the end of it, Mills wasn’t so intimidating.