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the two hundred fifth

Making Movies is an Act of Faith: The 205th

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Making Movies is an Act of Faith: The 205th

I wiped the wet brow under my sweat-soaked cap and shut my eyes tight against the setting sun. The grips barked calls to one another across the city park parking lot while my D.P. presented me with the very real possibility that we might not get the shot. This was, after all, the most complicated scene in the entire film--a tense "oner" that would see a smoking gun, blood splatter, and a character fall to the ground. We needed, probably, at least an hour of rehearsals to get the timing and the performances right. 

We had five minutes. Three after arguing for two over whether or not it was even worth trying. 

Me, looking over a shot of Audrey Neal (Cat Ryan) as Michael Needham (Coach Waller) looms nearby at the city park. This is the first time I'm getting a good look at the back of my neck, maybe ever. Dang, that's a lot of freckles. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

Me, looking over a shot of Audrey Neal (Cat Ryan) as Michael Needham (Coach Waller) looms nearby at the city park. This is the first time I'm getting a good look at the back of my neck, maybe ever. Dang, that's a lot of freckles. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

* * *

For my second short film, I wanted to do something different. My first film, The Shift, was confined to only a handful of locations and fully two-thirds of it was, basically, two guys talking in a diner (but in a COMPELLING way! really!). The Two Hundred Fifth, on the other hand, would require many locations across Fresno and up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. More actors as well. And more crew, more extras, and more money. Thankfully, I was blessed with all of that. Everything I needed to tell my story. 

But all the money and crew in the world isn't going to stop the inevitable from happening... and by inevitable I mean that moment(s) when you are absolutely certain the entire production is going to fall apart like my youngest daughter when she doesn't get the purple bowl at breakfast. Disaster is always just around the corner when making a movie. All film productions--from their inception on the blank page to the final sound mix--are true acts of faith. You have to believe that the film will be made. You have to take it as a given. Because otherwise, when problems arise (and they always do), you might go to the dark place, throw yourself on the ground, and thrash about until someone brings you the dang purple bowl like you asked for, puts the red cereal with the strawberries in it, and hands you the pink spoon.

As any parent will tell you, throwing a tantrum doesn't work and pink spoons aren't always readily available. You've got to deal with the reality and the situation--however unfortunate--you are actually in, not the one you planned for and counted on. That might mean wiping your tears and using one of mom and dad's metal spoons. Or, it might mean leaving the city park, reassembling your cast and crew later, and coming back another day. 

Or, it might not. 

* * *

"We're losing the light," Director of Photography Kyle Gentz told me at Clovis' Bicentennial Park on the evening of our second day of shooting. "Once it's gone, we're done."

"How long?" I asked.

"About 40 minutes. I think we need to call it."

"We're not gonna get it."

"No. We're not gonna get it." 

"It" was THE scene of the movie. The pivot for the entire plot. There was no way the film could be called complete without it. But just doing it wasn't enough. This was our showstopper and it had to be done right or there was no point. 

"I could do it hand held," Kyle said.

"I mean, will that work?" I didn't want to compromise the shot for the sake of expediency.

"Yeah. Maybe."

I looked out at the crew and the lights and the bounces and the C-stands and the RV and the porta-cool and the hair and makeup on standby and the script in my hand and my actors wilting after twelve long hours. And I looked at the sun disappearing below the unbending horizon. That horizon hated me. 

Most complicated shot of the film. No rehearsal. At least five different points of timing manned by seven different people that had to be hit precisely and correctly or the shot was worthless. We'd get, at most, three takes. The next 20 minutes would make or break the film. 

I planted my feet and squeezed hard on the rolled up script in my left hand. "Let's do it!"

* * *

The Two Hundred Fifth is the story of a seemingly young woman who repeats her same chronological life over and over again with all the memories of her previous lifetimes intact. A Groundhog Life, if you will. I wanted Ema Horvath to play Maxine Laret, the lead. I'd seen Ema's work up close almost a year earlier on an as-yet-unreleased Tremendum feature film and I knew from that what a temporarily-under-the-radar talent she truly is. The problem was that Ema, as you would expect, is a female. The lead in the story I'd written as a short story and a comic book over ten years ago was a male.

Panel from the unpublished comic book version of  The Two Hundred Fifth.  Art by Alan Michael Pules and Brock Heasley. 

Panel from the unpublished comic book version of The Two Hundred Fifth. Art by Alan Michael Pules and Brock Heasley. 

I'm making it sound like more of a struggle than it really was. Gender-flipping the main character was the first and easiest compromise I made on the short road to bringing 205 to life. Also, the best. I pounded out the script in five days and sent it over to Ema with the note that I'd written it just for her. Two days later, she texted me back a simple "I'm in." It felt like half my work was done already. Hire the right actor or actress and they'll make you look better as a director than you really are all day, every day.

The rest of the cast was filled out with Fresno locals like Michael Needham, Paul Pavelski, Greg Wike, Nancy O'Hara, Wyatt Daniels, and Gregory C. Tharpe. In L.A., I found an actress who so perfectly embodied the role of the best friend to whom Maxine reveals her secret that I could hardly believe it. Audrey Neal's was the first photo of hundreds I looked at that I immediately thought "Oh my gosh, that's her." Her chemistry with Ema in the audition was almost supernatural.

Audrey Neal (Cat Ryan) and Ema Horvath (Maxine Laret) enjoying the high life in the bleachers in the Fresno Christian gymnasium. Which did not smell, by the way. Cleanest gym I've ever been in. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Audrey Neal (Cat Ryan) and Ema Horvath (Maxine Laret) enjoying the high life in the bleachers in the Fresno Christian gymnasium. Which did not smell, by the way. Cleanest gym I've ever been in. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

For the crew, I reached out to, I'm telling you, the top talents for many, many miles. People like Director of Photography Kyle Gentz, Gaffer Ian Mcaleece, Key Grip/Producer Cody Fletcher, Wardrobe Supervisor Trina Short, Hair Supervisor Jenny Pauline-Mendoza, Makeup Supervisor Amber Medina, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Composers Josh Mendoza and Justin Rosander, Food Master/Producer Richie Mirelez, 1st A.D. Bear Dupras, 1st A.C. Troy Ruff, Production Designers Max Martinez & Renee Mason, Sound Engineer Tyler Smith, and many more. Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff even signed on as Executive Producers. Shooting took place in Fresno, Clovis, and Shaver Lake during the first week of September, 2017. It was an absolute whirlwind of location permits, seventeen (!) script drafts, hot days, crises, laughter, and a diminishing sun always at our backs.

MONDAY, SEPT. 4: We started with what I thought was the hardest day (it wasn't). Fresno Christian High School was good enough to allow us to use their gym, but we had nearly seven pages of material to get through over three scenes. And 50 plus extras to work with. 2nd Assistant Director, Nicole Spate, was a rock star, helping to make sitting on bleachers for hours and hours on end and watching two college girls talk about how one of them was going to marry a twelve year old (!) way more fun than it should have been. I was determined to get every shot I wanted, and I was sure I could. Faith, remember? The first half of the day, we did it. Every shot, done, even if we did go over. The second half of the day wasn't so lucky; I had robbed Peter to pay Paul.

This would turn into somewhat of a theme for the length of the shoot.

Production Assistant Ciara Daniel instructs our team of basketball players (including actor Wyatt Daniels [Jason Fletcher] in the orange) on the finer points of waiting... and waiting... and waiting. (That's a film set, folks.) Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Production Assistant Ciara Daniel instructs our team of basketball players (including actor Wyatt Daniels [Jason Fletcher] in the orange) on the finer points of waiting... and waiting... and waiting. (That's a film set, folks.) Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz checks the frame while 1st A.C. Troy Ruff, Assistant Production Designer Renee Mason, and I stand by in awe of Kyle's finely trimmed nails. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz checks the frame while 1st A.C. Troy Ruff, Assistant Production Designer Renee Mason, and I stand by in awe of Kyle's finely trimmed nails. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Sound Mixer Tyler Smith laughs with delight because he knows he's just seen a rare sight indeed: 1st Assistant Director Bear Dupras smiling. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Sound Mixer Tyler Smith laughs with delight because he knows he's just seen a rare sight indeed: 1st Assistant Director Bear Dupras smiling. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

I know this is hard to believe, but that small vehicle D.P. Kyle Gentz sits on as he's pushed around by Key Grip/Producer Cody Fletcher was NOT store bought. I know. I just blew your mind. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

I know this is hard to believe, but that small vehicle D.P. Kyle Gentz sits on as he's pushed around by Key Grip/Producer Cody Fletcher was NOT store bought. I know. I just blew your mind. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Me trying to be a part of things while the crew (including D.P. Kyle Gentz, P.A. Ty Harrah, and 1st A.D. Bear Dupras) do the real work to support actresses Audrey Neal and Ema Horvath. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Me trying to be a part of things while the crew (including D.P. Kyle Gentz, P.A. Ty Harrah, and 1st A.D. Bear Dupras) do the real work to support actresses Audrey Neal and Ema Horvath. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Michael Needham (Coach) and Wyatt Daniels (Jason Fletcher) activating their Wonder Twins powers. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

Michael Needham (Coach) and Wyatt Daniels (Jason Fletcher) activating their Wonder Twins powers. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

TUESDAY, SEPT. 5: We started the day at my house, in my daughter's bedroom. I had thought that using such a familiar location would make things easier, but that's because sometimes I'm stupid. Multiple issues arose, most stemming from the fact that I was trying to turn a suburban home into a college dorm and, although you can fake a brick wall, that doesn't mean the brick wall has to like it. Or stay up. Shots were abandoned. Producer/Key Grip Cody Fletcher fixed the problems that just kept on coming despite his best efforts. Then, two hours later than we should have, we went to the city park for our big killing.

D.P. Kyle Gentz will do anything to get just the right shot of actress Ema Horvath, including invading Audrey Neal's space. On my daughter's bed. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

D.P. Kyle Gentz will do anything to get just the right shot of actress Ema Horvath, including invading Audrey Neal's space. On my daughter's bed. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

Me checking out a shot while Script Supervisor Orlando Gomez does his thing in the background. This picture was not posed. At all. I thoughtfully put my fingers to my chin, like, all the time. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Me checking out a shot while Script Supervisor Orlando Gomez does his thing in the background. This picture was not posed. At all. I thoughtfully put my fingers to my chin, like, all the time. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Ema Horvath throws up her hands in disgust as I watch on monitor. Sorry, Ema, still a couple more takes to go. Back to one. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

Ema Horvath throws up her hands in disgust as I watch on monitor. Sorry, Ema, still a couple more takes to go. Back to one. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 6: The first scene was simple enough: Maxine and Cat in a drive-thru, purchasing milkshakes. We never could quite get the cooperation of the fast food place to do it, so instead we just kind of... did it. Guerrilla style, from inside the car. Each take was another trip through the drive thru and another milkshake purchase. By the time we were done everyone in the crew was full of icy, milky goodness. At night, we staged a cop pull-over in downtown Fresno to the attention of not one bystander thanks to the cooperation of the Fresno Police Dept. and the presence of an actual police vehicle, lights flashing and everything. 

1st A.D. Bear Dupras looks on as actor Paul Pavelski (Officer Hitchings) makes his approach to the car under the watchful eye of Key Grip/Producer Cody Fletcher. Bear held this pose for, no joke, three hours. He says this is his natural seating position. Whatever works, right? Photo Credit: Cody Allred

1st A.D. Bear Dupras looks on as actor Paul Pavelski (Officer Hitchings) makes his approach to the car under the watchful eye of Key Grip/Producer Cody Fletcher. Bear held this pose for, no joke, three hours. He says this is his natural seating position. Whatever works, right? Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Well, that just looks impressive, doesn't it?

Well, that just looks impressive, doesn't it?

Hair Stylist Jenny Pauline-Mendoza pontificates while (from L-R) Makeup Supervisor Amber Medina, Wardrobe Supervisor Trina Short, and 2nd A.D. Nicole Spate look on. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Hair Stylist Jenny Pauline-Mendoza pontificates while (from L-R) Makeup Supervisor Amber Medina, Wardrobe Supervisor Trina Short, and 2nd A.D. Nicole Spate look on. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

A gathering of Producers: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing, and Richie Mirelez. Travis is too cool to hold his water bottle in his hand. Chris is too cool to open his eyes. Richie has a lot to learn about being cool. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

A gathering of Producers: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing, and Richie Mirelez. Travis is too cool to hold his water bottle in his hand. Chris is too cool to open his eyes. Richie has a lot to learn about being cool. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Ema Horvath takes a gun from Paul Pavelski while Key Grip/Producer Cody Fletcher looks on approvingly. Ema is small, but she is mighty. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

Ema Horvath takes a gun from Paul Pavelski while Key Grip/Producer Cody Fletcher looks on approvingly. Ema is small, but she is mighty. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

L-R: Trina Short, Jenny Pauline-Mendoza, Ema Horvath, Nicole Spate. It's probably about 2am here, but with this crew you can never tell. Photo Credit: ...I honestly have no idea.

L-R: Trina Short, Jenny Pauline-Mendoza, Ema Horvath, Nicole Spate. It's probably about 2am here, but with this crew you can never tell. Photo Credit: ...I honestly have no idea.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 7: An hour and a half's drive took us all up to Shaver Lake and the Dinkey Creek Bridge. I knew the bridge from camping with my family as a kid, and as far as I knew no one had ever captured it on film. After enduring 100+ degree heat all Summer long, the bitter, 60- degree cold was a lot to handle. Both for our shivering actresses (who, thankfully, got some quick wardrobe adjustments), and for our generators that put out about half as much power thanks to the altitude. Delays and rethinking of the lights needed to illuminate the bridge properly pushed shooting back by many hours, forcing a focused, amped Audrey and a sick-but-no-less-focused Ema to capture their characters' most emotional moments in a short spurt of shooting at the end of a very long night. I drove Audrey to the train station directly afterwards, finally crashing into my bed at 7:30 in the morning, almost 24 hours after I'd left it. 

The Dinkey Creek Bridge on a (mostly) moonless night. But thanks to our crew you can't TELL. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

The Dinkey Creek Bridge on a (mostly) moonless night. But thanks to our crew you can't TELL. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Gaffer Ian Mcaleece and Grips Patrick Dill and Hudson Short make the bridge scene HAPPEN.  So. Many. Lights. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Gaffer Ian Mcaleece and Grips Patrick Dill and Hudson Short make the bridge scene HAPPEN.  So. Many. Lights. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Audrey Neal and Ema Horvath continue to humor me as I give direction, despite the shivering cold. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Audrey Neal and Ema Horvath continue to humor me as I give direction, despite the shivering cold. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Ema Horvath and Audrey Neal absolutely destroy their most emotional scene. Sound Engineer Tyler Smith is just playing Galaga. So disrespectful. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

Ema Horvath and Audrey Neal absolutely destroy their most emotional scene. Sound Engineer Tyler Smith is just playing Galaga. So disrespectful. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

FRIDAY, SEPT. 8: Thanks to my late morning sleep, I completely missed one of the biggest disasters threatening to derail the entire production. This day, our last, was our big funeral scene. At 8am, our hearse and casket cancelled on us. This was epically bad. Renting a hearse and (especially) a casket isn't something you just do. That we got them at all outside of L.A. was a miracle as it was. Now, we had to repeat the miracle? In a matter of hours? Impossible. Thankfully, these were not my thoughts to think that morning. Instead, Nicole Spate and Propsmaster Rob Vargas stepped up and found a company, Churches of Death, willing to help us out. By the time I woke up, the problem was solved. 

The rest of the day went much more smoothly. We ended the shoot with a simple flashback scene at a swanky North Fresno home. The last days of shoots are always fun. Everyone is so much more relaxed and the pressure of the next day of shooting is off. A house shoot turned into more of a house party than anything. When it all wrapped up at about 1am that night, I was... relieved. To say the least. Disaster, for the most part, had been averted.

I watch monitor closely as actor Gregory C. Tharpe (Kevin) and Ema Horvath make their way out of the cemetery while Sound Engineer Tyler Smith follows them like a creeper. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

I watch monitor closely as actor Gregory C. Tharpe (Kevin) and Ema Horvath make their way out of the cemetery while Sound Engineer Tyler Smith follows them like a creeper. Photo Credit: Jenny Pauline-Mendoza

I have no idea what Jenny is doing to Kyle here. Make up your own caption! Photo Credit: Cody Allred

I have no idea what Jenny is doing to Kyle here. Make up your own caption! Photo Credit: Cody Allred

P.A. Erin Heasley watches monitor with much happiness as Wardrobe Supervisor Trina Short looks on. Whatever's on screen, it's  delightful.  Photo Credit: Cody Allred

P.A. Erin Heasley watches monitor with much happiness as Wardrobe Supervisor Trina Short looks on. Whatever's on screen, it's delightful. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Actor Gregory C. Tharpe gets into character to prepare for his big scene. Fun fact: he's actually listening to the High School Musical Soundtrack. Troy Bolton is so boss. Photo Credit: Cody Allred 

Actor Gregory C. Tharpe gets into character to prepare for his big scene. Fun fact: he's actually listening to the High School Musical Soundtrack. Troy Bolton is so boss. Photo Credit: Cody Allred 

Poor Ema. This was the last day of filming and she wasn't having it. Sorry, Ema, all good things must come to an end. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Poor Ema. This was the last day of filming and she wasn't having it. Sorry, Ema, all good things must come to an end. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

The super cool house we finished the film, and the super cool dude in the hat who owns it, Eldon Daetweiler. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

The super cool house we finished the film, and the super cool dude in the hat who owns it, Eldon Daetweiler. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Actress Nancy O'Hara gets prim and proper for her big closeup. Fun fact: we colored Nancy's hair this way for the movie, but she liked it so much she kept it! Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Actress Nancy O'Hara gets prim and proper for her big closeup. Fun fact: we colored Nancy's hair this way for the movie, but she liked it so much she kept it! Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Actor Greg Wike gets spruced by Jenny Pauline-Mendoza. Fun fact: Greg hated growing out his facial hair, but he's cool enough to do it anyway. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Actor Greg Wike gets spruced by Jenny Pauline-Mendoza. Fun fact: Greg hated growing out his facial hair, but he's cool enough to do it anyway. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

They who were there at the bitter end. I'm sure the neighbors really appreciated us setting a big bright light in the middle of the street at 2am. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

They who were there at the bitter end. I'm sure the neighbors really appreciated us setting a big bright light in the middle of the street at 2am. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

* * *

Tuesday night, three days before picture wrap, we ran through the shot three times as a rehearsal. Out of the car, around it, past the shooter, to the girl, the blood sprays, and around. Again, out of the car, around it, past the shooter, to the girl, the blood sprays, and around. And again. Not a one of the rehearsals was 100% dialed in, but we were losing the light way too quickly to not start rolling. 

We rolled film. Out of the car, around it, past the shooter, to the girl, the blood sprays, and around. The blood wasn't timed right, the actors didn't quite land where they should, and the death was all wrong. Again and again we did it. The blood kept not being right--either it was too much or too little--and the sun kept on setting. Shirts had to be changed, clean ones put on again and again. We were still losing the light. Almost gone now.

And we still had at least five more shots to get after we got our "oner" done. 

Finally, on our last chance take, everything clicked into place. The camera went where it should when it should, the blood sprayed just the right amount, and the camera landed perfectly for the reveal. 

"Keep rolling!" I shouted.

Now that we had it, we just turned that successful take into the next one and shot the aftermath of the big kill in real-time. Then, lense changes for the close-ups. Quickly. Then, reverse angles. In a blur, we got the shots and our actresses gave such devastating performances. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe we'd done it.

But, we still had one last shot to get.

It was a simple shot--a car driving onto the street--but getting it required a new setup on the other side of the city park parking lot, the traffic to cooperate, and our actors to hear us shouting directions at them as they drove away. We tried a few takes with no luck. The traffic just wouldn't let the car onto the street with the speed we wanted. 

Then, finally, with the light absolutely dying on us, the car sped out of the parking lot and into the distance and... we got the shot. We wrapped the day. On our faces you could see all the efforts and stresses that had been poured into that final hour. It was hard to believe we pulled it off. Weeks later, I still can't believe it. 

Then, less than two minutes after that, an ice cream truck pulled into the parking lot and barreled its way through our set. We--all of us--burst out laughing. Had that ice cream truck arrived any earlier we'd have been crying. 

Someone shouted "GET THE PETTY CASH!" as a joke, but it sounded like a good idea to me. The cast and crew that looked like they'd just been through a war suddenly turned into smiling and laughing children as they swarmed the ice cream truck and picked out whatever they wanted. The vendor charged me $20 flat because he sold it all so quickly he honestly had no idea how many he'd sold or what. I think we got the better end of that deal.

Ice Cream!

Ice Cream!

It was the perfect end to our hardest day and it couldn't have gone better if I'd planned it.

Which, of course, I didn't. Something unexpected (and, in this case, delightful) happened and I just steered into the skid, believing it was the thing to do. That's basically film production in a nutshell.

Me directing Audrey Neal and Ema Horvath. Whatever I'm saying, it looks like it's really boring. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Me directing Audrey Neal and Ema Horvath. Whatever I'm saying, it looks like it's really boring. Photo Credit: Cody Allred

Brock Heasley is an award-winning filmmaker at Tremendum Pictures. His first film, THE SHIFT, is now showing in film festivals across the United States. THE TWO HUNDRED FIFTH is currently in post-production.

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TREMENDUM PICTURES MAKES MOVIES. PLURAL.

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TREMENDUM PICTURES MAKES MOVIES. PLURAL.

I recently read that 80% of all short film makers never make another film. That's a pretty terrible statistic. There's probably lots of reasons for people not taking a second dip into the filmmaking pool, but the biggest has to be that making a film is really, really, REALLY difficult. Earlier this year, I finally finished my first short film as a writer/director, The Shift, after an exhausting year and a half of work. There were times I wondered if I still would have made the film if I knew at the beginning how much blood, sweat, late nights, feelings of self doubt, favors, mistakes, computer crashes, and, yes, tears it would eventually require. That 80% statistic resonated with me in a big way.

An ordinary, frustrated man receives sympathy and a job offer from the Devil himself. A film by Brock Heasley. Starring Travis Cluff, Gregory C. Tharpe, and Tina Johnson. Now appearing in film festivals across the U.S.

So, with that statistic in mind, I thought about doing it all again. I weighed the pros (art, the high of creation, furthering a career in something I'm passionate about, the sense of community that grows up around a film, the need to tell a story, etc.) and the cons (see first paragraph), but ultimately I knew: there was no friggin' way I was gonna be part of that 80%. I want to make movies!

So, no, reluctance wasn't gonna stop me. In fact, once I'd made up my mind to do it, the reluctance turned into an overwhelming drive and excitement. I NEEEDED to make movies. 

The only problem? Tremendum--and, by extension, my entire team--was already making a movie.

***

Since the release of our Blumhouse-produced film, The Gallows, back in 2015, Tremendum has not remotely stood still. We created and operated a Gallows-themed haunted attraction; made The Shift and three spec trailers: Slugger, Secondhand, and Flicker; shot an entire second feature film, Challengers (you'll be hearing more about soon); and started consulting on other films. We keep moving forward, no matter what, believing the opportunities will come.

Case in point: Abandoned

Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing watch playback on a scene from  Abandoned.  Travis' arms may or may not be diseased in this photo.

Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing watch playback on a scene from Abandoned. Travis' arms may or may not be diseased in this photo.

2nd Assistant Camera Troy Ruff, caught checking on equipment during a green screen day. Or stealing it. Not sure which.

2nd Assistant Camera Troy Ruff, caught checking on equipment during a green screen day. Or stealing it. Not sure which.

THE CREW. L-R: Grip Tyler Smith, Someone in a Blue Shirt, Best Boy Grip Jeremy Owen, Director of Photography Kyle Gentz, Key Grip Cody Fletcher, Script Supervisor Orlando J. Gomez, Grip Chad Saechao. Background: Set Designer Max Martinez. Not pictured in this photo: everyone else actually working.

THE CREW. L-R: Grip Tyler Smith, Someone in a Blue Shirt, Best Boy Grip Jeremy Owen, Director of Photography Kyle Gentz, Key Grip Cody Fletcher, Script Supervisor Orlando J. Gomez, Grip Chad Saechao. Background: Set Designer Max Martinez. Not pictured in this photo: everyone else actually working.

2nd Assistant Director Nicole Spate and Assistant Set Designer Renee Mason smiling like it isn't 108 degrees and they want to die.

2nd Assistant Director Nicole Spate and Assistant Set Designer Renee Mason smiling like it isn't 108 degrees and they want to die.

Director Travis Cluff readying a shot in an ambulance with a happy Director of Photography Kyle Gentz. The source of Kyle's happiness is still unknown, but is believed to be that morphine he found under the seats.

Director Travis Cluff readying a shot in an ambulance with a happy Director of Photography Kyle Gentz. The source of Kyle's happiness is still unknown, but is believed to be that morphine he found under the seats.

Actress Vela Cluff humoring Director Chris Lofing. She's got this.

Actress Vela Cluff humoring Director Chris Lofing. She's got this.

Abandoned is a project that was brought to Tremendum as a completed film that needed some additional work done on it. It came to us from an outside producer who believed we could do something special and you can pretty much tell it didn't originate with us because I doubt very much we would have ever given ourselves what seemed, at first, to be an impossible task: recreate a Malaysian jungle in Fresno, Ca. 

That's right, the film was originally shot in Malaysia and our task was to do an additional three weeks of photography without going to Malaysia. Do an exercise with me: Google Image search "Malaysia jungle."

There. Did it? Okay, now imagine the exact opposite of what you're looking at.

That's Fresno.

I fully admit that when Chris and Travis first brought Abandoned to my attention I was highly skeptical. I mean, c'mon. It's Summer for one. Our fair city's favorite color during these months is best described as "not green." And I wasn't the only one who was concerned; the entire team was wondering how we'd pull this off. The biggest burden fell upon Max Martinez and his Art Department, who had to figure out how to make a studio environment pass for a jungle with zero access to trees and leaves that look anything like what you'd find on the other side of the world. It was a three month effort involving sticking plastic leaves onto stripped eucalyptus tree trunks and making rocks and cave entrances out of nothing more than styrofoam, chicken wire, and paint. Amazingly, it worked:

Set Designer Max Martinez and Assistant Set Designer Jason Moore laying down the floor on their studio jungle. Giant mosquitoes not included.

Set Designer Max Martinez and Assistant Set Designer Jason Moore laying down the floor on their studio jungle. Giant mosquitoes not included.

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz playing peekaboo with, well, no one. Back to work, Kyle.

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz playing peekaboo with, well, no one. Back to work, Kyle.

Wide, brightly lit view of our studio jungle with all its parts. Aka, how you should never see our studio jungle.

Wide, brightly lit view of our studio jungle with all its parts. Aka, how you should never see our studio jungle.

That's more like it. Director Chris Lofing forgets he's not in a real jungle for a second and looks over his shoulder to make sure the spiders aren't following him.

That's more like it. Director Chris Lofing forgets he's not in a real jungle for a second and looks over his shoulder to make sure the spiders aren't following him.

Set Designer Max Martinez adjusts some stairs in our makeshift lighthouse amid a flurry of crew activity that deceptively looks like people just standing around. That's movie magic, folks.

Set Designer Max Martinez adjusts some stairs in our makeshift lighthouse amid a flurry of crew activity that deceptively looks like people just standing around. That's movie magic, folks.

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz keeps the camera rolling as a miniature building goes up in flames. If you listen closely, you can hear the screams of the miniature people inside. (Editor's Note: no miniature people were harmed during the making of this film and the author of this blog is on notice for his tasteless attempts at humor.)

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz keeps the camera rolling as a miniature building goes up in flames. If you listen closely, you can hear the screams of the miniature people inside. (Editor's Note: no miniature people were harmed during the making of this film and the author of this blog is on notice for his tasteless attempts at humor.)

Shooting began in late July and ran for three weeks. In that time, we turned an indoor studio into a jungle, made an abandoned factory look like a lighthouse, built a church in the middle of a backyard, turned a swimming pool into an ocean, and made a park people drive past everyday into a jungle river. Next, I think we should try our hand at turning a shopping center into the moon. I mean, why not?

If you're a Fresno native and you happen upon a Tremendum set, you're likely to think it looks pretty impressive. You'd see a crew about 30-40 people strong, tons of lights and food; a trailer or two, an expensive camera you do NOT want to drop; people doing hair or makeup or making sure the actors are dressed just right; and tons more cool movie-type activity that would make you go "Wow."

But that's because you live in Fresno. You're not used to seeing film crews and have probably never considered or known the sheer amount of effort that goes into every second of a filmed product. Compared to a lot of L.A. sets (even to, say, your favorite T.V. show), we're small time. Scrappy. What you call "independent cinema," but with big connections. We do what we do and we stay where we are because there's something special about filming in Fresno. There's an excitement here and a thrill local businesses and residents have to be a part of our productions that just doesn't happen anywhere else. Plus, there's real beauty here. I know we're not used to thinking of Fresno that way, but you should see it through Director of Photography Kyle Gentz's lens. It's gorgeous. 

So that was our Tremendum Summer. This big, short production that left us all sweating profusely and showering constantly (let's shoot only in the Fall from now on, okay guys?), and me with less and less time to get my own film together...

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DIT/On Set Editor Brock Heasley doing his thing while all the magic happens on the other side of the curtain. Yeah, when you pull the curtain to see the man behind it, you get Brock. Pretty disappointing.

DIT/On Set Editor Brock Heasley doing his thing while all the magic happens on the other side of the curtain. Yeah, when you pull the curtain to see the man behind it, you get Brock. Pretty disappointing.

I used my time during Abandoned wisely. When I'm not directing, my on set responsibilities include DIT (getting all footage we shoot into the computer and organizing it) and On Set Editing. This means I'm a bit away from the action and have some down time now and again to work on other things. I used the time wisely by honing my script, dialing up the people in charge of federal lands, drawing up storyboards, and inviting people to join my team when they were just trying to enjoy the catering. 

I worked on both things concurrently because that's the direction Tremendum is headed. We're a studio. A small studio (for now) maybe, but a studio means multiple projects. You can feel it in the air right now: things are moving faster and what started with Chris Lofing & Travis Cluff and their camcorder has grown into a real enterprise that keeps growing and growing. And Hollywood is taking notice.

Time to go again... The Two Hundred Fifth gears up with a production meeting.

Time to go again... The Two Hundred Fifth gears up with a production meeting.

My short film is called The Two Hundred Fifth. It's about the friendship between two college girls, one of whom is a badass with a dark secret. I'm more of a sci-fi guy, and "205" is what you call "grounded sci-fi" (science fiction that takes place in the real world). Now that Abandoned is over (well, for most of us--post-production is now in full swing!), all my attention is on "205". Casting is complete, with roles filled by people from both L.A. and Fresno. Most of the locations are now secured, including some Fresno area landmarks I'm excited to put on the silver screen for, I think, the first time.  I'm determined to make "205" the best little film it can be in the hopes that I can make it into something much, much bigger...

More on that later. Lots, LOTS more from Tremendum to come.

All photos credit: Cody Allred

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