Alternative Reality: Making Of and 3 days in the desert as a DP – Part 3

A sun- and brainburnt crew returns to set the next morning. We are doing good on time – which is usually seldom on film sets, where “being behind schedule” is as common as “the soon-to-be fat Austrian DP runs for red Vines between setups” or, in everyday language, “we just ran out of milk”.
And since you are always running out of milk, you are usually running behind on set. Something always runs out, the director takes longer or takes more takes, the DP gets lost on the way back from crafts services to the shooting location, something was completely misplanned or underestimated – it happens to the best of us.

No Backup Plan Means No Delays Allowed

Being good on time is important today, because it is the last day of shooting and we have no safety net of a following shooting day. We start early – everyone sun burnt from the last day, myself covered in heavy sweaters and jogging pants so I don’t need to constantly wonder about the cancerous progression of my slowly cooking skin. The first setup is again inside the abandoned house; the goal is to shine a lot of light inside so we can do a doorway shot where inside and outside of the house are visible at the same time. There is so much light outside that it would take a 2K light to brighten up the inside enough, but the strongest light we have in this production is 650 Watt, not enough by far.

We brainstorm a bit – maybe a reflector could do the trick? – and then the production designer James (who lent me awesome furniture for “Terminated” back then) emerges from a hill of trash, carrying an intact full-body mirror. With the right angle towards the sun, we are able to shine the sunlight undiffused and unforgivingly strong straight inside the house, just like a second sun on floor level.

Jordan relaxing, getting lit from a 50ft far away mirror shining sunlight into the dark house and making it bright as hell.

Jordan relaxing, getting lit from a 50ft far away mirror shining sunlight into the dark house and making it bright as hell.

I don’t even know how we did so many setups in that day – we had one inside this house (with action, gunshots et al), one on a plantation, one outside a barn, one behind the abandoned house, and one inside a car – all with action surrounding it. Inside the abandoned house, we set up a little bit of lighting; just small spotlights to accent characters or objects. Outside, reflectors are throwing light through the windows; Vlad, our gaffer, sets up some lights on the side of the house to shine light from up high through the dirty windows.

Eriko and Yuta setting up a 150W light inside the abandoned house to brighten specific areas. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Eriko and Yuta setting up a 150W light inside the abandoned house to brighten specific areas. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

The entrance of our abandoned house. The shadows seem so bright because we pumped in lots of light with reflectors.

The entrance of our abandoned house. The shadows seem so bright because we pumped in lots of light with reflectors.

Jordan in Front of the abandoned house. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Jordan in Front of the abandoned house. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Plantation time

For some reason, Hiroki calls the rows of non-fruit-bearing trees “plantation”. Must be a Japanese thing. Anyway, while we are still working inside the abandoned house I get the DP luxury of having a big enough crew to already prep the next location. Since minimal lighting is required – just some reflectoring -, all that needs to be done in the plantation is the rigging of dolly tracks and a dolly. When we arrive, the dolly is in place; we quickly decide on a specific location and the team sets up the tracks. Yuta is the dolly grip (which sounds fancy, feels kind of boring and is very difficult, because you have to push smoothly, regulate the speed correctly and know where to start, turn around etc.

Our dolly setup in the "plantation". No idea who coined that term, but it's pretty epic. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Our dolly setup in the "plantation". No idea who coined that term, but it's pretty epic. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Hiroki checking the replay. If we shot on film, we amateurs would be doomed without replay. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Hiroki checking the replay. If we shot on film, we amateurs would be doomed without replay. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

The ladies think I am silly, but the lady BUGS, they really see my value - and crawl up my butt. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

The ladies think I am silly, but the lady BUGS, they really see my value - and crawl up my butt. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Part of the film’s finale is one of the robbers getting shot in the head; a gun-throwing and short fight choreography follow in our shooting schedule, and two of our bad-guy actors, Bob and Kurt, are officially wrapped. It is always something to be mindful of – how long do I need a certain person on set, and when can I send them home? There is nothing worse on an assistant director/producer level than to have someone wait around on set all day to deliver one line or to not even do anything (which sometimes happens when plans change or poor planning was made, or people have too much on their mind – happened to me a few times and is always embarrassing).

Curt making a run to get rid of the virtual world intruders... Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Kurt making a run to get rid of the virtual world intruders... Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

Bob, who is playing Mr. Evil here, is chilling on set with a cigar and a newspaper. Something that is only possible for actors - we crewpeople don't get a break until it is a wrap.

Bob, who is playing Mr. Evil here, is chilling on set with a cigar and a newspaper. Something that is only possible for actors - we crewpeople don't get a break until it is a wrap.

Now with the adult actors gone, it is just us adolescent filmmakers, the kid actors and their parents left. A recipe for disaster: As the parents are non-knowingly chewing on some red vines and hanging out close to our home base (a trailer with an intact toilet and crafts services/camera charging station in there), we train their kids to drive dangerously yellow cars. Hiroki in the driver seat, Bryson on the passenger seat, and Jordan on Hiroki’s lap – while Hiroki ducks down and drives my car, so it creates the illusion that Jordan is driving the Firebird. I sit in a camera car (a jeep with an open back) and film the car while trailing in front of it with similar speed.

The last scene of the day, which is the first scene in the game world in the film. We used a reflector from the side to light up the car's interior and therefor the kids inside.

The last scene of the day, which is the first scene in the game world in the film. We used a reflector from the side to light up the car's interior and therefor the kids inside.

Two preteens driving a firebird? Nearly; Jordan is actually sitting on Hiroki's lap, who is making his unseen Cameo appearance.

Two preteens driving a firebird? Nearly; Jordan is actually sitting on Hiroki's lap, who is making his unseen Cameo appearance.

Teruaki shooting out of the car - I was right in front of him in the trunk.

Teruaki shooting out of the car - I was right in front of him in the trunk.

Return to Civilization and Elementary School

I don’t even remember how we got back to LA. I just remember that we took a group photo, loaded all the equipment in the cars and then my memories fade. Some people lost some things – batteries, filters and the like – which are probably lost forever, adding to the sammelsurium of weird trash lying around in these abandoned houses.

A group photo we took - very Asian to do so - with the owner of the ranch, Mike, who is sitting between Hiroki and myself.

A group photo we took - very Asian to do so - with the owner of the ranch, Mike, who is sitting between Hiroki and myself.

The last shooting day happens around a week later in the same church building we did the casting; a room becomes an elementary school class room, and cast and crew reunite for a relatively short day with downgraded equipment (no more dolly fun) but a high morale. Every Elementary school teacher would be jealous of how well-behaved we got the kids to behave in this all-too-terrifying environment. And again, pretty much in time, we are finished, and this time it is a final wrap!

Ready for the last scene and last day, a few hours of shooting with a shitty tripod at the church in which we cast; now our casting room turns into an elementary school classroom. Photo by Mizuki  Yoshimitsu.

Ready for the last scene and last day, a few hours of shooting with a shitty tripod at the church in which we cast; now our casting room turns into an elementary school classroom. Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

The kids feel at home in the classroom - that's how we like it.Photo by Mizuki  Yoshimitsu.

The kids feel at home in the classroom - that's how we like it.Photo by Mizuki Yoshimitsu.

A group photo of the crew in the classroom scene - a little bit less than in the desert scenes. That's a wrap for AR!

A group photo of the crew in the classroom scene - a little bit less than in the desert scenes. That's a wrap for AR!

And because it was so much fun and I would be lying if I said it happened yesterday, here are three screenshots of the finished movie. Don’t ask how long the freaking Visual Effects took, or I will eat all your cookies.

Screenshot from Hiroki Kamada's "Alternative Reality"

Screenshot from Hiroki Kamada's "Alternative Reality"

Screenshot from Hiroki Kamada's "Alternative Reality"

Screenshot from Hiroki Kamada's "Alternative Reality"

Screenshot from Hiroki Kamada's "Alternative Reality"

Screenshot from Hiroki Kamada's "Alternative Reality"

About the Author

Tobias Deml is an Austrian Filmmaker and Visual Artist. 2012 Cinematography Reel: http://vimeo.com/53973421 Tobias Deml ist ein österreichischer Filmstudent und Möchtegernregisseur in Los Angeles. Er arbeitet derzeit als Kameramann in Los Angeles und popelt in seiner Nase.