Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mario Directs and Shoots; The Secret Cross

"The Secret Cross" is a psychological thriller. Jimmy Stone has a burial cross on his property but doesn't know why. He's tried many times to go and look at it, but turns away each time not knowing why. His wife is missing and there is a psychopath that trespasses on his farm. I won't give away the ending but there are many twists and turns in this story.

Anthony Tullo, actor and co-director, called me to see if I was interested in shooting this film for him. The script seemed simple enough, but it took me 3 times to read it to finally understand the complicated twists that were involved. I was excited to shoot the film so I could test my abilities in ways they have never been tested. Could I figure out the best way to light, move the camera around, and direct talent so that all the twists and turns came about at a the right point the the movie? It certainly was daunting, but exciting nevertheless.

Anthony and I worked like a well forged team. Anthony played Jimmy Stone the lead character and to his credit, did a great job. We spent every Sunday for 4 months rehearsing with the talent and blocking for camera. These rehearsals paved the way for 1-2 take shoot. Rarely did we go to 4 takes. Everyone was bang on!!

Okay, now to the technical aspects. I used my Panasonic AF100 at 1080p full resolution. I recorded to a Ki Pro mini recorder that was attached to the HD-SDI port via bnc. I used my selection of Ai Nikkor lens(all fitted with focus gears for pull-focusing) 14mm all the way to 300mm. Through the shoot I maintained an f-stop of 4 so that the look would stay consistent. My main EVF(Electronic View Finder) was the new Zacuto EVF Flip(I swear buy this now). My sound technician, Sebastien Salm, recorded audio to the camera as well as to files on his computer as backup. Sebastien and Marius Madau were my camera crew alternating jobs between clapper-loader, focus puller, and DIT. A fairly small but tight team.

Jimmy Stone's farm is set in the Appalachian mountains but we shot in southern Ontario. We went to the Appalachians and shoot b-roll for a few days so that we could set the location in the film. That was an incredible 3 days. I also spent another week doing more b-roll footage of Mennonites driving their buggies in the farm country. On one Sunday, I lucked out and found a street called "Buggy Lane" in the Waterloo region. It was around 9am and there was a slight fog. I had the camera set up in hopes that I would get the penultimate mennonite buggy shot. Well the gods were looking down at me that morning. I had picked a cross roads were most of the Mennonites in this area travel trough to go to church. It was buggy mayhem. They were coming in from all directions, all at the same time. For me it was an hour of being lost in time. There were buggies with horses, a dirt road , corn fields and that's it - no other sign of modern life. For a few hours I was caught in a time warp and it felt great. I followed the last buggy up the hill to the church. There must have been at least 50 buggies and horses there all lined up in neat rows. Well, you know me, I continued to shoot. All in all, a very successful morning.

I also wanted to get shots of vultures circling in the air. My son Sebastien and I went out early one morning to see if we could do just that. Near a town called Listowel( Ontario) we found a field that had about 25 Turkey vultures just walking around. I got the camera set up with the 300mm lens and told my son to run into the field and get the vultures up and flying. He looked at me if I had given him a death sentence. He said, "...will they attack me?" I said, "Probably, but you're a tough kid now get out there." The dutiful son that he is, he turned, ran the 100 yards full tilt, and charged the vultures. I knew he wasn't in any danger and as it turned out they all flew and and started to circle in the air. We got the shot.

The main body of the shoot was done outdoors under the blazing sun. To try to soften the sunlight we used a lot of silk and soft reflector boards. The psychopath wanderer played by Jeff Joslin(MMA fame) required a different type of lighting technique. I wanted him to look sinister and mean so therefore, I used direct unfiltered sunlight. With his makeup, his facial features looked very rugged and direct sunlight accentuated his frightening look. When he pulled his front two teeth out( lost in one of his MMA fights), I really got frightened. I didn't know he could do that and it ramped up his psychopath look immensely.

What really surprised me was the large number of serendipitous events that occurred to help make this film a success. One event was the bottle of Limoncello. The main dinner scene was shot in an old barn which we made look like an country farm house. The bottle of Limoncello plays prominently in the script, but had been forgotten by the props department. We sent someone to find a liquor store nearby and purchase a bottle. We were shooting late and of course all the liquor stores were closed. Just then, one of the crew came in with the exact bottle that we needed. I asked him where he had gotten the bottle. He said, he found it in the basement of the barn. I couldn't believe it! We found exactly what we needed, in a barn situated between Paris and Brantford Ontario. The bottle was unopened as well. What are the chances of that? Gotta love serendipity!!

All in all it was a successful shoot. Check out the website; As I write this, we have planned to have a premiere at the Royal Theatre in Toronto on October 22, 2011.

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