What?! Another blog post?? What happened, did I lose my job?
No. I know it's been a while since anything whatsoever has been released, but that's due to many changes happening with MakeDo. We have a lot going on outside of MakeDo to try and balance with creating content. Combine that with several technical difficulties over the last couple projects, and that's a recipe for pure happiness!
So, in order to get us back in the swing of things while we finish working out everything on our end, blog posts seem like a good place to start!
INITIATION. Where did it come from? How was it made? How was it received? These are the questions no one is asking. Well no worries, because I'm going to answer them right here. Right now.
You can check INITIATION here, which I recommend doing before reading:
A little over a year ago, we had a concept we wanted to go through with titled BRAWL. Each short film we do, we try and explore something we have not done yet, whether it be a filmmaking technique, a story theme, a type of performance, etc.
For our previous short film (A horror short titled CREEP, about a killer clown), we had a small fight scene between two characters. Though short, it was a lot of fun to choreograph ourselves and a lot of fun to shoot. So we wanted to attempt a more extensive fight scene.
And so BRAWL was born, a short film concept about two people who get kidnapped and forced into a "last man standing" fight.
It had all the MakeDo ingredients!
- 1 simple, minimalist story.
- 1-4 Characters.
- 1 cup of darkness.
- 1/2 cup of sadness.
- 3 tbsp. of horrible violence.
- Mix until you feel very bad.
So why didn't we do it? Although the story was very simple, logistically it was extremely difficult. The location had the fight take place in a derelict building, which don't grow on trees (And if you think they do, please go see a doctor).
Also, this fight was VIOLENT. I re-read the script for BRAWL recently and was like "What the hell is wrong with me?" That would mean extensive makeup SFX, which is another tough thing to do on location, especially if you are 100% not make-up artists.
Having limitations or backing yourself into a creative corner can sometimes lead to much better ideas than you originally would've had. It forces you to think your way out of situations, usually boiling your ideas down to whatever it is that makes it the best.
It was such a simple idea, why couldn't we just do it? So we looked at where we could shoot.
Mike's family owns some pasture land way out in some made-up part of Florida. It was a location that was desolate, isolated, and more importantly, FREE TO USE!
So we altered the story to fit our situation. I like ideas that are a twist or interesting take on something we've all seen before. I had come up with an idea that I thought would work in a short film setting: A hitman's first hit.
In films, we always see hitmen as guys who take care of people as though it's business as usual. But those guys must've had a first job, and I thought it might be fun to explore what it would be like for someone to go through that.
This would give us the opportunity to do multiple things we had never tried before; an extensive fight scene, work with SFX makeup, emotional performances, and a story that would hopefully make the audience feel something.
And we had our concept.
Due to the beginnings of our exceedingly conflicting schedules, we whittled our shooting schedule down to one day. Just one.
Our location was about three hours away, a few of us were going through occupational changes, and one of us was soon to be shipped off to join the Army Reserves. There would be no time for another day of shooting, re-shoots, pick-ups, or anything like that. Just the one day.
Due to the distance of our location, we got started early, leaving at around 5am. If we were lucky, we would be able to start shooting at around 8am, which would give us roughly 9 hours of shooting in the hot, hot sun.
But hey, man, when has the sun ever hurt anyone?
Upon arrival, we were ambushed by a stampede of cows. I've seen plenty of cows in my life, but never this many, and certainly never had them flock towards us like a pack of gallimimus.
After the cows got bored of us, we began setting up, hoping that the location would have the empty, isolated look we were going for.
Joking aside, we did attempt to prepare more than most of our other films.
Due to the harsh(er) location of the shoot, we brought a pop-out canopy (to keep us sheltered from the sun whenever possible), a fold out table (for makeup applications, lunch breaks, and spontaneous table dances), a 5-gallon water cooler (for spontaneous table dances), and sandwich parts... you know, for making sandwiches.
For the most part, we shot in chronological order, the main reason being the makeup SFX. The two men in the film were meant to look drastically different from beginning to end, slowly degrading physically (and emotionally) as the film progresses. So we would start off clean, and add more would FX as the day would progress.
The first shot called for a super wide establishing shot of the scene, emphasizing the vast isolation of the characters. For that, we actually shot the whole film in single takes from that angle, giving us a master shot to cut back to at the any during editing.
So, I would drive across the length of the frame with Zach actually bouncing around in the trunk with a bag over his head. (You've got to admire that enthusiasm!) Then the scene would play all the way out. Communication between us and the crew was done over the phone, because we were obviously so far away.
Following that was our first scene, the phone call. The idea behind this was that The Hitman needed to arrive at a specific location and call at a specific time.
We purposefully kept it pretty vague as to who he was calling, or what the exact relationship was. We tried to subtly convey that The Hitman was actually being forced to do this against his will, with lines like "Do not fail".
The Hitman is given his choice of fancy fool-killin' weapons, but he chooses a handgun, further conveying that he wants this over quickly and does not plan on taking any more time with it than he needs to.
But SURPRISE! The Victim in the trunk is more ready to defend himself than the inexperienced Hitman is expecting.
I suppose this is a good place to mention the music used, which is an original score from Rayshaun Thompson.
Rayshaun actually found us through our first short film, "ECHO". Since then, we've collaborated on a few projects. His scores really bring an extra layer of depth to our short films, and we really look forward to hearing what he will come up with next.
And so begins our first fight scene.
We always like the idea of the most simplistic version of something, not just because it makes it more feasible for us, but because, like I mentioned before, it forces you to strip away everything and focus on what makes an idea good or unique.
We took this approach to our fight scenes. We liked the idea that the entire fight occurred around one car, using only themselves, a limited amount of weapons, and even the car itself at times. We wanted them to look drastically different, basically destroying each other by the end of the fight, using only these things.
Right at the start of this fight, the main weapon that can end the fight quickly (gun) is immediately lost under the car. Great. Now we have to watch two guys beat the shit out of each other for five minutes.
Towards the end of this section of the fight, the car is used as a weapon, crushing The Victim's ribs, and more brutally, his arm in the door.
We didn't want to cheat this effect and have it look like we obviously faked it. We wanted to show my character slamming against the door and crushing Zach's character's arm in the same shot.
Being that we are not stuntmen, I cannot approve of our method of accomplishing this. And I certainly can't recommend it. But I can certainly show it!
That looks exactly like what it is: A 2x4 propped inside the door, keep it from closing all the way. That way Zach could actually lean his arm into the door, and I could actually slam into it.
Now, even though I wasn't throwing my actual weight against the door (you know, for safety), I'm not going to tout this method, due to it's incredibly consequential point of failure. Again, major props to Zach for the amount of trust he puts in me to not permanently cripple him.
But really, pretty awesome, right?
Now that the first fight scene is complete, the two of us have received some physical damage. That means it's makeup time, girls!
I know there are incredibly talented makeup SFX artists out there. From the big-budget Hollywood guys like Stan Winston and Rick Baker to the YouTube channels like Kiana Jones SFX and Mykie over at Glam & Gore. But a lot of the bruising and beat-up looks came from the one and only Alexys Fleming of MadeULook.
Obviously we don't even come close to comparing to anyone on that list, are you kidding? But I did my best attempt at bruising using Lex's tutorial for that exact thing, and added onto it with some Ben Nye Nose and Scar Wax.
Using 100% poor technique and 110% the wrong tools, we were able to get something like this:
That looks disgusting and brutal enough for me. Moving on!
The other weapon used predominantly is the hammer. The only way we were going to get it to look as vicious as we wanted and still stay safe was to use a prop hammer. Which we did.
We had two hammers, one real and one fake. The fake one was made of foam, which we found online at a prop store. We were lucky to find a real hammer that matched it pretty damn close.
We shot as much as we could with the real hammer, only swapping it for the fake on when it would be too dangerous to smash each other up.
The final money shot was the hammer toss, smashing into the back of The Victim's head and rendering him brain dead. I will say that I am most proud of that shot, as it is all in-camera. We just shot it over and over until we got it in one wide shot. And that's what's in the film.
The only conversation had between the two characters came out of us trying to do something different. We didn't want any exposition to be given during this moment, and we didn't want it explained to the viewer why The Hitman was assigned to kill The Victim.
So I had it in my head that The Hitman and The Victim don't know each other at all. This is just a job that he has to complete, for dastardly reasons.
Upon realizing that The Victim is seconds away from losing this fight, he reacts out of desperation, doing the only thing that immediately comes to his mind: He blurts out everything he can about his life to The Hitman, in an effort to humanize himself.
I wanted to make it more difficult for The Hitman to pull the trigger, just knowing that this "job" is actually a man, a person with a life and people he cares about, and others who care about him. It also offered us the opportunity to explore a more emotional core to a story than we've had before.
I like the idea of this scene, but whether the execution of it came across as intended is still up to the viewer. I will always feel as though there is room for improvement in that scene, because of its importance.
We were pretty proud of our film upon finishing it. We had to cut some shots on the day, due to logistics, but we were able to make a pretty cohesive film out of a very simple idea, and a very limited budget.
After Mike and I had watched the final cut for the first time, with Rayshaun's music added, we both thought the film had a very sad tone to it. It was heartbreaking to watch those final moments. I had sympathy for both characters, one who is being forced to do something that he can barely bring himself to do, and another who is just desperately trying to survive.
We thought the film was executed well enough and was mature enough to try and submit to some online short film websites, to hopefully attract the type of audience that would enjoy the content we create.
We submitted to two official websites, and INITIATION was not accepted by either.
We greatly appreciated the response from them, though, as they both replied with a short review of the pros and cons of our film, explaining why they did not choose to accept it. They both had similar reasoning, saying that the story was a little too vague, the characters were not developed enough for an audience to care about them, or why there was conflict. And, of course, the actors were too young to be convincing as the characters they were attempting to portray.
Mike made a good point upon reviewing their response. The purpose of INITIATION's vague story was to not spell things out for the audience. It was to hopefully spark their imagination as to why this altercation is happening. We're a huge fan of stories where not every little detail is explained.
Mike says that the issue with our film is that INITIATION is a small part of a bigger story. The characters both most likely know things that the audience does not, and the audience never finds out what that is. There is no character that learns things as we do, meaning there is no character we can experience the film through, resulting in the viewer not being able to relate to either one.
INITIATION served its purpose as exactly what it was; a learning experience. We tried a lot of new things that we had not before, and I feel that the experience we had making it will hopefully help refine our technique in creating future projects.
If you watched INITIATION, thank you very much! We'd love to hear what your thoughts on it are, as we are so desperate for approval. From anyone. Please. Help.