Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Postmortem: "Maternity Ward"

Suzy Ramsey as "Mary"

For a production that had to come together super fast, it's definitely one for the books.  There were a lot of "firsts" for us with "M IS FOR MATERNITY WARD," which is our entry for The ABCs of Death Part 2, 26th Director contest. "MATERNITY WARD" was influenced by Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and in fact, our lead character is named for her. I had not directed anything since "BLOOD THERAPY," and it felt really good to hear "What do you think, Mrs. Director?" again after a three year hiatus.  These are a few of my thoughts and experiences.

1. We started a new tradition with this short film.  We went to see a movie together before making a movie together.  I wish I could say that was my idea, but I actually heard Adam Green (HatchetFrozen) mention on one of his podcasts that he does that before his shoots. I'm a huge fan of his and I admit I totally stole it from him. It's a great idea!  So, Craig and I, along with our actress Suzy and her boyfriend, all went to see "You're Next" before production. That was a good movie choice since it is an independent production - like ours. I'm gonna do all I can to uphold this tradition even if it means movie night at our house!
Val (Director) and Craig (Cinematographer) setting up
2. We shot the movie with our Canon DSLR rather than the pro Sony video camera. This was the first time we've shot anything serious with the DSLR. I have to admit, I was a little worried about using the DSLR on such an important shoot (we had a really tight deadline) without thoroughly testing it first. Sure, we've shot stuff in the backyard, but onset is always a different ball game.  We were concerned about focus. Concerned that even though it looked in focus on the tiny camera LCD, it would show up soft once we were looking at the footage on a computer monitor. That's something we don't have yet - an external monitor for the DSLR. Thankfully, Craig nailed the focus. Another thing that turned out really well was the lighting. Not only did Craig do a bang up job on the lighting, but that camera exposed it beautifully. It was a gamble to use it, but the risk paid off. 

3. This was the first time we used the Hauntedweb of Horrors sets to shoot our own movie. Hauntedweb is a local haunted attraction that benefits Youth Villages, a non-profit organization that helps troubled kids and their families. We've shot 2 commercials there for the haunt itself, but this was the first time it was for our own stuff. Patrick and all the people associated with the haunt are just so giving and awesome to work with. "MATERNITY WARD" wouldn't have turned out as well as it did without the added production value of their spectacular sets. The level of artistry is amazing! I know I've said this before, but there is something special about the horror community that no other film community has. I wouldn't trade it for anything! 

Val doing what she does best - playing with blood!
4. Craig 100% scored "MATERNITY WARD" on his own. The new Logic program on Mac is a godsend. He started playing guitar only a few years ago and is completely self-taught. Since he isn't interested in playing in a band, his ultimate goal was to score our movies so we could step up our game and get away from using the loops that come with Final Cut or even free music from the web. After only a few short months with this new program he's scoring our movies! That makes me even more proud of this production. It is 100% ours. 

5. "M IS FOR MATERNITY WARD" was also my first truly gory, disturbing horror film. Blood aside, this movie is disturbing. There are moments and actions that will make the viewer a little uncomfortable and that's awesome. I get a wicked grin from ear to ear every time I watch it. I wrote and directed it and have viewed it several times and there is one part that still gets me every time. Suzy did an amazing job at really getting into the head of her character. And I couldn't be more proud. 

Val framing a shot
About halfway through the shoot, there was an action I was still a little unsure about. Throughout the first segment where Mary puts the baby together, the blanket is very bloody, as it should be. But once Mary finishes, I considered having Suzy wrap the baby in a clean blanket as she's picking it up for the first time. So, we were standing there in between lighting set ups going over this idea. It was gonna be a somewhat tricky shot to have her stop and wrap a new blanket around the baby without ruining the ultimate reveal. Not to mention it would kill our pacing. Thankfully, Suzy stated that this medical room isn't exactly sanitary and plus her character is insane, so why would she think to get a clean blanket? I then said to Suzy, "It's decided then. You know your character better than anyone." Even me, the writer. That was one of those magic moments of filmmaking where the character that I created had truly been passed on and became solely that of the actor's. 

While there were many "firsts" with this project, there was a moment during shooting that has only happened to me two other times. The moment when Suzy first appears on camera as Mary is revealed, was the first moment in the shoot day that she got to really "act". All of the shots before this were of her hands working and putting the baby together. But now, we were finally seeing her face for the first time, just as Mary was seeing her creation for the first time. Oh, and I should probably mention that Suzy had ONE shot at getting this right. There would be no second take. And Suzy nailed it! It gave me chills watching the monitor. I told her after the shot that it was one of those rare golden moments that I live for.
L-R: Craig (Cinematographer), Roger (Photographer), Val (Director), and in front, Suzy (Actress)
All in all, this was one of my favorite productions. The stars aligned for us on this one. Suzy did an amazing job acting, which isn't easy when everything she portrayed was all body language. She was awesome. Craig went above and beyond like he always does making sure the lighting was just right and the edit was perfect. Plus, with the added responsibility of scoring it, he really knocked it out of the park. These two fine people make my job look good and I couldn't have done it without them. And thanks to Roger Cotton for not only keeping Craig sane during production but for the beautiful pictures from set! I couldn't be more proud of "MATERNITY WARD" and even if we don't win the contest, it was worth it tenfold. 

Watch our short here and vote for us (by clicking the LIKE button above the video) in The ABCs of Death 2 contest! We appreciate your support! 

All pictures courtesy of Roger Cotton of Roger Cotton Photography

And one more huge THANK YOU to Hauntedweb of Horrors!