[WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7

Back in September, I started preproduction on a short film titled, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7. The funny brackets around “[WELCOME TO]” are a stylized way of indicating that this film is part of a much larger family of projects that all fall under the LEVEL 7 property — a new sci-fi, horror setting that I’ve been creating for the past couple of years.

I don’t want to spoil all the fun of LEVEL 7 before you have a chance to see the short and the other upcoming expressions of the setting — half of the fun in exploring this setting is the mystery and the experience of slowly peeling back the onion to reveal more and more of the creepy, crazy, messed up world that it is. I will tell you that LEVEL 7 incorporates popular government conspiracy theory and well-known mythology unique to our modern culture (though present in nearly every culture on Earth). There are monsters, both human and inhuman. There are dark and dangerous places. And there are secrets, the answers to which will be revealed through a variety of experiences, including this upcoming short film, as well as the LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] board game to be released this summer from Privateer Press, and some other fun experimental media projects.

Working out the kinks in our blast doors...

LEVEL 7 began as a feature length screenplay that I wrote about 18 months ago. The script establishes the world and the major conflict taking place within it. It’s the tip of a very big and horrifying iceberg. While writing the script, I also compiled a world bible that detailed the backstory of how everything came to be and who the players are in this deep, far reaching conspiracy that has been going on for over 50 years. While developing the feature script with my producing team, I also initiated the board game project at Privateer. The goal with LEVEL 7 is to explore it through as many different mediums as possible, and that’s where the short film comes in.

Quick convo with stunt coordinator, Ron Balicki and our soldiers

[WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 is not an excerpt of the feature script, but rather, a tangential story with a different cast of characters that gives us a glimpse into the setting without revealing the greater scope of the conflict. I had several reasons for tackling it alongside the other projects we’re doing with LEVEL 7. For one, it acts as proof-of-concept for the feature project. Getting a feature off the ground is no easy feat, and the more ammunition at your disposal that can demonstrate the commercial validity of a project, the better chance you have of getting a green light on it. Second, it’s a fun and unique way to expose people to the new setting we’re launching at Privateer Press. I’m not sure if any other board game in history was preceded by a short film to help announce its release. (If there was, let me know in the comments section because I want to see it.) And last, as I’ve become quite addicted to filmmaking in the past few years, I was ready to jump into a new project and LEVEL 7 is a world I have a great deal of passion to explore.

Checking to make sure our star is still breathing.

So with a polished eight page script in hand, I recruited my producing partner, Tarik Heitmann, to help me assemble a fantastic crew and bring [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 to life. My great and very talented friend, Farzad Varahramyan leant me his artistic skills, and together we evolved the look of the film’s monsters until they were ready to be realized in the flesh. With designs in hand, I then had the opportunity to spend a month at ADI (Amalgamated Dynamics Incorporated), an Academy Award winning animatronics and creature shop known for their work in such films as SPIDERMAN, STARSHIP TROOPERS, and the ALIENS and PREDATORS franchises. There, I supervised the creation of prosthetics and even got my own hands dirty building the actual ‘suits’ that our creatures would wear. As a lifelong fan of special effects and animatronics, you can only imagine how much fun it was to visit the studio several times a week to see these monsters that were born in my head come to life right before my eyes.

Director of Photography, Ruben Russ

As it goes with projects like this, we finished up the creatures and costumes just minutes before we started production in November. Shooting on an amazing digital camera called a RED Epic, we stalked the basements of Los Angeles’s famously haunted Linda Vista Hospital for three days. This hundred year old hospital has been in constant use as a film location since it was shuttered in the early 80’s, and it’s notorious for being inhabited by ghosts. Aside from being locked in an unlit basement by a very live person, we had no harrowing experiences, but I will say that by the end of the shoot, I felt like the walking dead. It was three days of some of the most exhilarating work I’ve ever done. There’s nothing like seeing your words on the page get turned into real dialog and action right there in front of you. But we had a three day shooting limit, so we had to squeeze every minute out of every day. In those three days, we worked almost 60 hours total, but at the end of it, I was ready to come back and do it all over again.

Once production wrapped, it was time to get down to post. The goal with the edit was to give the film a very tense, fast, and frenetic pace. It’s very much an action-thriller that takes you on a high-speed tour de force of the LEVEL 7 environment and we wanted the film to reflect that in every cut.

Green Screen shot on final day

Meanwhile, Deane Ogden, a man who I have sung the praises of many times in the past, composed the original score. While he’d already created over 20 minutes of music to help develop the feature project, he started from ground zero with [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 and created an entirely new score, custom tailored for this film, and it’s amazing! To capture the tone of the setting, Deane peppered the score with mechanical and industrial sounds. It’s creepy, gritty, and totally gets your blood pumping.

Ruben prepares to be suffocated with his camera

Once the final edit was locked in March, it was time to get down to the final visual effects. We worked with Entropy Studio, an incredible VFX company based in Spain that went above and beyond anything we could have expected. They added atmosphere, digitally animated the creature effects, perfected and polished our green screen composite shots, and created an entire environment from nothing but our concept art, allowing us to realize visuals that would have been otherwise impossible with our limited budget.

With an almost final picture in place, I began working on the colorization process with a brilliant colorist and filmmaker, David-Aaron Waters, where we brought every shot into the same color space and gave the film a look that would enhance and increase the tension of the story. At the same time, the sound scape was designed by Michael Ferdie, a genius of sound design — I can almost guarantee you’ve heard his work if you’ve turned on a television any time in recent history. He filled the environment with textural sound and ensured that the subliminal experience would be just as visceral as the one in front of your eyes.

So creepy...

And for some icing on the cake, I recruited a little help from Privateer’s art and video team to produce the title and end credits for the film, giving it that last bit of professional polish it needed to feel like a real production. Maybe it’s the artist in me, but good credit design is very important in my mind — it’s like great package design on a product. It’s easy to go overboard with something like that on a short film, but the crew at Privateer struck a perfect balance between artistry and subtlety that I think perfectly speaks to the heart of the film.

Right now, we’re just days way from having the entire film completed, in the can, and ready to show to the world. So where can you go to see it? As soon as it’s ready, I’ll announce a website where it will be available to view. It’s been several months of constant work and I’m combing my hair over a few bald spots that appeared during the course of this project — but that’s the nature of the beast. I hope when we’re ready to unleash it, you’ll come have a look.

Working out the blocking with our very patient and generous star, Christian Oliver.

In the meantime, I’ll be running a little Twitter contest for anyone interested in grabbing an early copy of LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]. Check out the details in last week’s blog post and thanks for staying tuned!

 

The Next Level

If you’ve been following my tweets or Facebook updates over the past year, or have been watching this blog, you may have noticed a few references to a little project called LEVEL 7. For the past couple of years, LEVEL 7 is what has consumed the better portion of my time, but it’s not just one project, it’s several connected and related projects. The biggest undertaking, for me, has been a short film called [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7. It’s eight minutes of sci-fi-thriller-action-horror and I hope to be able to showing it online very soon.

Another big undertaking has been the LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] board game that will be released by Privateer Press this summer. The big effort on this project was put in by Privateer’s game development team and helmed by William “Oz” Schoonover. Using a feature length screenplay, a short film script, storyboards, concept art and a world bible that I supplied them, Oz and company turned the story into a very fun, very tense, and very exciting board game that brought all of the creepy, thrilling and dynamic elements of the setting to life.

I’ll have more to say about the short film soon, but in the meantime I’m going to abuse my executive authority to play a little game of my own and give you a shot at getting your hands on a copy of LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] before it even hits the stores. Here’s how it’s going to work:

First, you have to be following me on Twitter @MattWilsonPrime. All you have to do is hit that link or the button in the margin on the home page of the blog and confirm the follow. Second, watch this blog for my update on [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7. If you want to be on the front lines, it’d be a good idea to sign up for the updates, which you can also do on the home page of this blog. Then, keep an eye on Twitter. Three times within 72 hours of posting the next LEVEL 7 update on the blog, I’ll tweet a question, the answer to which can be found in the blog post. The first person to reply to the tweet each time will win a copy of LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] which I’ll ship to you in a few months once they’re in Privateer’s warehouse! So sign up and stay on your toes — there’s more to come!

THE FINE PRINT: This is not an officially endorsed Privateer Press, Inc. contest. It’s being conducted solely by moi. Only one copy per person, so if you’re the first person to answer one of the questions, step aside for others on the following questions. Last, while I’ll ship the game out to you before it hits stores, depending on where in the world you live, I can’t guarantee it’ll get to you before the release, so if you’re not a U.S. resident, keep in mind there will be a longer shipping time. If you are a winner, I’ll send you a message to contact me via email so I can obtain your shipping information — don’t worry, I’ll pay the shipping! 

 

Back against the Stormwall

So, I’ve had this box sitting on my desk for weeks. An innocuous brown box about the size of a shoebox, sealed with a single strip of clear packing tape. In the chaos of the past month, I’d almost forgotten about it. I’d even moved it around a few times and it was accumulating paper and other clutter on top of it like some sort of weird office supply stalagmite. (I’ve got more than a few of those around my workspace. The technical term is ‘creative filing’ and if you’re a creative type, you know exactly what I mean.)

Back to the box…

Oh yeah, I kind of spoiled it in the title. It’s a Stormwall — the mighty Cygnaran colossal of Privateer’s WARMACHINE tabletop miniatures battle game, on the off chance that someone reading this doesn’t actually know what I’m referring to.

Tonight, I busted it open. I had a brief fantasy that I’d have this thing assembled and painted before Lock & Load, but that’s not going to happen. I could get it done, but this is something I want to take my sweet time with. It’s been a long time coming to have this beautiful weapon of mass destruction spread out on my desktop, and I want to savor every brush stroke as I make it battlefield ready. I’ve got a couple challenges ahead of me before that can happen, though.

The Cygnar Stormwall —beautifully huge!

Being the owner of a miniatures manufacturer has some fantastic perks. One of them is being able to request advance copies of the latest production pieces months before they’ll be available in stores. The production department graciously sent me one of the first Stormwalls off the line, and for that I thank them very much. However, as a cruel joke, they didn’t include a base, so now I have to go back and grovel for a platform to mount this beauty on top of.

Second, getting stuff early isn’t necessarily as keen as it sounds. I got this thing before the packaging was printed, which means I also got it without assembly instructions. Now you might think that since I designed the damn thing I’d know how to put it together, but in my defense, it’s been something like four years since I drafted this mechanized monster, so by now it’s as new to me as it will be to any of you.

Like I said, it’s been a long time coming. But looking at this thing, even in all these pieces, I gotta say it’s been worth the wait.

'Some assembly required.' No shit!