Mood Music

Last week, we brought on a new producer to help get some forward movement on this LEVEL 7 feature project I’ve been working on for a while now. The great thing about bringing someone new onto your project is that they bring all of their individual experience and ideas to what you’re doing, which forces you to take a look at the work from a whole new perspective.

One of the sales tools we’re using in presenting the LEVEL 7 project to potential financiers is a two minute trailer cut from the short film we made last year. The new producer thought it might be an interesting experiment to revisit this trailer, not only with some new visual material, but with different music than the score we currently have in it. The score, done by the talented Mr. Deane Ogden, is fantastic, but for the very quick trailer, this producer suggested we try sourced music as a way to hook the viewer and hold the whole thing together thematically. Sourced music is music that already exists and hasn’t been created specifically for your film project. In this case, we’re looking for an existing song that enhances the narrative and emotional content of the trailer’s visuals, and ideally is something familiar enough to the viewer that they have a positive reaction to the work overall.

Pairing music with visuals, whether it’s creating the score from scratch or finding the right song for the scene, is one of my favorite parts of filmmaking. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, having failed at more attempts to learn instruments than I care to mention. Some would also question my musical taste, which I’ll simply sum up as eclectic. Nonetheless, for me, the right music makes the film, so I was up to this new challenge and immediately began combing my own music library, which currently consists of 5,225 items amounting to 13.9 days worth of listening entertainment, according to my iTunes calculation. (And this doesn’t include older CD’s that I have yet to load on the computer.) When I exhausted the possibilities within my own library, I began searching online. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack!

In desperation, I threw out a tweet looking for help in finding that perfect track. I got a lot of great responses with inspiration across the entire spectrum of music and I tracked down and listened to every single suggestion, comparing it to the current cut of the trailer I’m working with. Sadly, I haven’t yet found the perfect song to accompany this piece, but I do have a few contenders while my search continues.

I’ve uploaded a low res version of the trailer with no audio so you can see what I’m trying to match the music to. It’s no easy task. The trailer contains elements of horror, action, and science-fiction. Trying to find a song that communicates all of those different genres in one cohesive piece…well, that’s the reason films are scored! But I’m sure the perfect song is out there somewhere, and I’m determined to find it.

SilentTrailer — Click to View

Note: due to copyright laws, I can’t use a piece of sourced music publicly without obtaining the rights. The presentation of the trailer with the sourced song would only be in private presentations, so I can’t post it here. But I will give you the list of my contenders and if you’re so inclined, you can play them in the background against the trailer to see how they might match up.

I narrowed my list down to four songs that I think created very interesting and very different viewing experiences with the trailer:

My current favorite is Land of Confusion by Disturbed (thanks to everyone who suggested Disturbed, which led me here). This is a high-octane cover of the original Genesis song, which is a favorite from the 80′s. The sound pairs well with the trailer and the intensity builds nicely along with the visuals. There is some very cool thematic overlap between the lyrics and the story playing out in the trailer with this character who wakes up in a place that he knows nothing about, only to be pursued by forces he doesn’t understand. The downside is that the lyrics eventually go to a place where I think the parallel ends, and it sort of loses its relevance.

The next best pick is Dragula by Rob Zombie. This one works for me because of the sound texture and tempo. Thematically, there’s not much relevance, but you can’t really hear the words anyway, so that doesn’t matter too much. On the downside, I think it’s a little dated and a little loud for a presentation. Sometimes the folks we’re talking to are looking a little bleary-eyed from living the Hollywood lifestyle, and hitting them with Rob Zombie before they’ve had their third round of Advil and coffee might not be the best sales approach.

On a lark, and to try something different, I tried E.T. by Katy Perry (with Kanye West). Before you judge me, this one was NOT in my music library before this project started. However, I started searching iTunes with terms like ‘alien’ and ‘space invader’ and eventually stumbled across this bizarre song, and I was surprisingly amused by how it worked. But I think it becomes too much of a joke to be effective. ‘Playing against type’ is the term used when music is paired with visuals that don’t match thematically, such as a big bloody shoot out set to Jingle Bells. While the subject matter of the song and trailer possess some entertaining overlap, the genre of music seems to go against type in the case of E.T.

Speaking of playing against type, there was one more song that I tried, almost by accident, and this one was in my library already; Delilah by Tom Jones. There is absolutely no reason to pair this song with the trailer, but there is an suspenseful sort of intensity to the way Delilah starts that seemed oddly appropriate when I played it next to the trailer. It’s absolutely wrong for the presentation, but it’s a hoot to watch.

There’s about five seconds of black at the front of the trailer. If you do decide to watch it against any of those songs, wait until you’re a few seconds in and then cue the track.

For now, the search goes on. Now that you’ve had a chance to see what I’m trying to put music to and you know what I’ve been listening to, I’d love to hear any new suggestions!

 

 

 

 

Completion Anxiety

Last night, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, the short film that I have dedicated the last eight months of my life to, was released to the world via the magic of YouTube and the interweb. It was an exciting, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying moment.

I realized when this project was within hours of being completed that the prospect of finishing, the moment that I’d been dreaming about for months, wasn’t coming with any sense of relief. Quite the opposite, in fact. The end of this project was marked with a wave of anxiety and a question I wasn’t ready to answer: What next?

There’s a false sense of security one builds up when immersed in a protracted project with no defined sense of end. When you have your head in one project for so long, it infiltrates your identity, and your existence becomes defined by your daily effort on what can often seem like a task that may never end. And in a way, I think sometimes that’s what the subconscious wants, because the act of finishing the project means detaching yourself from what seems like your very reason for living. You’re severing the umbilical, cutting all ties free, pushing the bird out of the nest. I just can’t seem to figure who the bird is: me, or the project?

Completion of such an all-consuming project would seem like a time to rejoice, to pop the cork on the champagne and toast the project on its merry way. For me, it comes with a strange sense of emptiness. There’s a hole left behind that must be filled with another project immediately, or I start to get a little anxious. This neurotic separation anxiety comes from two aspects of the project’s completion. First, I have more dream projects in my head than one person could complete in a single lifetime. Knowing this, I have to select the next project carefully, for time is a scarce commodity and I’m capable of working on only a few projects at once with any degree of efficiency and competency. Second, there is a gut-wrenching reality one must face when they release a project into the world — judgment.

There is an idea that art no longer belongs to the artist once its offered up for view, it belongs to the audience. To the degree that ‘perception is reality’, I agree with this. If the audience at large perceives that something is great, then it will be successful and great. If the audience at large perceives that something sucks, then it sucks, man. As the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie.

Another phenomenon related to being so completely immersed in a project is that one loses perspective on quality. Where in the beginning, you might have enjoyed a vantage point of objectivity, eventually you can’t see the forest for the trees. The wise man seeks the opinion and feedback of wise people and prays they tell him the truth, and that can help mitigate the blindness that comes with having your head stuck in a project too long. But in the end, all you really have to go on is your planning and the hope that  you have done a decent service to the vision you set out to create.

After 17 or so years of sending art, stories, and games into the world for public scrutiny, I’m fairly familiar with judgment in all its forms. I’ve racked up both great successes as well as great failures. And while I’m in the positive overall, I’ve never released a major project without feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s why it’s so important to get right on to the next thing — it’s the need to fill that hole with something that will push the damn butterflies out.

So today, this little film goes out into the world, but it’s you who will decide if it has wings or not. I hope you watch it. I hope you like it. If you do, please pass the link on to anyone who you think might be interested.

No matter what, I’m already up to my ears in the next thing; excited, exhilarated, and terrified. Can’t wait to share it with you.

http://level7film.com/

 

 

[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!