Aero Mock-Ups has it all: you can choose a cockpit from a selection of different cockpits, and then a backwall which can be from another airplane, and then pimp them up the best way you want. We chose a DC9 cockpit and 747 backwall, and to make it all look more self-made UFO, we hauled all kind of crap from their big warehouse, from electronic panels to all kind of dials, switches, controller sticks all the way to about ten jet pilot flight masks, which we hanged from all over the cockpit to give it a more self-made and robust look.
Then, we adjusted the lights. We used Digital Sputnik’s Voyagers for the interior lighting, them being easily controllable via an ipad to change color according to our needs. Outside, we set up five DS6 racks which served as the main light sources. The idea of the workshop was to showcase the multifunctionality and ease-of-use of Digital Sputnik’s light systems, and the scene worked very well for that, because it followed a series of completely different light setups that we needed to go through during the scene.
The cool thing for it was that to get the light setup working, all we needed to do was to push a video feed of what kind of environmental lights we wanted for it, and the lights followed the video tones. We did a simple video reel with sunlight, followed by clip from our first promo with blueish light setup, followed by some kind of a red and black vector image, and then blue skies image, played it through the light rack and lo and behold, we had a completely controlled changing set of lights that we were able to adjust as we went along shooting the scene, depending on how the actors played it or how I wanted to adjust it.
The concept of the shoot was rather interesting to begin with. Like I said, it was never a regular two shooting days, but one workshop spread over two days, and we had film school students and people interested to learn and follow as we used the Digital Sputnik lights and also in general, how a film shoot is arranged. As they started flowing in, we assigned all of them tasks – someone would be assistant camera, someone did focus, someone was responsible of the video etc, and all of these positions were rotating. The only pre-assigned pro crew we had were in addition to a director the DoP, 1st AD and sound person.
And of course, the cast.
Indeed, Lara and Vladimir walked in to the set after spending the morning in the makeup and trying to figure out what costumes their characters wore (we did a very thorough check, just to make sure continuity works), but seeing them walking in dressed up like not one day had passed since the end of the principal photography two years ago was a flooring moment. There they were, brought back to life, Sasha and Obi, characters who had only existed in unchangeable footage for the last two years of editing process, suddenly alive, interacting, ready to take on directions and do lines that I had only wished I had. It was somewhat magical, for a director, and hair-rising at the same time.
It was also great to see that Lara and Vladimir had lost none of the fun they had when doing the characters on set in Belgium. Now, as they squeezed into the small cockpit of “Sasha’s UFO” (called “Kolja”, after his father, but that’s a different story), was like we were back there doing just another scene… I was really, well, almost moved. Excited for sure. This kind of opportunities arise only rarely, a possibility to bring a scene alive with the actual cast to a movie which was shot a while back. I intended to take everything out of it.
In the previous night I hadn’t been able to sleep. I never can sleep before the first shooting day, even if it’s a two-day stint. I had been going through the lines and thought I wanted to pimp them up a bit. I had written some notes on my phone pad, and quickly talked the actors through them; just few lines to start off with, so that we wouldn’t be so “on-the-nose” and would have a bit more flesh around the bones in the scene. It’s easy to write a scene so that only the most important stuff is in it, but then the audience feels railroaded and the scene may feel force-feeding. Adding few lines for the characters that have nothing or very little to do with what’s going on gives usually the scene the air to breathe it needs, and then the essential information flows nicer and smoother, too.
So there we were, actors ready and set in action, and like in the good old days, we started to slam through the scene. First the wider shot, during which we fixed the main actions, then the closeups, then some over-the-shoulder closeups… It all went smoothly, although we had a small crew and some relatively complicated things to achieve.
It was actually a bit of a choreography on- and offscreen, and I felt like I was a conductor conducting a weird ensemble of lights and physical objects. Sitting in front of a huge monitor, staring and listening the dialogue, my right hand was controlling the trembling of the cockpit based on what went on in the scene – when it was horizontal and slightly trembling, the two guys whose job was to shake the set with two big pieces of wood were doing it ever so slightly, and when things got more rough, my hand tilted vertical and they were trashing the set, and when I blinked my hand, it meant a big crash. My left hand was reserved to conduct the light: when the sun hits, hand goes up and a specific section of the light “reel” was played.
For a bit I was jumping around like some demented version of Herbert Von Karajan, after which the crew got the hold of it and Iiris our 1st AD was able to take some of the responsibility.
We ran through the setups one by one, and in between them the students and Digital Sputnik guys gave some instructions and tutoring. Although we only had one scene – one page of text – to shoot, we had reserved two days for the shoot. For the first day, we wanted to have the essentials in there, and for the second day, we reserved it for a bit of experimentation.