The Four-Day Feature Shoot: The Making of Call of the Void

After showing the script for my feature film Call of the Void to a few producer friends of mine, we decided to jump in.

Our first challenge was money. We kicked around a few ideas before ultimately settling on a Kickstarter campaign. At first, I wasn’t too thrilled about doing a Kickstarter. The prospect of begging people for money didn’t sound very appealing and our goal of $59,000 was a lofty one, but we didn’t have a choice.

We launched a 30-day campaign in August of 2014. Promoting the Kickstarter proved to be a real challenge. To put it bluntly, most people didn’t give a shit about the campaign. Donations came in painfully slow. Friends and acquaintances that I thought would surely donate didn’t even bother with a single dollar (which was an option). It was disheartening to say the least. By Day 20, we had only raised $20,000 and with 10 days left to go, all I could foresee was doom and gloom. I looked at the math and it was scary: It had taken us 20 days to raise 30 percent of our funding goal and with only 10 days left, we would have to more than double that amount if we were to succeed. With six days left on the clock, one of our producers introduced me to some wealthy individuals. I had various meetings with each of them and by some divine miracle, they all decided to come in with some very large donations. As a result, we were successfully funded for over $66,000. I was relieved… for the moment, that is.

We knew going into our Kickstarter that $66,000 was very little money to make this project, especially with it being a period piece; it was the absolute bare minimum required to shoot this film in only four days—a tight four days. We knew how crazy it sounded: “A 54-minute feature in four days? No way! Impossible.” We heard every criticism, but nevertheless, we set out to make the project. Immediately after our Kickstarter, pre-production began and finding locations was our next challenge. We quickly realized that with our pizza budget and four-day shooting schedule, it would be nearly impossible to film everything on location. For one, we would have too many company moves and two, we understood that most places in Los Angeles no longer resembled anything remotely 1940s.

Ultimately, we shot one day on location and three on a soundstage. Finding a soundstage in our price range was extremely difficult and tiresome. Eventually, after many grueling hours of phone calls and driving around L.A., we found our spot. The soundstage was small, but it sufficed.

Peter (James Morrison)

James Morrison in Call of the Void

In between location scouting and securing permits, we had to find our cast. The casting process was four weeks long in L.A. On Day One, second audition, Mojean Aria walked in. Immediately, he blew us all away. He embodied the character of Steve in a way that excited us, but since it was only our second audition, we wanted to see what else Hollywood had to offer.

After three more weeks of casting, Mojean Aria still kept coming to the forefront of our minds—no one had even come close his audition. Our minds were set. We offered him the role. Shortly thereafter, James Morrison came on board. He didn’t have to audition—we offered him the role outright. 24 was and still is one of my favorite TV shows of all-time, so having “Bill Buchanan” on board was a thrill. Regarding JT Alexander, I handpicked him before auditions began; I had previously worked him on my first short film, “Masterpieces,” and knew he was a talent that I definitely wanted to work with again.

Our toughest challenge came in early December, when principal photography was set to begin. Day One was our “on-location” day. We had three company moves in and around L.A., so there was no room for error, but, of course, Murphy’s Law will always find its way. The late delivery of our 1940s phone booth set us back nearly two hours and, as a result, the time we lost continued to roll over to each filming location. Everyone was feeling the pressure, including myself, which caused morale to sink a bit.

As the director, I immediately had to adjust. I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to follow my shot designs exactly how I had originally planned, even though I had spent three months prepping every scheme and layout. This was definitely a tough pill to swallow. I had no choice but to improvise all my shots on Day One. That day we continued filming until 3 a.m.

The next morning I woke up with a new resolve. I immediately went to my shot designs and began rethinking, combining, eliminating and innovating my shots. I figured out how to utilize a multi-cam shoot in order to get the coverage I needed. I brought on two additional cameras. As a result, the production became more efficient, team morale went up, and for the first time during the production, I felt like a director.

JT Alexander and Ashley Clements as Tommy and Veronica, respectively

Ashley Clements and JT Alexander in Call of the Void

Day Three was arguably our most challenging day of filming, because the schedule called for us to shoot 21 pages! To make matters worse, our production designer had put us behind nearly two hours on that day. Again, by some divine miracle (again), we accomplished what very few on our team thought would be possible: the full 21 pages. How? Some would say dumb luck; I’d argue that it was perseverance and determination. During those two hours when our production designer put us behind schedule, I went to my shot designs and utilized that time to rethink all our upcoming scenes. I made them more efficient and economical without sacrificing my artistic vision.

That was a huge victory, not only for myself, but also for the entire production team. The feeling of doing the impossible radiated to everyone; going forward, nothing could feel impossible.

Day Four had its own set of challenges, but compared to the days past, it felt like a piece of cake. In the end, everyone left principal photography with a feeling of relief and accomplishment; we had climbed our Mount Everest, we had defeated our Goliath.

The film itself is ultimately an exploration of obsession and attachment, and of how an unhealthy obsession can lead to a person’s downfall. As human beings, we can become very attached to any number of things, whether it be a person, a thing, or even an ideal… and when things do not go our way in life, we can have a hard time letting go, especially when it comes to other people. In making the film, too, we were presented with the same two choices: sink or swim. We swam the distance. MM

Call of the Void is world-premiering on April 24, 2016 at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

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