Frame of Mind: To Replace a Lost Prop, Atomica Director Dagen Merrill Built a New One With Street Trash (Video)

What makes a scene work?

Does it lie in the carefully executed plans of a film’s cast and crew? Or does the magic rest upon fortuitous mistakes, spontaneity and improvisation? What steps must be taken to convey your vision and intent? Watch our video series, Frame of Mind, to get answers to these questions and more from commentators working in a wide variety of areas in production who’ll guide you through clips from their films, in their own words. Moviemakers and film fans: Grab your notepads, popcorn, or both, and press play.


Having cut his teeth with a number of indie productions, director Dagen Merrill knows how to stay his toes when budgetary constraints threaten the vitality of a project. His latest, the dystopian sci-fi thriller Atomica (starring Dominic Monaghan and Tom Sizemore) is no exception: Shot against an ever-ticking clock that only allowed four days for his co-stars to be on set together, Merrill and his crew at one point had to salvage a random piece of scrap metal laying nearby to build a new “futuristic shaver” prop, when the original they were afforded suddenly went missing.

Atomica, which follows two nuclear power plant employees (Monaghan and Sizemore) and a safety inspector (Sarah Habel) who cross paths as a crisis unfolds at the site, required all hands on deck in the production design department to capture its vacuum-sealed atmosphere and near-to-distant-future sheen. In the videos below (the first of which is an exclusive clip from the film), Merrill discusses shooting 17 pages of story in one day; working in the sweltering heat given off by the set’s LED panel lighting; using lenses that would make each scene’s background lighting “bloom;” and more.

Let us know what you take away from Merrill’s frame of mind in the comments below. MM

Atomica opened in theaters March 17, 2017 and on VOD and Digital HD March 21, 2017, courtesy of Syfy Films. Video courtesy of Syfy Films.

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