When I set out to create my directorial horror debut, “Escalation,” I knew my budget would limit me: I could rely on myself as the only actor, and a single location. I couldn’t build monsters. So my story would be about one person, in one room, with some kind of invisible villain.
Deal. I sat down and spent two nights writing, and ended up with a feature film script about a man who goes through Hell and back while stuck in his fancy apartment. Making the feature on my own was out of the question, so I picked one scene out of the script to make a proof-of-concept short about a toxic and self centered man who hates everybody.
Christian Bachini on Limitations
As he is humiliating one of his friends on the phone, while watching a slasher film on TV, something from the movie world starts to infect his reality. Building on this premise, I decided to take the saying “a guilty conscience can eat you alive” and make it very real, and painful.
Serving as director, actor, producer, FX artist, art director and director of photography, I felt overwhelmed. But I was also keen on keeping my vision pristine. Also, I don’t believe in the “fix it in post” school of thinking, so everything had to be perfect, straight out of the camera. No color grading, no CGI fixes, no fake lights or blood effects added on a computer.
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Everything went smoothly during the first week of shooting, but then something happened. During a stunt where I had to roll over a moving cart and fall on the ground, a glass prop decorating the cart fell down and landed under me. My right hand smashed right onto it.
It wasn’t pretty. But there was no way I’d lose time to get stitches, so I used glue and tape and got back to shooting.
The problem was, how could I keep shooting, unable to show my right hand? My character would be cooking dinner, chopping meat and celery. I spent the next couple days avoiding the problem by shooting my closeups. But when I was done with them, my hand was still in bad shape.
Raising the Stakes on ‘Escalation’
Instead of panicking, I decided to shoot additional photography for the slasher film playing on the TV. Believe it or not, the injury turned out to be incredibly beneficial. The slasher film turned out so well that people who have seen the film now tell me they would love to see more of that as well.
When my hand looked good enough, I was able to go back in front of the camera. Wait, not so fast: Two days later, during another stunt, a wood splinter hit me in my right eye, causing severe bleeding and three deep cuts on my sclera.
I felt devastated. Not being able to shoot my hand was one thing, but now I could not frame my face? Pain aside, would I need to change the story?
No way. I sat down and thought about a different solution instead. What if I could incorporate my
injuries into the film? I looked at myself in the mirror. My eye was filled with blood, the cuts were
disgusting. It looked like the greatest practical gore FX ever.
I came up with a new bit where the main character suddenly feels pain in his eye and goes to check himself in the mirror. BOOM! Bloodshot eye, he freaks out. He grabs some eye drops, he walks back in front of the mirror. The blood is gone!! By the time I got to shoot the end of the new scene, my eye had healed. In the film it plays out as if the guy was just hallucinating.
People who have seen the film are so grossed by the eye sequence, and ask me how I made the cuts in my sclera look so realistic. Plus, the whole sequence helped with character development.
Instead of cutting my vision short, I used the bad things that happened to expand it. I hope this story can inspire you to try the same approach — but that you’ll avoid injuries.
When things go wrong on set, just relax. Let your creativity kick in and I guarantee you the outcome will always be amazing. Fall in love with the challenges. And, hopefully, avoid injuries.
Main image: Christian Bachini in “Escalation.”