Michael Klug is an award-winning actor and filmmaker, as well as a film critic and screenplay consultant. “Haunted by Nikola Tesla,” which he stars in and co-wrote, just played at FilmQuest. In the following piece, he explains how he and his team built and burned a confession booth for the recent short film “Immolation.”
Jeepers. About 15 years had gone by since I’d produced one of my own short scripts. So when the idea for “Immolation” popped into my head, I figured it’d be a nifty way to tout my wares as a screenwriter and an actor. The logline was simple: In a confessional booth, a troubled man confronts the priest whom he believes baptized him as an infant.
And it all takes place in a confessional… solely in a confessional.
Let’s just call it what it was, initially: a vanity project, material for an eventual reel. But as “Immolation” began to develop, and a crew assembled, it became clear that it could be an actual short film – just a hop, skip and a jump from completely self-serving.
Oh yeah, by the way – I’m Michael Klug. I’m an actor, a screenwriter, a film critic, a screenplay consultant and a filmmaker. I was born and raised in South Dakota, and now live in Los Angeles. Movies (watching, writing, making) are basically my life.
So, shooting in a confessional: No problem, right? Call a local church here in L.A., get some permits, perhaps. Convince the church to let me shoot in their hallowed halls, with no insights into the script? Piece of cake.
Or maybe not.
We could also rent a confessional, but those are somewhere in the realm of $4,000, not to mention transportation costs. We were on a microbudget — so renting a space was not in the cards. We lucked into a very convenient free space where we could build a set, but that still meant we had to build a set. (No need to say where the space was, as it could potentially raise a few eyebrows, ahem.)
The ‘Immolation’ Team
We had a total production team of five people. In early brainstorming with my director, cinematographer and producer, Neal Tyler, we decided maybe we wouldn’t build walls — we could use light to imply the barriers of the confessional. But that turned out not to be practical. And once we cast Daniel Alexander as the priest, it became clear that we’d want physical separation.
And so the process began. I began to scour Home Depot with my hubby Elwood Leguillou — who is also our executive producer and production designer. We thought about using doors as walls, or getting plywood and cutting out a hole for the pass-through grate, so the characters could converse.
But we’re not carpenters. Perhaps we could just use draperies and some center section of plywood on a bracket or easel? Or we could hang the pass-through grate from the ceiling, to imply a wall?
Neal and our other producer, Greg Schmittel — who also handled audio and assistant camera — were no doubt sick of the constant photos and texts and harried requests from Elwood and me.
Until we finally came up with the idea of foam-core board. It was actually roofing insulation, sold in 4×8 sheets. After lots of back-and-forth, the decision was made.
We purchased three sheets, each about two inches thick, and brought them to our workshop — a fancy name for our 10th-floor apartment. Elwood designed the wooden brackets to hold the three pieces together. They needed to be removable so we could transport the pieces to the set, which was just down the hall – shhhh! Also, the center wall needed to be removable during the shoot to capture certain direct shots of the two characters.
Based on the space in our location, we could only have our center wall at a max depth of six feet. So we had to cut two separate strips of the foam core, attach them to the main piece, and add wood trim to hide the seam — which also added a little visual interest. We also needed a center cutout for the metal grate through which the priest and I would converse.
Bonus: the foam core sheets had vertical lines in their texture, which gives the illusion of lumber.
We painted everything a matte brown, and added bolts through the outside board — through the foam core and out the other side to another board — allowing that space in between to accommodate another piece of the foam core. Voila, a perfectly-sized center wall. We held it all in place with cinder blocks at the base.
We ended up finding a killer deal on some purple velvet curtains we hung with clips and c-stands.
Later, we burned them — in a wide open, outdoor concrete slab, away from structures and on a relatively windless day (small favors), with hoses and fire extinguishers at the ready. And damn, the footage looks great!
As for Elwood’s set, imagine me offering a humble and child-like “It’s Shake-n-Bake, and I helped!” He did the impressive design work, and I simply followed orders.
The film has wrapped its festival run, playing Provo’s prestigious FilmQuest and the We Make Movies International Film Festival in L.A., and the feedback has been that the wide variety of shots was impressive, given the small space the characters inhabited. We credit the claustrophobic feel to our technical team. Maybe it’s bad form to discuss the budget of a film, so let’s leave it at this: It was all pretty damned cheap.
Low-budget moviemaking, folks!
Main image: Daniel Alexander (as priest) and Michael Klug on the set of “Immolation.” Courtesy of “Immolation.”