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The Key to Midnight Movie’s Most Striking Images

The Key to Midnight Movie’s Most Striking Images

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When you are deep into editing a movie, you start to see all the shots you didn’t have time to get on set, as well as all the great ideas you now wish you had written into the script. Midnight Movie, my directorial debut, was no exception.

Midnight Movie follows the terror that emerges (literally) from the screen as The Dark Beneath, a fictitious film from the late ’60s, is played at a midnight showing. Unknown to the audience, the film’s director, Ted Radford, has embedded his soul into the film—allowing the killer from the movie, armed with his signature spiral knife, to emerge from the screen and slay those in the audience.

The original Midnight Movie shooting schedule was for 20 days in May and June of 2007. With all the action sequences and effects we had planned, 20 days was not a lot of time. We really had to make the very most out of every day. And when we lost an actor halfway through production, we had to spend a day re-shooting scenes. So an already tight schedule was made even tighter. But we managed to get it done.

When we finally wrapped principal photography, I headed to the Philippines to start editing and, within a month, we had a pretty good cut of the movie.

In August, we had a test screening in Los Angeles to help gauge how the movie was playing to an audience. It was full of temp effects, score and sound. After the screening, we passed out questionnaires and asked for opinions about the movie. Even in its rough state, it went over pretty well, but the screening pointed out a few areas where we could have done better.

So I went home and watched the movie about a thousand more times, really nitpicking every last frame. It was during this Midnight Movie marathon that the genesis for additional shooting began. I started to watch the movie in a different way. Not only living with the footage we had, but dreaming of footage we had yet to shoot. It was liberating and I saw the possibility of smoothing some rough edges and amping up the tension level of the movie as a whole. But this feeling was short lived as our original budget was so slim and we had yet to get into the heaviest expense of post: The visual effects. My producers brought me back down to earth and said that it just wasn’t possible.

Not wanting to take “no” for an answer, I went back to the movie and devised a shot list that we could shoot in one day—and that would make a huge impact on the areas of the movie that were bothering me.

I storyboarded these new shots and, as a test, I roughly edited them into the movie to make sure they worked. Armed with this test and a will to get it done, I went back to the producers and begged them to find the money for one more day of shooting. Even though the test was severely handicapped by my bad drawings, it had just the impact I was hoping for.

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As you can see, I am a terrible artist and should probably apologize to Rebekah Brandes for her portrayal in these storyboards (really, she is so much better looking in real life!).

Much to their credit, the producers saw the benefits to what I wanted and they found the money—where, I don’t really know, but I wasn’t going to start asking.

While I wrote one completely new scene, the main portion of the additional day of shooting involved shots specifically designed to be seamlessly edited into already existing scenes.

1 – Bobby Walks To The House: This scene from The Dark Beneath (our movie within the movie) needed something more. It was the introduction to the mystery house and was falling a little flat. It needed a little something weird or creepy that we just didn’t have.

One of the producers suggested that I add Bobby finding a dead animal. I wasn’t buying the idea until I took that idea a level further and added a cow that had been gutted by Radford’s signature knife. I storyboarded a sequence that we could shoot without revisiting the actual house location and it worked pretty well.

We shot this sequence in a parking lot, dropping a load of dirt to mimic the dusty house in the middle of nowhere. And while the rotting cow remains, the signature knife wound proved to be too expensive and was dropped (much to my disappointment as that was the reason I ran with the idea in the first place). But the giant maggots (especially a suicidal one) made these shots pretty cool and added just that bit of weirdness we were missing.

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2 – Radford Sharpening His Knife: While probably the signature shots of the movie, these were actually pick-ups. The shooting script had included a great knife “introduction” in the scene where Bobby is killed. But due to some safety issues on set, I was not allowed to shoot them. So when I got to the editing room, this was an expected hole that I thought I would have to live with.

Once I started dreaming up new shots, this was a hole that I was really excited to fill and these storyboards were a lot of fun to come up with!

Because we had broken all the original knives by the end of principle photography, Lunar Effects made me two new signature knives. The first was another “hero knife”—this one for close-ups—and the second was designed specifically for the grinding effect.

Being an aluminum alloy, the hero knife did not send as many sparks during the grinding as we wanted. So the FX guys welded several magnesium plugs into the blade of the knife. When that plug hit the spinning grinder wheel, we had the effect we wanted.

Seeing those sparks fly really sold how sharp that knife was. And the shot of Radford’s eyes being lit up by the flying embers was just what I was looking for.

I devised several set-ups around Radford’s basement grinder. To really give the knife some edge, I originally planned for Radford to test his knife on a dog he had hanging in his workshop. It was going to be a gruesome introduction to the power of the knife.

But again, our budget became my enemy and the dog went away. Too expensive. But even without canine intestines, we were able to give the knife the hero introduction it deserved.

And more than that, I was able to intercut this footage to enhance several more scenes in the film: The Dark Beneath‘s introduction to the Killer became a lot more fun and upped the ante on Bobby’s walk through the mystery house. And Bridget’s walk through the basement at the end of the film was brought to a whole new tension level by intercutting that footage.

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3 – Bridget Alone: After Josh dies (sorry for the spoiler but… well everyone dies; it’s a slasher movie after all), the original script leapt to Bridget finding Timmy in the theater. While this felt right on paper, it seemed way too abrupt when watching the movie.

So I penned the scene where Bridget falls apart in a storage room while Radford stalks her in the hall. Inspired by the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where the FBI rushes Buffalo Bill’s house in Chicago, only to realize that they are not at the right house, this scene is a trick of editing meant to play with the audience’s expectations.

Through this scene, I was able to emotionally bridge the gap between Bridget’s loss of her boyfriend and her finding the courage to save her brother. Rebekah’s great performance really sells this transformation. And within this scene, I was able to give the audience a look at the mystical way Radford appears and disappears from our world—a much needed missing element to the film. Previous to this, it is only seen in a shadow just after Harley gets killed in the closet, and that just wasn’t enough.

The VFX featurette on our DVD shows some of our early “film burning” entrance/exit effects. While I loved this concept, we ultimately went something more effective for our budget (a recurring theme, isn’t it?).

For his entrance, Jan Leung, my effects wizard in Cebu, Philippines, came up with some great alternatives for us. When Radford enters our world, his broken skull mask appears and starts to drop to the floor, leaving our killer in it’s wake. For his exit, Radford turns into the black-and-white film version of himself and melts away. They weren’t our initial ideas, but adaptation to challenges is the key ingredient to making a movie.

Note: As you can see in these storyboards, when we actually shot this scene I reversed the screen direction (what was left in the storyboard, is now right), but everything else stayed pretty close to what I had planned.

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The additional day of shooting went really well—and really long: Somewhere around 15 hours. But it was worth it. The additional scenes we picked up made a huge difference to the film.

Looking back, I can’t imagine Midnight Movie without them…

Midnight Movie is now available on DVD (Peace Arch). The Blu-Ray disc will be available on October 13. For more information visit www.midnightmovie.com.

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