Samuel Tressler IV is the director of Leda, a reimagining of the Greek myth in which a young woman played by Adeline Thery strugles with trauma, rape and pregnancy through memories and divine visions. In the piece below, Tressler describes the process of making the independent film in 3D. It is now available on video on demand or on disc.

There’s a shortlist of things to avoid when making your first feature film: children, animals, period pieces, complicated practical effects, shooting on water. Well, we ended up doing every one of them… in 3D. The film that resulted is called Leda.

Ten years ago my friend and eventual co-writer Wesley Pastorfield approached me with a concept of creating a film adaptation of the Greek Myth Leda and the Swan. Several years out of school, freshly failed in marriage and burnt out with commercial work, it seemed like a great time to throw everything into my first feature.

I met Mike Peters, who needed someone to run his Frederick, Maryland rental boutique, Archai Media, so I quit my job, moved back into my parents’ farmhouse and worked in exchange for access to the gear closet. We had an eight-page script and figured we were ready to shoot. Little did we know how long the road ahead would be.

I didn’t care for most 3D films, but was intrigued with the illusion of 3D space on a 2D surface. When I realized Archai’s closet had 4 RED cameras I thought, “Why not make an independent 3D art film?” In the myth, Leda is seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan. We wanted to create a tale of the woman behind the myth, exploring trauma, isolation and pregnancy, gradually increasing the 3D depth in tune with lead actress Adeline Thery’s performance as she loses touch with reality.

(L-R) Devin McBay, Samuel Tressler IV, Grey Adkins, Nick Midwig on the set of Leda

That was the concept — now to figure out the execution. Cinematographer Nick Midwig was involved from conception, but had no 3D experience and pushed for an easier 2D production. Already two textbooks in and shopping for 3D rigs, I assured him that he could approach the film like any 2D project and I would take care of the stereo aspects.

Now’s a good time to explain the basics of 3D. It uses two cameras, one for the left eye and one for the right eye. To control the depth, you adjust the distance between the cameras. A general starting point is the distance between human eyes, but many camera bodies are too large to mount side by side and achieve such a small interocular distance.

This is where a beam splitter rig comes in — a half-mirror set at a 45 degree angle with one camera shooting through it and the other mounted below and shooting into the mirror, providing both cameras with a nearly identical image. If you want a large scene, like mountains, to show noticeable depth, you would separate the cameras far apart, the opposite for a macro shot.

Being an independent project fully funded by producer Clark Kline and myself (and many rounds of crowdsourcing) we couldn’t afford the $60,000+ price tags on the professional rigs. Trying to get someone on the project who knew what they were doing, I was able to connect with Vince Toto, an L.A. based stereographer whose credits include Dredd Again our budget squelched that plan, though Vince did answer all of my stereo questions.

Several years, two sub-$10,000 rigs, one fundraising trailer, and one week of shooting later, we realized the rigs were failing us. Cue Paul Mason, a friend with a CNC machine who ended up building our custom rig. It was rock solid, wouldn’t lose alignment and weighed 70 pounds, with cameras.

3D works well with longer shots that give time to scan the image. I wanted to lean into this stylistically, giving the film a meditative quality, but also break it at points, so Nick and gaffer Grey Adkins created rig after rig in order to get more intricate camera movement as momentum in the story.

My favorite was a swing device used near the finale, which finally freed Adeline of the strict framing requirements throughout most of the production. Extra alignment time also slowed production, and fortunately second unit director of photography Spencer Grundler took on most of the on set stereo responsibilities. Did I mention the film is wordless? So we shot without sound to save time, later having the diegetic audio world designed in post by Matt Davies and the team at Studio Unknown.

Our efforts to make production flow smoothly didn’t stop Leda from being the (nearly) impossible project it sounds like. Finances required us to shoot for three to five days at a time, take a month off to work gigs and save money, then shoot again. Without trades, favors and a dedicated crew of passionate professionals we would have never finished.

Also, creating a story without dialogue was ultimately more of a challenge than 3D. Editing during production gaps and trashing what didn’t work, we transformed the script several times, with rewrites by Wesley and Adeline and me.

The film was edited in 2D, then synced to 3D, but the color grade had to be made to match each eye on every shot. Post took two years and then, pandemic. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever find a screen to play on, let alone a 3D one. Finally we were invited to a festival with RealD capabilities and saw it for the first time in full effect. I was floored, proud, confused, relieved. After empty bank accounts, scheduling conflicts, complete rewrites, and times the whole project nearly crumbled, here we were watching it in a sold-out room.

We’ve gone on to play across the U.S. and internationally with several festival awards and Leda is now on physical and streaming. Ultimately, if there is a key takeaway from this decade-long struggle, it’s to ignore the doubters. People say to play it safe and make it “easily” achievable when starting out, but sometimes as an artist that’s just not what excites you. It may take longer and cost more, but with enough passion and motivation (and obligation to crowdfunding backers) I believe that anybody has the potential to make a grand sweeping visual work of art in as many dimensions as they want, even at an independent level.

Main image: (L-R) Logan Lark, Wesley Pastorfield (co-writer), Nicolle Márquez (cousin) , Adeline Thery (Leda), Samuel Tressler IV (director), Spencer Grundler (2nd unit DP), Clark Kline (producer), and extras.