Working on “The Scare Game”

15 10 2009

If you’ve looked at this blog at all in the past month or so, you’ve probably seen references to a new web series called The Scare Game. It’s obviously something that I’m quite excited about. Now that the first episode has been released (watch it below the jump), I thought I’d share a little more about what it is and what my involvement with it is. First a quick video, then follow me after the jump.

If you go to the YouTube page of Uncanny Entertainment, you’ll find a number of short films and trailers for longer ones. I’ve been involved in many of those projects, both behind and in front of the camera, from producer of Between to leading man of The Goodbye Agenda. The team behind Uncanny are some of my best friends, and I’ve worked with them on numerous projects for film and theatre, not just what’s seen there. That being said, it had been a while since I had worked with them. I was unable to travel to Japan to work on Jigoku (I got married a few weeks before shooting began, if I remember the timing correctly), and I wasn’t asked to join in on the 48-Hour Film Festival project that became Super Pissed until it was too late for me to get off of work. There were a few other projects I missed out on as well.

When I became aware of The Scare Game, I let them know that I was interested in helping out in any way that I could. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any auditions (though my wife was, and has tentatively been cast for a role in an upcoming episode). It wasn’t until a week before shooting (scheduled for Labor Day weekend), that I got an email asking if I was still interested. I was told that, other than director and cinematographer, I basically could choose whatever I wanted to do. Since I’ve always had an interest in cinematography, I decided to work in that department and became 1st camera assistant. I was told that we’d be shooting Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, late nights, and to show up at 6.

Now I’m excited to be involved here. One of my best friends, Phil, is directing the script that he wrote. My friend, Brian, is producing. I’m friends with 4 out of the 5 cast members (Jason, Scott, Kate, and Jenn). The DP (director of photography, AKA cinematographer — my department head) is another high school friend of mine, Rick. It’s being filmed at the house of my friend, Stephen. Sounds like good times.

Upon arrival on Friday, I was shocked at how many people were there. Everything I’d been involved with to this point (not counting my PA work on the feature film Naked Fear, which was entirely separate from this group) had been fairly guerilla style film-work — just a handful of people, everyone willing to do whatever needed to be done to get the job done. While everyone who worked on The Scare Game was volunteering their time and efforts, it was otherwise like a real film set (just on a smaller scale). There were 30 or more people, broken into various departments. I was thrilled to see such support for the project, but found myself frustrated by the rules inherent in the film business, which I found to be limiting, and in many ways, counter-productive.

I was in the Camera department. So if I’m standing next to a light that needs to be moved six inches so as to better light the actor’s face, I just move the light, right? Not at all. Instead, I yell for a grip. Since this is unpaid work, there’s not many of them, and at this point in time, no one’s near enough to hear. So I just move the light, right? Nope. If I’m available, I go in search of a grip. If I’m not, then we find someone who is. Eventually a grip shows up, and I move out of his way, so he can scoot the light. We’ve just waited five minutes to accomplish something I could’ve done (and was in position to do) in 30 seconds.

I’m also struck by the job mentality of the set. After working on Naked Fear, I only half-heartedly continued to pursue work in the film industry for a few months before giving up entirely, largely because of the atmosphere. Friends making movies was much more fun.  So I was quite disturbed when the mood on the set of The Scare Game was closer to that of Naked Fear than, say, Yellowville. Mix in the fact that I was pretty unsure of what exactly my job on set entailed, plus the inherent limits on people simply helping however they can (which I mentioned above). Yeah, not quite what I thought I was signing up for. It’s no longer hanging out with friends and making a movie. Now it’s making a movie, and some of your friends are co-workers.

Crew meeting at 7:00pm. Jared, the 1st Assistant Director (AD), who I don’t know but seems pretty cool, mentions that we won’t really be able to eat for 6 hours (this was also mentioned in an email sent to the crew earlier in the day). I had just had dinner, so that wasn’t a big deal. It would be a long day for me. I had to be up at 5:00am to get to work on time, then would be shooting until about 1:00am, then rush back home to get to bed so I could be up at 5 again the next (same?) morning. Of course, around 10 or 11pm, I realize that it’s not that we won’t be able to eat because we’ll be shooting until 1:00, but rather, lunch will be around 1:00. I was told it would be a “late night” shoot. Not an “all night” shoot. Could I stay awake from 5:00am Friday morning until 6:00am Monday morning, with maybe a couple hours (2 or 3) of sleep Saturday and Sunday afternoon? That’s what it would take for me to commit to both work and the shoot. Obviously, the answer to that question was a resounding “no.” I immediately informed Jared, Phil, and Rick that I would have to leave at lunch. Everyone was understanding, though there was some obvious disappointment. Since Rick and I were the total of the camera department, someone else would have to step up and take over for me. Luckily, Jen was there (not the same Jenn that appears in the show, but Jen who was there for set design… I think). She took over for me for the rest of the night after I quickly went over what I had been doing for the shoot up to that point.

Home for a few hours of sleep, then back to work. It’s now Saturday. I work until mid-afternoon, then go home. While I like the project of The Scare Game at this point, I’m dissatisfied with the experience and process of it. I’m debating whether I want to continue working on it at all, or just wait to enjoy the finished product. I get home and think. I end up deciding to at least take the night off. I’m very tired, and I know I can’t do the full night anyway (again having to be at work very early the next day, and already, as I said, very tired). So I call Jared and Rick and let them know not to expect me. I feel really bad about it. I hate not fulfilling my commitments, and in this case, I feel like I’m letting friends down. As I crawl into bed at 7:30, though, ready to zonk for as long as possible, I know it’s the right choice.

After work on Sunday, I go to bed again, to rest up for a couple hours before heading into the final night of principal photography for The Scare Game. I don’t work on Monday (which is a holiday for most people – hence why they planned for shooting that particular weekend), and I really want to commit for the entire night. Maybe the mood on Friday night was caused by everyone being eager and nervous on the first night of shooting for this new venture. Maybe the mood changed between Friday and Sunday for some other reason. Maybe I was just more prepared for what I was getting into on Sunday than I was on Friday. Whatever it was, I enjoyed myself a lot more this time around.

As the night wears on, people slowly filter out, usually due to them not having anything more to do on the shoot. We finish filming our last outdoor scene, which also happens to be the last scene in the script, at about 4 in the morning (that’s a total guess) and we head back inside to get the last few shots. All but two of the actors are done. Only Jenn and Scott remain. The martini shot (industry slang for the last shot of a project) features Jenn as the only actor, and a crew that’s dwindled down to about eight. No dialogue, just Babs (Jenn’s character) trying to escape the house. The shot’s completed, they call “wrap,” and I shuffle home to sleep for most of the day. This time, I’m satisfied and pleased to have been involved. As I leave, people express interest in participating in filming the next episode(s). I find myself among them, still wanting to help out.

That was six weeks ago.

In the time since, I sent the occasional tweet about The Scare Game and occasional news of post-production comes my way. At one point, I realize that the show needs it’s own Twitter account, so I grab @scaregame so I can gift it to whoever will be in charge of it (planning to offer my services in that regard). The next morning, before I can make my offering, the first Tweet from @TheScareGame comes along. I offer my services anyway. Brian tells me I’m the second one to offer.

On September 23, the first teaser trailer is released. When I first watched it, I found it quite creepy. The way the killer’s head tilts, as seen through the frosted glass of the shower door is a compelling image. I love it. I get excited about the project again. It’s a slow day at work, and I find myself tweeting endlessly about it. I might have lost a few followers that day due to my admitted spamming.

As the days went by, and more promo videos appeared on YouTube, I kept spreading the word as best I could, primarily through Twitter. I’m eventually given access to the official @TheScareGame account. My support has not gone unnoticed, it seems. The three weeks since the first teaser see the release of a second teaser, three behind the scenes featurettes, and the characters of the show providing a handy guide to carving a pumpkin for Halloween.

The show is set to debut on October 15. Before that happens, I got an invitation for a cast/crew/press screening on October 10 at a local movie theater. I immediately asked for the day off of work. At the screening, Brian and Phil say a few words before it starts. There are still a few tweaks to be made, and the end title sequence is not finished yet. But what we were about to see was pretty close to the finished product. As the lights dimmed and the first images came on the screen, I found myself watching from a detached place. I noticed things like the absence of the dolly shot that was the first shot on the first night of filming. I found myself trying to figure out where in the house certain shots were filmed (the ones I wasn’t around for), since good film makers (like the folks at Uncanny) know how to cheat the space to get more out of it. Yet somehow, after two minutes in, it was as if I hadn’t worked on it at all. I was drawn in, the way I get drawn in by my favorite movies and shows. No matter how familiar they are, if they’re well done, I’m able to allow myself to be absorbed by what I watch. Now, I knew the plot and the spoilers already, so I knew who was going to live and who was going to die, so there was no tension in that regard, but I knew that 10 minutes was not going to be long enough. I wanted more, and I wasn’t even done with the first episode yet.

Last night, I decided to do a quick Facebook check, maybe remind everyone with a status update that The Scare Game was almost there, then head to bed. But I noticed Jenn’s status, which mentioned that it would be up in about an hour. When was that posted? About 53 minutes earlier. I decided to stay up a bit longer. I may have been the first person to view it on the official website. I sat and watched the whole thing before sending a quick couple of tweets and status updates and links, then went to bed.

Today, I’m at work. And it’s not quite a quiet day. I haven’t been able to shamelessly promote this thing as much as I’d like, but I’ve done pretty well. And I’ve managed to write this post which is already over 2000 words.

I saw two flaws in the first episode. One, I can’t really talk about for fear of giving away one of the plot twists. The other one, I can, because it’s less to do with what’s in the episode than what it’s missing. There’s not enough characterization in this first episode. I have little sense of who these characters are. I learned more about them in the pumpkin carving video than I did in the premiere of the show. Knowing that the writer/director agrees with me on this makes me feel better about it, because this is something that I was very surprised he wouldn’t handle. But here’s the thing: this first episode is as much a teaser for the rest of the series as the first trailer was a teaser for this. It’s job is to grab your interest and make you want to see more. In this regard, I think it succeeds handily. The characters will come. All we need to do is get the next episodes out there.

And so we close this chapter of the adventure with a plead for help. Everyone worked on The Scare Game for no pay. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t cost anything to make. If you liked what you saw here. If you’re intrigued to see more, please donate some money and spread the word. You can donate through PayPal via the link on the official site (or here). But the best thing you can do is spread the word. These things live or die by word of mouth. Send people to the YouTube site first (after they watch that, feel free to send them to thescaregame.com. They are able to track the number of times a video is viewed. The more views we get, the easier it will be to secure more financial backing. That translates directly to more episodes being filmed and released. We don’t need much, so every bit helps.

Now I should go back to work.

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