Monthly ArchiveJuly 2013
Earlier this week, we showed the THIS IS HOW YOU DIE short film (viewable here if you haven’t seen it) at a video showcase at the Westside Comedy Theater here in L.A. We won the night! Apparently it was a competition. Hooray!
I’ve asked the film’s director, Michael Mohan, to share some BEHIND THE SCENES THOUGHTS:
Hey there! Guest blogger Michael Mohan here. I had the great pleasure of directing the THIS IS HOW YOU DIE short film that you’ve probably already seen. (If you haven’t, watch it right now! Spoilers follow.) It was just so super fun to make, and for anyone who wanted a bit more insight into the filmmaking process, I wanted to write something up to give you a little peek behind the curtain.
But first — here’s the film:
Okay, so we knew there’d never be able to capture the full breadth of emotional complexity that the stories in This Is How You Die contain in a mere 5 minutes, but we could play with the sense of expectation.
I feel like that’s one of the core things about finding out the method of how you’re going to die — if it were me, I’d never stop playing out all the different ways in which it might happen.
So here, we could not only play around with our characters’ expectations of their own deaths, and how their current lives are slightly impacted by knowing this news, but we could take it one step further, and play with our audiences’ expectations as well.
But ultimately, we just wanted it to be fun. Something that current fans would enjoy, and that maybe could help spread the word about the books to a whole new set of fans.
When figuring out the visual plan for This Is How You Die, I knew that each of these pieces had to function almost like a joke, where the reveal of the death worked in the same way a punchline does (or in the case of “Bear,” an anti-punchline). The setup to each joke had to be simple and clean.
So rather than doing any complex camera work, or making my directorial presence known, I knew the punchline would play best if I didn’t do anything to distract from the comedy. You know, if you think about the best comedy films, they’re always shot as simply as possible.
That said, I didn’t want it to be unspecific. My one complaint about so many comedies is that simplicity doesn’t mean that it has to look generic. And so here, I opted for a vaguely 1980′s horror vibe to guide our visual decisions.
I knew we could fully achieve that aesthetic for the limited budget, but also those films are, for the most part, very simply shot. It gives us just that little bit of texture to make it memorable, but not so much that it’s distracting. A few zooms here and there could help give it that retro self-aware sense of tension that’s also appropriate, but other than that I pretty much stayed out of the way.
“Purgatory Game Show”
That’s what we called the little intro piece for each of these segments with the silhouettes and the spotlight. We weren’t sure if the short was going to be released as five separate clips or one long clip, and so this would not only give each of the pieces a sense of continuity, but also provide a visual table of contents of the order in which they should be watched.
If you go back and watch it again, I especially love that with the first one, Old Age, our victim actually is able to read the words on the screen after they come up and her expression changes.
The biggest challenge here was not the effects shot of our victim getting hit by the car, but rather the fact that there’s literally no dialogue. Our actor Anne Maddox had to convey quite a lot — the mystique of the machine, the fact that this machine is something that people take seriously, the trepidation of getting your prediction, and the relief when the prediction comes back as something seemingly good.
In screenwriting terms, this is merely “exposition” — but it’s a lot to accomplish with literally nothing but body language. But I knew that making sure this was super clear was the key towards actually understanding what this whole concept is about. It’s much harder than it looks, and I’m so glad we were working with such an experienced commercial actor as Anne, who understands the subtlety of such things.
The effects shot itself was really simple. We just hit Anne with the car. She’s OK now.
Here the goal was to just continue establishing the unexpected nature of a death prediction, and to do so incredibly quickly. This was always conceived to be the shortest one, and it clocks in at 23 seconds.
As for the effects shot — here’s how we did this. That final shot is composited from many different elements.
First off — our victim, Kevin Manwarren, was shot by himself: just saying his line, and then throwing his racket and falling to the ground. The hardest part here was making sure the tennis racket landed in a good spot.
Second off — we then had our parachutist, Jacob Womack, basically do a push up over him, capturing the frame right before he falls onto the ground and the frames after impact. We then opened his pack for the moment when the chute flies out of it.
Next, we took Kevin’s sock and shoe off and put it on a fake leg, and threw it in the air from the point of impact.
Next, we brought in the three guys, Shaun Boylan, Joey Greer, and Michael Wilkie, and set up a practical hydraulic blood cannon in the point of impact to spray fake blood onto the guys (and all over the tennis court).
No joke — after doing this we were promptly kicked out of this location. Blood was everywhere. And we just had to pack up and leave. No questions asked.
So we then moved to a nearby field and shot the parachutist against a green screen so he could be composited in the air falling from the sky onto the tennis player.
Mix all of these together, add more blood, a CGI parachute, and some cracks in the floor of the tennis court, and voila — Parachute Failure.
The goal here was exactly the same as with Parachute Failure, to simply set up the game that we’re playing with the audience.
Now originally this was going to take place in that same location as the tennis court, and it was going to be a bit more surreal, with the model beautiful girl actually specifically hitting on the boy. But since we got kicked out of that location, we had to pick up those shots at a later date.
It was a blessing in disguise. One thing we all learned during this process was that the simplest ideas were the ones that won out. And here, we just needed to create the easiest milieu for this to take place in. We thought — how about a bright summer day at the beach? That’s where hot girls hang out, right? PERFECT. Also then the woman on fire — it’s slightly less random — she’s at least running towards a giant body of water.
Unfortunately, we ended up shooting on the coldest possible day in June at a grey overcast beach. No joke — it was FREEZING. In between takes, we would send the actors to their cars to blast the heat so they could warm up. In fact, you can see our actor Matthew Haddad actually physically shivering in one of the shots.
The beach was also directly west of the LAX airport, from which our poor sound mixer reminded us that there is an outgoing flight every 7 minutes.
But we got through it, and despite the fact that it’s not your prototypical beach, I’m really happy with how this turned out.
In terms of how we did the effects shot — we just lit our actor on fire. She’s OK now.
Ideally, now that we’ve established the trope of what these pieces are doing, we wanted to one-up ourselves. Pulling it off was not as easy.
For those of you not in the film industry — one of the biggest challenges with shooting lower-budget things in Los Angeles is finding locations. Everyone knows that when a film crew comes in, something’s inevitably going to get messed up or broken. People also know that most productions pay tons of money for locations, and don’t want to go through all the trouble for nothing.
So this bedroom location was actually the hardest location for us to find in the whole shoot, and eventually we simply had to compromise. A friend of our producer graciously allowed us to take over her apartment for an afternoon. It wasn’t quite as big as we’d have preferred, but at least it had neat looking blue walls.
Unlike the beach, that room was sweltering. When you get six dudes and a bunch of hot lights in a room that small, you’re all right on top of each other. And while I would have preferred to just shoot normal coverage (medium shots and close-ups), I needed to give the illusion that the girls weren’t standing right next to each other, hence the mirror-tilt-up shots.
But the linchpin here is that slow-motion shot of the clock — which is, surprisingly, an effects shot. The room we were in was simply too small to shoot that practically: even if we moved the camera all the way to the very back corner of the room, when shooting on the kind of camera we shot on (a RED Scarlett), slow-motion shots require you to use less of the actual image sensor chip, cutting the amount of the room captured essentially in half.
So instead, we simply shot an empty plate shot of the wall with no clock, then separately shot a bluescreen of the clock just subtly dangling from a wire. The two were composited together.
But that one shot really is the indicator for the audience to wrongly think that “Time Travel” has something to do with the clock traveling through the air, and without it, I think the entire segment falls apart.
As for the effects shot with the Civil War — we just sent actor Nicole Lvova and our camera crew back in time. The camera crew made it back. Nicole, sadly, did not.
In a way, everything leading up to the “Bear” segment is a setup of its own to a very long anti-punchline. By this point, ideally, our audience realize that we’re playing a game with them, and now they’re trying to anticipate what the twist or trick is going to be.
For instance, many people I show the piece to think there was a typo on the card, and that it was supposed to read “Beer.” Then they anticipating the beer killing him. Amazing.
But ideally when you get to that shot of him opening the fridge, we really wanted the audience to (a) think a bear might jump out of the fridge, and then (b) feel silly for thinking that a bear might jump out of the fridge. If that happened to any of you, that makes us happy.
Our second day of shooting was comprised of the scenes in the domestic kitchen, as well as everything that took place in the woods. It was the first day on any shoot I’ve been on where literally NOTHING HAPPENED in any of the scenes. That’s the incredible thing about horror movies: once you establish a threat, the audience is on the edge of their seat, simply waiting for something to happen. That’s also why most horror movies are SUPER BORING the second time you watch them. (At least in my opinion.)
As for the effects shot with the bear coming out — this is where most of our money went. The bear is 100% CGI. But we had to bring in a real bear to be able to digitally map the texture of its fur. And then after studying grizzlies in the wild, actor Andy Serkis (uncredited) worked with Digital Domain for the motion capture. His performance, coupled with the digital CGI bear, is what created that movie magic.
One thing about the music. Prior to the shoot, I had this little melody stuck in my head. I would whistle it on set, and hum it in my head during certain takes. In prep, there were a few moments where we used a metronome to time lighting cues to the changing BPM of this imaginary song.
After returning some equipment on the last day, I swung by Guitar Center to see if I could actually play the melody on a synthesizer. If the song in my head could actually turn into a tangible actual song. Surprisingly, I was able to figure it out, so I videotaped my fingers on the keys by holding my phone in my mouth. Then came home and transcribed it. Below is what I sent to Hrishi, our composer. You can take the kid out of the marching band, but you can’t take the marching band out of the kid.
I really hope you enjoyed our film. If you have any questions about it, I can be found on Twitter at @michaelmohan or at facebook.com/michaelmohan. You can also catch my other work at michaelmohan.com.
Working with Malki and crew on this silly little short film, everyone really went the extra mile to make it as awesome as humanly possible, and I know that so much love and thought went into the book as well. If there’s any group of artists worth supporting it’s them. I’m really pleased to have been a part of it all!
Thanks for watching,
FULL CREDITS BELOW:
Continue Reading »
Events 27 Jul 2013 01:24 pm
Back row: David Malki ! & Ryan North. Seated: Bill Chernega & John Chernega (“MEAT EATER”), Rebecca Black (“TETRAPOD”), Rhiannon Kelly (“NATURAL CAUSES”)
So great to meet everyone in San Diego last week! We SOLD OUT of Grand Central’s copies of TIHYD at the show, and we also ran out of paper for the actual MOD that was there issuing death predictions. Not pictured above are the artists who were there — Lissa Treiman, Claire Hummel, Tony Cliff, Aaron Diaz, Tyson Hesse, Carly Monardo, Chris Schweizer, Meredith Gran, and Greg Ruth, just to name a few — and I hope that somebody got ALL THE SIGNATURES POSSIBLE.
And thank you to everyone who’s been picking up the new book at your local stores or online! We’ve been hearing nothing but good things from everyone who’s cracked it open so far. It’s exactly the book we’d hoped to make and we’re so happy that everyone likes it as much as we do.
THIS MONDAY IN TORONTO:
It will be two venues side-by-side featuring two signings for two different books! Locked in BITTER COMPETITION.
There will also be lots of events (Shakespearean rap battles! MOD Draw & Guess! Dramatic readings! LAUGHTER??) and it is sure to be a good time. If you already have a copy of either book, bring ‘em out to be signed! If you don’t, come pick ‘em up at the event!
WHERE AND WHEN:
• The Beguiling, 601 Markham Street, Toronto (in Mirvish Village, beside Honest Ed’s)
• Monday, July 29th, 7pm-10pm
AFTER THAT: I’ll be at Gen Con in Indianapolis and PAX Prime in Seattle (both in August), and the Small Press Expo in Bethesda MD (September). See you…SOMEWHERE???
Jason Lioi of Dapper Devil is a man who owns a laser cutter. (Two, actually.) And he built this for me. It’s at our booth at the San Diego Comic-Con right now!!
It goes together like so:
So I see no reason why this thing would ever not be present anyplace we go from here on out. If you’re in San Diego, come by booth #1229 and find out how you’re going to die!
We’ll also be signing copies of This Is How You Die on Friday morning, 11am, at the Hachette booth (#1116):
They made one of those big banners for us and everything! SWEET
Here’s a full SCAVENGER HUNT list of who will be signing either TIHYD or MOD books at Comic-Con (you can download this checklist as a PDF if you want to print it out):
First one to get ‘em all wins a hearty handshake of friendship.
OTHER COOL STUFF:
• Another free preview story has been posted! “SHIV SENA RIOT”, by Ryan Estrada, is about a MOD call-center operative in India who’s never gotten a prediction of her own. It’s posted in full over at Wired today.
• I’ve posted some photos of the first prototype of the MOD card game! These images are from the manufacturer — I hope to have the actual prototype in my hand in just a few days.
• Our TIYHD short film was just named a Vimeo Staff Pick! Kudos to Mike Mohan, John Lang, and the crew that made that thing so spectacular.
It’s so amazing to see the outpouring of support for the book! If you’re still on the fence or haven’t remembered to grab it yet, we only have TWO DAYS LEFT for sales to count toward our NYT bestseller effort. Don’t wait! Grab it on Amazon, or from your favorite retailer.
TWO DAYS LEFT…TWO DAYS LEFT…and then, VICTORY (presumably). We’ll see!
Vol2 Updates 16 Jul 2013 04:21 am
— Ernesto Ramirez (@eramirez) July 15, 2013
Great news! The A.V. Club has given This Is How You Die a solid A grade — the best grade of any book currently being reviewed by them (a pack that includes new works by Neil Gaiman, Terry Prachett, Dan Savage, and Brandon Sanderson). This is astounding. From the review:
…But what is consistently surprising about This Is How You Die: Stories Of The Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine Of Death is the range and quality of the stories. Machine Of Death was smart and sophisticated. The stories often had twist endings, but they tended to be O. Henry-style twists, based in well-realized characters and the inevitability of fate, rather than cheap reversals or shock-driven rug-pulls. The sequel keeps the insight and the commitment to solid storytelling, but broadens the scope considerably. The editors challenged contributors to take the central concept in bold new directions, and the result is a much wilder collection that stretches around the globe, spans a range of genres, and experiments with the short-story form.
We’ve also been named on New York magazine’s Summer Reading Guide of “(nearly) all the July and August books that are fit to read.” Well, I certainly agree.
Folks. THE BOOK IS OUT NOW. This is just too exciting for words.
And in addition to our 90-page preview PDF, we’re also pleased to share Ryan’s story “Cancer”, now online (in both print and audio) at Lightspeed Magazine:
…I don’t actually think making a joke around bad news is an “if we don’t laugh we’ll cry” thing: I think it’s more of a “this is insane, can we all acknowledge how this is insane?” sort of thing! Helen’s not cracking wise to prevent herself from crying, she’s cracking wise because things are absurd and she’s thought of the perfect way to express it. Some funny people will tell jokes at times when others won’t, but I’m pretty sure most of them are thinking them. Helen’s just more willing than most to say what she’s thinking.
And it’s a powerful thing too: not letting something terrible change who you are, but staying strong in the face of that. I think that’s great, and I think it’s part of what not completely losing your mind to grief around bad news is.
If you’ve gotten the book already: Sweet! Tweet me a picture of you with it!
If you haven’t gotten it yet: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, TODAY IS THE DAY
If you’ll be at Comic-Con: Ryan and I will be signing at booth #1229 all the time except for Friday morning from 11-12, when we’ll be at the Hachette booth (#1116) with a bunch of the other contributors.
If you won’t be at Comic-Con: Keep doing your thing. Just keep on doin’ it. You got this.
Vol2 Updates 09 Jul 2013 07:13 pm
It’s getting close!! THIS IS HOW YOU DIE is officially released in JUST ONE WEEK. We set up this super-cool page at thisishowyoudie.com to give everyone the scoop:
The goal of the page is to introduce people to the MOD concept, provide all the pre-order links for the new book, and of course, share the rad video that we made! It’s posted over there right now — go watch!
You can also pre-order the book RIGHT NOW from your favorite retailer (and you know what? YOU TOTALLY SHOULD):
Our partners at Grand Central Publishing have given us free rein to give you exactly the book that we wanted. And we’ve done our best to make it AMAZING. It’s bursting at the seams with fantastic illustrations and comics. It has the stories that we LOVED the most, even though the names of the writers likely won’t be familiar to most people. But they’re writers who took a chance and sent us their stories, trusting us to share them with the world as best as we know how.
We — the three of us, Ryan, Matt, and David — want to reward the writers who gave us such an amazing book. With your help…
We want to make every contributor to this book into
a New York Times bestselling author.
Can we do it? I honestly don’t know!
The task before us is to get this book into as many hands as possible between now and July 20. Print sales matter the most, but ultimately, we want people to read it however they prefer. We want EVERYBODY to see these folks’ great work.
So, again: HERE is the link to share with all your friends:
Also at that page is a downloadable 90-page preview of the book. That is longer than some ACTUAL FULL BOOKS you have to pay for.
We’re profoundly grateful to our many supporters over the years, and we’re BEYOND excited to share this book with you. We’re exceptionally proud of all the work we’ve put into it, and of the work of all 63 of our amazing contributors. (Who are listed in full below.) We hope you’ll help us do right by them all by making this book a bestseller in its first week.
Who knows? If this book does well, it might make more books like this possible in the future. Anthologies with an indie aesthetic, but commercial distribution! Artists given free rein to overrule the marketing department! Dogs and cats sleeping together! Madness? We don’t think so.
Because of the way the NYT tallies their records, we won’t know how we did for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, our Amazon sales ranking is one way to gauge how we’re doing in general. As you know, last time we made it all the way to #1, but Amazon was the only place it was available at all — this time, you have your choice of retailer.
No matter where you get it, and no matter what format you read it in, we hope you really, really enjoy THIS IS HOW YOU DIE.
Here’s the full table of contents (click for bigger):
Thank you, sincerely, for all your support. We had a lot of fun putting this book together, and we’re so thrilled to see other people enjoy it too. Happy reading!