You know how all of the apocalypse talk nowadays is about Zombies and Vampires? Well, this film is going back to old-school, 1990s apocalypse fears and it’s awesomesauce.
In their own words: Wry, cynical and full of off-beat humor, APOCALYPSE, CA is the story of John Parsons and his ill-fated friends as they prepare for certain death at the hands of a massive asteroid, sex-inducing drugs, a three-hundred foot giant, and a horde of other unfortunate problems. APOCALYPSE, CA is an indie cult film of catastrophic proportions, featuring outstanding visual effects from artists Ryan Wieber (Ryan vs. Dorkman) and Teague Chrystie (The Pacific) in this feature film directorial debut by Chad Peter (behind the popular Internet short films, Sex, Drugs & Natalie Portman & Roleplayed).
Chad Peter, Ryan Wieber, and Teague Chrystie were awesome enough to let us ask them some questions about their upcoming film. Before you check out their answers, make sure to watch this:
How long did this film take (from pre-production to now)?
Chad: Wow, well it has been an interesting three years from start to finish. Originally “Apocalypse, CA” was going to be a short film, but the idea behind it quickly blossomed into what it is now – a full-on feature length project. It’s been a rough and tough process, but I think we’re all very proud of how it all turned out, despite whatever ups and downs were presented along the way.
It’s independently produced, so where/how did you get the funding?
Chad: *laughs* That’s a good question! Sometimes I wonder(ed) that myself. But honestly, it all began with asking one person (an ex-girlfriend, no less) for $5,000, and that got the ball rolling. Once friends and family saw that we weren’t out fucking around, suddenly it seemed like people were *offering* their money to the project far more than I had to ask for it. That didn’t last too long, though, because I think the general perception is that a feature length movie shouldn’t take more than a year to make. So, you know, after two years I’m still working on the movie, essentially by myself, worn thin and struggling to pay bills and there’s no more investor money to be had. Fortunately when it came time to work on the VFX and audio, I had a pretty solid foundation of friends to go to and say, “okay guys, I’m worn out… Help me get this thing finished,” and they came through in a big way.
Who wrote it?
Chad: I wrote the script over the course of a month, basing it on a pair of student films I had made back in college, “Sex” & “Drugs” (or “Sex, Drugs & Natalie Portman” as the series was called). Again, it started as a short film, but I quickly became attached to the large scope of the project and decided to write it as a feature instead. Ultimately when shooting began, the script was quite different than it turned out in the final movie, and we ended up rewriting a bit – as we were shooting. We shot probably 90% of the first script, then I went back and threw out several scenes, rewrote, reshot and eventually ended up with a much better script than what we started with.
Where/how did you guys find your actors/actresses?
Chad: Nick Mathis is the lead actor in the movie and I was living with him when I wrote the first draft in North Hollywood. Nick might be the most raw talented person I know, and easily one of the most charismatic. He had moved to LA a few years before and done “the actor thing”, but ultimately – and I still don’t understand it – he wasn’t getting any roles. The TNT cable network thought he was good enough to award him their top “Dramatic Auditions” contest prize, but “Apocalypse, CA” ended up being his first real LEAD role in a feature. From there I went through Actors Access and Breakdown Services to put out a casting call in LA, as well as cast a few actor friends here and there throughout the movie.
Let’s see, asteroid headed to earth – check, ‘love’ story – check, giant woman stomping on people – wha? What made you decide to add that little element to a story that is already ‘apocalyptic’? Obviously without giving too much away ; )
Chad: *laughs* To be honest, I can’t remember the instance where I thought “oh hey, lets add a giant!” There’s so much going on in the movie – crazy stuff – that it just seemed to be another notch on the ol’ belt. Like, if we’re gonna go balls-out, lets add a fucking giant to the mix.
Teague & Ryan, when did you two get involved?
Teague: In a weird way, I’ve always been involved – sorta. Chad and I met online years ago when he released a short film called “Drugs” – which is cooler than it sounds, it’s not a film-school public service announcement or something, my god – and eventually moved to LA and started hanging out. At the time Apocalypse, CA got started, we were roommates living in the San Fernando Valley – being poor, sleeping with greenscreens for bedsheets (this happened) – and I ended up reading drafts, being at shoots, being an extra, every damned thing. By the time the film was shot and edited, it kind of made sense for me to be a part of the visual effects team, and it would have been ridiculous not to blackmail Ryan into doing it – I’m a visual effects artist by trade, but Ryan is a really good visual effects artist by trade.
What were your different responsibilities? What VFX did each of you focus on personally the most?
Teague: Ryan and I did most of the big visual effects in the movie, some of which are spoilers and I can’t go into them, but stuff that you already know about – like the asteroid shots – those were mine. There’s several asteroid shots, and a very large (non-asteroid) sequence at the end I’m not going to go into. (It sucks that it can’t be in the trailer, because it’s really awesome and well done. You’ll have to see the movie, I guess, oh darn. ; )) Our buddy Matt Vayda was a huge help, he spent a lot of time with us, mostly doing motion tracking for the handheld shots that required visual effects. We had garage FX marathons, where everyone would bring their computer over to my apartment and we’d sweat it out over the weekend churning out shots one after the other.
Ryan: I took on the shots of the 300 foot woman, and a hand full of other smaller, miscellaneous shots. I thought it was going to be pretty easy, but it turned out that for such a “simple” gag (glorified forced-perspective) it ended up being a lot of pretty complex shots, ended up spending several weeks where all my free time was spent getting those shots where they needed to be.
Also, worth noting that Chad himself did a lot of VFX work in the film. He was very aware of the legal ramifications of things like logos and brand-names in the film, as well as stuff like paintings and pictures on walls. He ended up removing and changing almost everything in a picture frame in the movie. He also did a lot of dust-on-lens cleanup as well as other straightforward fix-its. The guy knows his way around After Effects and did, by far, the bulk of the visual effects shots from a numbers standpoint. If you incluse all the “invisible” effects and clean-ups, there were, i think, over 300 VFX shots in Apocalypse, CA.
Also, in the trailer, you can see that in some of the shots, there are smaller meteors burning through the atmosphere, leaving trails behind them. I originally created elements to use for my shots of distant meteors, and Chad ended up taking those elements and tracking/compositing them into many other shots where I wasn’t doing any ‘giant’ effects. He had very specific ideas on where they should be falling, how many, the angles of them, etc, and it was great that he was able to actually do those shots himself, rather than dictate to me or Teague where to put them. He did a great job.
What were the most difficult VFX to perfect?
Teague: You know what’s difficult? Modeling an asteroid. We went through a lot of revisions. “This one looks too much like a potato.” “This one looks exactly like Dick Cheney.” Finally settled on one that wasn’t too Armageddon, but wasn’t too moon-y. The spoiler-heavy sequence at the end was also a very tricky thing to get right, I think it turned out well.
Ryan: As I mentioned earlier, all the ‘giant’ shots ended up being more complex than I anticipated. The whole gag is to sell scale. The shots are successful when I can make a human being look big, and the shots fail when I can’t. Which is challenging, because we all know how big a person is, so it’s easy to get it wrong and have it look hokey movie from the ’50s. Shooting the giant elements with Chad to ensure the right perspective, lighting, and lensing was critical, but even so, it was pretty challenging. It’s all the little things. I ended up doing a lot of additional work to add dust and stuff in front of her, and slow down her motion because big things look big when they’re slow. I think the “hardest” shot was one that’s actually in the trailer, toward the end. The three characters turn and run with the giant in the distance. The shot, in the film, is actually quite a bit longer. As I worked on it and showed the progress to Chad, I ended up completely restarting that shot at least 3 times, using different footage of her, trying to get it work technically, and stylistically. It ends up looking very simple, of course… but only because of many small but important decisions Chad and I made that help it to just work.
What are the plans with this movie? Where are you going to screen it? Are you sending it out to agents?
Chad: Well we’ve applied to twelve or so film festivals so far, and we won’t start to hear back from them until the first week of December. In any case, the movie won’t premiere before January 2011 – unless we secure foreign distribution and they decide to release it before January ’11. The odds of a distributor turning the movie around that quickly, however are pretty slim, so we’re probably looking at a first or second quarter release next year. I’m currently working with a rep to secure a foreign sales agent and we’ll go from there. As far as domestic rights (north america), I’ll probably be holding onto those until after we’ve built some buzz on the movie, either online or via film festivals. The whole process is confusing, awesome and after years of editing at a computer I’m excited for the change of pace.
Fun question – Asteroid is heading to earth. What do you do to enjoy your last few days?
Teague: Start smoking again, probably. Buy a couple cartons of cigarettes and champagne, head north, be naked a lot.
Ryan: Try to score with Anne McDaniels.
Chad: *laughs* No comment. Probably something involving Gretchen Mol and a circus midget.
Another fun question – why no zombies? All apocalypse movies nowadays have zombies! Have you learned nothing from modern cinema?
Chad: Maybe in my future! There’s this band out there that I absolutely love called Schoolyard Heroes. Anyway, their music is totally B-movie inspired and bizarre, but they broke up last year. I totally want to do a crazy fun zombie movie with them somewhere down the line, so who knows. It’s something I’d love to try.
The music in the trailer is awesome. Licensed or friends?
Chad: Yes! The trailer music was done by “Apocalypse, CA’s” composer, Avi Ghosh – but not specifically for our trailer. Avi’s been playing in bands since before he was conceived – all awesome very NIN-ish stuff. He’s got an incredible group together right now in Austin called Art Versus Industry. I highly recommend anyone and everyone checking them out – Avi’s going to be a star.
“Apocalypse, California” is coming, 2011. Please visit http://www.apocalypseca.com or Facebook search “Apocalypse, CA” for more info!