It took sometime but we were finally able to get the production write-up from Josh Thacker writer and director of contest winning “Job Security” of the Story Beyond the Still contest put on by Canon, Vimeo and Vincent Laforet. Congratulations to Josh and his colleagues, you honor us and our readers here at Digital Cinema Foundry by taking the time to put together such a wonderful write-up. As Vincent mentions it was the story/concept and its execution that ultimately won out. But if we might say so their entry was just as much told beautifully visually, a perfect compliment to their story and when you have those two things of story and complimented visually you win awards in areas such as “best picture.”
“Job Security” Production Write-up:
Choosing to Enter
There were two things at play that essentially drove me to submit a film for Chapter 2 of the â€œStory Beyond the Stillâ€ contest. First, we (Runner Runner) had recently hired Ian Bearce, former head of production at Los Angeles-based Partizan, as executive producer. I had been looking for a side project that we could collaborate on, almost as an ice-breaker. This contest fit the bill. Second, the contest had almost no rules. Aside from starting and ending on a still, the rest was a blank slate. Kudos to Canon and Vimeo for not forcing us to use either of their logos or slogans anywhere in our films.
Writing the Script
I worked on the script for about a week, the majority of which was spent brainstorming and grinding through various bad ideas! At one point I toyed with the idea of making the cabbie a creepy character, where itâ€™s revealed that the he didnâ€™t even know the young girl from Chapter 1. What if, instead, he broke into that house to give her the bear? It could have been interesting, but I was worried it would be too heavy for Chapter 2.
Once I settled on the â€œJob Securityâ€ script, I realized that my first draft was incredibly raw and very much â€œRâ€ rated. After checking the rules of the contest more closely, I realized that there was some content in my script that would disqualify my entry from the contest. So, I re-wrote it a bit to make it PG-13. Instead of showing the security guard doing his business, I just hinted at it. Instead of seeing the murder take place, you just catch the aftermath. In hindsight, Iâ€™m glad I was forced to re-write those scenes. I think it makes for a better film.
Location Scouting â€“ The Warehouse
I found the location scouting to be the most stressful and time-consuming part of the whole experience. Finding a warehouse was a beast of a taskâ€¦I needed to find a location that looked remote and creepy, but that also had heat! Not easy. I ended up compiling a huge list of properties in Minneapolis that were for rent. One of the warehouses on my list had posted the photo below, which to me looked like a security office already:
I got lucky, and managed to catch the property manager on the phone. She ended up being super cool, and was excited about the idea of us shooting a film at her warehouse. From there it all fell into place. Walking around the property with a 5D in hand, my shot list instantly started to materialize:
With a warehouse locked in, all that was left was a gas station. A few years back I took a photo of this Laundromat in Mounds View, MN. Iâ€™m a big fan of night shots of buildings lit in fluorescent light, and I was hoping to find something that looked similar to the Laundromat for our gas station:
I figured it was worth going out there again, just in case there was something nearby. Again, luck took hold. Just a few blocks down the street from the Laundromat sat â€œThe Station.â€ It was perfect!!!
This is another area of filmmaking where it never hurts to stick your neck out. While I knew Nels (Security Guard #1), Iâ€™d never met Scott Jorgenson (Security Guard #2 – Luke) before. Heâ€™s a well-known actor in this town, and Iâ€™ve always wanted to work with him. Fortunately, Nels and Scott are friends, so I had an â€œin.â€ This project was a great challenge for Scott, Nels and I, mainly because we tend to gravitate more towards comedy than suspense. Throughout the project, we were constantly asking each other â€œIs it scary enough? Is this working? Is this going to be super cheesy?â€ While it was a little unsettling to step outside our comedic comfort zones, Iâ€™m glad we did. Blurring the lines of comedy and suspenseâ€¦itâ€™s a great challenge.
The Cabbie, played by Aaron Richey, is a close friend of mine. It was just fate that he looked like the cabbie from Vincentâ€™s first film. Aaron watched the first film, adjusted his facial hair a bit, and sent me these photos. I was sold.
Weâ€™re very lucky in Minneapolis, as we have an incredibly talented make-up artist residing here named Crist Ballas. Heâ€™s a master, especially in special effects make-up. He was part of the Star Trek makeup team that recently won an Oscar. Heâ€™s such a talent, and loves all things macabre. I canâ€™t say enough good things about his work.
It was fortunate that our story took place entirely at night. This gave us the ability to schedule 3 consecutive overnight shoots without interrupting our day jobs. Of course, this made for extremely long days, but it was worth it. Hereâ€™s how our shoot was broken up:
Night 1: Security Office Interiors, Trunk in Warehouse
Night 2: Warehouse Exteriors
Night 3: Gas Station, Truck Bed Scenes
We struggled to keep each shoot night as short as possible. There was a lot to get through, so each shoot night ended up being about 7 hours long. My only regret is that I wish weâ€™d had a designated behind-the-scenes person to capture everything that went down. We were so busy shooting (and trying to stay warm), that we didnâ€™t shoot anything other than what was in the script. Dang.
We used the Canon 7D for almost everything, relying on the 5D Mark II only for our ultra wide shots including the shot of Nels walking and running across the warehouse lot, the rooftop shot of the truck pulling in, and the driving shot of the truck on the highway. When we made this film, the 5D Mark II was only capable of shooting at 30p, which is a bummer. You can see some motion artifacts in some of these shots as I let Final Cut Pro do the frame rate conversion from 30 to 23.98. I wasnâ€™t super stoked with the results, but ran out of time to do anything else.
For lenses we lived mainly on a Canon 24-70 f/2.8. For the wide shots we switched over to a 16-35 f/2.8. We also used a 70-200 f/2.8 for a few shots at the gas station.
We were very fortunate to have access to all of Ryan’s lighting equipment from a different shoot that was happening the same week. He and much of the crew on Job Security were playing double duty, coming off of a paid gig and straight into an over night shoot. They averaged about 2 hours of sleep a night, which just goes to show how passionate everyone was on this project. The equipment included a couple of KINO 4′ 4banks as well as a hand full of Mole Richardson Babies, Tweenies and Mini’s from his personal collection. To help enhance the moodiness of the film, Ryan worked with gaffer Chris Hultgren to mix different colored sources throughout the film. Often lights were warmed up to recreate sodium-vapor streetlights that weren’t there and combined those with lights gelled with blue to create a real contrast in colors.
One of the greatest aspects of being a director/editor is that you can fly through an edit at an incredibly fast pace. I pretty much knew exactly what I needed to do when I sat down at my computer. Waiting for the footage to convert to Pro Res was incredibly painful. It takes forever! Once the footage was imported and organized, I edited the film in one very long evening. There were only a few days left before the deadline, and I knew that music and effects were hinging on me having a cut in place! Iâ€™ll never forget looking up from my computer after having edited all night to see that it was 6:45 am. Instead of sneaking in a few hours of sleep then and there, I decided to just plow through it. While I donâ€™t recommend skipping sleep all together, there wasnâ€™t any other option.
Color Correction & Visual Effects
With the off-line edit in place, I exported a TIFF sequence to move into the final steps of finishing. Our effects artist, Matt Collings, imported the sequence into Smoke for final color correction and effects. The 5D footage was great to work with. We were able to easily pull keys for secondary color corrections in several shots, including adjusting skin tones on several of the actors.
The tracking and keying of the computer and TV monitors worked well with the H.264 compression, which was a nice surprise. We were able to create a look, add effects, and output our final all within the span of a couple of days.
With just two days until the deadline, our composer Daron Walker had his work cut out for him. Luckily, the tone of this film was right in line with Daronâ€™s sensibilities, so he was able to take off with it. It wasnâ€™t until Daron got his hands on the film that I was able to say with confidence, â€œThis filmâ€™s gonna be good.â€
I think the most exciting phase of the contest was when we were selected as one of the 5 finalists. It was just great to know that professionals in the industry enjoyed my film. That meant a lot, and encouraged me to keep creating. As for the big win, it was fantasticâ€¦and really stressful. I really have a hard time with online voting, in terms of what it actually means. Basically, it puts us filmmakers in a tight spot, having to harass all of our connections on facebook and twitter to drum up the most votes! Thankfully Vimeo only made us suffer for one week of voting!
As for the prizes and accolades, nothingâ€™s happened just yet . Iâ€™ve only spoken with a liaison from IAC, which is the massive conglomerate that owns Vimeo. Hopefully the prizes will arrive soon. Also, a call from Vincent would be sweet. I know the guyâ€™s busy, however, so Iâ€™ll be patient.
Iâ€™ve been directing for about 5 years, and while Iâ€™d like to think I know a lot about filmmaking, Iâ€™m still constantly learning. On â€œJob Securityâ€ I failed huge at one point. Driving away from the gas station, having just wrapped on our final night of shooting, I realized that Iâ€™d missed an incredibly important shot. I forgot to shoot scene where Nels was lying in the back of the trunk, listening to the sounds of the gas station:
I think what happened was that Iâ€™d gotten so wrapped up in Nelsâ€™ performance under the tarp where heâ€™s freaking out and screaming into the walkie-talkie that I completely blanked on the other setup where heâ€™s quietly lying there.
Realizing what Iâ€™d done, I sat with the footage for a bit, trying to find a workaroundâ€¦but there werenâ€™t any options! I had to swallow my pride and call Nels. I explained the shot I missed to him, and of course, he wasnâ€™t excited to go back out to the Station (a 30 minute drive from Minneapolis) to do a re-shoot. I wasnâ€™t excited either, but it was the cheapest option. We figured we could just use the lights from the gas station canopy and shoot it for free. I promised him that it was absolutely necessary to get the shot, so he agreed.
Back to â€œThe Stationâ€ we went. Only this time, it was just Nels, Aaron (acting as a grip) and me. We hopped out of my car, pulled a blue tarp out of my trunk, and had Nels lie down on the ground near a gas pump. I positioned the camera above him, and Aaron covered both of us in the tarp. We did 3 takes in about 60 seconds, and then we got out of there. Itâ€™s funny, you can tell this shot was captured a few days later by the length of Nelsâ€™ facial hair!
As Iâ€™m typing this, Canon has just released their 23.98 upgrade for the 5D Mark II. I canâ€™t wait to get out there and try out the camera now! Who knows, maybe weâ€™ll enter another film in one of the future chapters!
Written & Directed By: Josh Thacker
Produced By: Ian Bearce & Tony Fischer
Nels Lennes – Security Guard #1
Scott Jorgenson – Luke
Ian Bearce – Mysterious Man
Nate Dykstra – Cashier
Aaron Richey – The Cabbie
Director of Photography: Ryan Taylor
Editor: Josh Thacker
Music By: Daron Walker
Line Producer: Ian Bearce
Associate Producer: Aaron Richey
Assistant Director: Brian Slater
Assistant Camera: Brandon Boulay
Gaffer: Chris Hultgren
Grips: Kyle Camerer & Josh Mason
Makeup Artist: Crist Ballas
Makeup Assistant: Aaron Pikala
Location Sound: Patrick Schaefer
Production Assistants: Luke Braith & Todd Sandler
Visual Effects Artist: Matt Collings
Post Production Sound: Daron Walker
Erika & Monika @ Ellis Properties
Al & Leo @ The Station
Shot on the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II.
Credits for “Job Security”