Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a report from 2.2 (as Herc would say) of my set reports for Frank Darabont’s adaptation of STEPHEN KING’S THE MIST.
We’re back in the market this morning, picking up little bits of missed coverage, even moreso than yesterday. Yesterday they were getting complete sequences. I’m sure today they’ll get a few of those as well, but from what I’ve been overhearing it’s all about grabbing specific shots.
I say that, but the very first shots off today were of a complete scene. A small bit that happens the first night the folks are trapped in the market.
The scene had Bud (Robert C. Treveiler), Ollie (Toby Jones), David (Thomas Jane), Myron (David Jensen) and Jim (William Sadler), taking place just before dusk on their first day.
Jane had a quiet talk with Darabont before they started shooting, going over his character’s emotional state at this point. David has his son, Billy, with him, but he left his wife at home. Is she alright? Did she survive the coming of the mist? Is she hurt? Does she need his help? Can he get to her?
Jane said he thought after a few days he might accept, on some level, that she probably didn’t survive, but at this point, before the first night, he’d be a little distracted, irritated.; questions running through his mind.
As usual, there were two cameras (A and B) covering the scene. David was sitting in an aisle with Bud Brown, going through flashlights, turning them on and off, testing them, then putting the working ones in a basket.
Bud: “That’s it. That’s every light we’ve got in the store.”
Ollie sat across the aisle, also helping, but he didn’t have much to do in the shots they grabbed this morning.
David stands and walks over to Myron and Jim, both dressed in mechanic’s clothes. They have much bigger lights.
David: “How’s it going with the work lights?”
Myron’s happy, proud that he got it working, flipping it on. “Check it out!” It’s very bright. Sadler’s a little less happy, telling Jim to shut it down. “The batteries ain’t topped off. They’re going to drain real quick.”
David’s not too happy with that. “How long?” Jim’s not too sure… 5, maybe 10 minutes. Jane nods and says they should save the lights in case “something gets in the store.”
The B camera crew kept edging into the A camera shot, so they had to shuffle things up a bit and shot only A camera to get the medium shot. They were able to use two cameras again after the longer shot was gotten. Being tighter on the action meant there was more room for the camera teams to maneuver.
Next they moved from this aisle, towards the back of the market, up to the front of the store. This takes place after the loading dock scene, with the tentacles and poor Norm going the way of the Do-Do.
The people are united, stacking dog food up against the glass.
Darabont needed two shots, the final bit of coverage for this scene, with Ollie, Amanda, Dan Miller (Jeff DeMunn) and David.
DeMunn smiles at David and Ollie, standing together at one of the check out counters. “We got the windows taped up. That should help.” Referring to the heavy tape used to seal the cracks in the glass.
Ollie and David, having actually seen pieces of what’s out there, exchange a look. Ollie shakes his head. “Duct tape and dog food bags…” Amanda notices and approaches. “That bad?” David gives her an affirmative.
Darabont had a chat with his DP, Ronn Schmidt, pointing out a particular shot of Laurie Holden he loved. “You know, as cool as any shot ever is, sometimes a 100mm close-up is the best. I love that shot.” Schmidt agreed. “Yeah, let the actors act.” “See into their eyes.”
They got the close shots they needed on Ollie, Dan and Amanda before quickly setting up the next pick-up, taking place during the big bug sequence.
Fans of King’s novella will be dying to see this one. I’m dying to see anything from it. I saw a glimpse at one of the bugs that sneaks into the market on my last visit, but I haven’t seen any footage or any of the “birds,” the big fuckers that come charging in after the bugs and find they like the taste of human flesh just as well.
This is a specific moment. Ollie is in charge of the sole gun, a revolver. I’ve always loved that dynamic anyway, since Ollie is the most meek character. But he’s the best shot, so the small, meek soft-spoken man is the one with the biggest, loudest, deadliest weapon in the store.
So, these small bugs find a crack and slip in. They’re not friendly. The store is in a little bit of chaos and these bigger things come in after the bugs. In King’s book they’re described as being pelican sized, but kind of prehistoric looking, almost pterodactyl-like.
The shot being picked up is of Ollie seeing one of the bugs’ victims and being called to action when the first bird is squeezing through a hole in the window.
Both cameras were close on Ollie. Laurie Holden was off camera screaming her lines… terrifically, actually. My vocal chords hurt hearing her shrilly screaming, “OLLIE!!!”
His head whips up, his face full of worry and terror. It’s almost as if his core decentness won’t let his fear keep him from reacting in this horrible situation.
“OLLIE! SHOOT IT!”
The gun comes up and he tries to take aim. “I can’t shoot! I’ll hit the glass!” Then he suddenly drops below the frame, ducking the flying bastard.
With all the chaos going on now, if one of the panes were completely broken the store would be overrun.
There wasn’t anything particularly funny or different about the shooting of this besides Toby Jones wanting to say “I can’t shoot! I’ll smash the window” instead of “I can’t shoot! I’ll hit the glass!” He did it twice, once in rehearsal and once during a take, but he got it after the first take. Even with the line flub, Jones sold it. I really love his casting. He’s bringing such a vulnerability and quiet strength to the role, dimensions the character couldn’t survive without.
Darabont got some final shots in the market, involving vehicles and people running through the mist outside and the people inside watching.
He was super happy, saying that today was one of his first stress free days. He was getting what he wanted in only a few takes and he got the first few set-ups turned over in record time.
Of course… he jinxed himself. The car that drives by the market did its pass a couple times well, but the cameras didn’t catch it perfectly… or the mist was too thick or too thin. The shot had Billy Gierhart operating the Steadicam and framing the auto as its headlights shine through the mist and following it as it drives by the market, the backs of the heads of the people inside the market flying by.
Then the auto broke down, lights that were supposed to come on didn’t and the production came to a screeching halt. It wasn’t a happy feeling on the set. But Darabont ended up grabbing another shot outside the market as one of the main characters stumbles through the mist, trying to get back inside, while they worked to fix the car problem.
During some of the downtime I ended up bullshitting some more with Sam Witwer and we achieved a new level of nerdy geekdom. We had our STAR WARS conversation on the last trip and today we kicked around STAR TREK. All that’s left now is some sort of Joss Whedon argument to break out or a competitive game of D&D and then the circle will be complete. We can join the circus.
I hit up the KNB room while Darabont tried to wrap out of the market set. The door was actually open and I met up with Gino Crognale and Greg Nicotero.
And I got to see all the creatures from the flick.
They were unreal, totally badass. Just wait until you see these things onscreen. I saw the bugs, the birds, some gore involving an unluckily still alive bastard in the pharmacy and the crazy-awesome spiders.
These are unlike any spiders you’ve seen. Darabont said on the last visit that he wanted them to nod to the Zanti Misfits from the Outer Limits. They don’t have human faces, exactly, but they have a lipless grin. The teeth aren’t exactly human, but they’re close. Maybe if they were Tony Robbins’ teeth after 20 years of chainsmoking, rock chewing and coffee drinking. Mandibles surround the mouth
They have multiple eyes, but positioned differently along the head, with two in front that are set almost like human eyes, but they buldge out and don’t look even remotely human. Coarse, spine-like hair covers their midsection.
The bugs are sweet. Their wings are transparent, like a fly’s wing, and their bodies are thick, but segmented leaving a long tail with a stinger at the end. Their heads are circular, but toothy. The mouths are almost set like that of a bulldog, which is pretty sweet to see. They’re maybe a foot long.
The birds are very much prehistoric, with two sets of leathery wings and a beaked mouth. Pretty big, too. Pelican size is definitely accurate.
Then Everette from Café FX invited me into his den to see some of the CGI tests on these creatures. Even in rough form, this got me giddy. There’s one particular test with spiders that had me smile. It was an untextured face test, showing what kinds of movement they were toying with. The mandibles clicked together in an almost jittery way, like it was nervous or had too much caffeine. The eyes looked in many different directions at once, rotating in their sockets. Too creepy.
There was also CG mist tests, some movement tests for the birds and bugs (they all looked grounded in reality, really affected by gravity) and some other stuff I was sworn to secrecy on. But rest assured that the key CG animator on PAN’S LABYRINTH is in charge of Mist stuff, especially the spiders.
After I part ways with the effects dudes, I found out that Darabont wrapped out of the market set while I was playing with the creature stuff. No more market shooting. It’s wrapped. Over. Kaput. Forever! Well, maybe some second unit stuff tomorrow… but it’s mostly over!
I followed my chair over to B stage, which currently has 3 smaller sets built up. The pharmacy is the biggest, but there’s also a single room from David’s house (his work room where he paints) and just a set of steps that end at a concrete floor and two walls of a basement.
Check it out:
The shot was a simple one. Just David, Billy and Stephanie (David’s wife and Billy’s mommy) walk down the steps, holding candles.
The flick opens with a storm moving in and it’s a doozey. So, to the safety of the basement they go.
Lightning flashes from the upstairs doorway, illuminating the stairs, as they calmly head downstairs. To simulate the light from their candles, a grip stood on the floor, out of the shot, with a bounce board (a white board used to focus light on a film set) angled up to the stairs. He had a strong flashlight in one hand and as the actors head down the stairs, he eyeballs their progress, shining the light on the board, which bounces back on the actors.
The shot had the A camera pushing in slowly as they descend, ultimately passing out of the camera frame. The camera still moves up, the candle light disappearing as a particularly bright flash of lightning hits, making everything temporarily bright, but when it fades out there’s nothing but blackness. Really cool shot.
When they wrapped out of this set, they moved video village into the basement and got the last few shots of the day in the other set, David’s studio.
I hinted at a geek artist providing the artwork. Bernie Wrightson was a good guess. He did do a lot of design work for this film. But that’s not right.
I did mention David was an artist, but what I didn’t mention was that he was a movie poster artist. So who else would you go to, but Drew Struzan?
There were some recognizable posters… most of which you should be able to guess with a little research and thought, but there’s a Struzan original that David’s working on as the storm rolls in. It’ll make some people giddy, but I promised to keep it secret. I’ll just say I’d just about kill your sweet ol’ granny to have even a print hanging on my wall.
As they set up the lights in the studio, I ended up chatting with one of the camera guys Darabont pulled out of THE SHIELD to shoot his movie, Billy (he’s the one in the red shirt in the basement pic above). He was like, “Wow… a dolly! What’s that?”
The majority of the film is handheld or steadicam… which I guess you can still call handheld, but you know what I mean. A dolly track is more traditional and takes longer to set up, but Billy said they decided to film almost everything before the Market, which includes the coming of the storm and the Draytons surveying the damage, very traditionally, with long controlled shots and takes. Then the second we get to the chaos of the market, with the multiple main characters, they’ll all be handheld… a little more kinetic.
So they set up the dolly track in the house, which took a little time. Being next to the monitors meant a lot of people would randomly come up and sit down in an empty chair. In this time, I bullshitted with Thomas Jane (smoking a nice smelling stogie), little Nathan Gamble (who I managed to avoid calling “asshole” this time around… but I did tell some LOTR set stories to) and a sweet and beautiful woman by the name of Kelly Collins Lintz.
I hadn’t seen her before entering B stage late last afternoon. Turns out there’s a good reason for that. Ms. Lintz is playing Stephanie, David’s wife.
Lintz is very pretty, but in a down to earth, realistic way. I don’t want that to sound like a backhanded compliment at all. She just doesn’t look like a super model, but one of those neighborhood girls that’d catch your eye and you’d get a huge crush on.
After socializing with those guys and a few key crew members, including Alison, the script supervisor (who I found out worked on make-up earlier in her career and contributed to such glorious ‘80s schlock as DEAD HEAT and BLOOD DINER, how cool is that?), they were ready for their three shots. Here’s a quick pic I grabbed of the exterior set:
As you can see, it’s one room with a big picture window. That’s the first of three shots they grabbed before wrapping. A giant greenscreen was hung up outside of the window and the camera starts there, but slowly pulls back revealing our family standing at the window, watching what will eventually be the raging storm, backs to the camera.
The camera pulls back slowly. At first the only thing in the frame is the greenscreen, then slowly the heads of Stephanie and David pop into the far left and far right. As the camera continues to pull back, we see Billy standing between them, looking out as well. Lightning flickers, illuminating the room and our characters a bit.
Darabont shot this at 32 frames per second, the standard being 24 frames per second… when you shoot more than 24fps, it slows down the action. It can either be drastic like super slow motion or subtle. 32fps is subtle. Something like 72fps is not.
Anyway, he did this because the lightning lasted a little longer this way.
By the way, Darabont himself was controlling the flashing lightning with this giant controller thing that clicked when he pressed the buttons. There were three lightning boxes placed around the window and he could control each with a click of a button. He went at it heavy duty, the controller clacking like an old school home video game system controller.
They get the take pretty quickly… it looks really nice, the family silhouetted against this flashing open window. Everette suggests they keep the set-up for one quick blank plate shot where they can digitally put in lighting splintering a tree outside the window. That fucker ends up crashing through the window, which I know they’re doing practically, but it’s always good to get a safety.
The next shot was a profile shot that starts on Billy, staring out of the window in awe. His eyes are bright, the flash from the lightning showing on his face. The camera rises up, on level with Stephanie, David out of focus slightly behind her. After a particularly nasty series of flashes, she turns to David. They discreetly rack focus over to Thomas Jane’s face, his expression one that says, “Yeah, maybe this is going to be a bad one.”
One funny thing I remember from this set-up is when they first took their positions, Darabont used his wireless mic to ask Nathan if he could turn his head a little “camera right.” He looked a little confused on the monitor, then moved his head slightly. In the right direction, but not nearly far enough. “No, I mean profile.”
There’s a pause. On the monitor Thomas Jane’s giant hands (at least they looked that way on the screen) appear at the top of the frame, plant themselves on Nathan’s little head and gently turn him into profile, getting lots of laughs from the crew.
The last shot was probably my favorite of the day… and ironically the last shot of Wednesday, March 28th, was what I believe is the first shot of the movie.
Once again it was shot at 32fps. The camera is still on a dolly, tracking the length of the studio, covering David’s computer station, comfy looking light brown leather couches, various paintings and finally ending up on David, his back to the camera, working delicately on a nearly finished painting.
The lights are on in the studio, unlike the last two shots, where the only illumination was the lightning in the window. The lighting is still going strong, though, flashing multiple times as the camera slowly looks over David’s work area.
When the camera gets square on David’s back, it pushes in over his shoulder. He’s putting the final touches on this painting when a giant flash hits, followed immediately by the lights going out.
In darkness, he turns to look out the window from where he’s seated, his features undefinable. After a short beat, another flash of lightning illuminates his face, giving the audience its first look at David.
It’s one hell of a good introduction and a beautiful shot.
I almost forgot... but in this moment, Denise Huth, the lovely and talented producer who has been working with Frank for years, said something pretty funny and spot on. "It's a scene with lightning and no dialog. It's officially a Frank Darabont picture."
That was my day. I had to miss the GRINDHOUSE premiere in Austin to be here, but I can’t complain too much. I got to see some incredibly great shit today and it’s so much fun being on this set. Everybody from Darabont to the producers, especially Denise Huth and Randi Richmond, to the cast to the crew and extras (shout out to the Core Extras group. Hey, guys.) have welcomed me with open arms and are a pleasure to deal with every day.
Plus they let me get crazy detailed in these reports and snap my own pictures. What other set lets you do that?
Before I go, I have one piece of bad news and one piece of good news to share. It seems they’re running behind, so they’re not going to get the pharmacy while I’m here. Tomorrow’s my last day and it won’t be the pharmacy. However, the good news is it will be a gory day and there WILL be a spider involved. Fuck yeah.
In lieu of actually being there to report on the pharmacy scene, I have another tasty morsel from the set.
Keep in mind that when the cameras do roll in here this place will be filled with the mist, so with a little photoshop help from Kraken, here’s a little closer representation of what will be in the movie:
And this reminds me... I'm not that impressionable. I was never that kid that had nightmares after watching a scary movie and I hardly ever have vivid dreams that I remember the next morning.
But the night after I saw the pharmacy stuff for the first time I had a little adventure. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, not really sure where I was, the world was blurry (no glasses, see) and my eyes caught site of a white shape. I was sure it was a human shape, like the bodies I saw wrapped in cocoons. If that wasn't frightening enough, I was sure I saw a spider shape crawl out from the midsection and inch towards me.
I did what anybody would do in that situation. I grabbed my pillow and hit it as hard as I could.
Then I heard, "WHAT THE FUCK!?!" It was my buddy, Kraken, who was fast asleep in the next bed with his wife, wrapped up in a white bed sheet. I guess my mind filled in the rest.