On the set of WORM and musings about the Colorado independent filmmaking community

Exciting things are happening in the Colorado filmmaking scene these days! The HB 12-1286 Colorado Film Incentives bill is well on its way, which hopefully will bring more film production to our beautiful state. Meanwhile, smaller local independent productions are already booming and finding ways of raising budgets through online platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Despite the tough economic times, more and more people seem to be finding ways of expressing their creativity and passion through film, music and art. It’s all very inspiring and I can’t wait to dive deeper into it and see where things will go from here.

My own interest in local indie filmmaking has been re-ignited after many years of stagnation, in part by working on Automaton last summer. It reminded me how exciting it is to take part in the process of creating something cool, and to work side by side with talented people who live and breathe this stuff. It’s one thing to use video production as a way to make a living, shooting commercials, events and other client-commissioned projects (which I certainly enjoy, but it’s a different type of work that is probably something like 20% creativity and 80% business/accounting/networking/etc – most of the things that I’m not very good at and don’t particularly enjoy). But it’s a whole other feeling to work on a film project where everyone is not in for the money (of which there is usually very little or none at all, anyway), but to experience a creative release, to make art, to learn, to bond and to form relationships with other creative people. That’s what I love about We Drink It Black, David Quakenbush’s indie production company and ever-growing network of local Colorado filmmakers, actors, models, musicians and artists that come together to work on creative projects because it’s what they love doing.

I had a great time, both as an extra on Automaton and as one of the camera operators on String Theory. Last weekend, I finally got a chance to work on one of David’s short films in full capacity as the 1st AC. The film is called Worm and is a twisted little tale written by Alan August about a bed-ridden man who believes he is infested with an intelligent, controlling and evil tapeworm named… Well, I suppose you’ll just have to wait and watch the film to find out all about it.

This was my first time being the 1st Assistant Camera on a film shoot, so despite it being a small ultra low-budget production, there was a little bit of a learning curve involved. It was a very fast production that took place over just two days, so by the time I finally felt like I was getting the hang of it and got into the rhythm of things, it was over. I definitely learned a lot, and yes – made a few mistakes along the way, too.

We shot the film on my Canon 7D (operated by DP Tim Nolte) with the help of a follow-focus rig and an assortiment of mine, David’s and Tim’s lenses. Having shot mostly stills with them, I didn’t realize that pulling focus with Canon zooms is such a pain! Just a few millimeters between marks can make a difference on whether or not your subject is sharp or blurry. It was definitely a challenge with my Canon EF-S 17-55mm at F2.8, which is the aperture we shot the majority of the time. The wide focal length came in handy, since we were working in an extremely tight space, but damn… After trying a couple of fast manual primes, I don’t really want to use my Canon zoom for video ever again :) Pulling focus with David’s 35mm and 85mm Bowers was much, much nicer, not to mention that the images out of those lenses are incredible! Still challenging at wide-open apertures, but not because of the focus throw (which was pretty damn long); instead, it was more difficult to keep up with the actors when they moved through the scene. With scenes that were bright and contrasty it wasn’t too bad, but when it was dark and moody (which it was in most shots), I really had to strain my eyes to see if the image was in focus or not. I kind of wish we had a bigger external monitor with higher resolution, but we had to work with what we had and make the best of it.

In a true ultra low-budget indie fashion, everyone on the set of Worm had more than one responsibility and everyone pitched in wherever help was needed, whether it was setting up lighting, recording sound or moving equipment. David himself operated the boom microphone on the last leg of the shoot.

Working with Tim on the camera team was a great experience, and watching David direct made me realize how much I still have to learn. It’s amazing how much work, blood and sweat directing really takes, from working with actors and ironing out the nuances of blocking, line delivery and motivation, to keeping in mind all of the technicalities such as lighting, framing, camera moves, props, logistics and everything else that goes into the making of a film, even on a small scale such as this one. It’s fascinating! David seems to possess just the right mixture of laid-backness, approachability and sense of humor, but also an absolute focus, drive and even intense drill sergeant-like moments when things fall behind schedule and need to move along. He also has this amazing ability of bringing people together that just seem to completely click as a team. On all of David’s shoots I’ve been on, so far, it seems like everyone genuinely loves working with each other, respects each other, has tons of fun and egos are checked at the door. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s how it felt to me.

We had a couple of wonderful actors (Heath Heine and Jessica Anguiano), a talented director and screenwriter (David Quakenbush, Alan August), an awesome producer (Shay Kent) and an amazing crew (Tim Nolte, Jonathan Fulton, Elena Chin and Nikki Pike). I know I’m repeating myself, but working on Worm was a great experience and I hope that it won’t be too long before I get to work with those guys and gals again.

Check out some production stills below (special thanks to Jonathan Fulton for the first set of black-and-white images), followed by a few shots from my Canon SD780IS point-and-shoot. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to take as many behind-the-scenes stills and video as I normally seem to do on these shoots, because this time around I had a pretty much full-time job as the 1st AC. But fear not, a behind-the-scenes video from the set of Worm will be coming your way soon :)




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