Tag Archives: special effects

NEON: Our Illuminating Interview with Director Mark Blackman

neonThe week before last we at CWR were given the opportunity to review a sci-fi thriller short film called NEON. In addition to that director Mark J. Blackman was also kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his work. He did change my correct spelling of “favorite” to the British-Canadian “favourite” (because he and all his lobsterback brethren are a bunch of heathens) but we’ll try not to hold that against him.

NEON definitely presents some surprises with the development of the story. What was the inspiration behind the plot?

The truth is, NEON was a story that just wouldn’t die, based on a very graphic, stark image of a man silhouetted in the rain who had fallen from grace and was the epitome of a lonely heart.

I was trying to work out what this man wanted and what had got him into such an emotionally dire predicament.  I awoke in the middle of the night just knowing it was about love and shame: it was about keeping another out of love’s way for your own selfish desires – and then it all just clicked: the tone, the mood, the emotion, why it was raining, why he was bald and his place in the world around him.

I was developing another short to direct, a haunting medieval horror, but pitched this to my producer and exec. producer instead – we then spent a year developing the script and working out the best way to present a narrative that goes far beyond what shorts usually handle, as there’s an entire history and world-building element to NEON that is intrinsic to it working. Narratively, we knew we were taking a monumental risk in how we were presenting our story but we figured go big or go home. We went big.

We really enjoyed that NEON was able to present such a vibrant world on what I can only assume was a bit of a budget. In your experience as a creator, what are some of the challenges and rewards in making a short film like this?

NEON is the first film for a while that I’ve directed in such a meticulous manner. I usually like to direct and shoot more organically – a bit more ‘guerilla’ – and feel things out as we go along following rehearsals and workshopping – but NEON was not that sort of film at all.

With so much backstory and world-building to accomplish, every second counted. The way in which the script was written was VERY prescriptive and we even made an animatic of the entire film to check our timings throughout. Every moment was accounted for – every angle, reason for a shot… the timing of an actor’s blocking was rehearsed in my head a million times before the camera ever rolled.

Was it rewarding? It was and it wasn’t. I like to be surprised on set, I like to encourage improvisation and to find new details or moments that are unexpected delights as they can often make a scene. However, the ambitious nature of NEON meant we had less time to allow for such moments and, as such, it was quite the military operation schedule-wise. Having said that, it was the very ambition of what we were trying to achieve with the story and emotion, the cinematography and saga-esque nature to the film that made the process rewarding. Up until NEON I’d been making films with what I could, budget-wise, resource wise – films I could make with what I had access to. NEON was a film for which my producer and I said to ourselves: “What’s the film we want to make?” And we put our money into that. Continue reading

Fixing Doctor Who

As with many elements of modern culture, I walk the blurry line between fandom and general enjoyment. I like plenty of stuff, but I wouldn’t say I love anything. I enjoy comics- more than the average man on the street- but I’m definitely not on a level where I could seriously discuss comics with someone who’s actually into them (as Evan can attest). I enjoy heavy metal, but I couldn’t name the leading band of the past couple years or tell you the difference between Finnish black metal and Swedish death metal.

This is neither, just for the record…

Even though this gets me simultaneously branded as a nerd  by people who aren’t fans of _______ and a poser by people who are, I nevertheless get a pretty unique perspective on things. I can see how they work- what their appeal is- without getting objectivity compromised by being too emotionally invested.

Now I think I’d be hard pressed to think of a better example of this than Doctor Who.

Continue reading

From Puppetry to Pod Races

I love alliteration. It’s short, it’s snappy, and it has a lot of mental sticking power. I’ve used it in the title of my interview with the Batgirl of San Diego, and when I named my self-indulgent essay comparing StarCraft and Barbara Kingsolver’s literature. This time around, I find it appropriate to utilize this literary technique in bringing attention to Star Wars.

It’s not news to the movie fan or the Star Wars fanatic that there have been quite a few changes made in the rereleases of the classic films, old content packaged in a new format. A few of the alterations seem pretty logical [the Rebels’ computers are looking pretty dated when compared to the holograms of the prequel trilogy], while others are downright upsetting [replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen in the Jedi ghost scene]. With Blu-ray being the new format on the block, a new change has been announced for the rerelease of The Phantom Menace.

Episode I can be remembered as the last of the Star Wars films to feature the diminutive Master Yoda using puppetry. There are no backflips or lightsabre fights with bearded Sith lords that nobody likes, just a short green alien with a penchant for reversing the order of his sentences, sitting down. After The Phantom Menace CGI was used to render the Jedi Grand Master.

On the left, Yoda as he appeared in 2009. On the right, Yoda on Blu-ray.

While this alteration causes the first of the prequels to fit in with the following two films, what it loses is a bit of its connection with the original trilogy. Yoda was voiced by Frank Oz, but he was also controlled by the man, who acted as a puppeteer for the first four films. While he’s certainly more expressive, he lacks a lot of the signature movements that once characterized him.

But what does this say about film? Green screens are being used more than ever before, forcing actors to show fear, confusion, and even awe while standing in front of immense emerald sheets. While technology has been moving ever forward in delivering realistic CGI, it’s apparent that it still has a way to go.

Consider the animatronic dinosaurs in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Created in the early 90s,  it featured creatures that looked real because they were. They had actual size and weight and texture and you could have touched them if you were there. Compare Neytiri from James Cameron’s Avatar with Ron Perlman as Hellboy from the eponymous film. The difference from the left to the right is that of computer generated imagery to simple prosthetics and makeup.

In an age when CGI seems to be taking over it’s always a pleasant surprise to see the more traditional techniques, be they puppetry or prosthetics, to help suspend the audience’s disbelief. When Hollywood’s pumping out real-world-meets-animated-characters films like The Smurfs, we can all thank God for Jason Segel.