THE GATHERING DEAD Trailer
Okay, let’s get to it. Here it is, and I recommend watching in HD:
For those who can’t stand Vimeo, here’s the requisite linky to YouTube:
Work on this began in February 2012, initially with a team of artists from the former Rhythm & Hues effects studio. That fell apart in March 2013, when no significant progress had been made beyond some initial previsualizations and two mostly-rendered shots. A combination of Maya and MentalRay were used, and as such, none of the created footage could be salvaged.
A new team was selected in April 2013, and Cinema 4D would represent the build environment. This team was significantly smaller than the first, which meant I had to pay more attention to the development and production process–basically, I was directing the trailer, albeit from afar. I have a wealth of project management experience, so I brought the required aptitude to the table. While the vendor was mostly professional, I found that the same evasive tricks were occasionally deployed when the schedule had been blown–“internet issues,” “rendering issues,” etc., etc. There’s not a lot one can do about this, so I adopted a stiff upper lip that would have left the British proud, while I and my partners merely continued to pay the bills. Finally, by January 2014–almost two years after the project began–I had a trailer that approximated about sixty percent of my vision.
I decided I could live with sixty percent.
One element hit one hundred percent, easy–Sean Beeson‘s score. The guy blew it out of the park, and he demonstrates a professionalism that’s pretty rare. Sound design was a very tricky component, and I’d have to rate that at sixty percent as well. I had to jump in and go hands-on in that regime, which is not my forte, but I found that Adobe Audition was easy enough to learn, and came with enough filters that I could use to at least approximate the sound quality I was going for. More learned listeners, such as the accursed Scott Wolf, will doubtless be aware that some sound effects are simply faked–they’re not real. This is where the true artistry comes in, as an experienced sound designer could take something almost totally unrelated and massage it into a sound effect that would fit the scene or sequence seamlessly. While I’ll give myself some small credit, there are simply some things that reverb, distortion, and amping can’t overcome. A sound engineer named Joe Cosgrove, who also voices Army Special Operations Command (designation RAPIER) in the beginning, lent his skills to the effort. I wish he’d had more time available, but he did what he could with what time he had.
Editing was quite simple, as I have Premiere Pro at my disposal. (For a guy who’s been relegated to the backburner of the industry, I have all the professional tools I need.) One tie-up was that Joe used the competing product, Apple’s Final Cut, which prevented seamless transfer of sound files. We got around that by using common file formats, but some signal degradation was inevitable. As such, some effects, such as the alarm system in the Black Hawk, became barely audible after the score was laid in. I’ll consider this a casualty of war.
Other items that bug me: the Black Hawk interior is totally fake in the sequence where McDaniels, Gartrell, Safire, and Regina react to the helicopter being hit by window divers. It’s a much more complex environment than what is displayed. The pilot (voiced by Sean Beeson) is sitting in the left seat, when he should have been in the right. The helicopter was spinning in the wrong direction, and for some reason, the compositor just couldn’t fix it (he did one version where the rotor spin was reversed, but that was about it). The troops’ helmets are modified bump helmets, and as such, are not exactly the right look…but this is splitting hairs. Real life operators will doubtless find fault, but given that the SF soldiers are fighting zombies, I’d say adherence to one hundred percent reality was never going to be achieved. Some buildings look unfinished, but other buildings look simply fantastic to me. Despite my complaints, there’s a lot here that’s right.
Total negative cost: in excess of $15,000. If this was going to be just a book trailer, even the big boys don’t spend this kind of cash. At more than one point during the evolution of this product, my partners and myself began to doubt our sanity. Fifteen grand is a big chunk of change. This expenditure wasn’t made lightly. That money could have gone to a lot of other things, like additional behavioral therapy for my son, or an interest-bearing CD for my partners. But fate rarely coddles those paralyzed by indecision, and this isn’t meant to be just an amped-up book trailer.
Its general utility is going to be in generating interest among potential investors, either for a live-action feature film or for a AAA video game. For a feature, the “real” entry point is upward of $35 million. For a AAA game, it’s at least $11 million. Either one of these is a huge, gigantic, incredible longshot. But if either pans out, the rewards will obviously eclipse the $15,000 payout.
So the trailer is the first step in a long journey, but at least there’s something to show for it. I hope you’ll agree, watching the trailer makes the material an instant “get”–good guys are down in the city overrun by the dead, and they have to find a way to survive inside the Verbatim office building. I think that’s all I need to convey at this point–hook ’em and land ’em, then torture them with the full script and additional production design stuff. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get my old friend Andy Clement at Creative Character Engineering to provide some makeup effects designs to sweeten the deal–tough to argue against a guy who’s the most talented special effects makeup designer to hit the scene since Rick Baker. Not to mention Jeroen ten Berge‘s upcoming pre-production poster, which threatens to be even more eye candy.
Some more about this. Obviously, everyone thinks their creative work merits a film. Just a decade ago, such a dream would have remained just that–a dream. Now, newer technologies make that dream more of a possibility. For a few thousand dollars, I can personally buy a camera that can shoot film-grade quality product, and one that doesn’t go through magazine after magazine of film. It uses data cards instead. I can output to 1080p, 2K, 4K, even 5K. I already have the software to do editing and compositing (not that I consider my skills up to the task, but if push came to shove, I could do it). New revenue outlets such as streaming are beginning to flex their muscles–Netflix alone posted earnings of over $1 billion on streaming alone. I don’t consider these new revenue generators to be sufficiently mature enough to replace either the domestic or international box offices–how many of you think that The Avengers brought in more money from pay-per-view versus theatre ticket sales?–but as supplementary streams, they most certainly add power to the punch.
Difficulties, and here I concentrate more on film: Hollywood thinks zombies are on their way out. Despite the success of The Walking Dead and that overly-polished turd World War Z, folks in Tinseltown don’t want to hear about any more zombie properties. To them, he genre has always been a fringe one, and even though it’s super-hot right now (and has been for the past few years), like their less well-dressed brethren in the publishing industry, they think the genre is too low brow to really seriously consider. Regardless of what’s going on in the real world, this is a drawback. The industry maintains control over the distribution outlets, and those they don’t control would still rather distribute another Transformers movie than some low- to mid-budget zombie action flick written by some guy no one has heard about. Despite diminished output from the major studios, their controlling hands aren’t very far removed from the scene. I’ve made several runs at the industry (and received some excellent advice and kindly mentoring from the deceased Tony Scott), but the fact is this: Hollywood isn’t interested. Even when the profits are huge, if they don’t like the genre, or if they don’t know the guy making the pitch, their first instinct is to pass. “No” is the default answer, because if someone says yes and it blows up in their face, then they pay the penalty in reputational and perhaps even financial costs.
I would note that this isn’t just prevalent with zombie properties; the same could be said for post-apocalypse stories as well, such as those by Joe Nobody and A. American. Even though I haven’t read works by either author, they have sold quite well, but for some reason, they and properties like them don’t get the time of day in Hollywood.
I know this because I’ve had more than a handful of folks wave me off already. I’m not some young buck who’s full of blind faith–I’m a middle aged guy who knows how the world works, and the bottom line is, no one gives a damn. (Now if I was 22 and looked like Jessica Alba, I’m certain things might be different.)
So the only option is to make it another DIY project. Legally, if I were to encounter individuals who met the criteria as Class A investors and who were willing to take the risk, I’d have to form a separate LLC for the venture and offer the film through a Regulation D filing. This would convert the film from a neat idea and a fun project to an honest to God investment vehicle, which means it would fall under the governance of the SEC. I understand all of it, and it’s not a hard thing for me to do—I can file the paperwork and cover the fees myself. It’s going to be an interesting ride, that’s for sure.
Now that this is complete, I need to huddle with my partners and determine what the next steps will be. Crowd funding for more dollars is always an option, so the trailer can be refined, or another one can be developed, along with more pre-production materials. I’ll likely have next steps in the coming weeks, but for now…I hope you like the trailer.