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THE GATHERING DEAD Trailer

July 24, 2014 1 comment

Okay, let’s get to it. Here it is, and I recommend watching in HD:

THE GATHERING DEAD Trailer from Stephen Knight on Vimeo.

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.

Helicopter Crash Sequence Redux

June 4, 2014 2 comments

For your viewing entertainment–or disgust, mayhaps–a look at the crash of Romeo from the upcoming trailer for The Gathering Dead…make sure you watch it in HD!

Harold Ramis: RIP

February 25, 2014 2 comments

I was 22 when Ghostbusters came out, and had just graduated high school when Caddyshack hit the screen. And more tellingly, Animal House taught me the ways of the world in 1978. All of them, and several more, came at least in part from the great Harold Ramis, who shuffled off this mortal coil yesterday. People more readily remember Bill Murray in many of these films, but it was Ramis that helped make Murray great.

The duo apparently had a major falling out after the filming of Groundhog Day, and while no one really seems to know why, it’s unclear if they ever kissed and made up. But after everything Ramis did for Murray, I hope that the former’s demise has at least taught the latter a hard lesson: don’t be mean to the people who love you.

Found this illustration elsewhere yesterday, and to me, it’s quite poignant:

Harold Ramis RIP

Categories: Writing Tags: ,

THE GATHERING DEAD Film Update #8

January 8, 2013 16 comments

Things continue to percolate with this project, and here I’ll share with you some of the latest clips from the trailer. First off, a draft of the second scene, which shows the MH-60 McDaniels, Gartrell, and the others hope to use to escape New York City as it falls to the horde…

The Gathering Dead shot 02 v 003 from Stephen Knight on Vimeo.

This is pretty good stuff, but it’s missing many elements: smoke, fire, general haze in the air from all the obscurants, important ground-level detail, and some necessary corrections (watch the guy at the bottom right run right through a car). Aviators, yes, I know–the rotors are spinning the wrong way. I’ve asked for corrections and enhancements, but I think all of you will agree, things are progressing a bit.

Here’s a low-resolution draft where some more dramatic elements are added:

Draft Scene 2 from THE GATHERING DEAD trailer from Stephen Knight on Vimeo.

For some reason, the color temperature is off when I upload it to Vimeo–it doesn’t pop as much as I’d hoped it would, but again, this is a very low res pass at a scene which has over fifty elements in it, so I’m willing to wait until I see a longer render.

All I have time for now, but do know that Earthfall is going through editorial now. Looking forward to a late January release, and I have a final cover to show soon.

Oh, one last thing…how would you guys feel about a prequel to The Gathering Dead? A book that captures the beginning of the zombie outbreak that culminates in McDaniels and Gartrell heading to NYC on their ill-fated rescue mission?

Fan-Made Trailer for THE GATHERING DEAD

August 22, 2012 13 comments

Wow, what a hoot it was to find this! I shoulda just hired this guy.

THE GATHERING DEAD Film Update #5

More trailer goodness. The third Black Hawk will be removed, as I feel it detracts from the scene and basically covers up all the devastation when the scene should be establishing it (plus, it’s inexplicably an Army Black Hawk with “Navy” on the side of it). Other changes before mixing, music, and sound effects: additional rotor blur and smoke, along with tweaked lighting, but this is basically the first sequence that shows NYC collapsing before the dead.

Other stuff is occurring as well, of course, but it has to cook for another 4-6 weeks before I can talk about it.

More to come!

THE GATHERING DEAD, Sequence 01, Shot 01 from Stephen Knight on Vimeo.

THE GATHERING DEAD Film Update #4

July 5, 2012 6 comments

Well, I finally have a very small clip to show, and when I say small, I really mean SMALL, in all caps. 36 frames of still-unfinished product, to be exact. Still more effects to add, rotor blurs, sound effects, music, etc., etc. … but at least I have something to show, right?

So here it is: a quick snippet from the incubating trailer for The Gathering Dead, which establishes NYC as the zombie hordes take over. And where are the zombies? Well, you’ll see them teeming in the empty streets below… eventually.

Stay tuned, folks.

The Gathering Dead Opening Animatic from Stephen Knight on Vimeo.