The Making of ‘Unimatrix 384’: Production

(Originally written in 2006)

 

PREPARATIONS

On Saturday March 25th, I had Room 543 of the Hunter College North Building reserved until 5 p.m.  I was hoping that shooting would be completed much earlier than that.  I picked out this room because it was basically a giant studio.  I opened the room at 8 a.m. to get a jump start on setting up.  Zac Petrillo, the only other crew member, was supposed to meet me there at 8, but he got delayed and didn’t arrive until about 9:30 a.m.  Surprisingly, it only took me about forty minutes to prepare the room.  I only had a limited amount of space because usually there is a class in that room and I wasn’t allowed to move the giant television set.  I moved the giant ladder across the room so that I could use it for my opening shot.  I moved the tables, benches, and chairs out of the way.  There were curtains that descended from the ceiling, so I moved them together so that they could block out the TV, tables, and all the other things that I didn’t want to show up in the frame of the camera.  I then found an object that would serve as “the device” in the film.  It seemed to be the outer portion of some old sound equipment.  I moved it halfway across the room to the right spot.  I put a blinking blue light inside to give it more credibility as a functioning machine (even though there was nothing inside!).

I had traveled by bus and train to get to Hunter College, and I had brought all of the necessary equipment with me.  I had my camera bag stuffed; besides the camera (a Panasonic AG-DVC7 MiniDV Proline Camcorder), I had packed a slate (which I ended up not using), the props, a few Mini-DV tapes, some pens, and a few copies of the script (including one that was entirely shotlisted and had a couple of adequate storyboards).  The main props were a “phaser” that was formerly a “Deer Avenger 2” video game (its shape is of a mini shotgun; I removed the batteries and colored half of the gun black, including the screen), and a “scanner” that was actually an upside-down blue calculator.  I had also brought several water bottles in case anyone got thirsty (it was unfortunate that I didn’t have time to provide actual food for everyone since there was no one else to watch my things at the time).  And of course, I brought a tripod for the camera.  Andrue and Jennifer arrived at around 9 a.m. (on time) and changed into their costumes (Kristin’s call time was for 11 a.m.).  We went over the scenes twice and then I set up the camera and tripod.  When Zac arrived, we tested for sound in order to adjust the audio levels.  Before shooting commenced, I took a couple of production stills of Andrue and Jennifer (one of which came out decently).  Shooting would finally commence at 10 a.m.

 

SHOOTING

Shooting went pretty smoothly.  The camera ratio was about 3:1 (three takes per shot), although a couple of shots took as many as six takes.  The film was shot in sequence for the most part.  The only part shot out-of-sequence was the hologram shots, which were done at the end.  I shot the film using the 16×9 function on my camera for a widescreen image (it’s 1.66:1 on my camera).  However, I had shot it intending to matte it to 2.35:1 (my shots were carefully framed so that everything I wanted in the 2.35:1 frame would be there).  Andrue had to leave by 1:30 p.m. for a play rehearsal, so I had first considered shooting all of the shots he’s in first.  Jennifer suggested that shooting all of her shots after he’s gone might break the flow between the two characters and the film might not come out right as a result.  This was the option I was leaning towards more, and when she suggested it I agreed with her.  I stuck to the shot list (over forty shots!) I had already prepared and continued shooting.  About half of the shots were done handheld, while the other half were done while on the tripod.  Sound was important, therefore I had Zac hold the boom as close to the actors as possible without casting any shadows or showing up in the frame.  After every hour, there was a ten minute break.  Not including the breaks, the shoot lasted three hours.

There weren’t a lot of outtakes, but the outtakes that did occur were pretty funny.  I even had some spontaneous ideas during shooting.  There was an early handheld medium shot of Jennifer that was supposed to be just a medium shot.  Before I had a chance to say, “Cut,” Andrue had started his lines that had responded to Jennifer’s.  I suddenly decided to move back a little further so that the medium shot can pull back into a two-shot.  I still did the medium shot of Andrue saying the same lines as before, but now this would give me something extra to have while editing.  A little later, there was a reaction shot of Jennifer filmed that wasn’t in the script.  It just came to me suddenly, and it felt appropriate for the scene.  I told Jennifer about it, and we did that shot quickly.  By 1:15 p.m. all of Andrue’s and Jennifer’s shots were completed, and Andrue got to go to his rehearsal.  Zac then told me that he had to go buy some paint for a film he was working on (and then go to work).  Since all that was left was the Hologram material, I didn’t mind letting him leave.  I asked Jennifer to stay a little bit longer so that she could read her lines with Kristin.  Once Kristin’s shots were completed, I thanked them for their hard work and I stayed to shoot the background.  After a few more minutes, the shoot was finally complete.

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