Static was the first real film that I had time to actually plan out and develop. I had some of the most exciting feelings during this process, especially during the production phase. For the first time, I felt like this craft was made for me.
I grew up making art. My Mom gave me no choice. She was an art teacher and so at an early age I learned to build castles and fortresses out of card board, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, scissors and tape. What most folks would toss into the trash my Mom would save for me. When I was given plasticine, it was on.
Anyway, fast-forward to Graduate School. I was attending UNCGreensboro and I was taking Introduction to Cinematography. We were learning how to use and operate the Bolex 16mm motion picture camera. I learned to love this camera over the course of using it for “Static.”
While I was learning the basics of the Bolex, I was also in pre-production for the project I was going to use it on.
I was really into the rough textures of old WWI and WWII battle footage and dearly loved science fiction. I decided to go with a futuristic world where warring factions fight for technology in a decaying wasteland. I was highly influenced by “All’s Quiet on the Western Front” (the movies and the book) and wanted to capture that sense of desolation and decay that lay in war’s destructive wake.
I knew that I wouldn’t have many opportunities in life to make a movie (at least that’s what I thought then), so I really wanted to do this right. Even before I began writing the script I photographed all of these places that I passed by on a regular basis for several years that would make good locations for my film. An overpass over here, an old railway bridge over there, an old coal bin, a dry lake bed, barns, fields, anywhere really that looked like it was part of the world that I wanted to create.
Then I had to figure out what sort of characters I was going to populate this wasteland world with. I knew that it would make things easy if I could come up with costumes that would cover up the actors completely, so anyone could play any part as long as body sizes were similar. I love gas masks and heavy trench coats so I decided I would go to the local Army Surplus store to poke around and see if I could find anything. I found these great Russian and Israeli Gas Masks, Boots, Gloves, Packs, Snake Bite Shin Guards, Plastic Rain Parkas, and East German Trench Coats massive enough to cover the entire body when buttoned up. I added some cool looking medals, tubing, knives, side arms for the characters Agent 1, Agent 2, Agent 3, and the Enemy Agent. The other characters in the film are Mutants, who are covered in rags and burlap bag cowls. So with these costumes I could basically just use whoever happened to show up for call time. I know at least three people played the main character Agent 2.
I was able to do a bunch of on camera effects, such as a reflection of a monitor in the Agent’s Gas Mask, a door opening on the one wall set of the Agent’s landing craft, and lots of military smoke bombs to create a sort of smokey unfriendly atmosphere.
The shoots went well for the most part, though injury occurred here and there, but we were able to roll on and learn from mistakes. The main problem when shooting with a Bolex is that you have to open up the lens in many cases to see what the shot is and then close it back down and shoot blind. Not every time, but quite a few. Once I had the short in the can i sent it off to the lab and bit my fingernails until it came back. I love film, but it is too expensive. I greatly welcome this current era of HD cameras and the prospects of what is to come.
Editing back in those days, circa. ’98/’99, was not what it is today on a computer. Basically I put this thing together in the old control track editing method using two Super-VHS VTRs and an edit controller.
You need two VTRs (one to record from and one to record to on a blackened SVHS tape) and an Edit Controller (sets In and Out Points and carries out the edit)
Editing went well and I learned to embrace some problems that happened during shooting. There were a few shots where the film inside the camera wasn’t properly secured which created a very jumpy shot. I was furious at first, but then I ended up loving it because it looked somehow more realistic. A crucial life lesson was learned here. Be patient and sometimes accidents can really reinforce the vision.
We got to screen them in a large theater on campus and it was an amazing feeling to see my film so big in a room with so many people.
“Static” was a great joy to make. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that feeling again. That sense of newness to the world of filmmaking.
…and here it is. Enjoy!