TFG: The Shoot

In 2003, it seemed as if things were at a strange crossroads. VOTW was cancelled soon into the year due to a misunderstanding (damn codecs!!!), I had been bouncing around a couple of other possible projects, and was still working hard on Reaction Quake 3 trailers and the like. Then, one night while listening to music from John Woo’s The Killer and fiddling around in a mod I’d downloaded recently, I was struck with the inspiration to do a western action movie, where it would begin at what’s usually the end of the movie – a man awaiting the bad guys in a church, armed to the teeth, and prepared to demolish his enemies. A script was quickly cobbled together over a couple of nights and I set about making it my next project. Bionic Tuna and DarkouZ (now calling himself SideEffect, hence the changed credit) were scrambled and we went about starting to get some footage starting in June 2003.

Unlike the shoot for Vengeance of the Wicked, when filming began on The Final Gunfight, it was humble and small. The production was started more out of a desire to create a truly minimalist (both in story and content) little action western. With that in mind, the action was planned to be smaller and wouldn’t require more than two or three people. The mod, Western Quake 3, was not a very popular game at the time and had a very small community. When I took the idea to their forums, a lone stranger from Virginia stood up to the plate to help me get the ball rolling. Red Neckerson would prove to be the best friend I would have on the project, a constant support and one to help organize things when I got overwhelmed.

Once the proper “shoot” got underway, it soon became apparent that the project was going to be plagued by a problem that has slowed practically every shoot I’ve ever done – schedules. Sure, I could get ahold of SideEffect, Bionic, and Red in the same day, but always at different times of the day. It kept the size of the project down and emphasized a smaller, low-key element. Because there was no way to really get the word out (and I wasn’t too interested in doing “press”), it kept us a little under wraps and off to the side. We found Keith & Ken, a pair of brothers who helped on a couple of days of shooting, more by accident than anything else. It became a constant challenge to fight time and as the film’s ideas progressed, the staging concepts became a little harder to execute and choreograph due to the limitations of the mod.

Distracted by various other projects, it became hard to focus on The Final Gunfight. During July-August, I went off and did the VOTW tribute video after reloading my operating system, which took me away from things. Then as August progressed, the stress of the project began to mount. Despite being a small undertaking, it felt like a struggle to get any shots whatsoever. I chalk it up, in hindsight, to not seeing the potential of just one actor available. It made getting each scene done a chore. As things continued, more issues from the game itself (such as the inability to lengthen or remove round timelimits from the server) as well as Punkbuster kicking off some of the actors for no reason began to happen more and more. I became increasingly frustrated by working in this particular engine, butting my head against it and not getting any results.

By October/November, things were beginning to turn into a slog. Concentration just wasn’t there, timing wasn’t happening, and even with gaining new resources in Gamemaster and Glockness Monster, it just didn’t seem like it was enough. Finally, in March 2004, I put the project under “cancelled” as well, much to my chagrin. But the concern was that the film, if completed, would not be anything worth watching. After putting teasers together for the movie, it just felt like it wasn’t coming together the way I had hoped. A big mistake, perhaps, but it would just have to be something I lived with. And so I moved on.

As time wore on in 2004, things shifted, changed. I got back into experimenting with my old footage and soon VOTW Complete came together in July, with more direct plans of how to fix things and change it up. With doing that process, it became more obvious how to put a movie together and how to get a machinima film made with a cast of under four people. When VOTW was finished, I had promised myself I wouldn’t even think of returning to Western Quake 3. The engine had burned me (both with molotovs and with its clunky physics, along with the not-up-to-par graphics) and I was ready to let TFG die. No big deal. Sad, but no big deal. Of course, as with most of my “abandoned” projects, this changed. In January 2005, while preparing a VOTW DVD which never got finished, I found in more experimental editing that the film lacking graphical quality could be made up for in simplistic action choreography and great cinematography. (whether I could pull it off or did, well, that’s a matter of opinion) So, it was decided to give it another try. Bojangles had been brought on by this point and made a lot of jokes about the quality of WQ3′s graphics, but, he was in support of it. Him, along with Tuna, Red Neckerson, Gamemaster, and Glockness finally were regrouped. Like VOTW, it was time to finish things.

What turned out to be interesting was a few of the scenes I expected to cut out, including a John Woo-style single take shot of dual handgun action and a couple of dynamite kills, were actually finished in some fashion or another. Part of what seemed to be going on as we continued shooting was an openness. We allowed the movie to transform based on the circumstances of shooting. Something didn’t work or looked wrong? Try something else. Ideas were rejiggered in the action scene many times and the general vibe felt a bit more collaborative than it had previously. With the experiences of finishing VOTW and working on TFG before behind us, the crew had come together as a collective. We were going to finish the movie together because we were happy to be doing it, despite the challenges we continued to face.

With every day came new challenges, but we strove onwards and finally were able to get things to look “good.” There would, and will, always be things about the film that don’t look as good as they could, but it stopped being about making a masterpiece and just enjoying blowing stuff up, making an action flick. Persistence was a virtue oft-practiced, along with patience, and finally the movie was considered finished in May 2005. It was released shortly thereafter. Red Neckerson, who had taken over leading duties with Lethal on the actual Western Quake 3 mod, helped get the movie some press. As the mod gained renewed popularity in European communities and with western gamers, the film became something of the prime piece of promotional material for the game. It would be later re-released in 2008 on the website to reinvigorate the community with a knowledge that it had come a long way. I, along with Red, continue to work on WQ3, now known as Smokin’ Guns (a standalone Q3 engine game), and still talk about the old days when were just a pair of fans who were trying to get a movie put together.

What did I learn? A lot. That every resource should be optimized, be it an actor or a location. All things in a movie can be changed to fit the needs of completing the movie (and this isn’t always a bad thing!) Pace your story and your action to a certain rhythm. Don’t ever get discouraged by a bad filming day again. Take time to figure out what direction you want the movie to go in – it helps from turning the thing into a strange mismash of styles later on. Have fun, that’s what it’s all about. And a whole bunch of other things.

I’m thankful for everyone involved, to every friend and every colleague, and am happy to say that not only did The Final Gunfight get finished, but it was an experience to remember.

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