VOTW: The Shoot

THE START OF THINGS

The Cast on one of our better days

Filming Vengeance of the Wicked was one of those cases of the “first time director” getting a trial by fire. Whereas most Machinima filmmakers make their first project relatively quickly, taking a few months, this project turned from a month or two into a couple of years.

But that’s getting ahead of things. Let’s start at the beginning.

January 2002. Reaction Quake 3 had blown mine (EvilFutsin’s) and my colleague David Chalk’s (StupidChild’s) minds and we had decided to do our next Machinima attempt in it. I’d thrown together a script already but we realized quickly that we needed something smaller to start off with. Might as well figure out how to make a movie first.

A few minutes of brainstorming later, talking about 80s action films and Scarface as a basis, Vengeance of the Wicked was conceived. It was going to be short, easy to make, and would help us get a foothold before we set on doing what we really wanted to make. This was back when the script wasn’t written, the story would have narration done by myself, and the finished product was intended to be only roughly 5 or 6 minutes. Simple.

A few weeks later we tried filming some stuff ourselves, making a quick forest and prison set. The level design/set design, camerawork, and other elements of this time really showed how amateurish we were at this whole thing. But it was a start.

However, we realized we needed more resources, actors in particular, so did what was best and went onto the official RQ3 forum and let people know what was going down. We asked for support. Thankfully, folks such as Hexydes came to the rescue and offered to put up a post on the main website about the upcoming filming date. A server was found and things were in place for our first filming day.

It was in March, 2002. Myself and my co-director were 15.

The first day of shooting was uneventful, but we made a dent. However, word spread the next time around and the second day of shooting ended up being a 5 hour+ endeavor, with a total of seven actors coming and going, and we got the prime majority of the sniper battle sequence, along with a few tracking shots & ad-libbed ideas, plus a few scenes that did end up on the cutting room floor – however, the experience was full of learning and experimenting.

Weeks progressed and more and more of the film began to fall into place. Soon we were joined by the likes of the [FUTA] (“Fists Up The Anus”) clan, who dug into what we were doing and gave us a lot of support as actors. The maps for the backalleys and bank were completed and work was done on a flashback sequence, getting to show off the robbery. Although these portions were often poorly filmed and much of the material was dropped or reshot, it looked like the film would be finished by summer.

RELEASE OF BETA 2.0
RESHOOT HELL
& The End…?

Around May 2002, the film was considered a little over half done. A few more scenes, including the full Elite Guard set-piece and final battle, were pretty much all that was left. However, by this time Reaction Quake 3 Beta 2.0 was nearing release and given the word around about my project, I was approached by the RQ3 Team to do a trailer for this new release. An agreement was made and for the time, VOTW was put on hold.

Unfortunately, as Beta 2.0′s new changes became apparent, so too did a realization. Because of the changes in the code and visuals, in particular the shell-casing brass, sniper rifle model, and muzzleflashes; much of what had been shot would need to be redone. So once Beta 2.0 was released on June 14th, 2002, we went ahead and started the process of figuring out what needed to be redone. As we thought that enough was done for the robbery flashback, we left that alone. But the sniper battle took around a week’s worth of filming days just to reshoot in its entirety.

In the end, this turned out to be one of the best things that could happen to the project. With 4 months of experience behind us, we were able to pull out better maps and film much better footage. Our regular actors had gotten into a groove and began to understand what was going on. The film was finally coming to life, despite the time-consuming process of having to reshoot things.

It also forced the project to finally get something it had intended not to have – a screenplay. As July wore on, keystrokes were put to a .txt file and a script was churned out. It also helped design the Elite Guard fight and Final Battle, both of which had yet been planned. It also added a specific tone and really showed that the constant action flavor was the way to go. Filming continued, despite the hiccups and occasional days where it’d take 3 hours to get one shot.

But, then, as the reshooting process had begun to end and new material was able to be made, things began to die down. What became an issue quickly was simply a lack of actors. Although the cast seems big, many of these people did only a day or two of filming. DarkouZ, Gleaker, Spook, and NoSympathy were the ones that did a large majority of the grunt work. Although SpecOps came through for some of the hardest stunts in the film.

By this point, Fall 2002 now thick in the air, I’d taken on other projects and David became busy with school, ending up not taking part in much of anything else from that point forth (he would come back for a shot or two, once in a while). Our actors became busier and less plentiful, and generally the process began taking longer and longer. Filming days that had once been 2 or 3 hours were now roughly 30 minutes. Sometimes issues with the servers would arise to boot.

After an uneasy but steady progress, things had become sporadic. Even with more help and support from the RQ3 Team and Testers, it still was a difficult deal to manage. By now, Killer Kim had been long abandoned and other projects were beckoning. A sense of desperation to get the movie done had settled in, but resources went back and forth.

This all came to a head in February 2003, when it became apparent that somehow the footage had become corrupted. I would later find out that this was because of an error in the DivX and Xvid codecs I was using for the footage at the time, but coupled with all the stress that had preceded it, I canned the project. VOTW was dead and I felt it was time to start something new.

By March/April 2003, VOTW was shelved and after a period of jumping around projects, I finally landed on wanting to do The Final Gunfight. Out of the non-Clan/Team cast who’d worked on the first film, only DarkouZ and Bionic_Tuna still remained in regular contact. The film seemed like it would never get finished, or if it did it would be in a completely different form altogether. Strangely, the last part was half-right.

TRIBUTE VIDEO & RECONNECTING

In the summer of 2003, on a lonely post-midnight hour, for some reason I had gotten the VOTW footage working again and had decided to fiddle with it. This happened often once I figured out what the problem was with the “corrupted” footage (damn codecs). But finally, something clicked and within a few weeks, I’d cobbled together what I called the “VOTW Tribute” which was a tribute to the film in honor of those who had worked on the project, despite it not getting finished. After a while, the guilt of not finishing something people spent hours of their lives on does wear on an individual.

The video itself was finally released in early August, well over a year and a half after the project had been started. It even ended up on PlanetQuake’s news.

A little fanfare for the film was given and people were happy to see something of it, despite its problems. (such as, well, not being finished) But one of the upsides is it got the attention of two of the actors. Synergize, who had been a faithful and helpful regular during the reshoots, let me know that I’d unfortunately forgotten to give him credit. He laughed it off, however. The other actor who got in touch with me, however, was Bojangles, one of the group on the 2nd day who had complained of his parents yelling at him to get off the computer because it was a school night. These two connections would be pivotal to what would be coming later.

THE END OF THE LONG ROAD OF VENGEANCE

In 2003-2004, The Final Gunfight had been worked on and to an extent abandoned due to lack of acting resources. Some time had passed. I still kept in contact with Bojangles and DarkouZ and Bionic Tuna and zs|Gamemaster, still rambled on about the project occasionally and would often think about it. A few misplaced and disorganized tries to reboot the film’s production occurred, but my lack of direction at the time made it a failed attempt. (two scenes from this short shoot did remain in the finished movie)

Sometime in Spring/Summer 2004, I had a thought about VOTW. What was really necessary to complete the movie? What shots, what scenes, what transitions? And when things got put together, I wondered if perhaps I could finish enough of it on my own, just speed through some reshoots to get the extra coverage and transitions. Although the idea expanded some to include some more “plot” scenes (which allowed me to attempt mapping again), it seemed like it would be easy. The emphasis would be upon doing the movie with as few actors as possible.

Quickly, “The Boys” (Tuna, Bo, Gamemaster, DarkouZ, and whoever else I could wrangle) were rounded up and we started the final set of shooting days that would lead to the film’s conclusion. In character with the rest of the movie’s production, it was cobbled together with new ideas sprouting out at every turn, very improvised, and took a while. But it was an exilerating experience to be editing while shooting, finding where the gaps where and filling the holes. The parts were finally coming together and the video was now becoming a film, with narrative and flow and structure. A story was evident. Dialogue, in subtitle format, was finally added (something never considered before).

After intense days staying up far too late, putting the sounds and music and edits, making sure that everything was in its place, the film was finally considered finished in August and released ultimately in September 2004. This time, I remembered to credit everybody.

An achievement for anyone involved in it, the film now exists in a few forms around the internet on Machinima.com and other places. The fanfare for the completed work was quite small, but the fact it got done was particularly special. For the actors, they got to be movie stars and blow stuff up. For myself, I finally lived up, in some small way, to being the filmmaker I had wanted to be. The amount of lessons learned, from plan-before-you-shoot to how to use just one actor to make good machinima, was gargantuan and I probably couldn’t have asked for a better challenge as my first movie.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this long thing!

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