Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gearing Down to Gear Up

***MARK YOUR CALENDARS! Ningen Manga Productions will be in attendance at Horrorfind Weekend 8 being held in Baltimore, Maryland on August 10 - 12, 2007.

Members of the Women's Studies cast and crew will be on hand. Also, attendees will get their first look at the film as we'll be premiering the Women's Studies teaser trailer. Details and tickets for the event can be found at www.horrorfindweekend.com .***

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Though we've been shooting Women's Studies for almost a month now, this week begins what is essentially two months of non-stop production on the film. At this point, we've got about 80% of the movie's scenes scheduled and hope to have the remaining 20% done so by month's end. (Knock on wood.)

Up until now, we've been shooting outdoors and during the day which from a lighting set-up point of view, isn't too hard. Basically, all we have to do is pray it doesn't rain and bring some bounce cards to throw light in the right direction. As we get into some of our interiors though, the size and scope of the production grows a little bit. Having the month of "warm-up" to work out the kinks of production has been extremely beneficial. I'm very excited about this weekend's "church shoot" of a pivotal and rather involved scene from an Art Direction point of view.

This past Saturday, we were lucky enough to have a very lazy day of shooting elements for a montage sequence at the Ross-Prentiss Women's Academy. One of the joys of filmmaking is finding those moments where you can slow down and take your time instead of having to worry about getting all your day's shots in. It was a beautiful day to be outdoors, and the cast and crew was happy to have the slower pace.

That same evening we shot two short indoor scenes with Mary which help to establish her character. Again, it was nice to have two small lighting set-ups to help us prep for this weekend's much larger one. Yet it's the smaller details and smaller scenes which often add the most texture to a story, so I'm very jazzed about the footage we shot.

The day was so lazy that not many pictures were taken, but here's a few snapshots.

The cast relaxes in between shots. From left to right: Laura Bloechl (Iris), Cindy Marie Martin (Mary), Tara Garwood (Judith), Mundy Spears (Sharon), Tiffany James (Melissa).

Love the Belly
Tiffany James checks to see what's cooking in Mundy Spears' oven.

Thomas and Aaron
Camera Operator Thomas Fant and DP Aaron Shirley setting up a yet another jib shot.

Free me!
"Free me!" Laura Bloechl, Tara Garwood, and Tiffany James work to remove the pregnancy belly from Mundy Spears.

Mary's Altar
Thomas Fant and Kurt Gustafson work on a shot of "Mary's Altar."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hostel Territory

(***Women's Studies update: Last weekend and this weekend are B-Roll shoots. Our next big scene will be shot on June 30/July 1.***)

Hostel II tanked and everybody keeps asking me what I think about it. Since I haven't seen the movie, I'm not sure why my opinion matters. Rest assured that I want to see it and probably will see it. Anyway, here goes:

Director Eli Roth posted this blog in response to Hostel II's poor box office showing.

Hey Everyone,

I'm in Paris, doing press for the French release of Hostel Part II, and tonight I'm off to Rome for the last leg of the press tour. After that I'm going to take a long overdue break, since I've gone from one film to the next without stopping, just to recharge my brain a bit.

I want to thank all of you for your kind e-mails and incredible support for the film. However, piracy has become worse than ever now, and a stolen workprint (with uninished music, no sound effects, and no VFX) leaked out on line before the release, and is really hurting us, especially internationally. Piracy will be the death of the film industry, as it killed the music industry, and while it makes a smaller dent in huge movies like Spider Man 3, it really hurts films like mine, which have far less of an advertising and production budget. Not only that, critics have actually been REVIEWING the film based off the pirated copy, which is inexcusable. Some of these critics I have actually known for a few years, and while I wouldn't dignify them by mentioning them by name, I know who they are, as do the studios, and other filmmakers, and they will no longer have any access to any of my films.

What I'm saying is, this is your last chance to see one of my films for a while. If you haven't seen it, go now, because after next weekend the film will be gone from theaters. There are too many other summer movies coming in, so basically we get two weeks in cinemas, and then the film will live on DVD. I am not directing CELL any time soon, and I most likely will take the rest of the year to write my other projects. Which means I wouldn't shoot until the spring, and you wouldn't see a film directed by me in the cinemas until at least next fall. If everyone on my friends list went to see the film this weekend and brought a friend, it would make a huge difference. Bring a non-horror fan - try to convert them. It's the only way these films will live. But right now the R rated horror film is in serious jeopardy. Studios feel the public doesn't want them any more, and so they are only putting PG-13 films into production. The only way to counter this perception is to get out there and support R rated horror. It's the only message they'll hear. People love the movie, and even though it only cost $10 million dollars (as opposed to the other summer tentpoles which cost $300 million), and has already earned its money back, if it's not a massive money earner then they'll just continue to make the same PG-13 films everyone complained about a few years ago.

To counter piracy, fans can flood file sharing services with fake Hostel II downloads just so no one can ever actually get the movie, but the only thing that really makes a difference is supporting the movie in the theaters. Also - the theater OWNERS know this as well. If horror movies aren't bringing in customers, they're not going to program them. If we are going to send them a message, we have to do it with our wallets, and we have to do it now. I've done all I can to make a great film for the fans, as violent and bloody and fun as possible. The rest is up to you guys...

Thanks again for all your support,


I undertand your disappointment, Mr. Roth. We all hope our film will be huge. However, may I put this in perspective for you?

First off, Hostel II tanking supports my argument that horror, true horror, is still a fringe genre that only a small percentage of the population seek out. People try to argue me on this all the time with shit like, "But The Ring . . ." "But The Exorcist . . . "But Scream . . ." Yes, all three of those are both good horror films and made oodles of money. That said, it's a big jump away from watching Heather Matarazzo get strung up and gutted while some other chick masturbates in her blood . . . which I hear happens in Hostel II.

For months, Eli Roth has been out and about touting how Hostel II would be one of the most disturbing, goriest movies ever made, and why not? The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre made a small fortune on such a reputation. The problem is that your average moviegoer who likes horror probably doesn't shine to all that. They like to get sacred, and a little blood and a little horror, but not the gobs of it that the old 80s low-budget films offered. They want (and I hate to use this term) "Horror Lite," those PG-13 horror movies that Hollywood is so in love with right now. (It allows them to advertise to a wider audience.)

Are there exceptions? Sure there are. The original Friday the 13th made it's money because of the gore effects, but that was 1980 and no one had really seen effects like this before. Make no mistake. The star of that film was Tom Savini's make-up, not Adrienne King as Alice.

When you look at the horror movies that make big money, they do so on concept not gross-outs.

This is why the original Hostel and the Saw movies were such big successes. They came out when the nightly news was filled with stories about Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and "Holy Shit, are we torturing people?" Torture was "in the ether" so to speak, and people used those movies to work out their discomfort with the fact that torture was something very real in the world. (It still is, but for better or for worse, it shocks us less than it did two years ago.)

Finally, and most importantly, let's take a look at the numbers. The original Hostel was made for $4.5 million. It pulled in about $20 million on it's opening weekend in the U.S. and levelled off theatrically with a total of around $50 million. Throw in another $30 million for DVD rentals and sales and you're looking at $80 million .

Not bad, right? In fact, pretty damned good especially when this isn't accounting for overseas theatre and DVD business. Certainly enough to warrant production of a sequel.

Lion's Gate gives Roth $10.2 million to make a sequel. But after two weeks in the theatre, Hostel II has brought in $14 million WORLDWIDE. It's a drop off to be sure and definitely one the producers can't have anticipated. Even with the traditional 50% box office drop off sequels often get, they had to be expecting around $40 million in gross receipts. But then again, if you go back and look at those original numbers, you see that while for it's budget the original Hostel was a hit, it was only gathering up a small percentage of the movie going audience.

No one could have anticipated Hostel II tanking especially after Saw III made more money than each of the two previous installments last fall. That said, there was no reason to expect a huge hit either, especially after Grindhouse had also tanked with marquee directors Rodriguez and Tarantino attached. Both Hostel II and Grindhouse will make their money back over the long haul on DVD because that's how horror movies make their money. They get a following, friends tell friends. Tobe Hooper is still collecting royalty checks for the original Chainsaw.

Piracy shot down Hostel II? Bullshit. Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 made a shitload and they were pirated to hell and back. The fact remains that the gory type of horror film Roth makes (And makes well, I might add. I loved the first Hostel.) appeals to a niche audience. Horror may seem mainstream, but it isn't.


(*Sound of me hopping off my soapbox.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sex is Violence


Towards the end of Women's Studies, Mary (Cindy Marie Martin) becomes aware of the deadly agenda of Ross-Prentiss Women's Academy. Soon, she realizes escape is only possible if she makes a stand and fights against the Academy Girls including Diane (Kelley Slagle) and Judith (Tara Garwood).

The "Duel of the Goddesses" as I've come to call it is the climax of Women's Studies on most levels. For Mary, it's the time where she finds her own inner strength, her resolution, and her will to truly stand on her own.

Yet it's also the physical culmination of Mary's relationship with Judith. Throughout the film, their friendship has undertones of something much deeper, and despite that fact that fate has turned them into rivals, that emotional and sexual energy finds an outlet in their physical confrontation. The idea I've always reiterated was while it looks like a fight scene, the Duel of the Goddesses is really a sex scene.

Cindy Marie Martin and Tara Garwood rehearsed for weeks under the tutelage of Fight Choreographer Shanna Beauchamp to perfect the elegant yet brutal fight moves for the scene. Once at the location, they endured unforgiving mountain terrain including sharp rocks and embedded roots. Despite those obstacles they, along with Kelley Slagle, gave nothing less than their all.

The Ningen Manga gremlins have finally started to give up and production ran the smoothest it has yet. Our biggest issue was being about thirty miles from an airport and having to wait for planes to pass so they wouldn't interfere with sound. Being a weekend, planes would come by at five and sometimes even two minute intervals. Our windows were short, but we managed.

Stephanie Petagno's costume and make-up designs were also on full display during this shoot. Though I think the actors did part of her job for her with the various cuts, scrapes and bruises they got while shooting. The combination of real and fake injuries is going to make this scene something really special.

Since we shot for three days, I've including sixteen pics taken over the course of the weekend. Enjoy.

Location Scouting
Director Lonnie Martin, Fight Choreographer Shanna Beauchamp, and Sound Engineer Sean Russell survey the location.

Stalking Diane
Camera Operator Thomas Fant stalks Kelley Slagle (Diane) as she touches up her make-up.

Kevin Nowak
Boom Operator Kevin Nowak sets up.

Joey and Kelley
Joey Cabrera applies FX make-up to Kelley Slagle (Diane) while Shanna Beauchamp looks on.

Lonnie & Stephanie
Lonnie Martin and Art Director Stephanie Petagno discuss the look of the scene.

Stephanie Petagno's make-up arsenal.

Shot Composition
DP Aaron Shirley and Thomas Fant work out how to shoot Cindy Marie Martin (Mary) with Lonnie Martin.

Sean Russell
Sean Russell listens as another plane flies through.

Breaking for Lunch.

A Light Moment
Shanna Beauchamp, Stephanie Petagno, and Tara Garwood (Judith) share a joke in between shots.

Weapons of choice?

Zip Line
Lonnie Martin and Aaron Shirley work with Cindy Marie Martin and Tara Garwood on a zip-line shot.

Cast and Crew watch a shot on playback.

Tara and Shanna
Tara Garwood and Shanna Beauchamp talk over choreography.

Ready to Shoot
Getting ready to shoot a scene.

Fight Crew
Cindy Marie Martin, Shanna Beauchamp, and Tara Garwood celebrate the payoff for weeks of hard work.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Graveyard of the Goddess

On Saturday, we shot one of my favorite scenes in Women's Studies, the "Graveyard of the Goddess" scene.

It's an intimate scene in which Judith (Tara Garwood) introduces Mary (Cindy Marie Martin) to a sacred place on the campus of Ross-Prentiss Women's Academy, a stone circle where centuries before women were burned as witches. To Judith, it's a place to seek guidance, something she senses Mary could use. Once there, Judith explains her theory of why the sexes will never be equal and Mary opens up about her troubles with her boyfriend Zack (James A. Radack).

It was a good day. For the first time, I got to see Art Director Stephanie Petagno's Academy Girl uniform in action. Plus, after threatening to dump rain on us all week, we were gifted with "just right" temperatures and sunshine. We got some great footage, and Cindy and Tara did a couple of "one-take wonders" which was awesome to behold.

Some of the Ningen Manga technical gremlins still plagued us, but these particular problems helped us figure out solutions for some long standing bugs we hope to implement on this Friday's shoot. So I guess everything happens for a reason.

Below are some pics from the shoot. Enjoy

Jim and Thomas
First AC Jim Housell and Camera Operator Thomas Fant prep the jib for the day's first shot.

Shooting the Discovery
Director Lonnie Martin gives some final direction before a shot rolls.

Adam Schreck gets ready to slate as Boom Operator Kevin Nowak and Actors Cindy Marie Martin (Mary) and Tara Garwood (Judith) look on.

Sean and Lonnie
Lonnie Martin consults with Sound Engineer Sean Russell.

Kurt Gustafson keeps everyone on schedule.

Cindy and Tara
Cindy Marie Martin (Mary) and Tara Garwood (Judith) take direction for the scene.

Lonnie Martin and DP Aaron Shirley make sure the shot is right before rolling.

Graveyard of the Goddess
Shooting a scene from Women's Studies.