Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.
We’re on day two of the shoot, and this is a mistake that I repeatedly make, but it seems to be a pretty common one when it comes to filmmaking. I had the whole cast and crew show up at 9am, but we weren’t ready to shoot till after 1pm. That’s how long the makeup took to get done. So I felt guilty having folks sit around on their day off doing nothing for over 4 hours.
The morning wasn’t a complete waste. I did put most of the crew to work shooting the close-ups of the arm getting sawed off. Now to back up a bit, this was something I was seriously stressing about in pre-production. I wanted a quick, close-up shot or two of the girl cutting her arm off that was seriously gross. I wanted it to be a shocking moment in the film. I was looking around the internet for ideas on how to do this and came up with nothing concrete. I ended up calling a Hollywood FX guy, because his was the one site that I came across that seemed to have a solution for what I needed. I talked to him on the phone for a bit and after he gave me a long description of how he’d do it, of all the materials he’d need to buy to make it possible, after promising me to charge me a lower rate than usual, he came up with a $3000 price tag. This was about 10 times the amount I planned to spend on the entire film, for a shot that was going to last around one second. That may be how they do it in Hollywood, but not me. So I continued to stress about it. What if I took a fake arm and stuck a bone inside of it? That might work… finally I just thought of calling a butcher and getting a pig arm. That would have the skin, flesh and bone look that I wanted and all for under $10. So fast-forward back to day two of filmming, and we spent a good hour playing around with the pig arm, sawing into it with a hacksaw, squirting blood into it with a syringe, shooting it all in extreme close-up. We were giddy with the grossness of it all. Then it was back to the waiting.
Shooting some gore!
What was taking so long was that Mez, our brilliant makeup artist was slowly crafting a very realistic skinless look onto Mig’s face. About halfway through we realized how much trouble Mig had had getting her zombie contacts in the first time. So she went to do that again, which went a bit quicker than the night before, but she ruined some of the makeup job doing so. Mez went back to crafting the faceless look, she had the brilliant idea of gluing prosciutto to Mig’s face, which when you look at it, looks like raw skin with bits of fat in it. But it was a painstaking process.
Finally after four hours or more, we were ready to role. We’d lost our 2nd makeup guy, who was supposed to help us get a realistic bite taken out of our double’s arm. We tried to postpone that shot, in hopes that he’d come back, but that didn’t work out as planned and we had to improvise. Now I also made the mistake of shooting outside first, it was another hot day and while we got our shots the prosciutto was cooking in the sun. In turned into a hard stinky mess over the next few hours. Poor Mig suffered through it like a champ.
The other big problem was we didn’t have a double on set like the day before. I’d written into the script that at the end of the film she would bite her own arm, creating a circle of madness, an everlasting loop that would play out in her head. But I wasn’t quite sure how to shoot her chasing down somebody who wasn’t there. So I came up with a few shots of her running and attacking, we had her bite into the one girl’s arm on set that could kind of match our actresses. I wasn’t confident about it working, but I felt that pressure cooker that I only feel when directing, of having to get through it and making it work. I had our actress suffering under a disgusting mess and still had quite a few other complicated shots that we needed to get through. Plus I’d promised everybody that it would be a much shorter shooting day. I feel like on the outside I remained calm, but inside I was boiling away. You can understand the stories of James Cameron, Micheal Bay, etc. yelling maniacally on set when going through these kinds of complications, and I had no pressure, but my own. So we finished up the outside shots, I wasn’t really happy with what I got, not sure if it would cut together, and we moved inside.
Now this is where I realized I’d made another mistake, the prosciutto was a hard mess, not the fresh skinless look I’d hoped for. But we had to forge ahead. We slapped some more blood and fake skin that our makeup artist had made for us to peel off and I was about 80% happy with it at the time. On camera, those shots turned out well, and Mig gave another good performance. We grabbed a couple more shots, some extreme close-ups on her eyes, to suggest that we were inside her head, and I called it a wrap.
That night, while I was replaying everything, I knew that I hadn’t got what I needed to make the ending work the way that I planned. I started to stress all over again. It was confirmed the next day, when I tried to cut the final scene together. It was hysterically bad how it all cut together, I couldn’t make it look like she was biting her own arm… I’d shot it wrong… I didn’t know what to do. The only thing I could do was start editing the rest of the film and hope that inspiration hit.
Which thankfully, it did. I was probably only about halfway into my first rough cut that I realized “I’m calling this Madness” the editing and story doesn’t have to make sense, because we’re seeing what’s in the head of somebody going through the transition of becoming a zombie. It’s probably the worst acid trip anyone’s ever had. That idea freed me. I’d already built it to be a crazy, time-looping type film, so it wasn’t too much to ask to push those themes even further with the editing.
I had a lot of fun messing with time, cutting out random frames, creating some double imagery, using multiple takes to create slightly different looks for the same scene… making it a bit of jumbled mess. Cutting it over and over, I watched it hundreds of times, built in self meaning into shots that would take another 10 paragraphs of reading to explain. But that stuff was for me. The casual one-time viewer of this film probably won’t see any of that, but I hoped to mess with their heads a bit, maybe take them into that mindset for 3 minutes. I also really enjoyed playing with the sound. I built in more layers to this film than I ever had before. The first layer was the basic sound effects of what was happening in the film, I then layered in some pre-made music from my usual composer David Helping, on top of that I added it a lot of weird creaks, groans, ticks, etc. to take the viewer further into the crazy mind.
The film didn’t turn out exactly what I wanted it to be from the beginning, they rarely do. Who knows if the film would have been better if I’d shot it exactly as intended, or if my mistakes made me work harder and be more creative. I could have kept cutting away for months, adding more “meaning” to random frames here and there. But I like working with a deadline, it forces me to let go. As the famous saying goes: “Art is never finished, it’s abandoned” – I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that way more about a project than this.