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April 21, 2013

Production Journal

While digging through some boxes, I found the following essay, which I wrote when I was 12 years old. It was an assignment for, if I recall correctly, my 7th grade computer science class, and is an account of one of my early feature film efforts (I never finished it, and the remains currently exist on a VHS tape somewhere at my parents' house).

Even back then, I loved production journals, making-ofs, how-to's and any other insight into film production, and I was eager to create my own. I've been thinking about playing catch-up and making one for ATBS, but until I do, this should suffice - and in fact, it probably reads almost exactly the same as that one would.

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The following is transcribed exactly from the original text - only the participants' surnames have been edited.

THE PLANS TO CONQUER THE WORLD

The Making Of The Movie

It was a motion picture landmark: David Lowery's version of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE! Intended as an exercise in stupidity, the film was a tribute to the incredible works of art that late Ed Wood created. Now, in this never-before-published journal, the story of the making of THE PLANS TO CONQUER THE WORLD is made known to all. Beware: the following has not been dramatized. It is all the truth! The bold and shocking truth!

And now, our excursion into the world of bad filmmaking has begun.

DAY 1

Today, the spaceship scenes will be shot. Before the cast arrives, I start to put up the set. Jude F., who will portray Lt. Ceasar, arrives at nine o'clock, an hour earlier than was expected, and he helps in the transformation of the empty sound stage into a flying saucer.

By the time Joseph S. arrives (half an hour later than expected), the set is almost complete. We put in the windows, and set up the table, and we were ready to begin shooting. However, it would be at least another hour before the first shot was in the can. Mr. S., along with Christian C. and Ben L., had to put on their costumes. There was some dispute over whether Mr. S would wear a helmet and electronic eye in the opening scene. We start rehearsing. We go through three rehearsals, and each time, Mr. S.'s artificial eye fell out. Finally, we decided to go without it, and two takes later, the first scene was finished.

We proceeded very slowly, taking up to half an hour per scene. It was tedious work. Sets had to constantly be adjusted, unneeded props moved out, and actors told what to do. We took a break for hot dogs around one o'clock. Then we filmed the conference scene. We took ten takes of the long scene before we decided to cut it into two shots. This time, we got it right, but we still have all those bloopers on tape to remind us of how hard it was.

We finish the next few scenes fairly quickly; the biggest problem we have is convincing Mr. C. to say 'capsule' instead of 'shuttle.'

And then we finally come to the last shot, the shot we were waiting all day to film. It was time to set off the smoke powder that would be the evil aliens' demise. We set up the shot; the camera will be positioned near the floor, looking up at the two aliens. We empty the whole bag of smoke powder into an empty tuna fish can, which we place behind a table. Since we cannot film this scene twice, we rehearse several times without the smoke.

Now the scene is ready to be filmed. I, the director, yell action. Mr. C. utters his final line, and then he and Mr. S. begin coughing. A stage hand reaches behind the table with a lighter, and sets off the smoke powder. Seconds later, a huge cloud of thick white smoke erupts from behind the table. The actors cough convincingly, and then roll over and ie. The spaceship scenes are all finished, and so is the day's shooting.

After a small "technical difficulty," we eat a quick supper, and Mr. S. and Mr. C. leave. Their scenes are all done. Mr. F., who will be spending the night at the set, stays. We film the airplane shot, taking several takes just for safety. Then we set up the graveyard set, which would be used the next day. We did this by slitting open the black plastic trash bags, which we taped to the walls until they were completely covered. We covered the floor with brown blankets, set up branches and graves, and the set was done. Then we watch a few movies and go to bed.

We wake up early the next morning, and start immediately after breakfast. We have to finish shooting by three o'clock because the room we are shooting in going to be used for other purposes this afternoon.

We start the graveyard scene. We work much faster than yesterday, mostly because we are not working with any unexperienced actors. We speed through shot by shot, and are finished by twelve o'clock. The biggest problem is that we keep getting the white ceiling in our shots, which ruin the effect of a black graveyard. The only other difficulties are trying not to get the light to reflect off the black trash bags, and getting the fog machine to work; it clogged up after the first scene, and we finally gave up on it.

After the graveyard scenes are shot, we eat lunch, and quickly tear down the set. Then we set up the mad scientist's lab set. we use cardboard bricks, card tables, and several pieces of broken machinery to complete the set. Then I put on my mad scientist makeup. I powder my hair until it is white, and draw wrinkles on my face. Daniel L., who portrays the monster, puts on his makeup, and we are ready to film the first scene. We rehearse once. We start filming, but then the monster, who is dead on the operating table, burps accidentally. The whole crew breaks into laughter, and then we try the scene again. This time there are no mistakes.

We continue, and the bloopers are more humorous than the ones that occurred yesterday. For example, I am giving one of my great, dramatic speeches. When I shout at the monster, I do it so loudly that I actually make him jump, and he knocks over the whole atomic ray machine! Luckily, we still have that mistake on tape; it is extremely funny to watch.

Towards the end of the day, everyone begins to get tired, and things don't work out perfectly. We have to cut the whole flying brain scene, because the prop brain is too heavy for the strings that hold it. Then the viewfinder goes out of focus, and, though it doesn't affect the final image, it is very difficult to film. Finally, we're done with the mad scientist scenes.

We pop the tape n the VCR, and watch the results. Then Mr. F. leaves, now that his scenes are all done. We don't film anything else that day or the next day, taking a well-deserved break instead.

We still have to film all of the flying saucers and miniature scenes, as well as a few live action scenes. We shoot the live action stuff first. Daniel takes on a second role as the military general, and we quickly shoot his scenes. We also film the scene where the girl scoffing her friend's belief in ghosts. We do it several times, because an airplane in the background keeps drowning out the actors' voices. Then, when we finally have a good take in the can, I accidentally tape over it. By then, the actress who portrayed the girl's friend had left, so we had to get someone else to do it.

Then I decided to do the flying saucer scenes. I go up on the roof with the saucer models and the camera, but it is much too windy; the flying saucers flop around everywhere , and look too fake, even for a stupid movie. We try again when the wind has let up, but the flying saucers still flop around too much. I rebuild them, and make them so they stay more level on the nylon thread. This time, it works. I get a lot of good shots in. When I'm done, I lay down on the roof, point the camera at the sky and tape airplanes, since there are several scenes in the movie with planes. Luckily, our house is right under a a lot of airplane traffic, so I get a lot of good shots in.

We also get some good flying saucer scenes by taping one to the car window, and filming as we drive by. This gives the impression that the flying saucer is moving very fast.

Then I film the model scenes of the castle. They work out pretty well, but the black paper put up behind the model keeps peeling off the wall. Also, I forgot to turn the camera off while I was cleaning up, so there is now about five or ten minutes of a blank wall on the tape.

After that, most of the stuff was done. I shot a lot of coverage shots, such as closeups of guns going off, and I also wrote a few new shorts scenes. There is a lot of stuff left that I have to still do. I actually want to reshoot all of the mad scientist scenes, since they didn't turn out exactly as I wanted them to. This time, I'll make sure the flying brain scene works out! There are also some new scenes I want to add.

Then, I have to edit the whole thing. This will be very difficult, since the only person I know who has editing equipment sufficient for this project lives in Wisconsin, and we aren't going on vacation this year. I also have to add music, do titles and credits, and transfer the whole thing to black and white. Then, I'll finally be done.

All in all, making a movie can be a very difficult and frustrating experience. When I was finished most of the shooting, I thought I would never want to make another movie. But less than a week later, I was ready to go again. It's just addictive, I suppose. And I sure am addicted

Posted by David Lowery at 5:56 PM