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University of Advancing Technology is an elite, private college that serves its student body by fostering knowledge creation and academic excellence in an environment that embraces the young technophiles of the world. With three centers of research and a suite of technology-centered undergraduate and graduate degrees, the University is a recognized leader in technology education.
As in years past, the Digital Video Program at University of Advancing Technology has partnered with One Community to produce their annual “Change Agent” honoree video. This year, the video showcases Dennis and Janine Skinner who are the parents of three children, one who is a lesbian and one who is a transgender man. As people of faith and as active allies in their community, they have worked to educate and raise awareness of gay and transgender issues in their community.
The video was shot by students Andrew Aguirre, Patrick Kebert, and Brandon Scott, and was edited by Aguirre. Professor Paul DeNigris provided faculty guidance. UAT is very, very proud of these students and their contribution to our community!
Daniel Sontag, a Digital Video Alumnus who attended UAT from 2005-2009, won his first Emmy in the Lone Star Regional Emmy’s for the Promotion/ Program Award category on October 15, 2016.
Daniel works as a Manager of Brand Marketing at NBC 5 Dallas/Fort Worth, which is the fifth largest market in the United States, which means their viewership is very saturated and has a loyal audience.
NBC 5 DFW’s veteran Chief Meteorologist David Frinfrock has been with the station for 40 years, but has plans to retire in a few years. To welcome new meteorologist Rick Mitchell to the team, and build trust with generations of viewers, Daniel created this promo as a fun introduction as to how they selected Rick as David’s replacement.
Daniel wrote and co-directed The Voice Meteorologist Edition, a 1-minute promotional spot combining NBC5′s Weather team in a parody of NBC’s biggest show The Voice where perspective weather talent pitched the weather forecast to experts.
Daniel said because NBC 5 DFW is owned by Comcast Universal, it’s possible to cross promote with other network shows, such as The Voice. It gives the audience a sense of familiarity and builds trust within the community. That was Daniel’s strategy behind this promotional piece.
After hearing the news that he won an Emmy, Daniel immediately sent a group text message to UAT Professors’ Sharon Bolman and Paul DeNigris to thank them.
Professor Sharon Bolman fondly remembers when Daniel was a student at UAT.
Sharon said, “Daniel epitomizes the life long learner. He is eternally curious and never assumes that he knows it all. He came to UAT with impressive acting and makeup skills, but still took classes in these subjects with a genuine enthusiasm and an open mind. He could always be counted on to ask questions and take criticism which catapulted his projects to the next level. Also, he is a wonderful human being. We are very proud of Daniel!”
Daniel’s industry work experience:
See some highlights of Daniel’s work:
This past weekend, DV Program Champion Paul DeNigris traveled to New York City to present the award for Best Visual Effects at the 2016 All-American High School Film Festival. Just as it did last year, this award comes with a full tuition scholarship for the UAT DV Program (an $84,000 value) for the lucky and talented filmmaker.
This year’s winner is Jason Carman of Vacaville, CA, for his sci-fi action flick “Vacuum Wars,” seen here:
We look forward to Jason joining us in Fall 2017!
It’s a Digital Video flashback this week! Take a not so big step in the wayback machine to the summer of 2008 when Professor Paul DeNigris and an all-star crew of DV students and alumni got to work with not one but TWO Hollywood stars: Blue Collar Comedy staple Bill Engvall and Machete himself Danny Trejo! Together they made the Western comedy “Cowboy Dreams,” one of DV’s most memorable movies. (Slightly NSFW, by the way.)
The film was penned by frequent UATDV collaborator Steve Briscoe (seen in Ouroboros, Borderlands: Change of Hart, and CrossRealm to name but a few), who also happens to be Prof. DeNigris’ writing and producing partner and half of Paul’s company Locked Horns Productions. During Briscoe’s previous career as a standup comedian, he became friends with many of today’s top comics, including Engvall. When Briscoe and DeNigris decided to make “Cowboy Dreams,” Engvall was their first, last, and only choice for the film’s star.
Another juicy role was written specifically with action movie icon Danny Trejo in mind. Trejo had previously met Prof. DeNigris on the set of a film shot in southern Arizona called Curse of the Seven Mummies on which UATDV alum Jenny Pond-Muckerman worked as Script Supervisor.
Once Trejo signed on, DeNigris approached his pals at Ronalds Brothers Productions to help out with producing tasks. DeNigris and his students had contributed crew and VFX help to the Ronalds’ feature film Netherbeast Incorporated and the brothers Dean and Brian lent their skills to make sure the “Cowboy Dreams” shoot went off without a hitch. Brian Ronalds has even taught at UAT from time to time, much like Steadicam operator Webb Pickersgill who contributed to the film’s cinematic look.
An all-star team of UATDV students and alumni jumped in to help make “Cowboy Dreams” and they can be seen in action in 5 short documentaries about the making of the film (shot by alum Clint Comer and edited by then-current Advanced DV Editing students). Check them out and relive the adventure of making this fun little short.
UATDV’s entry into the 2016 IFP Phoenix “Beat the Clock” 48-Hour Film Challenge took home THREE awards at the screening on August 4th at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 Theaters! The film “Limelight” took home awards for Best Poster Design, Best Editing (student Andrew Aguirre was the editor) and Best Picture (student Killian Davies directed).
By virtue of winning Best Picture at the challenge, “Limelight” becomes the first Official Selection of the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival, next April! And it will be eligible for more awards there!
You can read more about the making of the film and watch a trailer HERE.
For the fifth year in a row, UAT Digital Video was on hand to record the Comic-Con adjacent geek cabaret “w00tstock” at San Diego’s Balboa Theater. Created by Mythbuster Adam Savage, geek icon Wil Wheaton, and comedy music duo Paul and Storm, w00tstock is a little bit of spoken word, a little bit of music, and a lot of nerdiness. This year’s theme was “TEDtalks” and there are a bunch of ridiculous spoof talks that at times are indistinguishable from the real thing. And there’s plenty of music from Paul and Storm and guests like Marian Call and Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino!
Check out the full playlist here!
Students in Professor DeNigris’ DVA254 Motion Graphics class are tasked with re-creating an existing title sequence from a film or TV show as one of their semester projects. The exercise is meant to stretch the students by asking them to look at work done by professional title designers, and figure out how to meet the high bar they set. It’s a hands-on way of forcing students to expand their thought processes and also to better learn their software (in this case Adobe After Effects).
Here’s a selection of this semester’s best title sequence re-creations, including Fringe, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Wayward Pines, Parks and Recreation, and the first James Bond film Dr. No.
Having completed its film festival run, the DV Program’s animated/live action film “The Composer” is now available publicly on YouTube. Written and directed by the student duo of Gwyneth Christoffel and Darien Marion, the film tells the story of an emotionally troubled composer who has lost his motivation to write music until he is transported to a magical realm between the pages of his composition book where a friendly 8th note takes him on an adventure to get his motivation back. You can watch the full film here, or in the embed below. The film combines live action scenes (including some shot at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale AZ), stop-motion elements of actor Emmanuel Beniamine shot in the UAT Greenscreen Studio, and animated elements created using Adobe tools like Photoshop and After Effects.
“The Composer” served as Student Innovation Project (SIP) for Christoffel, Marion, and other members of the team. Christoffel prepared this excellent video that summarized the project for the SIP Fair and delves into the production process in some detail. You can watch here, or in the embed below. Films like “The Composer” that are off the beaten path of the types of projects produced by the Digital Video Program (we’ve never done one like it before) are where the real collaborative innovation happens. A disparate group of students found a way to combine their various talents to make something unique, and leveraged DV tech to make it all come together. And technology was integral to the way the story would be told, starting all the way back in the preproduction phase. This is what we call “post-centric production,” where the techniques that will be used in post-production actually inform decisions made at every stage of a project’s life. With “The Composer,” this student team put all the tools at their disposal to great use!
Last weekend, a team of Digital Video students competed in the IFP Phoenix “Beat the Clock” 48-Hour Film Challenge – something DV students have done every summer since 2005. Two days is all they get to produce a 5-minute film from concept to completion. As in every 48-hour challenge, there were some parameters given by IFP to ensure that the films were actually completed in the allotted time, and not filmed beforehand. Two possible lines of dialogue and two possible props were given; the UATDV team chose “That gives me a tingly feeling” as the line and a plant as the prop – and starting from that inspiration they crafted the film “Limelight.” The trailer can be seen above, or click here.
The synopsis: A jaded actor speaks with his best friend about what it means to be an artist. As their sporadic conversation progresses, things seem to spiral out of control and the truth is soon revealed.
The team was lead by student Killian Davies as director, and he worked with fellow students Jordan Wippell and Brandon Scott and with DV Program Chamion Professor Paul DeNigris to craft the story and to conceive of the film’s visual approach.
In addition to the line and prop, two other bits of inspiration factored into the story. One, the film challenge this year was co-sponsored by Sun Studios of Arizona, a new production facility that has sprung up from the ashes of the former Collins College. Sun Studios offered competing teams the use of their facilities for free, which the DV students took full advantage of. The Sun Studios theater and its adjacent backstage dressing room area provided the spark to make the film about an actor, and to some extent about what drives any artist to do what they do.
A second inspiration came from a film that Professor DeNigris shows his students in DVA274 DV Editing class, a little-known gem from Steven Soderbergh’s filmography called The Limey. The film is edited in a very offbeat and nontraditional style, where conversations can start in one location, travel to another location, be interrupted by a flash forward, and then return to the original location. Actors are often seen reacting to their own dialogue, played as voiceover. It’s delightfully obtuse and compellingly crafted, and is one of the foundational films that becomes part of the shared lexicon of film techniques for each cohort of DV students. The editor on “Limelight” (even its title is an homage to Soderbergh’s film), student Andrew Aguirre, is a huge fan of The Limey and so Professor DeNigris urged him and director Davies to embrace that style for this film.
As a result, a very loose script emerged. The dialogue was written by Wippell and Scott, but there was very little in terms of what would traditionally go into a script, like locations and action. Davies and his cinematographer student Brett Chapman essentially “played improv” as they put their two actors into different locations and had them run the dialogue again and again. Actors Vincent Alonzo Jamal (recently cast in Wippell and Scott’s “Help Falls”) and Cavin Gray (a veteran of UATDV projects such as “Parallax,” “Red Sand,” and “Covet” and who will soon be seen in Chapman’s “Loyalty Lies with the Dead”) were cast to their individual strengths and were given latitude to play off each other and to embrace the material.
The film can be seen in its entirety alongside the other competing teams’ films on Thursday, August 4th, 2016, at 7 pm at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 Theaters. Tickets can be purchase HERE and we urge the entire UAT family to come on out and support the film!
Directed by Killian Davies
Produced by Brandon Scott
Executive Producers Paul DeNigris and Dr. David Bolman
Screenplay by Brandon Scott & Jordan Wippell
Story by Paul DeNigris, Brandon Scott, Jordan Wippell
Director of Photography Brett Chapman
Assistant Director Alex Fillicetti
Edited by Andrew Aguirre
Assistant Camera Patrick Kebert
Sound by Robert San Pedro and Alex Beaver
Grips Tony Bonano, Paul Lopez, and Ryan Moore
In April, UAT Digital Video student Jordan Wippell flew to Potsdam, Germany to attend the SEHSÜCHTE 45th International Student Film Festival. Jordan had an amazing opportunity to showcase a music video called “Erase” that he produced for the band They Might Be Giants.
The music video was originally a submission to a Facebook contest - the band selected Jordan’s as their favorite and used it as their official music video. What a cool beginning for a young filmmaker! Jordan has entered “Erase” in many film festivals around the world and decided to enter the SEHSÜCHTE International Student Film Festival, as well.
At SEHSÜCHTE, They Might Be Giant’s “Erase” music video was featured alongside other amazing student films, giving each filmmaker the chance to answer questions and connect with the audience. Jordan also spent some time exploring Germany with a friend who knew the area getting a feel for German culture.
Take a glimpse into Jordan’s incredible trip! He compiled a video montage showing off his experience. Enjoy!
Currently Jordan is working on the next chapter of interactive horror film “Help Falls” among other projects such as “Rubicon” and “Toppled.”
Keep up with all of Jordan’s film projects on his website.
Abraham Stopani (class of 2004) has hit the Young Adult fantasy literature scene today with his debut novel Terra Soul, under his pen name S.J. Abraham. The book focuses on Ayla, a gawky, photophobic comic book geek who abruptly discovers that the reason she doesn’t fit in on Earth is because she’s not from here. She gets transported to her homeworld of Karanik through a fold in space and she soon discovers that she’s meant to be the heir to a noble house that is embroiled in a war with an alien force and in intrigue with the other noble houses of Karanik. Magic, technology, and swashbuckling adventure fuse to make a ripping yarn that is equal parts Dune, Harry Potter, and Stargate.
Stopani graduated from UAT with a BA in Multimedia, focusing on Digital Video, long before the current iteration of the DV Program came about. Abe put his DV skills to good use in creating this trailer for the book:
Abe was one of DV Program Champion Paul DeNigris’ first students back when he started teaching at the University in 2002. Here’s what Paul has to to say about Abe:
Abe was always a fantastic student who went above and beyond on all his assignments. His work was leaps and bounds above what an undergrad student could be expected to produce. Before the DV Program as we know it with its emphasis on visual effects and genre movies came to be, Abe was the one who was pushing to do Star Wars fan films and to use the greenscreen regularly. His imagination exceeded the confines of his coursework, so it’s no surprise he’s taken that to the next level with Terra Soul. I’m about a third of the way through a pre-release copy Abe sent me and it’s a fun, fast, entertaining read. Can’t wait to see where this story goes – and I hope Abe is already writing the sequel!
To say that we’re proud of
Abe S.J. Abraham is an understatement! We wish him the best of luck with the launch of Terra Soul, which just hit Amazon today. Check it out here:
Back in February the UAT Tech Blog reported that the Digital Video Program had cast veteran film and TV actor Tony Amendola in their latest short film “Toppled.” While the film is still being tweaked in post-production and is awaiting its film festival debut, some behind the scenes videos have been released showcasing different aspects of the production.
The video above gives the student perspective on the experience of working on the film, which was UAT’s first to be shot on our brand new Blackmagic URSA Mini 4K camera.
Working at the “Ultra HD” resolution of 3840 pixels by 2160 pixels has presented some challenges in post-production, and the DV team has had to master a different post workflow than on previous films. While the post-production process has generally centered around the editing software Avid Media Composer as the hub for all footage management, “Toppled” is the first DV project to use Blackmagic’s powerful color grading software DaVinci Resolve in that role. Footage for “Toppled” was ingested into Resolve at 4K, and Resolve was used to generate 1080p HD proxies for editing in Avid. Student editor Chase Harper built the film in Avid working with these proxy files, and when the edit was locked the Avid timeline was ported back to Resolve so it could be rebuilt in 4K. Cinematographer Jordan Wippell then used Resolve to color grade the film, dialing up the warmth in the images to convey the desert heat, while dialing down the greens of the Arizona vegetation to create a more arid feel. Visual effects plates were bounced out of Resolve as DPX frames for use in The Foundry’s Nuke software, where Professor Paul DeNigris and DV alumni Alex Dinh and Nick Francia painted out Chevy logos, stabilized crane shots, and even erased the chemtrails in the sky to further help with the illusion that the film is not set in the United States. Completed VFX shots were rendered back out of Nuke and imported back into Resolve as DPX’s for integration into the final film. The end result is that “Toppled” will be completely mastered in 4K resolution and will be ready to show at optimal quality on even the biggest cinema screens.
As part of UAT’s ongoing relationship with Valley Leadership, Digital Video student Andrew Aguirre recently headed up a team of DV students to produce a short documentary about one of VL’s community outreach projects, “Experiences of a Lifetime.” The project was a collaboration between Valley Leadership and the Foundation for Senior Living and was designed to grant wishes to senior citizens, ranging from makeovers to outdoor adventures.
Aguirre and his team from DVA323 DV Production Studio class shot the documentary on location at CityScape in Phoenix, using Canon 5D Mark II and 7D digital SLR cameras, Tascam and Zoom audio recorders, and Arri lighting. Aguirre and his co-editor Patrick Kebert turned the project around quickly in postproduction as part of their work in DVA371 Advanced DV Editing class. Avid Media Composer was used as the primary postproduction software, with Adobe Audition and Adobe Photoshop being used to supplement Avid’s capabilities. The project was completed and screened at the Valley Leadership Class 37 Graduation Ceremony on June 4th, 2016, and after the screening the VL team revealed the results of Sandy’s makeover which is discussed in the documentary.
We are so proud of our DV students for contributing to such a meaningful and heartfelt project!
Every Summer since 2012, UAT Digital Video faculty and students have made a road trip to San Diego to film w00tstock, “a night of geeks + music” hosted by Mythbuster Adam Savage, geek icon Wil Wheaton, and comedy music duo Paul and Storm. Our coverage of w00tstock every year is the best on the web, and we’ve been on hand to capture amazing moments like George R.R. Martin smashing a guitar, LeVar Burton leading the audience in the “Reading Rainbow” song, Adam Savage singing “I Will Survive” as Gollum, and veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen singing “Yakko’s World” from memory – among many, many others.
This year UATDV needs some assistance getting to San Diego, and they’ve started an Indiegogo campaign to raise just $1,000 for the trip. Please visit https://igg.me/at/w00tuatdv/x/271251 to pledge your support!
The Digital Video Program has released its latest visual effects reel, highlighting some of the best VFX work by students and faculty over the last few years.
Techniques shown: 2D/3D tracking, projection mapping, rotoscoping, miniature photography, chromakeying, 3D modeling and texturing, 3D rendering, rig removal, clean plating, animation, and motion control. Software used: Nuke, After Effects, Photoshop, 3D Studio Max, Maya, Mocha Pro, Unreal Engine.
Projects represented in the reel: Ouroboros, Geeks Night Out promo, Help Falls prototype, CrossRealm, Buddy System, Borderlands: Change of Hart, Parallax, SCP Secure Contain Protect, Letters Home, Blood Oath, The Composer, Black, Zero Complex, and Afterlife.
The reel includes the work of Paul DeNigris, Justin Gagen, Alex Dinh, Trevor Spotted Eagle, David Ford, Alexander Broderick, Jacob Glass, Ceara McSherry, Gwyneth Christoffel, Jace Oppie, Cameron Wrightsman, Brandon Scott, Jordan Wippell, Gabriel Vielle, Jonathan Ellis, Dominique Laster, and more.
Alex Beaver edited the reel using Avid Media Composer.
After a year on the film festival circuit across the nation, UATDV’s award-winning sci-fi drama short “Ouroboros” is now available for public viewing on our YouTube channel. Based on an original story idea by Digital Video Program Champion Professor Paul DeNigris, “Ouroboros” was directed by student Alexander Broderick from a screenplay crafted by student Vanessa Schell. Evanne Carter produced, Annie Winn was the cinematographer, and David Ford oversaw visual effects. All of these students have since graduated and begun their professional careers, building upon their experience making “Ouroboros” among other school projects.
“Ouroboros” tells the story of quantum physicist Dr. Faye O’Neill, who creates an artificial wormhole and achieves a breakthrough in teleportation. But the wormhole brings an unexpected visitor – Faye’s future self – with a warning that the teleportation device threatens the fabric of spacetime and the very existence of the universe. The story idea developed when Professor DeNigris saw photos of two of Phoenix’s more prolific professional actors, Amanda Melby and Nancy Mercurio (pictured above), and noticed their uncanny similarities. The idea of casting the two women as time-shifted versions of the same character became the core idea of “Ouroboros,” which Broderick and Schell further fleshed out to become the finished film. In order to tell the story, extensive visual effects were required. At the center of the film is Dr. O’Neill’s teleporter, which was designed in Maya by David Ford, and was built at 1/6 scale through a combination of 3D printing and traditional model-making techniques.
Much of the film was shot on a partial set constructed in UAT’s Greenscreen Studio, and the environment was extended in post-production through compositing using the professional VFX software Nuke. Photographs of the practical set walls were mapped on to simple geometry to extend Dr. O’Neill’s laboratory well beyond the confines of the Greenscreen Studio. Because cinematographer Annie Winn kept her camera moving much of the time, significant 3D camera tracking was required to keep practical and digital set pieces perfectly married together to create a seamless and realistic environment. The interior of the reactor was created through projection-mapping a photo of the interior of the Large Hadron Collider onto simple geometry in Nuke’s 3D engine.
The film’s many motion graphics interfaces were designed and animated in Adobe After Effects. One of the core design principles the student team came up with during the film’s development was the idea that display technology in the film’s future world would be transparent, ubiquitous, and multi-functional. This was implemented in the film as large glass panels (created through VFX), Dr. O’Neill’s handheld transparent tablet (manufactured out of wood and Lexan by the student art team), and even a smart refrigerator with integrated display technology. After completion, “Ouroboros” was submitted to a number of film festivals and made its world premiere at the prestigious Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. The film also took home the coveted “Best Arizona Short” award at the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival, following in the footsteps of previous UATDV films “Fallout” and “Parallax.”
UATDV students have finished their horror comedy “Secure. Contain. Protect” and it’s now on YouTube. There were some very cool “firsts” in the making of this one. We were the first crew to film at the historic Hayden Flour Mill in Tempe (thanks to Kris Baxter-Ging and Chris Hansen in the city government). This was also the first UATDV film to use a drone as part of principle photography (for the “monster vision” sequences in the Mill).
Synopsis: “A secret government organization called “The Foundation” protects society from supernatural creatures. When one of the creatures classified as “SCP-106″ escapes containment, hapless friends Mark and Lewis find themselves in way over their heads as The Foundation scrambles to contain the threat. Based on the stories of the SCP Foundation (http://www.scp-wiki.net/)”
The cast includes repeat offenders Kane Black, Amy Searcy, Mark Grossman, Chris Ren, Trey Moore, Benjamin Alan Dickinson, Rio Silas McDowell, Gus Matos, alongside newcomers to UATDV films Tobias C. Jones, and Daniel Blunck. There’s also a suspiciously familiar voice cameo.
Also there is some very beautiful cinematography from co-DPs Ryan Moore and Jacob Glass, including some shots in and around the Mill that make the all-time UATDV “best of” list.
Kudos to director Nick Francia and producer Danielle Laster for sticking with the project and getting it finished!
UAT Digital Video is thrilled to announce that actor Tony Amendola has been cast in the next project to be directed by Professor Paul DeNigris, called “Toppled.”
Mr. Amendola is perhaps best known for his role in the sci-fi series Stargate SG-1 as the noble Jaffa warrior Master Bra’tac. More recently he has appeared on sci-fi series Continuum and fantasy series Once Upon a Time and was one of the key voices in the video game Fallout 4.
“Toppled” was written by Ayman Samman who previously collaborated with UATDV on “Parallax” and on “Red Sand: A Mass Effect Fan Film” and has more recently been seen in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and on the NBC series Blindspot.
“Toppled” is being produced in partnership between Ayman’s company Creacious, Professor DeNigris’ Locked Horns Productions, and UAT Digital Video. Some of the students involved in the project are Jordan Wippell (director of photography), Kristina Hyland (co-producer and location manager), as well as the rest of the current semester’s Production Studio class in key roles. Many of the 200-level Production class will fill out the crew in technical areas.
Look for more updates here as production approaches later this month!
A cautionary tale about “scope creep”
In the Fall of 2012, UAT’s Digital Video Program had just released its first big YouTube hit, the Mass Effect fan film “Red Sand,” and the team responsible was riding high on a wave of goodwill both on campus and on the Internet. While the Senior students who had lead the project were all about to graduate, a small portion of the team still had a semester or two left and they were itching to do something else. Something BIG.
Enter then-Freshman Alex Dinh, who pitched his peers the idea of doing another videogame fan film, this one based on the Borderlands series of violent and offbeat first-person shooters. Alex had a short script – just a few pages – and a plan to shoot and edit his film in time to submit to the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) in January 2013. The veterans of “Red Sand” volunteered to help – but after their experience on the Mass Effect film they felt that Alex’s plan lacked ambition. Soon the script ballooned to over 15 pages, adding multiple locations, more characters, and a whole lot more action.
This is what we call “scope creep” – where the breadth of a project gets out of hand and grows beyond the team’s capability to complete it. And it only gets worse from here, exacerbated by team members who already had one foot out the door, forces of nature, and a director helming his first big project.
The NFFTY deadline came and went but production finally began during the Spring 2013 semester with location filming at Rawhide Western Town in Chandler, AZ. Right away things went sideways when a scheduling snafu caused the crew to have to shut down production after just a few hours – leaving about half of the planned shots unfilmed. (You can see some of the day at Rawhide in this YouTube video.) Another Rawhide day was planned but ultimately was scrapped when one of Arizona’s monsoon storms damaged several of the facility’s buildings, rendering them unusable for filming.
Enter “plan B.” The decision was made to scrap the Rawhide footage (thereby eliminating a scene and several characters from the script) and to essentially start over. A scene in the sheriff’s station would be re-filmed in the UAT Greenscreen Studio, with a completely digital environment to be added in postproduction. Scenes in the hero’s homestead shack would be filmed in a small set to be constructed out of practical “flats” – mostly recycled from previous DV Program films “Parallax” and “Ouroboros.” And the climactic gun battle on the streets of “Gravestone” would be filmed on the DV Program’s “back lot” – also known as the patch of dirt owned by UAT immediately to the east of campus.
A team of DV students and Game Art & Animation students joined forces to design the town of Gravestone. The idea was to build facades for four small buildings, which would be augmented via digital models and matte paintings. (You can see some of the design process in this YouTube video.) In June 2013 – already the start of Arizona’s hot season – the team constructed the facades in the “back lot” and planned a series of half-day shoots to begin at sunrise and end by midday before the real heat kicked in.
Then another monsoon struck, leveling the facades and causing the team to have to rebuild – quickly – the night before production. At that point, it should have maybe been considered a “sign” that the film was cursed, but the team soldiered on and did end up getting the “Battle of Gravestone” into the can. (Check out the Gravestone filming in this YouTube video.)
And then just as quickly – most of the team graduated. The “Red Sand” veterans moved on and began their post-UAT lives, leaving an ever-dwindling team to learn Nuke in order to complete postproduction. (In yet another example of creeping scope, the team that had used After Effects so well on “Red Sand” decided to challenge themselves to use new software with a much steeper learning curve to complete this project.)
Fast-forward to Fall 2015. Many months and many projects had gone by. (One only need thumb through the video uploads on the UATDV YouTube channel to see all that has been produced since the days of filming the “Battle of Gravestone.”) Professor DeNigris had been away on his sabbatical and was back. The entire “Borderlands” fan film team was gone – except for writer-director Alex Dinh and visual effects supervisor Trevor Spotted Eagle – both having graduated but both sticking around to help work on DV projects. And finally the decision was demanded: “Are we going to finish this movie or not?”
The answer was Yes. We are going to finish it. New students – students who hadn’t even enrolled at UAT when the project began – came aboard to assist. Shotgun, visual effects management software Professor DeNigris became aware of while on sabbatical in Hollywood, was used to organize and manage workflow. And slowly but surely, VFX shots were completed. The film that seemed cursed finally began to take shape. A teaser was released. At long last it was becoming real.
And now, just about three years to the date since Alex Dinh first pitched his fan film idea to his friends in the DV Program, “Borderlands: Change of Hart” is finally complete and on YouTube. Watch it here. And take from it these lessons:
“Scope creep” is a real phenomenon. Good intentions can derail a project. Even in Arizona, the weather can be a factor. And most importantly, perseverance eventually wears down all obstacles!
Recently UAT Digital Video students entered and won “Best Technical,” at an Inter-college 48-Hour Film Challenge. We spoke with the director, Brett Chapman to find out where the idea behind Reality Check originated.
Read our Q&A with Brett below:
UAT: That was a pretty realistic school shooting. Where did you get the idea for Reality Check? Were you afraid people may get offended and think your film is too similar to a real school shooting?
Brett: School shootings are a horrifying reality of today’s world. Fellow UAT Digital Video students, Brandon Scott, Jordan Wippell, Chase Harper, Tina Hyland and myself came up with the idea on the drive back from the 48-hour event where we were assigned the genre of horror and the prop of a #2 pencil. The goal was to find a topic that we could use to play with people’s fear. Using the pencil, we quickly came up with the idea of using a school, which led to the school shooting idea. With all the current school shootings and terrorist attacks we knew it would bring up a lot of questions and concerns. Being a horror genre-based film, we wanted people to ride out the controversial experience. Jordan Wippell and Brandon Scott came up with the virtual reality twist idea. From there our writer, Chase Harper, formulated the rest of the story.
UAT: We like the virtual reality tie into this short. It changed the feel of the movie toward the end, was that your intention?
Brett: The whole goal of filmmaking is to create something that makes people feel differently by the resolution. We wanted people to be afraid of the concept of being trapped in a classroom with an active shooter in the building. The end of course then leads into the far darker reality of the virtual reality twist. We blindsided the audience with the fear of the school shooting and then revealed the dark beginnings of an even more real killer.
UAT: A short film you directed, Reality Check, recently won “Best Technical” in the Fall 2015 Inter-College 48-Hour Film Challenge. Congratulations! Did you have the story in mind or did you write the film within the 48 hours?
Brett: The 48-Hour Film Challenge is intended to challenge students to completely produce a short story in 48 hours. The entire project was conceived and produced within the 48-hour time slot. Our short film, Up Route, which I wrote for last year’s 48-Hour Film Challenge gave us a little bit of an upper hand because we knew the challenge going in and we had worked with horror as a genre before.
UAT: Is this the first film you have directed? What do you think a good director should focus on?
Brett: This was the first big project that I have directed at UAT. As a director, I focus on blocking the actions out with the actors so that the cinematographer can get a clear picture of what needs to be captured. I also make sure that we get all the emotional beats and actions correct for continuity. I think it’s important as a director to be able to deal with problems on the set and to effectively portray my vision throughout.
UAT: It almost seems impossible to get everything accomplished in one weekend! Walk us through a 48-Hour Film Challenge. Where is it held? Where do you film? Do you have the cast pre-selected and on-call? What about camera equipment and props – what did you use and how did you have these items ready for the challenge? How long did you have for editing?
Brett: The 48-hour challenge started at the Grand Canyon University campus on Friday around 5 p.m. There we were assigned a prop, genre and a line to include. We were given horror, a #2 pencil and the line, “Let’s check it out.”
We came up with the plot in the car ride home and immediately started to write the script and formulate a call sheet when we got back to UAT. We tried to get as much pre-production done beforehand, but most of it took place within the 48. The main actor and possible shoot locations had been established earlier that week. The school just happened to work out perfect for our project as the shoot location and all the equipment and students were already at the school so we didn’t have to transport them to a separate location. The props and other actors were gathered while Chase was writing the script. We filmed all Friday night and rapped at about 5 a.m. on Saturday. For the shoot we used a variety of UAT’s equipment, including the Black Magic Cinema camera. Chase was on the main edit all day Saturday. We started filming again on Saturday night around 8 p.m. We filmed again all night and rapped early Sunday. That morning, we finished filming the virtual reality reveal and started work to finalizing the edit. We finished around 4 p.m. and headed over to GCU for the end of the event.
UAT: Wow, that takes some great time management skills! What other films in the 48-Hour Film Challenge did you think were inspiring or interesting and why?
Brett: The winner of the 48 was a charming Western that was about a cowboy being sent back in time and having to deal with the modern world. It was well written and followed a rhyming pattern. I found their use of the genre to be very unique and interesting.
UAT: What did you learn from this challenge? What would you have done differently? What did you find really worked well for your team during the challenge?
Brett: I found out a lot about film in the short 48 hours. Mainly, I discovered new insights into directing and managing things. I found a new appreciation for continuity with this 48. We had some minor issues with missing shots and camera angles. Overall, we were really prepared for the project and managed everything in a step-by-step process, which allowed everything to flow fairly smooth.
UAT: How many people worked on this film? What roles did they have in the film production process?
Brett: This project had a healthy sized team behind it. UAT produced the film and there were about 20 people working on the film. Brandon Scott was in charge of cinematography and producing. Jordon Wippell led lighting and sound. We had a variety of students in the DV101 class working as grips, actors and even on the final edit. Chase Harper led the edit. I directed and worked on the edit. We used Sapphire Tilmon, Paul Lopez, Chase Moudry, D.J. Carpenter, Patrick Keber, and Tony Bonanno as actors.
UAT: What plans do you have for entering Reality Check into film festivals?
Brett: We are currently working on final edits for the film as well as updating the title and credit sequences. Once it is complete we will put it on Filmfreeway.com and it will be submitted to festivals all around the world for one year.
UAT: Upon graduation from UAT, what would be your dream job in filmmaking?
Brett: My biggest dream is to become a big Hollywood director. If I could direct some of the new J.K Rowling films one day that would be my dream. I want to make films that I can be remembered for and that I could one day show my future children. One day I hope to write and direct my own full Hollywood feature.