BAZ:Well Wassail premiered a few weeks ago and after many months of hard work Micah and Peter are taking some well-deserved time off. I was able though to catch up with them and ask a few questions about their latest production.
How was Wassail's production process different from that of Corporal Faith's? How long did the whole process from shooting to a finished film?
Micah: It was a much larger project and involved coordinating a whole slew of details. Just the list of props went on for about three pages. But on the other hand we went into it with a lot more preparation. We started out with a finished script, broke it down into a number of shooting segments, and shot it almost exactly as planned. Principal photography was spread out over about two months. Various pick-up shoots, vfx, editing and so forth were wrapped some seven months later.
BAZ: You wrote this didn't you Micah? What is the overall style of the film? And how did you come up with the story?
Micah: There were a number of different influences. The style was first inspired when I was walking through a marketplace in Germany. I came across a beggar cutting shapes out of wood and selling them on the street. He made a really pitiful sight. He was wearing an old sock hat and tattered jacket. A teakettle was warming on a tin can stove at his side, and although he was underdressed for the chilly weather his pet dog was all wrapped up in a dirty blanket, keeping him company. This real life image brought back memories of some of the stories I loved best as a child. The Little Match Girl, the Old Toy Maker, Why the Chimes Rang, The Clown of God, What Men Live By, and Ivan the Fool were some of my favorites. Anyone familiar with these will notice a number of allusions to their characters in the movie. The thought of writing a movie that used this kind of classical story telling and warm imagery was one that appealed to me because I was very familiar with that sort of material.
For the larger storyline I wanted to depart from the classical story and explore some deeper themes. There is plenty of hilarity but it is balanced by an examination of what love really is to us.
Then there is the way that it resembles a silent film. Chaplin and Keaton have always been favorites. The silent film communication technique was mostly lost when sound came along and made it no longer necessary. There is a saying among screenwriters that "A character is what a character does, not what he says". In the case of silent films, a character is entirely known through his actions. But making a modern silent also creates an extra challenge. Audiences, these days, associate silent films with flickering film images backed up by ragtime music that act as channel filler by night. We combated that by keeping the images lush and beautiful. It's really cool to see an audience watch this for 45 minutes, totally captivated by a mostly silent film. We've revived an art form!
BAZ: Give us a short summery of Wassail.
Micah: Wassail is a young beggar who falls in love with a girl from a local college who passes by his street corner everyday. Tragedy and Comedy ensue as he refuses to lose his love for her.
BAZ: How was Wassail received at the premier? What kind of feedback are you getting?
Micah: It premiered to a wild crowd of cast, crew, and various strangers. Its reception has been great. Everyone was enthusiastic. We're breathing a sigh of relief. When you go out on a limb to make something new and unique you get nervous that nobody will get it. When someone who had nothing to do with its making comes up and says "That was great" it feels really good.
BAZ: What kind of troubles came with the shooting of Wassail?
Micah: Really it all went surprisingly smooth. We had to arrange for some exotic shooting locations, like a cathedral in Jerusalem. Also, since our cast was paid in chips and soft drinks, it was sometimes difficult to coral them all for a day of shooting. Esther had a rough time working out everyone's schedules. She used begging, pleading, and occasional blackmail to make it happen.
BAZ: Is Wassail everything you thought it would be?
Micah: It really turned out great and was well worth the effort. You never get exactly what you had in your head. But when everyone is putting in new ideas it can become something a lot better
BAZ: How many VFX shots are in Wassail?
Peter: Since I concentrated on effects while Micah worked on editing, I'll answer this question. Not counting minor color changes, I would estimate that there are 35 visual effects shots in Wassail.
BAZ: How do the VFX compare to your earlier films?
Peter: The visual effects in Wassail were much more stylized than in Corporal Faith. It made it them funnier to create annd made things more flexible. For example, in Corporal Faith one of the biggest effects was the grenade explosion. In Wassail a major effect was the creating breath for Wassail to make shots recorded in Israeli 90 degree Spring weather look like snowy, winter shots. The technique used for that was basically the same as for the breath coming out of Wassail's mouth in the winter scenes, however the grenade explosion had to be as accurate as possible while the breath could be manipulated to add to the bleak appearance of the winter shots in Wassail. And of course we won't leave you wondering how the breath effect was created for Wassail. Wafting smoke in front of a black screen made the breath. Several good takes were then separated off of the scene using Adobe After Effects and composited into the winter shots. The breath had to be resized and carefully animated to match the movement of Wassail's mouth as well as the effect of wind. It took a while.
BAZ: What kinds of VFX are in Wassail?
Peter: The breath was a major effect, but the snow was just as difficult. Micah attempted to use fake snow in some shots during the recording of Wassail, but it didn't work out well and I ended up erasing most of it from the movie. It was replaced instead by digital particle snow created in Newtek Lightwave and composited into the movie using Adobe After Effects. Micah's primary effect contribution was the bus. He recorded a bus separately and composited onto the shot using After Effects. One of the funniest but most times consuming effects were the butterflies in the dream sequence. They were animated in Lighwave and tracked and composited using After Effects. A lot of color changes were made to the whole dream sequence that required lots of layers and lots of render time. The statue was also a visual effect. We purchased the model and re-textured it in Lightwave. It was rendered off as stills and then composited against the background footage in After Effects. A slight camera movement was added to make the footage blend. One of the sections of the movie, right after the statue, is the only section that actually has snow sticking to the ground. That was a whole new challenge. I painted the snow using Adobe Photoshop 7 using several different paintbrush and selection techniques and added camera movement in After Effects. Practical snow was used for the close-up, although several corrections had to be made to the shot. Besides that there were a few other effects shots, mostly erasing or covering up unwanted things in shots. Of course I'm not going to tell where those are.
BAZ: If you could go back what would you change about Wassail?
Peter: I think it would have helped to record it on a higher quality video camera. It might has also been nice to paint in snow on the ground in more of the winter scenes, but that would take forever without more effects artists.
BAZ: Finely, What message are you trying to send with this film?
Micah: Well the movie portrays its story very simply but I'll have to get lofty here to describe it. There always seem to be two sides to attraction. The selfish lusty side and the other self-sacrificing side that wants to care for another-even to an extent that makes no sense on earth. Wassail's attraction for the girl is a selfless love but it has consequences that leave us wondering if he should have loved her in the first place. I hope it leaves people pondering what love really means to them and what in our spiritual natures causes us to regard others this way.
BAZ: What is your next project?
Peter: Our next project is called Outright Israel. Actually, it's not exactly the next project, as it's already recorded and mostly edited. An interesting note - one of the people in it is Basil (the guy conducting this interview)! Take a look at the site for more information.