Thursday, May 21, 2015

Michael Peterson on "Insectula!"

What was your filmmaking background before making Insectula!?

MICHAEL: As a child, practically all I did was watch 8mm versions of the horror or Sci-Fi movies that I could get my hands on and read Famous Monsters of Filmland, as that was pretty much all there was.

I then went to Art college for filmmaking and studied film theory and some of the more artistic directors. After college, I worked at several companies making commercials and industrials for several years before getting interested in computers and teaching myself programming. After the consumer cameras came out that could hold up to theatrical screening I decided to make Insectula.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like? 

MICHAEL: I always loved B-movies and the Toho pictures and I was looking for a sub-genre that wasn’t overdone with microbudget indies and realized very few giant creature-features had been made.

So with this nucleus I decided to utilize the lake I lived on as that was visually interesting and accessible. I pretty much developed the script in my head and carried that around while shooting until a sales agent we were working with wanted to see the script. Then it was just a matter of transposing what was in my head to paper and went very fast.

The effects in the movie are wonderful. Did you write to what you could do ... or write it first and worry about how to do it later?

MICHAEL: I had no idea how to do the monster or what it should look like. I looked at all the methods of making it: stop motion, marionette or puppet (like The Giant Claw or Reptilicus) and CGI. Stop motion would be too expensive and time consuming, the puppet idea was more of a silly creature and I didn’t know how to do 3D rendering for CGI.

I settled on CGI and tried to find someone to help me for cheap but had no luck, so I decided I have to learn it myself, and that turned out to be very useful. For complete scenes I just had lines in the script like “Creature attacks St. Paul and the military fights to no avail.”

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

MICHAEL: My original intention was to shoot a few scenes and put together a compelling trailer to help get financing. We did that and got over a million web hits but we still found we couldn’t raise money without major strings attached. We did get a Jerome grant but most was just waiting until I had enough money to shoot another scene.

We are submitting to many festivals but we are looking at distributing the DVD and VOD ourselves through Amazon and see what happens along with four walling it in some college towns.

How did you cast the film and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

MICHAEL: There were a few scenes that needed to be cut as we over shot. I was going with the rule of thumb of one page equaling one minute, but not factoring it’s one page of DIALOG, so we have some great extra scenes that will be in the DVD but had to be cut because of length.

As for actors I used local talent that I had seen in other productions. The big exception is our daughter, who is an actress and model in Europe and looks like a movie star. That was a no brainer.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

MICHAEL: Initially the Canon 7D and then switched to the Canon 60D when it came out. I love that it is so small and the image is very nice.

The problems I had with it were moire (which was solved purchasing an internal filter), and degradation problems due to the extreme color grading I was doing. I would love to work with RAW, but when I started cameras that could do it weren’t affordable like they are now, and I decided not to switch cameras in midstream. The Canons are also a bit soft for my tastes.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

MICHAEL: Learning VFX and CGI and utilizing it in scenes that you wouldn’t expect it to be in. It can really make things look like we had more budget and enhance shots that could have used more work at the time of shooting. Sometimes because we were using free locations, we had very limited time to shoot in and would like to have spent more time during setup. In these instances computers can help give it something extra that can turn an OK shot into something really nice.

Dumbest might be some of my crew choices that turned out to be problematic.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

MICHAEL: I learned how to stretch a dollar to its limit. I never thought about what I could do while coming up with the script, I just put in what I would want to see and then would figure out how to do it.

If you worry about budget then you are going to have a less interesting film. I always found a way to do it even if it seemed impossible for the money.

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