(BTS) Producing the Sci-Fi Short Film – Arene

In 2015 I had the pleasure to produce an ambitious sci-fi project – Arene. Below is an interview I gave to Luisa Pascu, where I share details about the production.

Myself on set of Arene  / Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

What is story behind the Sci-Fi short film – Arene, and what was it inspired by?

I will take the liberty to elaborate on the story, which was written by the director Henrik Bjerregaard Clausen. ARENE takes place in the distant post-apocalyptic future. Times of war between the humans and the AI machines. Contrary to most other Sci-Fi movies, it’s a war that we humans started, in an effort to protect ourselves against the technologically advanced and superior machines, that have evolved at a rapid speed, and would eventually turn against us and take over. Attempting to destroy them, humans use a new generation weapon technology, which unfortunately doesn’t work as planned and we manage to partially destroy the atmosphere.

Post-apocalyptic New York

Arene herself is a first one of a kind hybrid naturally evolved through a unity between a human being and a machine. Henrik always likes to create new worlds within the realm of Sci-Fi inspired by the classics.Katarina Strahinic in the role of Arene. 

What was your role and involvement in this project?

I joined the project as a producer. So I had to manage the production and make sure Henrik’s creative vision comes to life to highest possible extent. That includes –  bringing the best people on board, handling the financials, planning, organizing and making sure everyone on the team delivers within the estimated time and budget.

20150929-_DSC7448 (2)On Set, keeping track of time / Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

It is much easier to have this role when you have a team of A-players, and we had the opportunity to work with great performers in each department.

How did you and Henrik (the director) come together into play, and how did that work?

Henrik and I had previously worked together on our company ident film – Magic Unleashed and the short film Lucid. Afterwards he invited me to join him on this project as well. What I love most about working with him is that he’s very ambitious and has a clear vision of what he wants.Henrik and I, discussing the next shot / Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

He would challenge the whole team to deliver to the highest of their potential. He’s very structured and organised, and that’s of course great news for any producer. I think he will reach very far as a director.

We all know that ups and downs occur during the hard work for a project. Can you tell about a king-of-the-world moment and about a scary one?

There were so many king-of-the-world moments. You have to be on set to feel it – the dedication of the crew and cast to deliver an amazing work. Everybody jumping and helping each other. It was a very tight schedule, and seeing all these guys staying positive and inspired during the long hours was a good feeling. And that is of course reflected in the end product.Outdoor Scene / Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

As in every journey of course we had our lows.  For example – to recreate the atmosphere in the interior we were using hazers and smoke. We turned on the fire alarm by accident and that triggered a fire brigade visit. Fortunately everything went well at the end.

Has there been any breakthrough moment during the making of this short film, and how did that shape the project?

Constructing the set and incorporating the lighting on it have definitely been a major breakthrough. And here I would like to mention our production designer Lyuba Halacheva and the lighting designer Torsten Frøstrup, who literally blew our minds off. Lyuba, together with a large group of helpers had only 20 days to construct the set.Constructing the Set / Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

And Torsten brought and installed a whole lighting system that he embedded into the construction allowing him to control it throughout the whole production.Lighting Designer Torsten (in the middle) / Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

I remember the actor/stuntman Isky Fay when he first saw the set and told me “Wow, that set looks like on The Edge of Tomorrow, where he had previously had a part.

Where are you headed to, both personally and on behalf of Level Up Pictures?

At Level Up Pictures we want to do more and more exciting productions. To challenge the creative status quo, to innovate and create great products for digital storytelling. Our mission is to build a powerful culture of passionate and skilled professionals who work, grow and share skills, knowledge and inspiration.

20150927-_DSC5636-2 (2)Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

I am personally very keen on discovering and hacking new realms such as VR/AR. How do we use them to create engaging and immersive experiences and satisfy the audience’s hunger for innovation? That’s exciting!

What are your future plans for the short film Arene?

So far the trailer you see is the end product – but the there is the whole backstory for a potential feature film, developed by the director – so that could of course be a next step.

20150928-_DSC6760Stunt performers getting ready for a scene / Photography Simon Falkentorp ©

ARENE is a special project as it is a collaboration with 3D College Denmark. It is an ambitious short film including a lot of strong professionals in the crew and cast. And then there are students from the school, who joined the production as a school project and were allocated various post-production tasks guided by a VFX supervisor.

For now I can only say HUGE THANKS to the whole team being part of the production of this short film – Henrik B. Clausen,, Stunt360 and all the amazing crew and cast members.

(BTS) Magic Unleashed

A short interview I gave, sharing my experience from shooting the ident video of
Level Up Pictures – Magic Unleashed. Hope you enjoy the read!

P.S. You can see the final product at the end of the post!

How did you develop the concept for the video?

Stoyan: Magic Unleashed is a branding video for Level Up Pictures. Simply we wanted to show what we are able to do in terms of storytelling, aesthetics and production value. And who doesn’t like magic?

Idun Making Magic

We’ve got a Disney screenwriter on board. And after a few concept generation meetings, he developed the ideas into a screenplay. The story is inspired by the Nordic goddess Idun, the keeper of the golden apples, which the gods had to eat to remain young and beautiful. It’s like a metaphor about how we like to do things at Level Up Pictures: carefully crafted for a wonderful final outcome.

The Golden Apple

Was it difficult to create a Harry Potter-like universe?

Stoyan: Making the piece look believable meant, we had to ensure all pieces fit together.
It was hard work, but also a lot of fun. We needed to ensure first a good location for the shooting. After scouting many options, we finally came across a beautiful stone-aged village – Hvolris, based somewhere in the forest close to Viborg (Denmark). It’s a museum that also offers accommodation.

The Magic Box

Now we had this great location. We had to create a universe of the video in it. By a rule of thump the plan was to create as much of it physically. Some might say – shoot it on green screen and fix it in post. But it is always better if it could be made in a physical setting. So we started collected all types of props and set decorations. From old shops, friends, and anywhere we can find something that might suit. Our art director hand-crafted a few of the so called “hero props“, that needed a special look. And then we also tailored a costume for the fairy. We did a casting for the role, and fortunately found a great young actress – Katrine Køhler, that was just what we imagined.

Tell us more about the technical side of it

Stoyan: We had to do some practical effects, but also to leave some work for the post-production.To make the cauldron looks like it’s boiling, we used dry ice. And we had a guy who had to sip boiling water on top of it before every shot. We rented a diffusion hazer for that foggy feel, and a flicker box to make the illusion there’s a fire burning in the room. The film was shot Canon C300, which gave us  an advantage in the mobility as the camera is very light compared to the RED models for example.

Opening Scene Before and After

The opening / money shot was quite challenging. It’s basically a shot where the fairy is walking in a beautiful magical forest towards her house at the distance. We filmed it at 4:00 am in below 15 degrees, in the middle of the winter. We couldn’t do it in a studio setup, because we wanted the light to look natural. As we didn’t have a big green sheet, we lid a big white surface, putting green filters on the LED lights we brought. We ended the shoot at 8:30 am. It was a crazy night!

Did you experience any challenges on set?

Stoyan: Hehe. It was a challenging production. First of all the location was far from our city. And we had 15 people on set. According to the original shooting schedule the production time was separated in two consecutive days. But due to technical difficulties we had to compress all in one and we shot the whole night.  So we ended up wrapping up at 8:30 am on the next day. I remember our technical head Torsten came to me stone-faced and said: “Well…that was a fair stretch”. He was right.
Another challenge was it was winter and well …we live in Denmark. So we had to literally film the whole day below 0 degrees (C).

How did the post-production go?

Stoyan: Well the post production took the most time of course. We brought in a team of seasoned professionals with backgrounds from major Hollywood productions (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, The Expendables 2. etc). And also local professionals. Mixing experience with fresh blood usually works very well and I think you can see that in the final cut.

The Magic

Our director Henrik Clausen, who is also an experienced VFX artist suggested we keep the effects as far from the computer as possible.  For this production we still had to do a lot of CGI. But I think we managed to keep it to the minimum.
To lead the viewer into the magical universe, sound also plays a key role. We brought Sean Beeson – a fantasy composer, who’s done great works for Disney and EA Sports. He joined us to create the score working from his studio in Ohio.

Our sound Composer – Sean Beeson

Since we couldn’t find any good magic sounds, we did foley sound recording. Our two local sound designers got creative and literally created the magic enhancements from scratch.So every time you see the fairy throwing something in the cauldron and you hear these enchanting sounds, it’s a chance it’s a mixture of Christian’s sipping smoothie and Kristopher’s wooshy sound from a blanket 🙂

Are you happy with the final result?

Stoyan: I think we came up with a product of a very high production value. I’m quite pleased! Despite we experimented and learned a lot. And next time we are ready to do something even better.