Little things happen every day with this website that make me affirm the fact that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Sometimes it’s just a comment – other times it’s a spirited debate about a films merits. But sometimes, it happens even when I make a mistake. For instance, this time. I had set up an interview with the director and producer of Lookouts (husband and wife team Kristin and David Bousquet) for after the Fantasy Shorts festival. Like the occasionally forgetful person that I am, I often forget to do things like check e-mail (which in our increasingly tech based society is extremely important). So I arrived at the short festival and was pleasantly surprised at how things worked out, because Kristen had e-mailed me asking to do the interview before, and we conveniently ran into each other in the line to retrieve our tickets.
It’s the little parts of my day like these that make me realize I’m being guided down this path further than I could ever go myself. That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed getting to talk to these two brilliant filmmakers to talk about their excellent short Lookouts. After a quick introduction, we decided to move the conversation to the always excellent Chipotle. We first took some time to discuss how DoubleFeaturePreachers.com started – and then we started to discuss the film that was the main event (all pictures are courtesy of the "Making of Lookouts" from LookoutsShortFilm.com.
DFP David: So I went and read the Penny Arcade Comic that the film was based off of, and it seems like it was based on the original first panel, correct?
David B: It was kind of based on the universe, not really directly based on the comic. It takes too many liberties to even say it was strictly on the comic, but the universe very much so. And a lot of that first comic, which you aptly read into was kind of that foundational inspiration that they set up this notion of a basilisk, and they set up that these characters are being turned to stone, and it was kind of the hook at the end of that piece is what, if anything, we wanted to reflect upon. It’s not literally the way the narrative plays out, but this idea of having a bit of a “catch moment” at the end where we’re sort of taking the audience in one direction, and give them something shocking to close it out and to keep them thinking.
DFP David: Exactly. What were some other influences you drew from, besides just the comic itself? You obviously did change a few things – the basilisk itself wasn’t really seen in the original comic panel, so what kind of other places did you draw from? Did you draw from mythology at all or just your own take on the ideas?
David B: Well, actually the basilisk kind of is classical mythology. It’s one that they’ve done their own spin on – you mentioned in your previous write up Harry Potter – people have taken a number of different directions. I like it because it is – it is somewhat new… I mean popular films have tapped in a little bit on the surface, but not nearly to the degree that a classical dragon. Dragons have been interjected into so many films, and we have such a familiar look that we visualize when someone says dragon.
Kristin B: Penny Arcade does show a basilisk in the second comic. It is bird-like.
DFP David: Ya it’s kind of a owlish, rabbit like creature right?
David B: Well the second one, which they didn’t draw, they brought in another art team to sort of flesh it out into a five or six page story is super colorful, super vibrant, and it literally looks like an oversized rooster in that comic. I think mainly our inspiration for the whole “bird” angle is in the one line where they are talking about it like a vile chicken. I know that the artists that expanded the story ran with that literally and for me personally I was like “Ya, let’s do this” because we don’t think about birds being scary – but they’re horrifying.
DFP David: Well ya, Hitchcock’s The Birds.
David B: Right, so make one two stories tall and I don’t want to die by that.
DFP David: You don’t wanna get pecked to death, I understand.
David B: Yes that’d be really awful. And I mean, they move around, and they’re jittery – it’s just really awkward. I think one thing that we liked: if you strip away all the elegance that you associate with really slow moving dragons – and I mean, dragons are awesome, I’m not putting down dragons, but we liked that there is less familiarity with the basilisk, and we could take some more liberties. Some of the initial designs, and my initial desire was to have it be very feather-like in terms of surface texture, and it would have these really awkward jittery moments where feathers are flying off and play that off as a visual. But when it came to actually building the thing out, we immediately removed them from the process.
Kristin B: Because we made it.
DFP David: I was going to bring that up next – so you guys actually made it in your garage right?
David B: Start to finish. Ya, the whole thing.
DFP David: See, that’s crazy because I’ve got a friend who is really into cosplay, and he builds his own Iron Man suits, and it takes him weeks on end because he has to cut the foam, and then dip it in plastifier, and paint it too. What kinds of things was the basilisk made out of, and what did you have to learn to do the first time around when you made the monster?
Here, I can see the excitement on both of their faces. It’s easy to see the passion that came into this project for both of them. Even between mouthfuls of food, it’s hard not to interject a line here or there regarding the construction of the creature. There’s a lot of pride these creators show, and they should be proud.
David B: Kristin, feel free to interject at any time – because we did this together.
Kristin B: Well, we hired it out first, but what we got back was not exactly what we wanted.
David B: And it’s a monster movie, so you’ve got to have a monster that works.
Kristin B: Ya, I remember being like – “Maybe we don’t have to show the monster?”
David B: Ya the whole team was like “let’s go really mysterious and triple down on the Jaws aspect” and maybe like literally the fin will be like a tail feather, but that idea was quickly shot down. That type of approach has its place, it works great it Jaws , but it’s not going to work in this movie.
Kristin B: David one night while we were eating was just like, “We’re going to make it ourselves”. So Stan Winston’s school of Visual Effects has an online tutorial system.
David B: It’s an entire online school. It has a coursed out program. You don’t have to do the courses, but you can.
Kristin B: So they teach you steps to do essentially everything and so we started making a mental game plan of how we thought we were going to make it, and really every step, and for two months, he spent 15 hours a day, 18 hours a day – maybe not 18 but maybe 12 to 15 hours, sitting at the computer.
David B: I watched a LOT of tutorials throughout the whole process. We literally rigged up a television in our garage, just to be looping these things non-stop. It was a legit process. We started with a carbon fiber PVC framework coated that, well, we didn’t coat it, but we created a fiber glass shell. We experimented with encapsulated silicon but that was too tricky of a process. That leads to the flappy, gelatin like sort of thing, but then we opted for foam latex. A “theoretically simpler” …
DFP David: Anytime you’re building something, it never comes out as simple as what you think it’s going to the first time around.
Kristin B: That’s everything.
David B: Latex runs are complicated. They’re challenging.
Kristin B: Even to do… for instance, we wanted it to be fully articulating. The one we got back, you could kind of open the mouth, and it took like one hundred pounds of counter-balance weight... it was not what we wanted.
David B: We deconstructed what that thing didn’t do – it was totally a rigid object, all made out of one surface. I mean, they had glued some boa feathers on it in back, but it was a total embarrassment. But the fact that it didn’t have a lot of articulation in its neck, the mouth was kind of in a fixed state – you could yank it open but it never really shut, and my biggest hang-up was the way the puppet didn’t combine hard and soft surfaces like a real creature. The intention at the end of the day was that it had to have way more articulation than the original, and it had to be a lot lighter, because it had to be puppeteered. Our final piece was easily five times the size of what we purchased, and it weighed a lot less than what we bought.
Kristin B: It was only forty pounds. So it was totally wearable.
David B: The original literally had street sign poles to hold it up. It was a three man act to get this thing to move.
The creature was such a highlight in the film, it’s obvious that David and Kristin understood just how important the creature was going to be. Their care and dedication came through in this conversation, and not just in the words they were saying about the movie. They were genuinely nice people, concerned that they would be impacting other people’s dinner with our conversation, as well as moving multiple times to allow children past. These are down to earth filmmakers that cared as much about the audience as their finished product. We may have featured a lot on the creature here, but a lot of the practical effects were performed via Kristin and David's hard work.
DFP David: So who ended up being the puppeteer in the movie?
David B: Two guys. One of our very good friends, Ash Ramirez, helped out in the initial designing of how that neck mechanism worked.
Kristin B: He actually has another scene on camera where he catches the stick when the girl throws it after the fight.
David B: He’s in a number of places in the movie.
Kristin B: He was our Swiss Army Knife.
David B: He’s actually the back of the Ranger when he steps into camera in one shot. He was used all over the place as our go-to guy.
DFP David: Everyone’s got to have one of those guys.
David B: He’s fantastic. He’s a really smart guy, not at all in the film industry but can step in in any role that you need him, and a very good friend of mine all the way back from film school. But yes, Ash was our main puppeteer that fit the size of the build, it’s all built off a hockey pad core – sort of the core that was at the base of the monster, and then when it was rigged to the camera car, Hiawatha Blake was the other operator. He was brought onto the project just to be the wing. We knew we needed a wing that we could double and a head operator. Hiawatha did the wing, but Ash actually wasn’t able to be there for the second day, so we did some work with Hiawatha as the head operator when it was on the camera car. It worked out excellent because the inside started to really come apart on us, and he was jacking that jaw around so much trying to get as violent a scream as he could. In between takes he would be pulling a piece of pipe out and then just grabbing something else in there and by the end of it I swear it was just his hands manually moving the beak. But it made it through the whole shoot.
DFP David: Ok, so a couple other things that I wanted to touch on. The film is just beautiful, throughout the whole time there is this beautiful fog effect, and there is also just these terrific slo-motion shots. Can you talk about some of the different camera work that you used – I know you had to use at least a couple of different cameras to accomplish this. There is one particular shot in the movie where the Ranger is getting hit in the face with some debris – I talked about it in the write up…
David B: I was stoked to hear you call it out: I love that shot.
DFP David: It’s a perfect shot.
David B: If you can see, there’s a little twig that spins in front of his mouth. Literally the exhale of his breath stops the debris, and if you hold on that shot, it just spins the whole time. It doesn’t fall down or go away. It comes at him and just spins in front of his mouth.
So the cameras, the fun gear that we played with, were two cameras specifically that we had. Our Red Epic which switched to a Red Dragon sensor halfway through the shoot – we had two Epics out there, and then we shot with a Phantom 4k Flex which was the high speed camera. The other big piece of gear would be the drone that flew our Red – it wasn’t like a Go-Pro or anything, but it was hoisting the 8 pound camera. We also ran a Movi, which is a handheld steady camera-rig. Those were the most complicated gear; we had a jib one day but wasn’t a big crane day, it was mainly manual jib work.
The big slo-mo stuff… the thing about slo-mo is you need a lot of light. Crazy amounts of light, even when you’re shooting outside. Down at the waterbed that we were at for a lot of that stuff was bolstered by counterpointing 10ks and shooting through silks. Even in the middle of the day.
I really love the geeky part of filmmaking. I don’t get a chance to talk about it as much on the site as I would like to. It’s fascinating all the different things that directors and producers can do with technologies these days, and it was create getting to talk to some experts of the craft about what they used to accomplish different shots and sets of lighting, which is an art form all its own.
DFP David: Did you shoot just about everything in the same area or how much did you do off-site, like on a sound stage?
Kristin B: The interior hut was shot on a soundstage. And we shot up in Hendy Woods in Mendocino County. We shot at a private property up there as well. Everything was shot in Mendocino county except when we did the basilisk filming. That was about ten minutes outside of Golden Gate park.
David B: We had upwards of forty people on set, shooting three hours away from where any of us live. A lot of the cost of the project was just in getting our core team up there and having a place to stay and money to feed them with. That also made those eight days a lot of fun because it’s basically camp for adults. Some of our closest crew that we work with commercially all the time were up there working on a pure passion project with us.
I really enjoy talking about the camp aspect of it – the few times I’ve been lucky enough to participate in filming for movies, that’s truly what it feels like. There is almost no experience that draws people together like a movie – tons of people working together towards a common goal over a myriad of weeks, and all the time spent in between the actual filming is time you are just growing closer to people.
Kristin B: You mentioned the atmosphere, the fog. The sick irony of this is we chose Mendocino County because of the fog, that creepy, natural fog rolling in. Well, we shoot, and it’s the hottest days on record up there. So there was no fog, no marine layer coming in. So we had three or four super high output foggers going – none of that fog is post, it’s all in-camera – and we had people wafting fog all day long.
David B: Well, the two big composite wides have layers of pre-captured fog-they aren’t like particle systems, they’re actually plates- but the rest of that stuff is manual labor. It’s people with flags just flapping in front of fog machines trying to thin it out and the wind would just yank it away in an instant. There would be like two or three machines of filling a space, and a small little breeze would come in and just suck it all away. But quickly going back to the high speed stuff, so we totally fell behind the day that we were doing the ranger scream, and the debris that hits the kids, that opening ambush when it goes into hyper slo-mo, that stuff ran long. That same day, we were supposed to get the arm-breaking shot, so that was a “night for day” type set up. You’re in a forest, there’s no available light at all, and you’re shooting high speed, we were shooting over 800 frames for that one shot. Plus, it had to match to a scene that was very softly lit. There weren’t any really direct light sources in that kind of deadened forest, so that requires you to shoot through diffusion and soften everything, which means you’re using even more light, and we maxed out our generators for that shot. We built this box, and in our little behind the scenes book I called it “The Light Coffin” because the light sources are like four feet off the subject, and it’s like this blaring hot box, but just outside of the frame there is all this construction to get the exposure needed.
Kristin B: The camera had to go out the next morning at 8 o’clock. It was going onto another job.
David B: So we had five arms, but again, that’s another process. We wanted that stone to break – it’s not a visual effect kind of construction, that’s a plaster mold with various materials and we had like five shots at it because we had five arms.
DFP David: I really think that the attention that you guys paid to detail paid off though because from the practical effects for the monster to the lighting, you can tell that you paid attention to a lot of the little things that can make a film great. That’s something that you don’t see in the big-budget features, or even in other shorts. You guys have a background in commercial work right?
David B: So, we’re still there. That’s our business. We work in advertising.
I tried to take a small break from the film here, because as I stated, Kristin and David are genuinely nice people. They’d finished their meal and we were all starting to look at the clock a bit, and I wanted to find out a bit more about them personally before we finished our talk on Lookouts. They indulged me.
DFP David: Well I’m a chemist and I write about movies, so I know what you mean.
David B: Well back in the day, lab systems used heavy chemistry – Kristin, while we were in film school together she worked at the last film lab in San Francisco. It was all chemicals, it was all actual timing dips and everything like that. Wild.
DFP David: So that’s where you guys met?
Kristin B: Yes, we met in film school. We started working together right away, and started our business right after we graduated, and got married somewhere in there.
DFP David: Where’d you guys go to film school?
Kristin B: The Academy of Art in San Francisco.
DFP David: So you guys are both from the area or did you travel there for school?
Kristin B: No actually I’m from Texas originally and he’s from Bakersfield so southern, central California.
David B: So that’s where we met and the whole plan was always to go into narratives, but the industry in San Francisco is very heavily weighted towards advertising over television or feature work, so that’s where we’re working, because that’s where the jobs are. It’s a pretty solid place to develop techniques because one of the interesting things about shorts is it allows you a really good timeframe to really maximize your dollars. It’s kind of funny, today we were sitting through a workshop and the notion is “Try to do it as cheaply as possible, with as an expansive a story as possible” – which is an approach, but we follow a different philosophy. This one was all about quality over quantity, limit the overall run time, but maximize your dollar per frame, maximize the look of every single frame and see what we can do with that.
Here we moved off to talking about the “ Behind the Scenes ” book on the website, and I absolutely suggest checking it out. They used so much gear and really show you some of the monster work (I’ve included a few pictures I could grab) – it’s truly fascinating stuff.
DFP David: One of the last things I wanted to touch on was I really liked several of the actors, the Ranger most particularly. Did you do a casting call or did you know anyone involved, much like with your crew?
Kristin B: All the talent we did several rounds of casting in LA. So our three leads are all out of LA, and other scouts are like local area boys. All of them were cast .
David B: Four rounds in LA for the three main characters and one round in SF looking for the other scouts. That was quite a process.
DFP David: Some people go into things with a very particular look they have for a character. Was this something you had as well?
Kristin B: A lot of times you might have something in your mind, but honestly for us it was just the talent that won out. Especially for a child actor.
David B: It’s funny, speaking to that idea of having or carrying in a preconceived notion , we toyed around with the idea of – even though the language in the piece has a flowery character to it, we didn’t necessarily want them to have an accent, but we had toyed around with having a twist to a British tonality to the delivery. We didn’t tell any of the potential talent that this was something we had in the back of our heads, and when Chris (Cleveland) came in, he totally had this Westernized British accent that wasn’t quite English, it wasn’t quite Australian, but has a foreign characteristic. It allowed the language to run true in a way that was really good for the film.
DFP David: Well, we’ve all got to run. Thanks so much for coming, and allowing us to have some time to talk about your great film. Good luck in the festival competitions!
I want to give a final thank you to David and Kristin for taking the time out of their busy schedule to meet with me. I really appreciate it, and look forward to seeing any future narrative work that you find yourselves doing!
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"