Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Combat Con Recap

Yep, the truck that hit me had a vanity plate.  And the name on that plate was "Combat Con"!  It's Tuesday morning and I feel like I've been backed over repeatedly by a steam roller.  It might be the 1/2 hour sleep we got in the parking lot on our first night after they lost our hotel reservation, or the 2 hour lightsaber class with a couple awesome sword blokes Nick Gillard and Kyle Rowling, or the constant pressure of having to shoot a Hunted episode cumulating in a climactic fight sequence with Anthony DeLongis and Hunted affiliates from all over the country.

But damn, I'm glad we went!

Months ago, I had been contacted by Tim Ruzicki and Jared Kirby about taking part in "Combat Con".  I was more than a bit tentative, since we already had more than enough on our plate with The Hunted feature.  I've also been a bit tentative when it comes to conventions in general, having seen several web shows over the years spending all of their time running around marketing themselves without focusing on the actual show - all buzz and no content.

This would also be the first year for Combat Con, which is a bit difficult for any convention.  And they were planning on pulling out all the stops - risky!  Not only would this be one of the first conventions that combined stage combat and western martial arts, these guys wanted to also incorporate fantasy, sci-fi, fx makeup, stage combat competitions, LARPing, steampunk, and a whole buncha other crazy worlds under one roof.  It was a bizarre mix of fantasy characters and people who could actually kill you.

But somehow it all worked out.  And it worked really well in my opinion!  And no one died (to my knowledge).

My interest, however, was simply to advertise for The Hunted, and the organizers were more than happy to host our show.  What's more, this would give us an opportunity to screen the winning episodes from our latest contest.  And then, once I was convinced we were going, the ideas inevitably began to snowball.

My biggest reservation was that I didn't want Combat Con to interfere with our plans for the feature film.  But there was suddenly all this excitement and energy being focused on the con - affiliates from all over the country were planning on showing up including Derek Conley from Florida, and Kendall Wells who had just moved to LA.  What's more, Anthony DeLongis was also going to be there, which would allow us to put together a Hunted panel which would include myself, Andrew Helm, and Jessica Cail.

In addition, stage combat performers were coming in from all over the country, and my biggest interest right now is finding folks to create new episodes of The Hunted who can also handle the action.  So this just seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up, and rather than waste time trying to fight all this energy, I decided to just go with it.

And then of course, I fell into the trap that has gotten me into all kinds of crazy trouble in the past ten years.  How can we make a Hunted episode out of this?  Using the resources that were already there, I quickly came up with the idea that this convention was actually a front for a gathering of slayers from all over the country called "Slayer Con"!  And into this convention would walk our main baddie vampire with balls o' steel, Vincent Marlowe (Anthony DeLongis), with plans to market a new energy drink called "Slayerade".  Unfortunately, the drink has a few side effects (including spontaneous combustion), and Bob and the rest of the slayers must join forces to defeat him.  Vincent, however, has an ace up his sleeve and breaks a small vial which is the equivalent of a slayer "roofie".  The slayers all wake the next day wondering what the hell happened in a parody of a scene from "The Hangover".

We were excited about the episode because it tied into a lot of the elements for the feature and the web series - the fact that Marlowe is all about making money and wiping out his competition while being involved in the pharmaceutical industry was a big plus.  The episode also tied into the "Breakthrough" episode we shot years ago where Jessica Cail (playing a research scientist) was abducted by Marlowe.  We also tied in a reference to our "Expulsion" affiliate in New York which had a b-plot about vampires creating energy drinks from water found in the Ithaca gorges.  What's more, Kendall Wells had an episode he was writing for "SlayerCon" which would overlap with our episode, introduce our characters to each other, introduce the other affiliates, and go into further backstory of Jess and her involvement with Marlowe.

Andrew Helm took on the task of our writing the script, which allowed Jess and I to focus on organizing the shoot and all the elements including 200 bottles of custom printed "Slayerade" along with t-shirts, hats, and posters.  There was also casting, scheduling (which was no simple task since everyone had their own convention schedule), and ordering a bunch of nurses uniforms.  I also ordered 1000 Hunted buttons and set up a SlayerCon and Slayerade URL and website which would push directly to The Hunted.

I originally thought this would be just another 5-10 minute episode, but I knew we were in trouble when the first draft came in at 28 pages (which makes for a 28 minute script).  Just so you know, most feature films might shoot a couple pages a day.  Shooting all of this in one weekend would mean shooting more than ten pages a day.  But it was a pretty awesome script, so we managed to cut it down to 20 pages, which was potentially do-able and would make for a fun 2-part episode.

And with a car packed with swords, signs, shirts, buttons, scripts, an airzooka and a camera, we set off from LA with myself, Andrew Helm, and Jessica Cail in my comfortably packed Rav 4.

We had one shot we wanted to get before we got to Vegas, which was a nighttime roadside shot of Andrew and I walking down the road after our car had broken down.  It took us until 2 in the morning to find the perfect spot on the east side of town, but it was worth it (I hope).  Afterwards, we dropped off Andrew at his mom's place in Vegas and made it to our hotel around 3am.  And yup, this is the part where they lost our reservation.  What's more, the whole hotel was completely booked thanks to another event going on at the same time, the "Electric Daisy Carnival" which had lil' ravers descending on Vegas from all parts of the world.  I felt bad for Jess, since she really wanted to see this, but she was locked in to being our dedicated cameraman all weekend.

But I felt much worse for the both of us at that moment since we now had no place to sleep, and we were completely exhausted since we only had 3 hours of sleep the previous night.  What's more, our call time the next morning was 7am when we were planning on killing a vampire in front of the "Welcome to Vegas" sign.  Screw it, we'll just sleep in the parking lot.  Unfortunately, after an hour in the parking lot, we were awakened by a knock on the window by the hotel security guard telling us that we could park there, but we couldn't sleep.  I'm glad that I forgot in my exhausted state of rage that I had a whole bag of swords in the back seat.

We gave up and ended up going to IHOP for pancakes until our call time.  We still had no idea if Bret Culpepper (our vampire) was even going to make it, but luckily we hooked up with him and Andrew Helm and got our shot.  Unfortunately, it will have to be dubbed since I had no idea the location was in the middle of a highway right next to an airport.

It would've been nice at that point to find a room and crash, but we couldn't check in until 3pm and the day had just begun.  The next challenge was to shoot a cameo with Jared Kirby, who was busy organizing the entire convention.  What was I thinking?  But we managed to shoot his two scenes and I'm just hoping that this will all cut together somehow.

And then, my second crazy idea of the day, I had scheduled to take part in a 2 hour jedi swordfighting class with Kyle Rowling and Nick Gillard.  It was the one class I planned to take all weekend, the one thing I wanted to do just for me, I was physically and mentally waaaay too tired to take the class, and it was probably stupid of me to waste what little energy I had.  But it was totally worth it!  I had a blast and I'm thankful to Derek Conley for partnering up with me, even though he was just as wasted as I was.

But the fun didn't stop there, we took advantage of the space and time afterwards to rehearse with Anthony, myself, Kendall, Derek and Kyle for the final fight scene on Sunday.  Thankfully, Jess had checked us into the hotel by that time, and I think I may have crashed out afterwards for an hour but I'm not sure.  The whole weekend was kinda blurry - not just from sleep deprivation, but from lack of food.  I had included lunch as part of the schedule, but somehow I don't remember eating.

Otherwise we managed to stick to the schedule the entire weekend, which I thought was amazing since almost every minute was booked.  Friday was supposed to be our easiest day and we chose to end the day by shooting some of the crazy "Hangover" footage with Andrew's character getting married to a vampire at a small Vegas-type church.  It was at that point we met Britney, who Andrew had previously met online and had agreed to help us out with the episode.  Britney was awesome and a real trooper - even when we got kicked out of one church parking lot when Kendall pulled off his shirt and pretended to pee on their fence.

Our call the next morning was 8am when we planned to shoot the actual hangover scene.  Our nice new hotel room was completely trashed within 20 minutes, and we shot some footage that morning which I'm still not sure is suitable for the internet.  Let's just say that Kendall emerges from the bathroom wearing naught but a crash helmet, a strategically placed sock, and an inflatable dolphin.

The rest of the day was spent trying to shoot scenes and b-roll while taking part in actual panels and screenings.  We also set up the Hunted booth, which was more of a film set as far as I was concerned, so I was surprised when folks started buying headshots and DVD's.  Our actual Hunted panel was later in the day - our first ever!  Like most panels at the con, we had a fairly small, but enthusiastic turnout.  Unfortunately, the few people that were there disappeared when we excused most of our cast to shoot a scene for the episode.  We had one person left for the scene, which I thought was funny since The Hunted has always had a lackluster, but enthusiastic fanbase on the show.

I was still completely exhausted by the time evening rolled around, as was Andrew.  I didn't think we were going to be able to shoot anything else that evening, so I sent him home.  Unfortunately about a half hour later, I really wish I hadn't.  I knew the convention was planning on a costume ball, and I was planning on shooting a few party shots, but I had no idea what a rocking great time it would be!  What's more, it was an excellent opportunity to show all the slayers getting completely wasted.

It was at some point in time this evening that "Squeakers" the inflatable dolphin made its appearance.  This is something I picked up from the 99 cent store years ago, but somehow found its way into the world of The Hunted.  That night, Squeakers was passed around from one slayer to the next who performed unspeakable acts on the poor mammal.  Last I heard, Squeakers the dolphin had been kidnapped by Kyle Rowling and was being held hostage somewhere in Australia.  There is already a facebook campaign to "Save Squeakers".

Sunday had us up again early to shoot all of Anthony's scenes.  Anthony was COMPLETELY booked the entire weekend, and Sunday morning was our best bet.  At the last second, an autographed session was scheduled for Anthony in the middle of Sunday morning, which would've completely hosed us, but Anthony stuck with us and shot all his scenes.

I've worked with Anthony for over 20 years now, but I was never more impressed with him than I was this weekend.  Not only did he take part in yet another Hunted episode in the midst of a crazy schedule-packed weekend, he also managed to perform four fights with lightning speed, back to back with pages of dialogue all in a single take.  Damn.

I'm seriously amazed we were able to pull together all the elements for the scenes with Anthony and that final conflict.  We had extras, fights, dialogue, slayerade bottles, multiple episode with multiple cameras, and a convention going on all around us.  What's more, at the last second I realized that we were sans a cameraman.  Everyone was in the scene, and the folks who weren't were shooting for other episodes.  Fortunately for us, Brian McGee stepped in, a local from Vegas who was shooting another episode with Bret Culpepper, and did an excellent job.  Special thanks also go out that morning to Jason Mcneil, Mary Delongis, and our sexy nurses Britney and Liz McClelland.

The rest of Sunday covered more scenes, more b-roll, and more pickups for Kendall's episode, which he was writing on the fly.  It was truly awesome to work with him and Derek, who were almost instantly on the same page when it came to comedy and timing.  I can't wait to see what happens with his episode.  I'm hoping I don't give too much of his plot away by saying it involves a girl (Mel Turner) who wants to employ Kendall to save her sister (Jess Cail).  I'm fairly certain that comedy ensues.  This will be the first episode to be shot concurrently with another episode, and there were a few moments when we crossed the streams and two cameras were standing right next to each other.  I'm fairly certain if you view these scenes side by side with special glasses, you will be able to see the first Hunted episode in 3D!

On top of everything else on Sunday, I managed to shoot an interview with G4's "Viewer Army", which was one of the most relaxed interviews I've ever had - probably since I was completely exhausted.  I had originally been contacted by G4 to shoot coverage for Combat Con, but I'm glad that didn't happen since I can't imagine doing that on top of everything else.

Sunday evening was The Hunted screening where, by popular demand, we also showed dailies of the day's shoot.  We stopped short of showing any of the hangover footage however, since a few of those images were still burned into our brains and we didn't want to inflict that on anyone else.  In addition to the dailies, we also screened The Hunted episodes "Breakthrough" and "Con Job 2" along with the winners of the Third Annual Hunted Contest "Women of Will", "Pfefferneuse and Mystery", and "Punk in the Trunk".  Once again, it was a small but enthusiastic turnout, and by the end of the showing practically everyone in the room was ready to shoot an episode.

It was damn late and we were damn tired by the time the screening wrapped up, but we were determined to take Derek out to dinner for his birthday.  Derek told me the best birthday present he had was to be able to kickass in his fight scene with Anthony, and he certainly did that!  And he was following a couple pretty tough acts.  Kendall and I have both worked with Anthony for years and we could do those fights in our sleep.  Derek had just met Anthony and only had a matter of hours to put together a fight sequence.  And he certainly stepped up - congrats buddy!

Even though we were exhausted after dinner on Sunday night, we still had some shots we wanted to get on our hangover party stuff, so Kendall, myself, Derek, Andrew and Jess hit the town. It was at that point that Andrew kinda switched off and had to crash before he could no longer walk.  We still made it to Excalibur to shoot some silly footage of us fighting with Nerf axes in front of the gate, and we got kicked out of the men's restroom for filming some other antics.  We probably should've also been kicked out for doing some dirty dancing in front of a poster for "Thunder from Down Under".

My biggest regret from the weekend is that we did not get footage of us riding a zipline down Fremont street (which was in the script).  If you haven't seen this, it's a crazy long zipline where four people can go simultaneously and it would've been awesome to have footage of myself, Andrew, Kendall, and Derek all going at the same time.  I had even brought along my Gopro for the occasion.  Doh.  Next time I guess.  We also never got footage of the city timelapse, which is the other reason I brought the Gopro.  I'm guessing we'll just have to find some stock footage.

The only other scene we didn't have time for involved myself, Jess and Andrew in a parking garage, which I figure we can get in LA.  It was scheduled for Monday morning in Vegas, but we thought it was more important to treat the cast to breakfast, actually hang out together for a bit, and see them off.

But it wasn't over yet.  When we finally left Vegas at 2:30pm on Monday afternoon, we still had nine scenes to shoot in the car with myself and Andrew.  It was hilarious since this was supposed to be the beginning of the script where Andrew was all excited about going to Combat Con, and here we were completely exhausted.  What's worse, we were stuck in traffic with all of the "Electric Daisy" ravers leaving the city, and one of our last scenes involved shooting at a gas station just outside LA before sunset.

The gas station was kind of a big deal.  It took me almost a week of searching online to find an old gas station in the desert where we come across a vampire attendant (played by Bret Culpepper) who wants to check our "vital fluids".  The place I finally found was this little old country store outside LA, and we only had four hours to get there.  Luckily, the traffic thinned enough for us to make it to the gas station just in time where we met up with Bret who had been waiting there for hours.  At least we didn't have to worry about getting kicked out since they had just closed.

Pulling into LA at 10pm, I was still determined to shoot our final scene, knowing that pickups can sometimes be virtually impossible to shoot.  But I gave up at the last minute, packed it in, crawled into bed, and didn't get up until sometime in the late afternoon.  It's now after 6pm and I haven't bothered to check my email or eat breakfast since I'm sure I wouldn't have time or momentum to write this if I did.

And as exhausted as I am, I'm thrilled we did this.  I don't know how the convention did, but in my opinion it was a huge success!  Not only were we able to shoot a kickass episode involving almost every character and affiliate in The Hunted at an awesome location, but we also got to meet up with a bunch of sword-slingin professionals who are now interested in shooting episodes for the show.

I'd also love to see if we can make "Slayer Con" a real thing at Combat Con, where we could actually get all of our affiliates and fans together for the weekend and host a 48 hour film competition, teach swordplay and film combat classes, run some alternate reality games, etc.  Why not?  We've already got the URL.

For now, I'm just hoping to get the episode online in the next couple months while we're also prepping and shooting the feature.  I've got an editor lined up named John Debiase and we'll probably hook up after we shoot our last scene sometime this week.

First things first, it's 6:45pm and time for breakfast!


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1 comment:

Mel said...

Shooting that was the most fun you can have while clothed in Vegas... we gotta do more of that!