STEP 04: DESIGNING THE FILM
My team and I spent a few weeks designing the look of the film. I knew that we only had two days on set and that meant keeping the locations to a minimum. I also knew that the film was going to be short and sweet so I wanted to cram as much cool looking stuff into it as possible. The plan was to film a scene that primarily took place in one of Frank’s safe houses and showcased the chemistry between Nick and Evalena. We had to have guns in the film, but I didn’t want the whole thing to be just a gunfight sequence. Filming an action scene the right way takes days to do, and on micro budgets you run the risk of it looking amateurish. You don’t want to cut from really awesome acting and beautiful dialog scenes to bad choreography and crappy stunts.
I also hate using fake (non-firing) guns. You can always tell when an actor is holding a plastic gun because their posture is different. When an actor holds something dangerous they have more respect for it and that shows on screen. When the gun actually fires it causes all sorts of natural ripple effects throughout the actors clothing and body making us believe that they are in danger.
Anytime an actor fires a gun it’s gotta be real! Luckily, my partner Ian and I have a relationship with a company that makes awesome blank guns. These guys had sent us some real cool front firing blank guns for our production of an As I Lay Dying video. These weapons were designed specifically for film and when fired they would launch a huge muzzle flash out of the barrel. It also spits out the empty shell and has sufficient recoil for the actor. After testing them I excitably said “Let’s shoot the actors firing them in ultra slow motion!”
STEP 05: THE LOCATION
One of the most important things you can do on a limited budget is find the right locations. You need a place that works for the story, the blocking, and if you are lucky it comes with set dressing and inspiration. You want a place that you can literally take over for over 12 hours straight. Find a building manager or a homeowner who is completely excited about what you are doing, because you are going to test the limits of their patience. When a film production shows up on your doorstep with all of its crew members, cars, power needs, bathroom requirements, and an annoyed sound mixer you can bet that the property owner will be inconvenienced. We needed all of this for little or no money. Enter my uncle Paul. Paul has been a supporter of my films for years and has helped build sets, acted as a weapons consultant, and has weaseled his way in front of the camera on almost every one of my films. (Check out our music video for Meshuggah. Guess who the three-armed demon is?)
Paul connected me to his buddy who owned several buildings outside Boston. These places were home to mechanic bays, workshops, and storage spaces. They are the perfect Punisher hideouts. We met up with this character and went on a day trip scouting some of the darkest and filthiest holes and got to peek at some of the coolest cars and tools around. The whole time I couldn’t help but think that this must be what Frank does when he isn’t killing people. He must go scouting the same way, only he would be carrying a bag full of money stolen from the bad guys and would purchase these buildings outright! I kept imagining a conversation between Frank Castle and a real estate agent. “How thick are these walls? What sort of power runs through those wires? How hard is it to get blood off these floors? The basement has drainage? PERFECT!”
We scouted a few places that looked pretty cool and met a guy with an awesome motorcycle shop who agreed to donate a bike for the filming. We still hadn’t found the perfect spot. Then our guide says; “I do have this one spot that’s loaded with crap. I don’t think it will work though, but I’ll take you over there.”
We pulled into the lot of this old New England mill and my
eyes lit up. It was set back far from
the road and the outside looked like Jim Lee sketched it! Inside there were over four floors of amazing
spaces and each seemed to be transported from different time periods. Abandoned offices filled with vintage chairs,
desks, and computers from the early 80s!
Giant mill ceilings, awesome architecture, and the coolest service
elevator to the basement, which was F’N PERFECT!!!
Rows and rows of giant milling machines, huge dark cavernous spaces filled with shelves of machine parts. An old folk lift that still worked and chains hanging from the ceiling! This was Frank’s home. This is where he cleans his guns, this is where he stockpiles supplies, and this is where he plans his war! We had a location!
STEP 06: THE OUTFITSOne of my favorite details in the Rucka/Checchetto book is the spray painted skull on Frank’s vest. I never understood how or why the Punisher would get a perfect skull screen printed on shirts. Did he have a contract with a t-shirt company? Wouldn’t that be an easy way to track him down? I know, maybe he had a silk screening setup in one of his garages. Give me a break!
I was never a fan of the tights with the utility belt forming the skulls teeth. We are supposed to believe that this man is military and that he builds everything on his own. Stencils and spray paint make the most sense. That small detail in the book was really special and I definitely wanted that in our film. Body armor shopping is really difficult. The obvious option was to hit the Army/Navy store, but the big problem was that I needed vests for both Frank and Cole. Evelena is barely 5 feet tall and has the tiniest frame; so regular vest sizes were way out of proportion. I spent weeks hunting through online stores and making phone calls and finally decided to contact one of the companies that supply those private corporate bodyguards. I asked them questions like “Do you have children’s sizes?” “Can I order just two?” and “Do I need a license to purchase these?” Of course I finally get asked the question, “Sir, why do you need only two vests?
“I’m making a Punisher fan film”, I respond and her tone changed immediately!
I learned quickly that 'guns and ammo' people love Frank Castle, and would love to have their products showcased on him. Buying body armor did apparently require a license (because of that incident in LA where the guys robbed a bank and took out all those cops while wearing body armor), but we don’t need one if I just get the vests without the body armor plates. The two vests cost some loot, even with the discount, but they were the closest I could find to the actual illustrations.
With a few long phone conversations and strange measurements from my actors, I was able to get perfectly fitted vests. My buddy Justin Brooks, who is an FX guru, painted the vests for me and they looked so awesome that the one Evelena wore is now framed in my office.
STEP 07: THE GEAR & CREW
Let’s get nerdy for all the techie fans. Digital technology and lighting gear have been through some amazing changes recently that make shooting the “Big Budget” look a lot more affordable. You can do amazing things with a DSLR camera, and LED lighting and other low power draw units that push out twice the light without the need of a giant lighting crew. On this piece I really wanted to show off the talents of my hard working crew. Our company has amassed a brilliant team of camera and lighting technicians over the years of music video and commercial work we have done. It’s very easy for the audience to give credit to the director, but the truth of it is that I weigh heavily on support and the time and skill brought on by my crew. These guys are pros and wanted to flex their skills so I called in some serious favors and got some really cool toys to play with. The majority of the short was filmed using a Nikon D800 and Zeiss movie primes. We brought in a dolly for the longer camera moves and had a short slider for the close-ups. I wanted the film to feel like a down and dirty movie from the late 70’s so strange focus points and the occasional camera bump on the dolly track were encouraged. Imperfections make it seem more real. Lighting is an obsession of mine and the goal was to have a large enough package to sculpt the large spaces. The cool thing about the sensitivity of these new cameras is that the lights don’t have to be huge (I think our biggest was a 2k) but you still have to sculpt everything so we had an extensive grip package. The Key grip spent a lot of time creating these little pools of light and keeping the colors from clashing. Jarvis,the director of photography, was tasked with coloring the lights on set. Our gell roll alone was over $300.00! I wanted the film to have a colorful but truly dark feel to it. For the slow motion sequences my buddy donated his Phantom camera. It was an older model but could still shoot a super high frame rates. That would allow us to capture bullet shells in mid air and down the water in the shower. It’s a really amazing look but come to find out takes a ton of time to shoot.
The crew was around 15 craftsmen and women in total and everyone killed it!