Rubidium Wu’s Insights on Directing a Zombie Series
An idea can start small but very quickly grow into something bigger and better. Such was the case with “The Silent City”, a web series written and directed by Rubidium Wu. Listen/read as Rubidium talks about how his small 3 person project grew into a full scale production. Another perfect example of how all you really need is creativity, initiative and motivation. Come up with an idea you believe in and then take steps to actualize it. One step at a time. Simple right? Well maybe not simple but if you are a creative at heart than the rewards will far out weigh the effort. And the great thing is, so many have gone before you and are willing to share what they have learned. So be sure to read Rubidium’s comments and if you missed it, Directing:Part 1 is in the full post below. Keep up to date on the series via Twitter and/or Facebook as Rubidium is constantly updating their behind the scenes material and tutorials. And if you have a quick eye you’ll even see me playing my part as an undergrounder zombie.
Rubidium Wu: How Our Small Film Got (Wonderfully) Out of Control
“When we originally conceived of The Silent City, we imagined a small production of three people: the actor, a DP operating the camera, and myself, the director. We would be able to film unobtrusively in places we weren’t meant to be in, and could move fast and get out quickly. This is the story of how we ended up with 20 people on set, three cameras, and shutting down parks for our shoot.
Kickstarter was very good to us. We not only raised more than the 10k we thought we would need for the series, but we also met our DP, Nathaniel Kramer, who has his own Red Epic and set of Illumina Prime Lenses. He was excited by the concept of the series and wanted to donate his time to be part of the production. We immediately said yes, knowing that shooting on the Red would elevate our production value beyond what we had dreamed of.
The Red is a camera system, not just a camera; it needs assistants to operate, power sources, and shelter. You can’t tuck a Red under your coat if it rains. You can’t pick it up and run if the cops turn up. The Red is a dynamite camera system worth a lot of money; in terms of production costs, this translates to higher insurance costs.
Suddenly, we needed permits for all the locations we wanted to shoot in, which meant buying more insurance in order to satisfy the owners of the buildings (some of which are extremely unstable and therefore dangerous to be in). We spent almost half of our original budget before we shot a single frame! If something went wrong during production, we were confronted by the prospect of having spent a large chunk of our backers’ money and having nothing to show for it but paperwork.
Fortunately, now that we had spent the money to get “legal” there were other things we could take advantage of: we were able to get another Red camera, a Scarlet this time, that came with a glide cam, operator, and assistant for a very small increase in cost (more or less feeding them.)
Shooting with prime lenses is a very different process than shooting with zoom lenses. You have to set up your shot, design it, and commit to it. You can’t zoom in and out depending on what mood takes you. Unlike with hand-held shooting, you can’t re-frame as the action takes place. I actually prefer shooting with prime lenses as a working method. I chose to shoot on the tripod 90% of the time, because I wanted a stillness and stability, and because we were shooting 4k and mastering in 2k, we always had the option of adding camera shake later if we wanted it.
It was a conscious aesthetic decision to use very few lights on the shoot, and to use available light for the majority of the set-ups. I felt using available light would counterbalance the fantasy of the plot in an interesting way. Most of the shoot was set outside in daytime, but even inside, natural light instantly shed realism on this apocalyptic story.
On the practical side of things, lights were also a technical challenge as most of the sets didn’t have power. We bought a generator with us, but it couldn’t be running during takes that required sound. All in all, it made the shoot faster and I think the images more interesting and varied. By shooting mostly on a tripod with available light, the shots are less stylized; instantly, everything feels palpably real. “