Ok, so technically it’s not a physical “can”, but several copies on hard drives to say the least… but we are wrapped on principle recording! There’s still a few pickups to do here and there for some small side-characters and kickstarter backers, but most all the performances have been captured! I’ll stop putting exclamation marks now, but really, this was quite a big week for myself and the entire cast and crew for We’re Alive: Lockdown.
For those of you who aren’t fully familiar with the project, Lockdown is sort of a “side-story/continuation” of the original series of We’re Alive: A Story of Survival. It’s equivalent to half of a season of the original series, but this time written and recorded all at once. In all, it ended up being 370 pages long. From conception to recording it’s taken about a year to complete, starting shortly before the Season 4 finale last year. At first I thought, “Hey, it’s not nearly as long as the regular series, how hard could it be?” How wrong I was.
Some of the production details I’ve been hazy with as to not jinx anything, but I can now reveal some of the behind the scenes details that had been previously omitted. First thing you might notice about this project, is that it sort of changed branding somewhat. It started out being “Tales from We’re Alive: Lockdown”, and then a few inconsistencies labeled it “Tales of We’re Alive: Lockdown”. There ended up being acronym problems, and even grammatically those titles didn’t make much sense. Finally, I decided to change the name to just “We’re Alive: Lockdown”. Simpler, shorter, and lastly, non-binding. See, for there to be “Tales”, there’d have to be more than one. When developing the side-stories I had in mind for several “Tales”, Lockdown was by far the best of the bunch. The others didn’t yet have all the elements I felt were necessary for a truly worthy cohesive story. By removing the “Tales”, I now don’t feel boxed in to create multiple. That can of course change later if and when the others are more developed, but above all else, story first.
When I initially started writing Lockdown, I was aiming for something in the 3 to 4 hour range. But even before I could write a word of dialogue, I would need to spend months researching and developing the characters and story. Some of that research included spending time visiting and exploring a real working jail and experiencing first-hand what it’s like inside. I must say, that part wasn’t fun. Those scenes in movies where inmates stare blankly out of their windows, watching anything that goes by in the hall… all true. Previously, I had some experience exploring the roots of our prison system with the documentary I edited and helped produce called “Eastern State:Living Behind the Walls”. The shocking truth, that most people aren’t aware of, is that jails are far worse than prisons. Jails are meant to be short-term, whereas Prisons are meant to house people for longer. Since prisons are intended for extended stays, the inmates typically have more privileges and rights, like you get guaranteed time outdoors. Jails don’t have that. You can go months, or years, without even seeing the color of the sky.
I continued researching, all the way down to blueprints and layouts of jails. PS. You won’t find any blueprints of jails or prisons online that are active, BUT you can find the jail-building manual, which tells you pretty much how every aspect of the interior, from blind-corners to layout grids. It’s fascinating how much goes into their construction, all of which contributed greatly to the story. Equally, I spent time flushing out each character we’d spend time with. There’s a certain “type” of person that ends up in jail, but also there are those outliers. Lots of time was spent watching interviews on inmates, documentaries of different housing units, etc… In the end, I think there’s a fair representation of reality interwoven with the fantasy world I’ve already created. After outlining everything, and finally putting “ink to the page”, it ended up being 370 pages (6-7 hours), far exceeding what I initially set out to do.
When Lockdown was complete with the first draft, we (Grayson and I) set out to find funding. While kickstarter was an option, I resisted. Given the amount we needed, and the fact that we had possibly secured outside funding, I didn’t want to deal with the stress of using crowd-sourcing. With that outside funding, however, would come some exclusivity rights. There could be more restrictions, and possibly less control altogether. When we received word that the funding fell through, going to kickstarter didn’t seem so bad. We could offer the fans more of what they wanted, but ultimately we would have to ask fans to put their money into something they would have to trust would be good. I don’t like asking for money. I look forward to the day that I don’t have to deal with the $ involved with production, and just focus on the creative side. In the end, the fans came through, and we were able to hit our goal of $50,000 and even $5k over to help fund the documentary about the project.
At the time, I didn’t want to mention it, but I was rooting for every dollar after our goal. Why? Well, it may be a little self-serving (which is why I didn’t mention it before), but it was so that I could hire my wife’s documentary company Emblem Documentaries. Soon, my wife, Blaire, won’t be very physically active as we are expecting our first child in January, and having her to be able to work from home during the last trimester will be very beneficial. She’s an amazing story-teller as well, and has a knack for finding the drama of reality.
A lot was riding on the kickstarter for multiple reasons. One: we needed the funds to complete the project . Two: in order to meet our deadlines and our time window for the recording facility, we’d have to start hiring people early before the funds were 100% secure. This included casting. Thirdly: kickstarter is no easy task. It takes a tremendous amount of work to run properly, and definitely stoked the flames of conflict behind the scenes. In the end, our backers pushed us over the finish line, and no joke, less than a week later all the actors got together for the table read. And one week after that, we had our three-day straight massive recording session. Oh, and throw Comic-Con in the middle of that week for another good measure of pressure.
That leads us to this last weekend: the recording session. I’ve done a lot of recording sessions, 25 of them with full casts of characters for We’re Alive, but this was a whole new level of stress. We’ve done 120 pages in a day, but could we do 370 pages in 3, with a brand new cast and even some new crew members? Our math said, yes, but we didn’t have a whole lot of wiggle room. Certain cast members weren’t going to be available all recording days either, but I stood my ground and made sure that if there was a scene, all characters would be there to read with each other. Too much can get lost when energy levels don’t match, or you don’t have someone to read with. So much was on the line, and what we ended up with… was perfection.
Sure, we had a few hiccups here and there, every production does, but this was an absolute golden recording session. There was a lot of pressure for time, but there were no concessions made when it came to performances. Every take was exactly what I wanted, and then some. I found myself getting chills, struggling not to laugh, or even a little teary eyed throughout the entire process. Everyone left with smiles, exchanged numbers, and the cast gave us a lot of compliments of how well everything went. 3 days, 39 hours on set, over 1000 pages of dialogue, and a little bit of insanity, all I can say, is I couldn’t be happier.
Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to the unsung hero of the group, Grayson. He’s been the oil between the wheels for many years making sure everything runs. From Kickstarter, to behind the board, and keeping me from going crazy; I could have no better business partner. Cheers, to an amazing half-way point!
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