No budget. No visual effects.
Just house hold items and an imagination.
I was flipping through the channels recently and came across the final 30 minutes of Air Force One starring Harrison Ford. Awesome action movie. A few friends of mine were watching with me as the plane went down at the end. The first thing I thought of was how far visual effects has come since 1997.
It sparked a memory of making movies when I was much younger. Back then, we were always trying to figure out how to create ‘cool’ effects. I still remember discovering that a program like After Effects existed. The thought of creating my own light saber battles kept me up at night thinking about the possibilities. I even built my own blue double light saber. (No big deal)
Note: There is a synopsis for our Star Wars movie on my hard drive somewhere…
Many ideas we had were pretty ambitious and rarely worked out as we hoped they would. But watching our footage and screaming “That looks amazing!” was a normal occurrence.
Kids Making Action Movies
As I watched Harrison Ford save the day, I thought about a story I wrote long ago called Extreme Security and a failed attempt at our own ‘big finish’.
Extreme Security was about a well trained security guard who has to stop a group of terrorists from taking over a government facility. The group, Venom, intended to take over the world using the secret intelligence files and chemical weapons within the facility.
The movie had characters with names like Spear and there was going to be fights and gun battles at every possible opportunity. We even managed to shoot a few scenes. We went out and bought toy guns and spray painted them black and everyone wore cool sunglasses to get into character. It was going to be an amazing action movie inspired by Jean Claude, Steven Segal and many more legends of the action genre.
The Big Finish
The movie was supposed to end with a missile destroying the facility before Venom’s plan is carried out. We got to work…
First we built a pretty sweet building made of cardboard. Of course, it didn’t look like a building so we spray painted it with stone textured paint. Our first miniature. We taped plastic wrap to the back of the windows to make them look real and used spare parts from toys for turrets on the roof.
Once our building was complete, we had to figure out a way to blow it up. Our plan was to cut a hole in the roof and put a paper cup full of gasoline inside. We tied a string to the bottom of the cup and a toy rocket to the other end. Our brilliant plan was to light a match attached to the rocket. This way we could let the rocket, which would look real because of the fire coming from the match, fall directly into the cup of gas and the whole structure would catch on fire.
Obviously, we were smart enough to know that it wouldn’t actually explode but we figured we could film it and speed the footage up. It was our only realistic plan at the time because we weren’t allowed to use super heated (and extremely flammable) aerosol cans.
During our first and only test run, the rocket landed and the flames took a while to really get going. The plastic wrap windows slowly melted away which disappointed us because we didn’t think about how to simulate glass shattering.
In the end, it was basically a complete disaster and we eventually lost interest in the movie. Extreme Security will probably never see the light of day.
That doesn’t change the fact that it was a blast (no pun intended) to plan. Back then, there wasn’t anywhere near the amount of digital tools available to indie filmmakers today.
We now have access to sites like VideoCopilot where effects guru Andrew Kramer shares the secrets of After Effects. Check out his product Action Essentials 2 for about a million different pre keyed elements like fire, explosions, dust, glass shattering and much more.
Disclaimer: This is just a genuine recommendation. No affiliation whatsoever. I bought the package long ago and it’s awesome. Go check it out immediately and watch hundreds of FREE tutorials.
Air Force One is an example of doing the best you can with what you have at the time. I’d love to see the same effect created today but when you don’t have access to the technology, you have to solve problems and challenges creatively.
Our movie may not have been practical but it was still practice. It was a great way to learn about how to think like filmmakers.
How to be creative with limitations.
We finished a lot of movies back then. Each of them taught me something new and all of them made me love making movies even more. My life long passion for film began on those awesome summer days spent trying to figure out problems like destroying secret cardboard government facilities.
It’s just too bad about the building. That stone textured spray paint looked sweet.