This film began with a story that Josh had been thinking of since 2012. He began telling me bits and pieces after church each Sunday and described it as a chase scene in a open field where a young boy was being protected by a guardian angel as they walked through the spiritual realm. Sounded cool to me. But we didn't seriously begin discussing the film until sometime in the beginning of 2013 when he had written a first draft of the script.
The production got much bigger than what we had in mind back in 2012. We would now be depicting a militarized spiritual realm where everything was portrayed as gritty reality within the context of a fantastical concept in which a young spirit named Jaclyn must make it to the portal of Earth in order to be "born" all while demons attack her. The look of the film I came up with was extremely influenced by the gritty aesthetic of THE RAID (an incredible Indonesian low budget action film).
From the very beginning, Josh said he wanted the theme of the film to show that "life is precious". Right away I thought we should represent this with a color. Purple. Everything relating to a human life was clothed in Purple.
Because this film was going to depict two separate realms, it was important to create a visual difference between Earth and the Spiritual Realm. Not just in terms of production design and lighting, but it, again, color.
The Portal room: A cold and desolate Teal Blue
When Matthias meets Jaclyn: A warm, protective Orangey Green
When They are attacked by an army of demons: A very desaturated version of the cold desolate Teal Blue of the portal room
Every scene with the Parents on Earth: Vibrant colors, naturalistic in the sense that there is no color cast
When Matthias is bandaging Jaclyn in a safe room: Back to the warm, protective, Orangey Green
And of course the ending merges into Earth where the colors become naturalistic again.
The second thing I wanted to keep consistent was my choice between handheld and steadicam. The mental state of the characters "I know what I'm doing" or "I don't know what I'm doing" was what determined the aesthetic was for the scene or even within a scene. For example:
Matthias takes out a few demon guards = Steadicam since this is basically routine for him.
Jaclyn learning about the world she is in as Matthias guides her through it = All handheld since she has no idea what to expect
The demon army attack scene was a mixture - Shots of focusing on Matthias fighting were handheld, Shots of all the demons were fast moving steadicam
CAMERA ROTATING SHOTS
For this I mounted my camera on my glidecam sideways that way the camera would freely spin without losing momentum and the shot would not be obstructed. The execution of these shots where lots of trial and error since looking at the back LCD of the camera was next to impossible while spinning it.
My thought process behind these shots are in the prospective of Matthias in that his world was (literally and figuratively) turned upside down. And yes, the goal was to be disorienting to the audience as it would be disorientingly emotional for Matthias to have seen the child he was protecting, shot.
There was a really annoying lack of AC at the warehouse we were shooting at. This was a warehouse in NJ that was owned by Jsoh's grandparents by some stroke of luck. The place was big but not super big. In fact we used every single room in the warehouse except for the roof (we were planning to). The location definitely defined the film's overall aesthetic and we were super lucky that we had full access to it along with the fact that it wasn't too far of a drive either. Despite the borderline heat stroke that Matt and some of the others dealt with, the place was everything we ever wanted for the film.
There was a point when we finished shooting when we were told that we would not be allowed to shoot on the roof of the warehouse, aka the location that we planned the big climatic finale. Suddenly we were thrown back into pre-production and location scouting. Production stopped for a few days in order to find the proper location. We kept looking for roof tops and we kept getting NOs. (With good reasons though) It became clear that we were not going to be able to get away with shooting on a roof regardless if we got approval from the owners. Just by the fact that we were planning to waving around prop guns on a roof top for all of the surrounding neighbors to see was already a terrible idea. Finally we got approval to shoot at a warehouse by Marcus. It was indoors and when we scouted the location, I felt a bit defeated. The room was a fairly large room that was completely vacant which was good, however, it was simply too clean and predestinely white.
It was the day before shooting the finale when I had the idea to go get newspapers. Together we all scurried around NJ trying to find perhaps a library that would donate a bundle of old newspapers to us. None would do it. Finally, the morning of the shoot, we drove out to the Matawan dumpster site and went hardcore dumpster diving. The result was more than we could have imagined.
The idea behind the newspapers was that they were posted in the portal room by demons to scare off spirits trying to go to Earth with all the terrible tragic news that constantly comes from Earth.
For the final scene, we wanted to play off the cliche that when a bad guy has a gun pointed at our main character and says a final line, someone always swoops in to save the day. For this, I wanted to play that expectation up as much as possible by cutting back and forth between Matthias and Saihttam about to shoot. Bam he actually ends up shooting Jaclyn. Definitely a sound design moment for sure with the ears ringing effect.