The “Bunker” Scene, Or: Writing Yourself into a Concrete Corner

Filmmaking always presents challenges. As we currently work our way through post-production, I thought I’d share with you the story of how we tackled one of our biggest challenges: the “bunker” scene.

Scene 7
Scene 7

A few minor spoilers: The bunker scene comes after the characters are first attacked by the Wasp-Men. I wanted a scene where they could find shelter and discuss the alien threat. Something like the scene from Tremors where the three leads are on top of a rock, discussing their theories about where the graboids came from. (“I vote outer space. No way these are local boys.”) And 50’s monster movies often involved the military in some fashion. I thought setting a scene in an abandoned military bunker would work and I had the perfect location in mind: the old military batteries at the Marin Headlands.

During preproduction, I took my director of photography, location sound person, and production designer to scout the batteries. They weren’t perfect: there was the possibility of the bunker becoming a wind tunnel and its proximity to the Pacific meant that we’d get ocean sounds on the audio, but they were manageable and could be worked into the story.

Marin Headlands Military Battery
Marin Headlands Military Battery

What I didn’t anticipate was how much it would cost to shoot there for a day. And it was a lot. A whole friggin’ lot. We had find another location.

I researched comparable former military installations online, I asked all of the various film commissions here in the Bay Area for suggestions, I looked at urban exploration photography sites. And I wasn’t just looking for concrete bunkers: I considered a decommissioned Naval hospital in Alameda, barns in Sonoma County, and a lot of other abandoned sites. It was a long search.

We finally found a location that would have cost us a lot of money to rent, but not as much as the film permit for the Headlands. It would have put a massive hurt on our budget but at that point we didn’t have much of a choice if we wanted to move forward with the film. Too bad they dropped us without telling us why.

It happened after I told them that we had to delay shooting a few weeks due to an actor having health issues. I guess they weren’t happy over the delay because I never heard back from them when I tried to reschedule. Fortunately, I hadn’t signed a contract with them or paid them anything but it meant that we were out of a key location once again.

During the earlier searches, I had asked my crew if they had any suggestions. Quite a few of them did, but none of them panned out. I asked them again and this time Bryan Mendez, one of the members of the art department who also happens to be an astronomy professor at UC Berkeley, had a fantastic suggestion: Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton.

The 36-inch Great Lick Refractor

This place was perfect. The film starts off with the teens going stargazing, why not have them end up at an observatory?

Lick Observatory is run by UC Santa Cruz. The astronomers and observatory employees I worked with couldn’t have been nicer, and they were excited by the plot of the film. And it was much, much cheaper than the other locations we had considered.

The observatory has several telescope domes, and their representatives recommended two of them: the dome for the 36-inch Great Lick Refractor and the Nickel 40-inch telescope.

36-inch Great Lick Refractor Dome
36-inch Great Lick Refractor Dome
40-inch Nickel Telescope dome
40-inch Nickel Telescope dome

We wanted the dome for the 36-inch since it was perfect for the period; the dome for the 40-inch was really small and fairly modern. There was one big problem with the 36-inch: the dome is open to the public from 12 PM to 5 PM and we could only shoot during the day. That lead to a decision to split the scene in two and film the second part in the smaller dome. Since I was already revising the script to change the location from an abandoned bunker to a mysteriously empty observatory, it was no problem to have the characters start off in the large observatory and then hide in a smaller room when (SPOILERS!) another Wasp-Man comes along.

They're heeeere!
They’re heeeere!

Did it work? I think so.

Lick Observatory was the last day of shooting for Wasp-Men From Mars! I’ve been working with my editor, my visual effects people, and other post crew to put together what I hope will be a really fun film. I want to thank the production crew and the actors for all the great work they did and I hope they’re happy with the final movie.

I don't know why he has this lightbulb.
I don’t know why he has this lightbulb.
Something's coming over the speakers.
Something’s coming over the speakers.
And stretch!
And stretch!
Setting up a dolly shot.
Dolly shot.
From the second floor.
From the upper balcony.

Photos by Katherine Bree Walker.

Announcing the Wasp-Men Cast!

Our Cast

Hi everyone.

Sorry that we’ve been silent for the past month or so. We’ve been really busy with scouting locations, making rubber monster costumes, and of course, casting. And today we’d like to introduce you to our cast!

Ashley Rose McKenna – Suzie

Ashley Rose McKenna

Ashley is an actress and singer currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has performed onstage with such companies as Impact Theatre, The Mountain Play Association, Marin Shakespeare Company, The 6th Street Playhouse, Spreckels Performing Arts Center, and Curtain Theatre. Ashley has appeared in corporate videos for Google, Ericsson, Polycomp, and Atlassian. She holds a BFA in Musical Theater from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles.

Diogo Hausen – James

Diogo Hausen

Diogo Hausen has been working as an actor and model since 2012. After studying psychology in college, he progressed onto Meisner technique with Bay Area Acting Studios and improv with BATS in San Francisco. He started landing roles in various commercials, music videos, as well and independent shorts and feature films. Diogo is adaptable, agile, and high-spirited, qualities that help him pursue his interest in comedy and action-themed work. In his free time you can find him practicing parkour, reading comic books, or doing both simultaneously.

Christopher Markle – Timmy

Chris Markle

Chris Markle received his B.S. from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania where he also studied theatre, dance, and voice. He was one of three actors to be named actor lead at Merlin Entertainments’ The San Francisco Dungeon Attraction when it opened in the summer of 2014. Some of his theatre credits include Gilligan in Gilligan’s Island the Musical, Sky Masterson in Guys & Dolls, and Hot Blades Harry / Old Man Strong in Urinetown the Musical. He has directed Dog Sees God and an independent music video for an Australian Music Festival award-winning song, “No Bridge Unburned.” His favorite non-theatre experience was playing a high school student in DreamWorks’ I Am Number 4.

Jupiter Collins – Lead Wasp-Man

Jupiter Collins

Jupiter Collins studied acting at the College of Marin. He has appeared in several theatrical productions at the College of Marin and Metropolitan Arts and Tech, including Hairspray, The Tarantino Variation, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He’s experienced in boxing and Tae Kwon Do.

50’s Sci-Fi Superfan Joe Sikoryak on Wasp-Men

You might love 50’s sci-fi, but you don’t love 50’s sci-fi as much as Joe Sikoryak loves 50’s sci-fi. In this interview, the title designer and sci-fi consultant for Wasp-Men From Mars! talks about how creature features portrayed the fears of 1950’s America and how Wasp-Men fits in this tradition.

Join the fun and help us make Wasp-Men From Mars! Support our Kickstarter, going on now.

Julian Bonfiglio Joins Wasp-Men From Mars!

We’re thrilled to announce that the monster costumes for Wasp-Men From Mars! will be created by none other than Julian Bonfiglio.

Julian Bonfiglio
Julian Bonfiglio

Julian is a San Francisco Bay Area-based special-effects makeup designer and costume creator whose creative talents have been realized on the screen, the latest being a key contributor to Johnny Depp’s ‘Tonto’ in The Lone Ranger. Julian completed Cinema Makeup School’s Master Course and can be seen on the latest season of the competition special-effects reality show Face Off, currently airing on Syfy.

“I’m really interested with the idea of these wasp creatures,” said Bonfiglio. “It makes me think back to the Predator creature suit. I’ve always wanted to do creatures like that. So I really want to jump on this project to help bring this to life.”

Check out Julian’s Face Off contestant page.

Follow Julian on Twitter.

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Why Make Wasp-Men From Mars

Wasp-Men From Mars is going to be a big undertaking for a short film. So why do I want to make it? Today I’m going to talk about the origins of the film and why I’m doing it.

I belong to a filmmaking co-op in SF called Scary Cow. I’ve crewed on multiple short films and even made one of my own. Three times a year, Scary Cow holds a film festival at the Castro Theatre to show their members’ films. At the start of the program there used to be some 50’s-era film clips that had been redubbed to have some teenagers talking about the festival. After watching that footage at a showing maybe two years ago, I turned to another member and said, “Someone should make a 50’s monster movie.” Somehow, my brain made that leap from 50’s teens to 50’s monsters.

In the days following that declaration, I thought about the idea and soon the title “Wasp-Men From Mars” popped into my head. I explored the idea for about a week. I knew it needed teenagers, because those types of movies had teenagers. I thought of a love triangle but pretty much stopped there. It was too ambitious and I hadn’t made my first short yet.

Flashforward to earlier this year. My first short is in post and I’m tyring to think of the next one. I wasted four months at the end of 2013 working on a screenplay about death and the absence of the afterlife that was completely bloodless. Wasp-Men From Mars kept coming back into my mind. It was big, too big. We needed monster costumes. It needed to be out in the woods and at night. It needed to be period and a working car from that period. Red flags each and every one of them. I had only one short under my belt and jumping into something like this would be stupid.

And whipped up an awesome screenplay in only two weeks and decided to be stupid and go with it.

Why? Because it’s the kind of sci-fi that I love. I’m not talking about the original rubber monster movies, though those are fun to watch. I’m talking about the movies and TV shows that sprung from them. The ones that focus a lot on interpersonal relationships in the middle of a bunch of sci-fi/horror craziness. Ripley and Newt in Aliens. Val, Earl, and Rhonda in Tremors. Gary, Andy and the rest of the crew in The World’s End. Buffy and the Scoobies. The Doctor and his companions. Yes, these kinds of relationships can be found in earlier sci-fi/horror films and shows, but there’s something different in these more modern films and I’m not sure that I quite articulate it as well as I would like. The focus has shifted to be more on how these external forces — monsters or whatever — affect the relationships of the characters and the characters themselves than how the characters deal with the monsters. You can see that when you compare the original Doctor Who series to the modern one: the companions’ lives and relationships with the Doctor are more of a focus, where earlier they were assistants who helped him out. I’m going to do a series of articles on the inspirations for Wasp-Men From Mars that will explore this in more depth.

But back to why I’m making this movie. I want to create a story in the vein of those films and shows that I mention above, but is its own thing. I want to make a story where there are three teenagers who are dealing with teenager issues, especially their sexuality, in the middle of a monster invasion. I love how the danger of genre films make the emotions bigger and, to me at least, more honest. Sure, the story could be played as straight drama, but the actions and emotions of the characters would be different and I want to see how it plays out in this situation.

And I’m not just throwing aliens into the mix willy-nilly; there is a thematic connection between the Wasp-Men and the teens. It plays out in what I refer to as the “Tremors scene.”

The love triangle itself was inspired by Rebel Without a Cause, but I played around with it to, again, bring a more modern sensibility to it. I don’t want to spoil how I do that, but 50’s films wouldn’t have been so blatent about this topic. I love Suzie, James, and Timmy, and I love making them confront these issues and putting them through the sci-fi/horror wringer.

The movie is not going to be a recreation of films of the period, where I’m going to insert scratches or other things to make it look “authentic” like Grindhouse did. I have no interest in doing that. Again, it’s a film that’s inspired by those earlier sci-fi films, but not a Xerox. It’s going to be fun, scary, overdramatic, and at its heart, very sincere.

And it’s going to have Wasp-Men. I hope the audience enjoys it.

What is Wasp-Men From Mars?

Wasp-Men From Mars is a sci-fi short film inspired by the monster invasion films of the 1950’s with the more modern sensibility of today’s sci-fi and horror, such as Doctor Who and the Cornetto Trilogy.

It starts with three teenagers on a stargazing trip that turns into an evening of heartbreak, jealousy, and sexual confusion — and then it gets worse when giant wasp-men from outer space invade Earth. The teens need to put their feelings aside to survive the night. (These are teenagers we’re talking about.)

The film is current in preproduction. It is currently slated to be finished by Summer 2015. We’ll be providing updates during development so stick around.