What A Beast – A Beast At Bay
Written by: Roger Turner Jr
On January 21, 2018, filming for A Beast At Bay commenced along the Gulf Coast of Florida. The events that the crew and I endured during the week-long production were, well, let’s just say it was the most intricate film we’ve ever made.
Have any of you ever read the short story “The Most Dangerous Game”? If you’re unsure, you most likely read it in middle or high school English as I did. The story is about a Russian hunter who owns an island in the Caribbean and hunts castaways that land on the island. A Beast At Bay is an adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game”, and with a team of five people, it was the first feature film made by UpStream. This production is one I will never forget because the time, energy, and belief we put into this film proved to be worth more than any dollar we spent.
I’ll start from the beginning.
Sunday & Monday (the 21st & 22nd)
This was the first day shooting on location. Our crew consisted of the usual suspects – Salmon (actor), Gary (DP & everything technical), Wade (actor & stills), Tianna (PA & Gary’s girlfriend), and myself (director). The titles in parentheses will change throughout the story (except for Tianna being Gary’s girlfriend, of course), but ultimately, this was the entire crew on set for this film. A Beast At Bay is a full-fledged movie folks. So I’m sure you’re saying, “there’s no way they made a quality film on a week-long production for a feature”.
Our first order of business was securing a sixth-man to the roster. The script called for four actors. We had three. The shortage was due to a friend of ours, who shall remain nameless, notifying us he would be unable to participate the week prior to production. So I reached out to a buddy of mine, Kyle, whom I worked with when I first came to Florida. I remembered he talked about acting in a couple short films, so I figured he would be an enthusiastic addition. But, I needed Kyle today.
We’ll get back to Kyle, don’t worry.
We arrived at Fort De Soto Campgrounds around 5pm. This was our main exterior location and proved to be just the jungle we needed. Cameras rolled at 6pm. We were fighting for more sunlight at 6:30, but we were able to capture our prettiest shot of the night under a purple-ish orange sunset.
However, when the sun went down, the night took an expected but respectfully unexpected turn.
Most of the shots we needed that night did not require light, but we were in pitch black darkness at the campsite. Our only source of light was two LED lights. The lights held strong… for about two hours. We thought it was maybe the knockoff brand batteries we bought for $4 a pack at the campsite. So we made a trip to the 7-11 down the street (the first of two) to get batteries.
It quickly became apparent one light was more reliable than the other.
Not sure how many of you reading this have ever used a camera, but in case none of you have, I’ll let you in on a secret – you need light! If you don’t have light, what the hell are you going to shoot? Darkness, that’s what. The scenes we shot that first night were not difficult scenes to shoot if we would have had a more sufficient light source. To add injury to insult, we also had to pull off a campfire scene with wet firewood. As you can imagine, that’s a near impossible feat.
So we made our second trip to 7-11 for a starter log, charcoal, and lighter fluid.
We used the materials from the gas station to get a good fire going. It lasted maybe 15 minutes. We were able to get maybe half a take from it. By this time, it was 4am. All of us were tired and aggravated. Tianna was the only sensible one of the crew. She was asleep in the car. And by the end of Dylan’s 12th take (he was pissed after take 2), I tossed off the director’s hat and threw on the producer cap.
“Fuck it. Wade, we’re going to use your car lights.”
And that’s exactly what we did. On camera, it looked natural. Still, that doesn’t excuse our obvious rookie mistake here – poor lighting. And just when we thought things couldn’t go any worse, our visitors made their appearance. What visitors, you say?
They were coming from all sides. Left. Right. Down trees. Under trees. On the way to the bathroom. They were every damn where. Of course, we had food, which is what made our campsite the hot spot for the night. They would run away when we would flash a light on them, but those things were fucking relentless!
Luckily, no one was bitten or attacked by a raccoon during the production of this film.
Promptly at 6am, the coons vanished and the sun began to rise. Only Gary and I managed to power through all the way into morning free of sleep. When it was time to head to another part of the park, the tiredness finally began to set in. We managed to get a couple more shots done in the morning, but a 14-hour first day had gotten the best of us. Our goal was to get 20-25% of the film done that first night and we did just that.
And still, no word from Kyle.
Monday fused with Sunday. So once we departed from the park, Monday was unanimously voted a much-needed rest day. However, I was determined to get a sixth on board. I had one wild card left to play. It was Luis, a good friend of mine and a native of Saint Petersburg but 100% Venezuelan. He wasn’t the first choice, obviously, but if Kyle continued to stay ghost, Ol’ Lu would fit the part.
Tuesday (the 23rd)
On Tuesday, we transitioned to our second location, an equestrian ranch in Odessa, Florida. The property had an old-timey ranch style home that we rented through Airbnb, as well as an abundance of mossy trees, authentic wood exterior and interior walls, a useful cabana, and of course, horses. Wade and I were able to tour the ranch before production and our first night there was what I proclaimed a “transition day”. Instead of cameras rolling, we staged the set for the next morning’s scenes.
Again I reached out to Kyle – again no definitive response. I mentioned to Lu we could use him on-camera Thursday, a day he had planned to visit the set anyway. He said he was up for it if we needed him, and that made going to sleep Tuesday night a little easier.
Wednesday (the 24th)
Around 9am Wednesday, cameras were rolling as planned. We shot our first interior scene, but not before I discovered my talents as a hair stylist. Wade’s character is a 1930s Russian aristocrat and although he did have a pretty fantastic mustache going, his hair was all fucked up. I had never styled anyone’s hair before, but that didn’t stop me. In less than 10 minutes, Wade went from looking like a weirdo with a mustache to the menacing villain we had all hoped for.
The morning shoot proved to be quite efficient, but there was still a lot more to be done and we needed Lu or Kyle to give us a yes or a no. By now, the rest of the crew knew the struggle I was having getting an answer. They were all antsy, but I knew if neither Kyle or Lu could make it, I had no choice.
I’d have to play the part.
Thursday (the 25th)
While Gary and Dylan managed to knock out a few scenes during the day without me on Wednesday, I gathered a list of wardrobe items from Goodwill for Thursday night. We were anxious for this night in particular because this was the night of the two big dialogue scenes. I was feeling good. We all were feeling good! Cameras would be rolling at 9:30pm. Lu was coming. We knock these two scenes out and it’s smooth sailing for the next couple of nights.
If there is one piece of advice I would like novice and professionals to take away from reading this, it’s to always allocate time for ill-advised re-takes. That shit is sure to make its presence at some point. Whether it was actor’s slipping up on lines or tweaking lights, we ended up shooting until 4 in the morning because of countless re-takes. In addition to the numerous re-takes, Lu nor Kyle showed up. So after we filmed the last take, the realist in me emerged.
“I’ll play the part. But tomorrow… tomorrow is going to be a long day.”
And it was.
Friday and Saturday (the 26th and 27th)
A 17-hour day to be exact. Yes, we did sleep. Yes, it was rough. Yes, we finished the film. And yes, we would all do it again. Friday was long, but Saturday marked the finish line. Production on the film was, for the most part, done. All that remained was montage drone footage that would be filmed at a later date. Gary and Tianna departed. Eventually, Salmon. And that was it.
A Beast At Bay was complete.
Reflecting on the film, I realized what we pulled off wasn’t perfect and I’m sure not the first time its been done. Nonetheless, there was a lot learned in accomplishing such a feat. The most important takeaway I garnered from the production of A Beast At Bay is the intricacies of making a low budget film. Prior to the shooting, I researched the best low budget films to date and the budget for each. The Indie flick El Mariachi is a good representation of the type of budget we were working with, as well as the type of response we wish to receive.
There are no tricks of the trade I used that I wish to keep a personal secret from all you aspiring filmmakers out there. So listen close.
First, the more abundant or experienced the crew working on a project, the more room for error. This may seem like common sense, but I’ve worked on sets with over a dozen crew members and endured long production days, and I’ve done projects like A Beast At Bay. The difference other than the number of people is an abundance of crew members means there are people specializing in one area (i.e. hair stylist, lighting technicians, boom pole guy, etc.). While not everybody may be an expert in their assigned duties, the amount of hands-on-deck ultimately makes it easier on the director. Instead of worrying about squeezing in the two big interior scenes in one night, re-takes will be more manageable with more people on set because the director can focus on pinpointing what is needed to make the scene as perfect as possible.
This brings me to my second piece of advice – don’t ever shoot a feature film in a week’s span unless you plan to be working morning, day, and night. I’m talking 40 hours of sleep (and that may be too many) for the entire week. I wanted the crew to be working at their full potential but I also knew it was unrealistic to think we could take two days off without sacrificing sleep later on in the week. Although we ended up getting the all the shots we needed, we paid a restless price. So if you’re planning to shoot a feature, I don’t care what you hear out of the big time Hollywood productions. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely not there. So trust me when I say, be sure to get adequate sleep throughout the production because there’s always tomorrow.
Lastly, don’t worry about the odds. If film is what you love, go at it with everything you’ve got and tune out any and all doubt. We filmed this feature on a Panasonic Lumix GH4 4K camera, two lenses (zoom and prime), used two handheld LED lights, a shotgun microphone, and a DJI Ronin stabilizer for most of the shots. Overall, our budget came out to a little over $5,000 when you include travel, location access, wardrobe, and everything else that was purchased in order to make the film. The budget for El Mariachi was $7,000 in 1992 and Martin Brest produced Ben Affleck’s worst movie to date, Gigli, for $75 Million in 2003. This goes to show the budget for a film is secondary.
It’s the heart of the people that matter most.
Check out some of these great moments from behind the scenes!