Simple Math: Breakdown
The sequel to “The Ghost Under the Bridge” is “The River Knows: Simple Math”, where we pick up the story after Det. Day discovers there may or may not be something quite right with his head, with the introduction of Arnold Manley and his strange coin that is capable of doing so much more…
The script for “Simple Math”: the genesis of the sequel was first and foremost to establish Manley as a character in this world; plus when I used Dennis Scullard as the homeless man, I saw something about his character and his acting where I thought that it would be interesting to see if I could expand upon his role. And behold: the homeless man in “Ghost” became a secret agent that Manley reported to.
Casting: I had talked to Murray Farnell to play Arnold Manley way back in February 2012 and he was interested at that time. Murray has an extensive theatrical and improvisational background, and I love improv. Murray was a real pleasure to work with.
The first segment of “Simple Math”, in the “jail-cell bank vault” was actually shot last; the last segment was shot first at Omand’s Park, about mid-October. I wanted to shoot at dusk to take advantage of the light and it was by chance that it was a slightly overcast evening, meaning the light was diffuse and the shadows, long. I brought along a slider kit along with two lav mic packs (a sony UHF and a Samson micro), my magic lantern-bricked t2i, ART preamp, Z96 LED light, and Varavon armour cage. The ART preamp was a real find, as it allowed me to pop in 2 mono lines right into my magic-lanterned t2i for about $60 with beautiful preamp clean gain. The sony is a great lav; the samson, not so much, although quite frankly I think it has to do with the relatively cheaper lav microphone the samson came with. I’m thinking about buying a new lav mic for the samson, which otherwise is an interesting lav UHF mic pack on its own. It’s only got two channels, it’s pretty cheap-looking, but very small and compact. Unfortunately it can’t run right into the t2i on its own, it has to be preamped. My Varavon cage is very versatile, well-built, has just the right amount of inserts for extra equipment attachments, is not too heavy. I use my z96 LED light a lot as well, given the right circumstances. It works best when working about 5-10 feet from your talent in somewhat dark conditions and gives just the right amount of fill light to highlight the face and enunciate the eyes. You would probably need a little more accentuating light for “noir” work than just using the z96 but otherwise it works as advertised.
I worked on some slider shots, which were alright but I realized they weren’t going to add much to the scene. I tend to work fast and want to move from angle to angle fairly quickly and if there isn’t going to be payoff in a shot that will take more setup and execution time, then I’m not going to spend time on it.
Lenses: I pretty much use the 17-50mm 2.8 Tamron 90% of the time rather than my Sigma 30mm 1.4. While the Sigma is better in low light, it isn’t sharper. The bokeh is slightly better than the Tamron but not enough to justify changing lenses from a zoom to a prime. I noticed as well taht The Tamron is able to absorb the Z96 LED light quite well whereas with the Sigma the highs, even in dark lighting, tend to get blown out. I also like to add that I like shooting all the way open and rarely adjust my aperture.
The second scene, in the bank vault, was a little more difficult to arrange as I had to find, well…a jail. Something with bars. Unfortunately the location I wanted–the Vaughn jail cell–was closed and is pretty much condemned. So I needed to find a replacement. I knew there were a few old vintage buildings in Winnipeg’s Exchange that used to serve as banks, as well as the odd building that used to house old insurance companies. Those places have all sorts of vintage-looking bank vaults. I know for a fact an innocuous-looking building on Broadway used to house one of the oldest insurance companies in Canada, and had in its basement a surprisingly huge vault that could have easily served as a set for many a bank robbery scene in film. Alas it was torn out. In any case, I was looking everywhere–anywhere–and was on the point of rewriting the scene when a location came through last-minute–the Millenium Centre on Main St. Big kudos to Jonathan Couchman for letting me in the building. The Millenium Centre used to house a bank and it’s a gorgeous building. Currently it is used as an events place for the city as a stop-gap measure to prevent it being torn down, which would be a very sad day if that occurred.
In any case, for this particular scene, Manley has to interrogate a “detained” asset–code for an enemy spy. The “enemy” spies are the ones who kidnapped the teacher in “Ghost” and basically tortured her to death in some kind of Nazi-esque medical experiment, with paranormal overtones. Essentially, they wanted to make her a ghost–for what reasons shall be related in a future episode. Manley is instructed to interrogate the asset using his…special skills. Essentially Manley can use his coin to “reckon spells”. His actual abilities at this point are unknown, but at the very least Manley can manipulate physical objects–including human bodies and their functions–at a distance.
Here’s where the fun “special effects” came into play. I added some CGI to showcase Manley’s coin “at work”. But for the first scene, I wanted to explore some practical effects with some simple post trickery. The scene was, Manley would “open” the locked jail cell using his coin. Then, the “asset”, after discovering Manley’s intention was to torture him for information, would rush Manley, at which point Manley would use his coin again to throw the asset against the wall and pin him, as if by an invisible fist. Which is exactly what I did.
The jail cell-opening was itself pretty simple. Basically the actors used their feet to subtly nudge the jail cell open. The “invisible-fist” scene was a little more involved. What I did was, I got Murray to get out of frame but below Jay (the asset) and…shove his arm underneath his shirt. I then filmed Murray withdrawing his arm and moving it around grotesquely a la “Alien” a few takes, and then filmed the scenes with Murray and Jay–who pinned himself up against the wall–with a toque stuffed under Jay’s shirt to denote the presence of the “invisible fist”. Then I made sure I got enough coverage to get all the action shots I needed.
The rest I worked out in post. One of the goals with “Simple Math” and “Ghost” for that matter, was to explore and really push the audio aspect. Audio, when money for visual effects is severely lacking, can do a lot. The cell door unlocking, the electric hum of the coin denoting its strange power, the clash of metal as the asset is flung and pinned against the jail cell…really all of visual effects have their power coming from 90% of the audio effects. The visual editing itself was a breeze in comparison to how many layers of sound design I made for the audio effects. Basically with the “invisible fist”, I simple reversed the direction of Murray’s fist and sped up the relevant shots to make everything look smooth but violent at the same time.
I realized when I planned and then edited these shots, and used Hollywood films as a reference, that action sequences are edited by suggestion rather than outright presentation–the edits and the audio are edited tight and fast together to suggest action, but clean and slow enough through the suture to ensure that suggestion “makes sense”. For instance, just dissect an action scene or shooting scene in an action film, and note how quick the edits are to suggest the “impact” rather than show the entire delivery. Overall this movie was an interesting experiment, and hopefully people will enjoy it. FIN