The Supernatural Feature Film
Supernatural has been one of my favorites show since I first saw it during my first year at Rollins. The mix of horror, great writing, classic rock, and a 1967 Chevy Impala kept my attention from the pilot episode. One thing that this show is notorious for is going on what fans call Hellatus. Each year in the show’s schedule one or two very large hiatuses are taken. During my junior year, I decided that something needed to be done about these Hellatuses. So, my friends and I decided to write my own spin-off/tie-in series. The goal was to film an episode a week and then edit everything over winter break, this way we could release the episodes over the summer Hellatus. Long story short, we couldn’t get the project off the ground for another two years.
Flash-forward to last summer, where I was holding a 9-5 job at Ricart Automotive as an Advertisement Inter in Ohio, I was determined to make Supernatural Salvation work. I had been emailing Rollins Television’s station manager, Syed Johnson, begging him to get approval for our production. We were asking to come down with the RAs two weeks before classes started – one week of preproduction and location scouting and one week to shoot. We were approved for one.
While this was going on, I was also writing a feature film with Nastassia for Rollins’ first (and possibly last) film production course called “Making Feature Length Films.” We were charged with making a 70-90 minute film in one semester. This not being our first rodeo, Nastassia and I both knew we had to have a finalized script before classes started so we could have a complete schedule after Supernatural shot.
As I was working at Ricart, I’d use my down time between imports and exports to write episodes for Supernatural. I had already mapped out a five episode first season and a six episode second season, all that remained was to write the episodes and cast the production. Luckily between the two of us, Nastassia and I knew all the heavy-hitters in the Rollins Theatre Department.
The goal of the script was to create two college-aged hunters, or as I originally called them college Sam and Dean. This description quickly changed as the characters took a life of their own during the writing process. The plot was meant to tie directly into the show’s mythology. If Sam mentioned a case in Key West that he and Dean pulled a few years back, we would show it. Now obviously we didn’t shoot in Key West, but god did I try to make that happen!
I wanted this project to be something for the fans, by the fans. A lot of the scripts had shout outs, and inside jokes from other seasons of Supernatural that really added to keeping the tone of our mini-series the same of the real show. I will say this much about the first and second season. Nastassia and I both had the same vision for how the finale would go for season one. The problem with that though was, hind sight being 20-20 and all that, I wrote everything just to get to that moment. I feel that it could have been a lot stronger if I didn’t force things along. With that being said, I feel that the second season is much stronger because I was finally able to tell the story I wanted to, that of a man who loses everything and finds himself having to now deal with the fact that he is the very thing he hunts. Yes it was Sam’s storyline, but at the time I originally came up with this idea, Kripke had yet to pen the fourth season.
So, the summer ends, the production is cast, my other script has all together stalled because of Supernatural, and it’s finally time to move back down to Orlando. Just a week prior I still didn’t have a place to live and was still rewriting the entire production as well as scheduling the shoot around everyone’s schedule. The stress was oddly comforting. It meant things were gearing up towards the shoot week.
I move into my apartment two days before we start to shoot, barely get a mattress in time to sleep before the days ends, and spend the week without electricity or hot water. None of that matters though because that week was the most stressful, frustrating, and rewarding experience of my life.
We were only given one week to shoot this instead of two. What this meant for us was that we were going to our locations cold. We’d arrive on location and be figuring out blocking and shots while on the rare occasion the actors would finish memorizing their lines. What would normally take an hour or two to shoot now took twice that.
Something that I’ve always reminded myself of is that you learn best by just going out and doing something. Go out and make a movie. Don’t sit there and say it would be great, but-. You can only learn so much from a book, and even then, who is to say that those authors are right or even know a damn thing about filmmaking. It’s best to go out and discover it for yourself. And that’s exactly what we did. We failed miserably a few times and ended up having to reshoot three episodes, as well as rewrite the series finale, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Personally, I learn best when I fail.
The typical day was 16-20 hours for Nastassia and I. We’d get up, shoot our scenes for the day, sometimes breaking up into two units, regroup for dinner, sometimes as a cast, sometimes not, and then when all things were said and done, I’d start planning the next day’s shoot with Nastassia.
My favorite day of shooting was when we shot 2×4 (episode 3 on YouTube). I wrote this episode and knew exactly how I wanted to shoot it – sunrise. I can only imagine Travis and Kaitlin’s faces when I told them that call was going to be 5am. The cool thing though is that when it was time to wake up, we all said that it wasn’t hard. Waking up for an 8am class though? Torturous. The way this episode came out was greater than I ever expected it to. Could things have gone better? Of course. We could have not had a lawn crew there to screw up our audio. We could have had that extra week to prepare for all of our scenes, but you make do with what you’re given. Never let an obstacle stop you from getting the quality production value you want.
The week felt like two, yet at the same time it went by so fast that it felt like a few days. We had one day before classes started to take a breather before starting our senior year as well as post-production.
Post started while we were shooting. We had a read through before the first day of shooting, and I had Akin Ritchie there to go over the visual effects with us. As soon as classes started however, Akin’s schedule became too crazy to help out with our ridiculous amount of VFX, so Nastassia took over VFX while I took over most of the editing.
Post took the entire semester. We tried our hardest to finalize all of our VFX in time for our premiere, but it turned out to be too much for us. We got all but two done. Not bad for Nastassia not knowing After Effects!
If there’s one constant compliment that we get for this project, it’s that the music is amazing. I have to take this moment to thank and blame Bear McCreary for this. When I write, I listen to some of his work as well as others from my collection, but it was through reading his blog that I began to better understand how one scores a film/episode of television. It was because of this that I took the approach I did in selecting music for Supernatural. I chose to use leitmotif.
Leitmotif can best be described as a recurring theme in association with a character or idea. In Supernatural there are a few themes and sounds that stick out.
The Crossroad Demon
Here I chose the sinister theme that Bear used in the film Rest Stop. There’s just something otherworldly to what I’m assuming is a heavily processed banjo that aided the scene. Every time the Crossroad Demon was mentioned or came on screen, I tried to bring this theme in. You’ll notice that this theme disappears after the Crossroad Demon tells Lilith, “I’ll see you next Thursday.” The next time we hear this is with Crowley. I chose this because Crowley, at the time of postproduction, was only known to be the king crossroad demon or something to that effect.
I used a track from Christopher Lennertz, “And So It Begins” in which the Pilot episode of Supernatural starts with an eerie piano motif. As season one progressed, this theme was always associated with the Yellow-Eyed Demon. So I took this track and associated with our big bad of the series, Lilith.
Jordan’s character was so unique to this series that I wanted her to sound to be completely different from everyone else’s. She thinks she’s the toughest, most badass hunter there is in the world, but the sad fact is that she sucks! She just doesn’t realize it! This was so funny to me that I couldn’t help but bring in the organ that’s normally recognized as Christopher Lennertz’s Brother Theme from the actual show. Jordan’s character is so stupid, and such a bad hunter that it just meshed perfectly with the whacky organ.
I wanted the angels to have a much older sound than the rest of the series. Until we have Ariel and Ezekiel alone talking to each other, they don’t really have any theme or sound associated with them. They’re always seen with Alex and Casey, and their sound is that of the actual show – electronic, brass, guitar. I looked through my collection and was very glad to find a few pieces from Bear’s Battlestar Galactica days that worked perfectly for these scenes. The track playing during Ariel and Zeke’s big talk is actually a track from Murray Gold’s Doctor Who soundtrack. Luckily, the sound offered in that track was so similar to Bear’s music that the two composers work went together flawlessly. It was because of these Eastern instruments and taiko drums that it gave the angels an older and more powerful feel than any other characters. In fact, one of my favorite sequences to edit was when Ariel and Zeke hunt down Casey. Seeing these two angels walking around amongst the humans, for some reason, was the scariest scene for me.
The Choice/Free Will Theme
As the second season started to ramp up it’s mythology I decided I wanted to bring in a theme for one of our themes – funny, I know. We first hear this theme when Ezekiel is discussing Casey’s choice to refuse Lucifer with David in episode one. We then hear it once Casey ties up the demon informant, when David frees him and Ariel from Casey’s angel-trap (originally meant to be a ring of holy fire, but due to VFX and SFX difficulty we had to axe that), and lastly once Ezekiel dies. This theme is important because it highlights the fact that all of these moments are choices that both Casey and Ezekiel have made for better or for worse. Zeke decides to stand up for the human race and free will. Casey decides to embrace his dark side and take revenge on the angels for letting Alex die.
Anyways, enough about the music. Remember that other script Nastassia and I were trying to write over the summer for our Feature Films class that I mentioned at the beginning of this long ass post? It never happened. Luckily, our professor, Dr. Boles, was kind enough to let us use what we shot the week before classes. The catch was that our project, unlike the other groups, had to be 90 minutes. I immediately went back to the scripts to see what we could do and found a few things that needed fixing. We needed to establish Ezekiel’s doubts. This wasn’t covered too well the first time around, so we wrote an additional two episode, roughly twenty pages to flesh things out.
By the time we began to shoot these episodes it was half way through the semester. Hairstyles had changed, people had been cast in Main Stage and Second Stage productions, and midterms were swiftly approaching. We rushed to get the episodes done before, and sometimes between classes. But once that camera started to roll, all of the stress disappeared and watching the characters come to life again was like seeing your friends for the first time after summer break.
The new scenes were cut rather quickly and our focus shifted to music and VFX.
Like I said earlier, we were exporting the day of our premiere. What was great about our premiere though, was that since our cast of 30 was 90% theatre majors, and another of our classmates did a documentary for one of the Main Stage shows, both of our films premiered in the Annie Russel Theatre – one of our shooting locations!
Around 40 people came to the premiere. A lot more than I thought would. My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t understand the film since it was intended for Supernatural fans, not everybody. Luckily, everyone laughed at the right parts, some even jumped in the right spots, and all in all everything went without a hitch.
Afterwards my advisor, Dr. Denise Cummings, came up and told Nastassia and I that she was very impressed and that if we were to submit it to the Florida Film Festival, a local film festival at the Enzian Theatre that of which she is a judge for, it would have been just below par or at par. This came to a shock as I thought it was complete crap, but I’m my toughest critic and rarely think anything I make is good. Later that night however, she emailed us both to say that after thinking about the film some more that she would say it is par if not above par for the films that get accepted into the festival. To me that email alone made every all-nighter and all the hair I lost from stress totally worth it.
If you’ve made it this far in this extremely long post, than good on you. I wish I could offer you a prize, but I can’t. Oh, wait! Yes I can! Here’s the blooper reel from the shoot.
And in case you haven’t seen any of Supernatural Salvation/Redemption, you can start watching from episode one HERE.
Currently I’m in the middle of writing my next feature film. It’s going to be very different. I try to make every project a different genre from the one I just completed. For this one I’m hoping to make it much smaller and easier than Supernatural, which had a cast of aprox 30 people, a crew of 4, and over 70 VFX shots. We’ll see how that goes, as I tend to forget that whole low/no-budget thing. Ah, independent filmmaking.
Until next time. Be well.