Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
They're Gonna Put Me In The Movies
By Mike Gould
…They're gonna make a big star out of me…
Act Naturally by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, 1963
Shooting lasers, from left to right: Assistant to Producer Tyler Campellone, Director of Photography Pawel Pogorzelski, Laser Artist Mike Gould. Photo by Assistant to Line Producer Cameron Thuman.
I don’t know about that big star bit, but my lasers will be seen in a feature movie to be released in 2018. This is the story of a small business hitting the big, well, bigger time by appearing in an indie horror movie, courtesy of web ubiquity and being prepared.
Phantom of the High School
This is a feature film which is still being shot as I write this, concerns a teenager haunted by an evil demon. Shot on location in Salt Lake City (SLC) at West High School, the film is called Hereditary. The Director of Photography, Pawel Pogorzelski, found me on Google by searching for “laser artist”; if you do so, my site comes up first after two or three craftspeople offering laser engraving.
Pawel (Pa-VEL) described the effect he was looking for, and I was able to offer a solution, which involved expensive lasers, software, and home-made photonic hardware. Our hero is walking down a school corridor, and a mysterious light appears and scans down the hallway, overtaking him and disappearing into a classroom door. Piece of cake. Sorta. This mystery light was dubbed “Tinkerbell” and appears in several places in the movie.
I was contacted on April 8, and spent the next several weeks prepping the custom hardware (a wobbulator – long story), and sending videos back and forth via Youtube to get just the look Pawel and director Ari Aster were looking for. In addition to the wobbulator, I built a custom laser lumia projector, and Illuminatus Lasers Chief Engineer Wayne Gillis built the controls for it. Steve Rich of Photonic Legal assisted in getting contracts and logistics sorted.
An example of laser lumia is on my website, URL below.
Our pre-production was halted on May 10th, when I disappeared into the woods on our annual up-north morel hunting expedition. I was home on the 15th, and Wayne and I had two days to finish up the custom projector (“Tinkerbell”) that the script called for. This went to SLC in my luggage, as all the rest of the gear was picked up by overnight air freight on the 16th. This cost a small fortune: four large road cases crammed with projectors, lumia gear, cables and two laptops.
Speaking of laptops: note that if you ship laptops air freight, you have to remove the lithium batteries as they have been known to explode in flight. I took the batteries in my carry-on bag and there was no problem. Why two laptops? Because the laser control software, “Beyond” only runs on Windows, so I needed to take a spare in case Win got snippy with me. It didn’t, but I felt more secure knowing I could swap out the laptop if need be.
I had recurrent nightmares of 20 movie crewmembers standing around, tapping their feet waiting for me to fix whatever was holding up the production. Fortunately, that was never the case.
Speaking of which, this was no small production – there were more than 80 people directly involved, plus dozens of teenage extras. The school parking lot was crammed with more than 20 large trucks filled with lighting, sound, makeup, and prop materials. Shooting schedule is May 19th – June 30th, with shots at the high school and at a set being constructed elsewhere in SLC.
I really enjoyed working with the various crew members. Turns out that most of them were locals, as Utah has very strong incentives for filmmaking locally. Sort of like Michigan enjoyed before Republicans closed that down, depriving the state of millions in ancillary revenue, but I digress.
I got to meet set designers, caterers (the food was great), and audio guys, as well as the baffling bunch of best boys, gaffers, grips, greens, and other workers I had no idea existed. I did my best to get up to speed on nomenclature before I left so I wouldn’t look like a total noob. I just looked up one term I saw in the script: GAK:
Gak (Goods All Kinds): The general slang term for gear, tools, props etc. used on a film set.
… was the first term I had to look up – this stands for Unit Production Manager, and this was Scott Chester: the go-to guy for any problems regarding logistics, scheduling, and budget. The UPM reports to the main producer, who is generally not involved in day to day running of the project. Scott was great to work with: supremely well organized, and very calm and collected. I arrived on the first day of shooting, and Scott had it down.
I was very well treated by everyone: had a great hotel room, rides to the set (courtesy of the transpo dept.), and Scott loaned me his personal assistant, Cameron Thuman, to assist in setting up my gear and filming some of the footage (“B-roll”) to be used in the film. The Producer of the film is Lars Knudsen, and his assistant Tyler Campellone, was also assigned to me during shooting. Remember those names: Cameron and Tyler are both film school students with great resumes, destined to become significant players in the industry, methinks. And speaking of significance, Producer Lars Knudsen is a major figure in the indie movie scene. In the last eleven years, he has produced a bunch of movies, a good percentage of which made it to the Sundance Movie Festival. I’m told that Hereditary already has a distribution deal, so visions of red carpets are starting to dance through my head. (More to come next month, as events are still unfolding.)
Mike’s site, with laser lumia examples:
Mike Gould is still waiting for his close-up. He was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, directs the Illuminatus Lasers, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.