Future Noir: Two Days On the Set of Automaton

My very first real experience in the film industry was being an extra in a small independent feature called West of Here, which was shot in Boulder around 11 years ago (if you look closely, you can briefly see me in the audience during the concert scene where Mary Stuart Masterson plays guitar and sings). At that time, I had just recently started film school and was thrilled to have an opportunity to be involved in a real film production, even if on a small scale. It was a long night of shooting with a lot of waiting around between shots, but I remember having a blast and being fascinated with all the things that went on behind the scenes. The ADs running around with walkie-talkies and wrangling people, the make-up and wardrobe area, the lights and all the equipment being carried to the set from the big trucks outside. It was a scene of organized chaos, and being there reinforced my feelings that filmmaking really was what I wanted to do.

Since that day, through my graduation from film school and beyond, I have worked on numerous film and video shoots as a grip, production assistant and camera assistant. One of the more memorable shoots was Suicide Run, a low-budget feature-length independent horror film that was shot in Westcliffe, Colorado. The film itself was never picked up for distribution, but working on that set for 3 weeks, I learned so much and have met so many great people, some of which I’m still good friends with to this day. It was an incredible experience that had even led me to some paid production gigs later on.

However, eventually I had to get a “real” job to start paying off all those student loans I have accumulated. Shortly after college, I got a master control position at a big cable TV broadcasting facility and ended up staying there for almost 8 years. I continued pursuing freelance videography and photography projects on the side, but for the most part, I stopped working on creative film shoots due to lack of time I could dedicate to them. My motivation was also growing a little bit thin – after spending all day in a dark windowless room staring at TV monitors and computer screens, the last thing I wanted to do is more of that when I got home.

Finally, last year I made the decision to take a risk and leave my comfortable but soul-sucking job in order to continue pursuing my dreams. I dived into freelance video production and photography full-time, shooting anything from nightlife to small business promos, corporate videos and events. And while I admit, it has been a somewhat scary and uncertain time financially, I have been feeling exponentially more happy, relaxed and fulfilled in life this past year than I have in almost a decade. I’ve only been missing one thing – being involved in narrative filmmaking and feeling that movie magic vibe; something that I haven’t experienced in many years.

This past weekend, I feel like I have come full-circle. I got an opportunity to be involved in an ambitious independent science fiction film project, a brainchild of the local director David Quakenbush. I’ve been following the development of Automaton on Facebook for months, and when I asked David if there was anything I could help out with, he mentioned that they already had a full crew, but that they needed more male extras. I thought to myself – why not?

Coming to a real film set for the first time in many years and seeing all those lights, green screens, camera equipment and all the usual commotion that happens on any serious production, I admit – I got a little giddy. Once again, I felt a sense of complete belonging and a bonding that I haven’t experienced since my film-school days. Being on the other side of the camera was a little weird, since I am not used to that, but still really, really fun. And once again, I met a lot of really cool people.

Automaton is a twisted love story set in the distant future where much of the human population has been displaced by robot servants. Being a fan of serious, thought-provoking sci-fi, this concept appealed to me from the beginning. David, the film’s director, has a vision of the future inspired by such iconic films as Blade Runner, as well as the Grimm Brothers tales and Greek tragedy. Much of the film is shot against green-screen backgrounds and will involve a lot of visual effects and intensive post-production. I really can’t wait to see how it turns out!

I took some snaps and a little bit of behind-the-scenes video with my little Canon SD780 between takes, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to post any of that material until the film is done (which probably won’t be until sometime next year). So, here are just a few snapshots from the set of Automaton.

Setting up a scene on the set of Automaton.

Automaton extras hanging out in the make-up and wardrobe area.

Getting my make-up done. It's been a while!

Sexy beast! I'm talking about the RED camera behind me, of course.

Yep, I really can't wipe a smile off my face. I love this!

This is the first shoot I've been on that uses a RED camera.

Green screen stage.

Automaton cast and crew rehearsing a scene.

DP Stephen McKissen and his assistant Chuck Strickland.

Blocking a scene.

Hey, look - it's me!

Me again.

Director David Quakenbush explaining the next scene to the extras.

Setting up for another scene.

Every behind-the-scenes recap must contain at least one shot of someone pointing at something, right?

Director of Photography Stephen McKissen

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