Tuesday, June 7, 2011


(a.k.a  That Crazy Retro Movie Where Greg Walks A lot)


Justin Christopher Ayd


January 31st, 2011

I have a million ideas for commercials -- not literally a million -- yet none of them will ever see the light of day, because there will never be enough time or money. That's my main problem when it comes to retro promos. Most of them have been thrown together a few days before that particular retro film plays at Willow, and while that's fantastic, I wanted to give myself the task of putting together something rather elaborate for the summer retro series. That meant I needed to think about it well in advance. I grabbed a pad of paper and started jotting down ideas. Being a very obsessive LOST fan -- you know, that show that took place on that crazy island -- I wanted to do something with a bit of mystery behind it. What could I do? I also wanted to exercise my love of tedious construction and experiment with very focused production design. In the past I had made a few small miniatures for the candy case at the front of our concession stand...

... but thinking more and more about it, I didn't want to make anything small scale again. At least not now. Suddenly I thought, "Make a project that retro fans won't see coming, make something that explains where the titles come from." Because there is a basic knowledge from film-goers that the studios and bookers are behind what films we end up playing, it would be fun to throw that out the window and say, "No, no, no. There's a cooler way this all happens." Since I was about 15 years old it's been my personal belief that everything I did happened for a reason, that nothing was an accident. Even if I'll never be able to fully articulate or back up that statement, it's something I feel. When it comes to the retros I generally try to justify that if the over-all performance of one retro film doesn't do as well as we all hoped, that it wasn't supposed to do well. It's a cynical and entirely naive approach for reasons I will not get into, but it's the point of view I needed to begin the retro project.

I decided that Greg would be the star. I knew the project would be a bit ominous and take place at night. I wanted a long flight of stairs too. With that, and a few other thoughts, I drew my first sketch.

 The drawing above was based off of a short film I was going to make in April 2010 called "Wolf", where a young man accidentally stumbles into a massive underground tunnel system that leads to a dilapidated jail cell inside of a cave.  Inside the cell would have been a German "voice", a man that was never released after the war ended, but through-out the decades of sitting and waiting he slowly developed the knowledge of the history of everything; past, present and future.

But that was that, and this was this. What was going to happen once Greg got down the stairs? Did I want to go with a WWII bunker route? Certainly there's no reason for it. Maybe in the mid-to-late-50's when fallout shelters were being made, one would just so happen to be under the ground where Willow would eventually be. But that didn't work with me. It seemed like it would be far too easy.

It was going to be a cave. A cold damp cave with hardly any light. But perhaps the stairwell won't lead directly into it. All of this would be amazing, but I needed to write out a full floor plan as if all these locations were real. How would Greg get to the cave? If this cave was going to be secret there needs to be an elbow someplace in the theatre, a secret room where Greg would be able to get to the cave. It was all going to be very complex, so after about a week of some thinking and walking around the theatre late at night, I made some plans:

While these sketches are somewhat different from what we ended up shooting, it was enough of that I could begin some serious construction on the sections that needed it. The length of the construction phase would too ultimately decide how detailed I would make this project.

Some people want to know where we found and shot the tunnel sequence, while others want to know where it was built. All construction took place upstairs in the projection booth. I built the tunnel from scratch between projectors #3 and #4.


February 19th 

First order of business was gathering any and all supplies. Foam, wood, tubing, cardboard...anything that I could use to start this insanity. Everything was set, except one thing: I didn't even tell Greg about the project he was going to star in.


February 22nd

 Tuesday morning I went over to Greg's place armed with my floor plans and basic storyboards, then pitched the entire idea, "blah, blah, blah...crazy false wall....tunnel under Willow Creek....cave where the titles will appear." Needless to say he thought it (I) was pretty insane on several levels. It was going to be a massive project, but it was doable -- maybe. Well, we'd sure find out.

We proceeded to discuss a sort of "marketing-plan" -- when we would release this project and when we would reveal the summer retro titles. The project, which Greg dubbed "The Big One", was going to be released at the beginning of May, but there would be two teasers posted prior to the big reveal. You can see Teaser I here and Teaser II here (I am having some irritating technical issues and it's not letting me embed the teasers directly to the blog)

The promos were meant to be ambiguous and misleading (to a degree), but still (not so) subtly suggest that the ground in which the theatre was built on has something to do with what we were about to make.

After about 2 hours of pitching ideas and talking about cost and logistics, Greg was on-board with the entire thing. I was very excited, but at the same time nervous. I really had to make this thing now. Scary.

February 23

So I began. First building a simple wood frame to work from.

Because I was the lone "construction worker" on these sets, I tended to jump around a lot, going back and forth between different sections of my plan. To the stone archways. For about 8 years I've been looking at these large pieces of styrofoam sitting in a storage room up in the booth. I never tossed them in the garbage because I thought that someday I could use them. Well, damn, I did use them!

This was going to be the basic idea for the archway, and the size of the tunnel. Thankfully we had the giant Underworld stand up in the booth, and it was finally going to serve a purpose. I was going to be able to secure the the foam to the wall and to the back of the Underworld stand. (you can see the front of the stand in the picture above between the projector and the wall)

Fun Fact: It took 9 hours to build three archways. 

I added a "water stain" at the bottom of each side to suggest that the tunnel and this whole system has flooded in the past.

 Now I carve some small rock tiles to be put on the actual arch.


With these done, I then taped off the path of the tunnel.

After the path was made and with some modifications to the original plan, I could begin putting everything together.

Because the majority of the tunnel was going to be rock, I spent a great deal of time debating how I would make the surface. Paper mache? I had thought about it. I could get ahold of chicken wire for a relatively cheap price, but that would no doubt be very tedious and take up more time. After checking out some thrift shops and dollar stores and Big Lots!, I found some inexpensive tarps. I bought about 5 of them.

I painted the tarps, then carefully put them up on the walls.

After the tarps were up, I would secure pieces of foam to the actual booth wall, then tape the non-painted side of the tarp to the foam. This allowed me to be a bit creative with shaping the "rock" wall.

Between the first and second archway I was going to have wooden planks on the walls, so I took giant sheets of cardboard and painted them.

To make it appear that the unpredictable underground elements were slowly coming through between the planks, I used a mixture of plaster, sand, paint and mud. I will go ahead and tell you that it was a lot of fun and not once did I get plaster in my eye. Not Once. (That means I did, and it was unpleasant). Of course this was just one side on a solid wall, and those small dots that are supposed to be nails are not actually nails. Sharpie circles!

I jumped from the planks to work on the tiny entrance to tunnel. I generally need to build something small at first, and from that I will  know what the rest of the space needs to look like. So I built the generator breaker box. There is a short story behind the decision to use a "generator and breaker box" in the tunnel instead of just having a basic electrical system that would run up through the ground to the theatre. A few years back when the power went out at the Willow I was joking that there should be a basement below the theatre with a series of generators. So when the power goes out, at least we'll have that to run off of. I went with that idea for this project. It was also going to be much more dramatic when cut together.

The entrance to the tunnel was made from chicken-wire, cardboard boxes, very old iMac boxes, large sheets of paper and the Serious Man stand.

I painted the Serious Man stand to look dull and metallic, then aged it by adding "water damage".

At this point enough progress had been made that I could conduct a few tests. My brother (and Willow Projectionist), Corey, stood in for where Greg would eventually stand. He looks very excited to be photographed. Whoa, too much excitement.

12 more hours of working with plaster, painting with mud, staining wood, securing the ceiling of the tunnel to the ceiling of the projection booth, adding moss, then painting over cracks with a clear primer... then I was done (mostly).

Construction on the tunnel began on February 23rd and was completed at 6:45am on March 28th -- 35 minutes before the first shot.

I spent a total of 45hrs building it, we completed the shoot in 45 minutes and it's on screen for a little over 2 minutes. It's an overwhelming feeling for sure, especially when you spend so much time trying to make it perfect and all along the way you lose some faith that it will work; you begin to doubt your artistic ability. During the making of this I kept thinking about the work ethic of such production designers as Dante Ferretti and Arthur Max, two men I greatly admire for their no b.s. full force approach; for their desires to design and build sets where every detail matters. Even if something in the background won't fully be seen, it's still apart of the illusion that will eventually make the entire thing come together.


Now that we were completely finished with the tunnel, I had one major set left to build:
The Cave.





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