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AGENT MX-Z3RO—Making an Independent Movie (Part 2)

Only published comments... Mar 04 2011, 12:00 AM by Thomas Graham

Having a decent script is, of course, a solid starting point for a film of any size. In our case, making sure we had written in enough variety and cool stuff to fit our budget and capabilities was also fairly challenging. We knew for sure that we wanted a green screen stage to show certain keying and compositing features in Media Composer and later in Avid DS. We also knew that we wanted a big card game/after-hours club for the bad guys’ lair, almost like an empty casino. For something exterior, for our third location we were aiming to have a vast desert.



A fourth location was later pegged for the rooftop entry and inner halls of the bad guys’ lair.


Having never produced a movie before, finding and scouting locations, as well as getting the permits, legal agreements, and insurance in place to shoot, was a whole lot more difficult than I ever imagined it to be (thankfully, our corporate legal and insurance teams stepped up and truly helped out on those last two). Much of this was left to me, as we couldn’t really afford to hire a true ‘line producer’, location scout, and others due to budget constraints. Brian, our director, had lined up the after-hours club and set up the agreements. Since it was the key scene of the movie, this was thankfully handled early on. We searched for a green screen stage and eventually found Stargate Studios in Van Nuys, CA—a rather large visual effects house that was willing to work with us within our budget.


The desert location we wanted to use (El Mirage Lake in San Bernadino, CA) was particularly more challenging because, with public lands involved, there are many pages of state permits involved, and once it was almost locked in, heavy rains flooded and washed out the dry lakebed. Thankfully, the San Bernardino Film Commission helped us find an alternate location near Barstow, CA, and connected us with an owner with private land access to clear up some of the red tape.


I honestly had no clue how much legwork and paperwork were involved before frame one of the cameras would roll.


We held many pre-planning meetings. The key stakeholders were myself, Brian Barnhart the Director/Co-Writer, and Parker Tolifson, our Director of Photography. We soon brought on a First Assistant Director to help us coordinate much of the shooting schedule and help with actor auditions. I wrote a short description of the film and posted this on Breakdown Express/Actors Access:


1970s-style Retro Future Spy movie. Bond with a twist. Script is 12 pages long. 4-day shoot with three main parts:


  • Agent MX Zero (male): Confident, Bond-esque, action superstar with witty dialog—carries a large cannon for a pistol
  • Mysterion (male): Evil, dark, foreboding villain with an outrageous laugh—his hideout is a very cool nightclub casino
  • Sierra (female): The electronic guardian angel of Zero—an agent who remotely is the eyes and ears of Zero, tapping into security cams and feeds, and providing intel over radio communication


Within 36 hours, there were over 600 responses and headshots each for the male and female leads waiting for me! I must admit, it was rather fun to go through the headshots, resumes, and video clips, and try to find the right fit for the parts to audition. I had been warned from all of my filmmaker friends that they hated the audition process.



Out of the five female and seven male auditions, only one was problematic (cancelling the first audition for a “dog emergency” and showing up late to the rescheduled one). Everyone else was very professional and ultimately decent—if not solid—actors. We actually had choices to make!  The choice was made easier by each actor’s promptness, readiness, and general “will do what it takes” attitude. Our star, Gunner Wright, showed up early for his audition, brought glasses and gloves as props, and dressed in a three-piece suit. Not only did he read great, but his preparedness and personality made the final decision to cast him that much easier.


I recorded the auditions on a Panasonic P2 camera, and although our actors didn’t read together, I was able to quickly cut together small sections of the script in Media Composer to get a feel for how they may appear together (see video clips). It really helped us also visualize the script from written word and to hear it for the first time as a living, breathing performance.  Please keep in mind that is an audition and they are ‘reading’, so this is not the finished optimum performance.



In the next post, I’ll talk more about the process of getting to shoot day one.



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About Thomas Graham

Avid marketing manager for Post Audio and Pro Mixing, I am also a veteran engineer/recordist/editor. I've worked on music scores for dozens of feature films, including Ice Age, Collateral, and The Spirit.

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