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Behind the scenes of "Volumes of Blood"

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There is much more artistic talent in the western Kentucky and southern Indiana areas than a lot of people realize. There are far more talented people than opportunities in this area as well. Actors, writers, directors, makeup artists, photographers, videographers, sound engineers, editors, and much more are starving to create and grow. So, when P.J. Starks asked me to shoot behind the scenes stills of a horror anthology, I jumped at the chance.

This was an intense project to work on. Each of the five main parts of the anthology were shot at the library and had just 8 hours each to set up, film, clean up, and be out the door. Luckily, we were allowed a couple of "half nights" for some pick up scenes that we simply ran out of time to get on the scheduled nights. In addition to extra scenes shot at other locations, I'm guessing the actual on set time was roughly 60 hours, spread out over 4 and a half months.

Having only previously done similar shooting once before this, I was worried that I was getting in over my head, not because I thought I wasn't a good enough photographer, but because of some back & leg pain issues that I'm still dealing with. That's a story for a different time but those issues will hopefully be resolved very soon.

Even though I was confident in my shooting skills, there were numerous other challenges. First, getting proper exposure with the available lighting. Inside the library, I had to use an ISO of 1600 in order to be able to use at least a 1/120 of a second shutter speed, shooting between f/2.8 & f/5.6, depending on my focal length. For my Nikon D3200, I was using two Sigma lenses, an 18-50mm f/2.8 & a 70-300 f/4.


On 4 of the 5 short films in this athology, I could only use the DSLR in between scenes because of the shutter and mirror noise. The only completely silent option I had for shooting during a scene was my point and shoot, a Canon SX130. The high ISO needed for most of the shoots made it very difficult to use. Fortunately, I had learned how to use hacked firmware on the SX130 so it would shoot RAW. The results were still way below the quality of the D3200, but you have to make the best out of what you have. Like P.J. told me, "Getting the shot with that is better than not getting it at all."

I focused on getting interesting interactions on set, both between actors during a scene and between everyone behind the camera as well. On screen interactions were a lot easier to get since they are set up in advance. The unexpected and spontaneous interactions between takes, or before & after filming, produced some of my best photos in my opinion. I've always favored true candid interactions in my own work over posed or rehearsed shots.

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I shot between 1200 and 2000 stills each of the full 5 nights of shooting and probably edited the best 250 from each night. I also rendered B&W versions of the ones I thought were the best of the best. To me, certain images can become more powerful when color is removed. Color can sometimes distract the viewer. Removing it can make the viewer look past the superficial and see the "real picture".

Health issues aside though, I probably had the least stressful job on set. Regardless of what was going on around me, my job always remained the same. I was there to document whatever hapened, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. Regardless of how well or how badly I did my job, the film would go on without me just fine. To be honest, knowing that was a great stress reliever for me. Thankfully, there were very very few unpleasantries and nothing worthy of noting. Nothing goes off without a hitch though. Problems arise and you work through them. It's as simple as that.

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In addition to behind the scenes & production stills, I was able to put my B.F.A. in graphic design to good use and designed 8 different prop graphics for the film. Having been given a copy of the script early on, I only read the parts I absolutely needed to read in order to design the graphics they needed. As a film fan, I want to be able to enjoy the film as if I knew nothing about it. Even being on set for every shoot, you have no idea how things will be edited and assembled, especially since many scenes are shot out of order to save time. I recently saw a screener of P.J.'s short, Ghastly. I had no idea beforehand of how it would all come together...and it came together brilliantly I might add. Don't let that go to your head P.J.

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This was the largest photo project that I have ever worked on. Between shooting, designing, & editing, I have roughly 250 or more hours into this project. Thousands of hours of work by dozens of very talented people have gone into this anthology. It is proof that talented locals can come together and create something greater than the sum of its parts. We need more projects like this in our area. Art and artists can only thrive if given the opportunity.

The Unscripted Film School, a collaboration between Verite Cinema & the Daviess County Public Library, presents the anthology Volumes of Blood, written my P.J. Starks, Todd Martin, & Nathan Thomas Milliner. The synopsis on the film's facebook page describes Volumes of Blood as, "Five tales of dread interwoven when a sociology student gathers several of his friends at the local library to help him create a new urban legend with deadly consequences."

Directed by P.J. Starks, Jakob Bilinski, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Lee Vervoort, & John Kenneth Muir, the world premiere is on Friday, the 13th of March at the Owensboro Convention Center. The premiere is sponsored by 97X and The Boiler Room. Tickets are $5 and all proceeds go to New Beginnings Sexual Assault Support Services. Tickets are selling out fast.

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