From Space City Con to You
Some of the most interesting things I learned about Frankenstein’s Monster at Space City Con concerned the interesting methods the filmmakers used in order to keep the film under the small budget and within a short time frame. I also had an opportunity to interview the cast about the film and their experiences within the film.
Warning: this blog includes a lot of technical stuff involving the production of the film.
For the filming, some of the most important aspects to the filmmakers were to ensure that the film maintained an authentic, Victorian period-style. To maintain that look, the filmmakers needed to ensure that the costumes were beautiful and accurate. Costumes can be an expensive, especially period costumes. Luckily, the producer, Judith Shields, found J’Nean Henderson, Victorian Lady.
J’Nean maintains a large stock of period costumes with dates ranging from 1854-1912. For her business, J’Nean wants to make sure that the costumes are complete: head to toe, each costume is designed to be an entire single look. Her business does fashion shows, teaches Victorian dance, and does demonstrations for schools. J’Nean thought that it was wonderful to see her costumes come alive on screen. She was also very pleased at how well the actors treated her costumes. J’Nean is a perfectionist, and this perfectionism allowed Judith and the cast to have a believable portrayal of Victorian-era characters.
Most of the people in the film, the extras and such, knew how to properly wear the costumes. Matt Risoldi, as a large man, was hard to costume. His sleeves in the costume were a little short, mis-fitted. That was purposeful, since the monster would not have had the chance to dress exactly properly. The monster wanted to dress properly, but could not find proper clothes.
The filmmakers gave some advice in costume color schemes. When filming, try to avoid bright colors because unless you are using a very high quality camera, they will not show up well. Judith wanted her film to have the visual feeling of an old photograph, so the colors were more muted, the sepia was turned up. In the case of Frankenstein’s Monster, the color Red has special significance when next to the other, more muted colors.
Technical Filming Aspects
One way that the filmmakers were able to save in the filming was in double-using crew members as part of the cast. Matt Risoldi, who portrayed the Monster was also the sound editor. Christopher Lowe, the professor, created and designed the lab.
Matt built one of the primary microphones used in the filming with little more than a paintbrush roller, metal wiring, scrunchies, and foam; the microphone cost less than $20 to make. Most of the microphones were bought rather inexpensively. The hardest challenges in making the film’s sound were involved with the ambient noises around the filming areas. One of the locations, the Tallship Elissa, was right next to a docked cruise ship. They were able to film around Elissa’s reconstruction, but had some difficulties eliminating the sounds of the loud ship. Other places, like some of the outdoor sets, had problems with automobile and traffic noises. Due to the budget, there was not a lot of time for post-production sound editing. They had to get it right quickly.
Watching the film, you would not notice much of these difficulties from the sound editing side. The Elissa scenes feel like they are out into the sea, not docked by a loud cruise ship.
Of all the technical aspects of the film, the laboratory had the biggest budget. Because it is the ‘birthplace’ of the monster, the lab had to be impressive and believable. When we first see the lab, it is an empty room that slowly develops into a larger, more impressive laboratory as Frankenstein works with it. It evolves with Frankenstein’s research.
The lab was built in an abandoned room within a school. Lab equipment was borrowed from the school: chemistry equipment, a real skeleton from the anatomy lab. Things that could not be borrowed from the school’s labs were built from things purchased from the hardware store. For the lab itself, Christopher had to cover up some of the more modern appliances within the room by fabricating a shelf, some ways to cover the walls. This allowed Christopher to work outside of the existing room’s built-in set-up. Adding shelves allowed him to have places to put things on the walls The room does not have blank, dry walls, but instead has the perfectly cramped feeling of a mad scientist’s lab.
The wall had a lot of pictures from the artwork and notes from Leonardo Da Vinci. Christopher felt that the doctor might use da Vinci as a “go-to-guy” for inspiration. The Renaissance artist did a lot of mechanic and anatomical work, and as the film showed Dr. Frankenstein with an interest in both mechanics and anatomy, the images were appropriate.
Christopher recommends that to build props for a low-budget film you need to find someone who can take a look at random bits of things found in a hardware store. Just a little imagination and a few bits of scrap can go a long way to building some amazing props.
As an actor, the most difficult scene for Matt was sitting under the sheets, waiting to film the reanimation sequence. “I didn’t want it to look like a cartoon.” He had not seen a lot of Frankenstein films, other than Young Frankenstein, which was a different style from this film. He had no preconceived notions of how to be the monster, to act like other versions. The apparatus that made the steam was not uncomfortable; it attached down a tube to a flask of dry ice.
What we learned from this interview and panel was that props for films can be made cheaply and effectively if you know where to look and who to ask. You don’t need a super fancy video camera, a really nice camera with video capacity can do wonders, and microphones can be made inexpensively.
We also learned that the cast of Frankenstein’s Monster is passionate about the project, and that passion can be seen in the film. I urge anyone who gets the chance to watch this film to do so.