Filmmaker Terry R. Wickham finally started Edit Logging the footage for ABANDONED tonight. Wickham says, “The footage looks sensational and I’m really happy with my actors’ performances. Fun trivia: so far in the first 4 shots, we averaged 5.25 takes per shot with the last take being the best in three shots, while the other one, the second to last take will be what I’ll use.”
Sunday July 24, was quite a different experience for Director Terry R. Wickham and his film Abandoned. The Award-Winning Filmmaker of 3-Minute Chillers Contest talks about it, “This part of the shoot felt totally different than the other three shooting days because, we didn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of the location. We filmed at part of the historic Long Island mental facility Pilgrim State Hospital in Brentwood, NY.
I have got to be honest. Not having to worry about someone telling us we can’t shoot and the fact that we were outside breathing clean air made a big difference. Plus throw in that we only needed to do four exterior shots to finish the movie, helped as well.”
First up was the establishing shot to show the enormity of the structure Abandoned takes place in. Wickham continues, “Production Coordinator Jason Paluck, DP Adrian Popescu and 1st AC/Steadicam Operator Leftonred Atanycorner visited the location the weekend before our shoot and they liked it. So I went there after work the Wednesday prior to filming to map out all four shots.
As a visual director like myself, I loved being able to be there ahead of time and visualize where the characters should walk, talk and how to best capture those cinematic moments. I also walked around the area surrounding the power plant to figure out where the topography would match what we already shot. I also saw that by positioning the first shot with a corner perspective of the building, that it was was not only three dimensional and helped increase the massiveness of the structure.”
Wickham choose yellowish dirt road to the southwest corner of the building. Director of Photography Adrian Popescu, set up some make shift vegetation to help show off the slow slider shot movement, tracking the two actors walking to what was in real life an abandoned power plant.
The director elaborates, “I wanted to not only establish the vast building, but further continue steady, fluid shots to help draw the audience into the story and to make them feel that they were watching a movie from a sure-handed director. I can’t stand the overuse of super fast cutting in so many movies today. It gets tiring and wears out its welcome quickly. I also feel that it also goes against the fabric of creating suspense, so for me, I opt to go the other way.”
The next couple shots established that our main character “Billie” (Siakie Tetteh) gets the sensation that someone is watching them. The Director shares his vision, “We used the geography of the location to carefully intertwine our lead characters with the adversarial presence. I tried to construct movement and momentum with economical choices. Things had to flow and I didn’t want anything to stop the natural progress of the movie. But I kept pushing for shifting perspective and use of space within the frame.”
The filmmaker speaks about his lead actors, “I really enjoyed how natural Siakie and Aaron were together.
Their relationship came across as both friendly and professional, which is exactly how their roles were written. I like how they both seemed aware of the surroundings but in different ways. There is no doubt that they are both comfortable in front of the camera and Adrian did stellar job filming them.”
Production Designer Michelle Rickert was on hand again to provide all necessary props and even got to sort of appear as one of the shadowy foes.
Sunday was a bit of a break for Leftonred Atanycorner. He took control of the boom mic because Sound Recordist Pat Reilly couldn’t make the shoot. This was especially good considering how much Steadicam work he did the day prior.
Jevon Duff was on hand again to help the team any way needed as a Production Assistant. Wickham finishes up the day, “Jevon & Siakie transported a couple of the cast & crew from the city and he operated the slate again. He was a big help.”
The production got all that was needed and wrapped in four hours. Wickham sums up the extremely satisfying experience, “I had some really talented passionate people working with me on Abandoned. It was obvious that they cared about the film and put their hearts and souls into the work. This isn’t something that’s automatic and bodes well for the outcome of our movie.
My goal was to make a shorter film than Stash and The Devil’s Five that was super suspenseful that exuded cinematic style. I wanted to do it with a smaller group of people to make things more intimate, I felt this important on this film because of the setting and what takes place in the film.
It’s think it’s always hard and maybe even wrong for a filmmaker to to proclaim that a film has achieved something before the audience sees it, because they ultimately will be the judge & jury of the film.
What I can say is that stylistically Abandoned mirrors more of my own visual taste than any film I’ve ever directed. That’s not a knock against the films I directed like Madame Red, Double Fantasy,Out of Touch,The Downfall of Johnny Garrett or Stalk from Evil Streets, Washington, Road, Help Me, Hair of the Dog, Stash, The Devil’s Five or any other title from my work. I was really primed to make this film, after coming off a year and half of the most directorial opportunities in my career so far.”
After the production team for Abandoned took lunch at the spot where the cars were parked not far from the first set of buildings, it was time to try and get back in the infamous building Abandoned had been shot in three months earlier. Writer/Producer/Director Terry R. Wickham describes what took place, “My greatest fear for Phase 2 was that we were not going to be able to get back into the same space we shot in April and lose the continuity of the room . So after lunch, I felt it would be prudent for everyone to walk up to the building from the back, so we would be less obvious. But because of the extreme heat & humidity, most of the crew wanted to be driven to the front.
Since there wasn’t enough room in the two cars, because actor Aaron Mathias arrived for the second half of the day (he wasn’t needed for the scenes in the morning) as the leader, I had no problem walking to the structure. As I approached the monolith structure, I was surprised not to see anyone on the grounds. This was a big difference from the place being packed with all sorts of people in April, which included a Firetruck and Police Officer with kids on the ground (read my blog about that here).
Also what looked very positive was that the trees and other vegetation had grown up so much that even if a cop was at the same spot, they wouldn’t be able to see us enter/exit the edifice. My guess for the reason that nobody was around was that July 23rd, 2016 was that it was the hottest day of 2016 on Long Island, reaching a scorching 96 degrees (Saturday August 13th tied the same blistering temperature).
I started to feel more confident that we were going to get in, but they always say, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” As I approached the 13-story structure, I noticed a bunch of kids up on the roof. They started yelling down to me and I paid them no attention.
I walked around to the front where the cast & crew had parked. After we all grabbed the gear needed, we made our way to the back of the building. As a side note, as I led the team to the rear, a bug of some kind, flew into my mouth (which thankfully I was able to spit out), but ended up being an omen of sorts.
Just was we were ascending the stairs on the loading dock platform to get to the quasi-entrance of the 13-story structure, someone on the crew said, “Here comes security.” I couldn’t believe it. We were literally 5 steps from entering the building. We had nowhere to go, so I bent over trying to hide, but there was no mistaking the large black tripod (on movie set called “sticks”) and other gear I was carrying, not to mention what everyone else was lugging. Even now I don’t know if it was because our cast & crew got noticed when they parked out in the front or the kids on the roof, but security was on top of us quickly and said, “You can’t film here.”
We didn’t say one word and just walked away. My greatest fear was realized.
So we left the property and went back to the spot we parked for the morning shoot to regroup. Production Coordinator Jason Paluck felt it might be worth him going right back to the building we just got displaced from. He did, but when he came back he said that security had fastened the entrance way with a nail gun.
So after discussing our options, Jason suggested we try the very first place we planned to shoot this part of the movie back in April. This was the octopus-like facility we had to vacated at that time when the windows were being boarded up (click here for my blog). As always, Jason wanted to check it first. He did and found an opening to get in.” Wickham doesn’t know how he would have been able to make this movie without Jason Paluck’s help. “Jason not only took me to the location, but always looked out for the best ways for us to be able to shoot there. Plus when I was writing the script, Jason would give me his valuable feedback and little important changes. As far as I’m concerned Abandoned is as much his film as it’s mine.”
Wickham admits, “One of the little slightly frustrating things for me was whenever we moved somewhere as a group, I always hoped for a tight cluster of people. Instead it always seemed to be a long line of folks spread-out, which made us a bigger target to notice. Worse was when we’d break off into little groups, all headed for the same place. My worry was that they see us and stop us from filming.”
Thankfully the whole team was able to get into the structure the production originally marked to shoot. Wickham gives the details, “As we were walking to the large connected structure, I came up with a way to make the switch of locations work in the movie. It really is a matter of adding dialogue in post-production coming from the photographer character “Steven” during the footage at the other space. This way it would make sense that we are in the a different place in the scene that follows.
I have to say, I really appreciated the herculean effort the cast & crew made in the red-hot conditions inside the loony bin. The air in that nut-house isn’t very good to start with and when you throw in sauna-like temperature, it just made it very difficult. Imagine sweat pouring down your face and soaking up your clothes, that was our reality. The thing I’ll never forget was Lefty unbelievably operating the Steadicam for the majority of the time. Dedicated film warriors might be an understatement.
Thankfully because we had planned on shooting in this area, Jason, Michelle, Adrian and I knew it very well. I had memorized the layout and after getting set up, we continued where we left off in Scene 6, which is by far the longest scene in the whole movie. Siakie and Aaron were able to get right back into their characters, which made things run pretty smooth.”
One of the most difficult things to get right was the inclusion of the antagonist characters making their presence felt in a very subdued ways. The director says, “I absolutely love suspense created in a subtle way that carries a lot of power. One of my biggest goals was to engineer as much tension in broad daylight and in a gigantic locale where it seemed as though nobody was there. I did this by using what the immense location offered, utilization of the foreground and the background elements of the frame, camera movement, sound and later the music score. As Abandoned plays out , there are little clues that should make the audience uneasy, but I didn’t want to make them obvious over the top. Even our Make-up Artist Regina Tune got a chance to get on this fun playing by one of the dark figures.
Like some of my favorite moments in movies like John Carpenter’s Halloween, Jaws, The Mothman Prophecies and even the original Friday The 13th, I was determined to drop little visual hints that there was someone or something watching and waiting to get them. It was stuff that was done in quiet manner that will hopefully prickle the hair on the audiences’ skin when the see the movie.”
The production team was able to finish up the biggest scene in the movie, which lead to the beginning of the white-knuckle last quarter of the film. The filmmaker gushes over his team’s effort, “It was certainly a collective effort to get things right. Everyone did something to pull off what needed to be done. Lefty was on point moving the camera on his Steadicam rig. Adrian lit & changed lenses to get maximum suspense and cover the action. Michelle stepped up with not only the props, but some make-up effects that were needed.
Patrick was awesome in these sequences. As we started filming the confrontation that takes place, as we all looked at it on the playback it just didn’t look right or violent enough. Patrick suggested changes in what happens and boy did this improve it. His ideas made this scene a lot more dangerous, brutal and it shows on the screen.
We also had what I call a happy accident. Michelle was playing one of the adversaries in the movie. At one point she had to grab a hold of “Billie’s” (played by Siakie) skirt to get hold of her. Siakie had purchased this beautiful white dress that had a skirt that came in layers. She had it rigged so that the top layer would unfasten. So when we did this scene the first time, Michelle grabbed hold but it didn’t release properly and Siakie could get separation from Michelle. So Siakie said for Michelle to really pull hard on it the second take.
Michelle did and she ripped the skirt in two, completely destroying it in the process, but it looks savagely beautiful in 4K HD.
By the way, I can’t forget to talk about having Jevon Duff as a Production Assistant. What a selfless, caring extremely likable person he is. Jevon was willing to help the production anyway possible and he did in a multitude of ways. Not only was he on set operating the clapboard (called a “Slate” on movie shoots) but taking still photos, he got Aaron from the train station and picked up lunch from Edelweiss Deli on July 23rd. Plus Jevon and Siakie volunteered more than once to drive cast and crew to the shoot. I can’t thank Jevon for everything he did to help out. He was without question very valuable to the making of Abandoned.
Thankfully the production finished shooting all interiors at the legendary location. Unfortunately because of losing time during the afternoon switching locations they didn’t wrap until 8pm. Wickham sums up the productive day, “My goal and intention was to wrap the entire movie on Saturday July 23rd. Maybe I was a little too ambitious and had too much wishful thinking on my part because Adrian always said he thought it would 2 days. I’m always trying to look out for my cast & crew and I was hoping they’d get one weekend day free but it didn’t happen.”
Not everyone was needed the next day and some of the crew couldn’t make Sunday July 24th. So look for Wickham’s next blog to tell how his cast & abbreviated crew finished shooting Abandoned at a totally different, yet no less storied location.