When filmmaker Terry R. Wickham got to the storied location he was having his suspense film shot at, he went about setting his car up for the first shot of the day.
It was to be the introductory shot of the entire movie, a slow slider shot on the car sitting amongst trees. Wickham explains, “I parked my car back on this grassy field, where we could put the camera within the trees to give the movie mood from the get go. Though it wasn’t going to be a spastic-crazy fast camera move, I was kind of thinking of the beginning of Sam Rami’s The Evil Dead. Plus so much of our movie takes place inside a ramshackle long abandoned facility; I thought it wouldn’t hurt seeing beautiful nature for contrast.”
Shortly after Wickham did this a couple folks from the location saw it and informed the filmmaker he couldn’t park on the grass. Wickham asked if he could film on the dirt road nearby and was told if he could do it in 5 minutes. Well anyone who has ever worked on a movie knows, you can’t set up and shoot a scene in 5 minutes.
The director and his team tried, getting the first shot done but as they moved in to photograph the actors within the car, a State cop drove up. Wickham says, “We didn’t have anything to hide and I explained we weren’t hurting anyone or anything by filming there. He asked if we had a permission, we didn’t, so were told to pack it up.”
Determined not to let the day go by without finishing the opening scene of the movie, Wickham asked PA Michael Porciello if there was place nearby that was wooded and vacant, where nobody would bother us. After thinking about it he said there was an abandoned playground a 10-minute drive away. So the film team went there to finish the 2 ½ minute dialogue scene for the movie.
Terry talks about Michael Porciello’s contribution to the film, “I’ve been friends with Mike since he early 90s. Since Mike grew up in the area we were shooting, he had expert knowledge of not just the place we were at, but what was close by. Mike ended up engineering the arrangement with Scott McKinnon @ Main Street Pub for breakfast for both days on the first Phase and later on July 23rd. Plus Mike provided water and dust masks for everyone. The fact he picked breakfast & lunch on April 23, 24 and later breakfast on July 23. makes us all very grateful for him doing that.”
While at the dead end/abandoned playground location, the production had to deal with never ending planes flying overhead and one particular loud bird that landed on a nearby tree branch. Wickham furthers the day, “When 1st AC Giorgio Savona did everything he could to chase that bird away it gave all of us a good laugh. As far as the planes, I guess since it was a beautiful spring day, all sorts of planes took advantage, which made us wait out what felt like never-ending noise.”
Speaking of 1st Assistant Camera Giorgio Savona the filmmaker has nothing but praise, “I really enjoyed working with Giorgio. I think everyone liked his warm personality and can do attitude. He was definitely there to do what he could to help Adrian and it shows on the screen. I’m sure he wanted to finish the movie but he couldn’t because he was filming a documentary in Russia, so we only had him those first two shooting days.”
Make-Up Artist Alexa Branco was a nice addition to the crew. Wickham explains, “She took over for the original make-up artist who couldn’t make the shoot because of having a car accident shortly before the filming began. Alexa has a friendly personality and takes her craft seriously. I really appreciated her coming out, especially on short notice. She was game to play one of the wrongdoers in the movie, but never got the chance when we filming resumed in July because she was on vacation.”
In the end Wickham and his team got the important first scene in the can, but lost the chance to finish the production that day because of being ousted at the locale. The director was determined to set up another date to finish the movie, but little did he know at that moment it would take three whole months for everyone’s schedule to intersect.
Wickham gives his final thoughts on the first Phase of Abandoned, “The situation we went through might of spooked someone on the crew, but but sometimes you have to take little risks to get things done. I never approached the shoot blindly trying to think of every scenario that could happen, with backup plans in place. Anyone who has worked with me should know I always try to look after the cast & crew and make decisions based on their well-being. But the fact is as a director you are always at war with everything trying to stop or compromise the movie. For me, I approach it like the Terminator and will not stop ever, until the film is done to the best of my ability.”
The principal photography for Abandoned happened in two phases.
The first phase was done Saturday April 23 and Sunday April 24, 2016. That weekend the production went to a legendary location on Long Island that provided the film’s uninhibited setting.
Director Terry R. Wickham and Production Coordinator Jason Paluck first scouted this place in November of 2015 and key production team members had been there more than once in preparation for the shoot. But as easy as it was to get in and out of it those times, things changed once shooting begun.
The first scene to be shot of the movie was filmed in the bowels of one of the most noticeable structures on the property. Though there was no electricity on the premises, Director of Photography Adrian Popescu brilliantly lit the scene with a couple of flashlights strategically placed amongst pipes and darkness, to go along with the high Lumens flashlights provided by Production Designer Michelle Rickert.
This scene went off without a hitch and looks absolutely dynamite. Proof of this is filmmaker Terry R. Wickham recently took a meeting with two producers about directing another film and after they saw this scene, they wanted to hire the DP for their movie.
But then the production hit some unexpected snags after the team made it’s way up through the large building. While DP Popescu and 1st AC Giorgio Savona set up a beautiful slider shot down an super long hallway, Make-Up Artist Alexa Branco applied make-up to the two lead actors. Suddenly without warning there was loud pounding sound that stopped everyone in their tracks.
Production Coordinator Jason Paluck went to see the source and discovered that the windows were being boarded up on the edifice. This was probably in preparation to keep out kids who would soon be out of school. Production promptly stopped and Director Wickham consulted with Paluck on the choices they had. Wickham decided to wait it out to see if the personnel outside would go away. After a half-hour to 45 minutes the people outside moved over to the other side of the building, where the production team had taken silent refuge.
Based on the fact there was no way to get to the adjacent building the structure was connected to it, was decided to go back out the way everyone had come. This proved easy and but the big problem was now the place the production had prepared to shoot in could not be used. This definitely sucked because Wickham had mapped out every single shot with Popescu on a previous visit to the location.
So most of the team followed Wickham to another structure on the property rarely visited. At the same time Paluck went with Popescu and Savona to see if the most iconic structure was available to enter. It was and after scoping out the best place to continue, three shots where filmed that captured the gloomy atmosphere of the place and propelled the story forward.
Wickham talks about his Cinematographer Adrian Popescu, “I choose to work with Adrian because not only was his cinematographery was first rate, but like his calm demeanor and positive attitude. This was a movie where the shots had to be done pretty quickly without standard equipment and he was outstanding at capturing the film in some truly dark situations with little to no lights. Plus communication is key between a director and DP. I felt he clearly understood what I envisioned yet still brought his own skills to the table to make it even better.”
On Abandoned, Production Designer Michelle Rickert was working on her 4th film with Terry R. Wickham. Terry says, “She’s wonderful. Works like a demon, never complains and always brings authentic details to every production that have made them better. I consider her definitely part of the core team of people I work with. Again, she was without question fully committed to the movie going on multiple scouting visits to locations, preparing all the props in the movie in advance and the make-up effects as well. I couldn’t be happier with Michelle.”
Patrick Reilly was the Sound Recordist just like he was on The Devil’s Five segment. The Director says, “Pat was one of only two people that came from The Devil’s Five. That gave me a sense of comfort with the dialogue recording and because I knew his skills and that he could roll with the hard work necessary for Abandoned.”
Around 2:00 pm the production took lunch out in front of the dwelling. After 20-30 minutes, the group hit another couple unexpected obstacles. Right before the film team went back into the imposing Gothic structure, a fire truck with ladder appeared at the front of the building and a member of the fuzz was parked down the hill in the back, with a bunch of teenagers sitting on the ground.
Wickham wasn’t about to stop shooting the movie, so he lead 3 others into the building. Unfortunately the team got split up and the other production personnel were not so ballsy. When they made it to the back of the looming roof with walls, rather than entering, they sat down on a log in an attempt and wait out the law enforcement viewer.
What made this especially frustrating for the director was that within the building there was absolutely no cell phone reception and extremely limited texting available. Wickham says, “I could see the rest of my crew & cast right out the window, but couldn’t do anything to contact them. So again, I had to be patient and wait it out until the patrolman and the fire truck left. Once they did almost everyone came in to finish.”
Wickham further elaborates, “Listen when you are shooting a super limited budget film you have to do what’s necessary to get a movie made. We certainly didn’t have the budget to make our own sets so you have to resort to what’s available. Our production wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to film there.”
Once filming resumed Siakie Tetteh got the chance to really show her stuff as the video vixen model “Billie Winters.” Wickham says, “Siakie owned the role. She played “Billie” with just the right combination of fearlessness as a sexy model and brought emotional depth and sensitivity that will make the audience care about what happens to her.”
The startling red dress Siakie wears during the movie’s big photo session was a showstopper. Siakie got super talented stylist Grace Obeng, who like Siakie is from Ghana, to hand-make the dress for her. This costume ate most of the movie’s budget but Wickham knows it was money well spent. “Listen the first photo session is the movie’s center. Everything that happens builds towards it and then cascades down after it. So we had to have an exceptional eye-popping dress that would make Siakie look sensational and Grace designed something that exceeded my expectations.”
Aaron Mathias proved to be the right choice as the Photographer “Steve.” Wickham gives the scoop on the tall actor, “I had been wanting to work with Aaron for a couple years. What I knew of him before production was he as a smart guy who had a real good grasp of what’s important in life. Social things and attitude. I thought that would carry over into the character and without question it did. Aaron has a real natural acting approach that makes everything he does just seem so real.”
Unfortunately the delays during the day hampered the team from finishing all that needed to be done. Wickham intended to finish what they started the next day after some exterior shots but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Read his next blog to find out what happened instead.