After watching the documentary, Journey to Planet X, I was quite taken with the filmmaking magic of Eric Swain and Troy Bernier. The shear ingenuity and heart that these two put into their films is amazing. I knew that I had to talk to them.
I got a chance to sit down and talk with Eric and Troy as well as Andrew Brown, who has acted in both Planet X as well as the film currently in production, Temple of Joy. We were also joined by Austin Jones, who unfortunately we lost connection with during the interview.
You guys just got back from a Filmfest in Miami. Which festival was that?
Troy: Miami is an active area when it comes to culture and the arts. This weekend that we're going into (Fourth of July Weekend) we're going to Super Con, which is a pretty big event. We won, two years ago with Planet X. It's large, they get about eight to ten thousand people there.
Eric: That's in the documentary, Journey to Planet X the Geek Film Festival. That's actually the film festival in Super Con.
Troy: Yeah, I don't know if they are having the festival this year, I haven't heard anything, but it's a great place to show films. Mike Broder is the guy that runs Super Con. Prior to that, I myself was attending the African American International Black Film Festival, which had some amazing films. Eric and I have been to some outstanding festivals these past two years, some of the best festivals in the country, and after going to the ABFF at the Ritz Carlton, which is not a bad hotel, I was impressed and would say they are at the top. They know what they're doing and they know how to take care of everyone there. It was awesome, with some wonderful films and wonderful shorts. It was a lot of fun.
Tell me about the genesis of Ginnungagap Filmwerks.
Troy: Eric, how do you figure it's been?
Eric: The name of the company came about after 2004 or 2005, because we had been playing around with other names. We had our 2001 medieval drama, A Brief Spell, I had called it Swain Films, after my own last name. Ginnungagap came about in the mid 2000's and came to represent the empty space before we create a movie. We tried experimenting with a few others but that's the one that seemed to fit.
How did Plaent X come about?
Troy: Planet X and several other films that we have created plus a few more that are in the pipe is from a time that I call "The Great Leap Forward". Eric and I would always hang out and we were having a real good time and we started coming up with these stories and we had ideas of what we could do. This was shortly after A Brief Spell and before we made Longevity. Planet X is a prequel to the main story, which is Planet X Part III, which is about Dr Von Hooven fifty years later. That's already been written. That was written before we even started Planet X and the latest film that we're producing right now, Temple of Joy. These all came about in 2003/2004.
Eric: When we started writing Planet X, it was actually in two pieces. The concept of traveling to the outer solar system to one of Pluto's moons and finding a special element....the research team and the drama with the government. The concept of introducing pirates, The Oorts in the outer solar system, the rebellion, that was kind of the other piece and that came a little bit later. Of course both of these parts fit together when writing what we call Part III, which is not actually what we filmed. It became a lengthy movie and we decided to do a prequel to that. The main characted Von Hooven is young and starting out.
How long did it take to make Planet X?
Troy: Officially, eighteen months. Pre-production itself took about a year, because we built a lot of things, we had to figure out how to do it, had to figure out where to get the parts from. We went to junkyards, stripped things, you know to get what we needed...assemble them...
Eric: Some of those pieces we're still using!
Troy: Yes, that's true! It's amazing how you can recycle some of this stuff!
There is a lot of ingenuity that went into this movie, such as using the cold locker to convey the coldness of space, especially since you guys are in Florida where it's hard to reproduce chilly temperatures! Do you have any fun stories about the making of Planet X that maybe didn't make it into the documentary?
Eric: Oh yes...they did show a lot of that in the documentary how we had to wait and wait to turn off the power and the lights and all that stuff, so that was all part of the drama. Of course the biggest drama occurs when we weren't shooting in the studio. The studio and green room is a big more of a controlled environment. When we went out to the sand pile early in the morning...just getting everybody there was a scary proposition, getting the vehicle there, getting everybody on top. We were kinda shooting on a plateau and getting the vehicle up there was something that when we got there we thought we might not be able to do. Not to mention the sunlight was changing rapidly, it actually started to get brighter than we wanted it to.
The space helmets we made, we put microphones inside the helmets to pick up the actors and the sound picked up very well on film, but the two actors couldn't hear each other, they had no direct connection between them, so they basically had to read lips.
Troy: The guys that did Journey to Planet X, Josh Koury and Myles Kane, they have over two hundred and fifty hours worth of footage from making the documentary and there are scenes that are probably out of this world. I'm waiting for a Blu Ray push for all the content, the many more interviews we had with so many other people. They followed me to New York, where I was doing an event. There were several interviews with people in the area who were involved with my upbringing and some of the bizarre things that would take place, just in the fact that were trying to make this film as good as possible and the hurdles and challenges that we faced. That's why it took so long....just to put all the pieces together. Because it's original. Almost every component in that film is made from scratch. You know, you bust up something and just take tiny pieces of it to make things. So the film is 100% original, even down to the music. Scott Opielia is the lead vocalist for a group called Sigmond Floyd, they're a Pink Floyd cover band, and we contracted him to make some original music for us. He doesn't play keyboards, but he pushed his tunes through his guitar, which is plugged into synthesizers and produced an amazing soundtrack for us, which was awesome. We were fortunate enough that we knew a guy, Maris Moon, that we met online who made a really cool song that we used in Longevity. He was so cool and he said he had more music if wanted to use that too. Since we were making everything official and above the table, we created a soundtrack to put on iTunes. Rita Ritkin, who also an actress in Planet X also licensed one of her songs for us to include on the soundtrack. SO the film is completely original, we own everything and we're using this model for the rest of our pieces.
You're new film is called Temple of Joy, tell us a bit about that.
Eric: This is an idea that we had earlier. As I said we had a bunch of ideas in the mid 2000's. I wanted to do a time travel story, I've always loved Time Travel...I love H.G. Well's The Time Machine among many others. I knew that we were going to have to work on many details, as time travel has many details that have to fit together. The whole idea of having a futuristic story with people in the future mastering time travel and they have to patrol the time line. It's been done before but we like to put our own twist on it. We threw around a couple of ideas and this one came out on top.
What equipment to you use for your shoots?
Eric: Well most important is the camera which is a Panasonic AG-150, which is a three chip HD camera that does really exceptional in low light. We also use the green screen a lot, which allows us to super impose and composite pictures together and make backgrounds behind the characters. It's much easier to do in high def because you get more definition on the edges of objects, etc. Of course there's the microphones and lavalieres. Sound is very important.
When it comes to editing, I use Adobe Premier, which has been working really great for me. I've heard more people are going to. For special effects, I use Adobe After effects which I've been using since A Brief Spell. I can do basic special effects, compositing, basic shapes, explosions....no 3D modelling like space ships and such, but useful for most other stuff.
What is the casting process like?
Andrew: Laurel, a friend of mine who was on Planet X said, "Hey Troy is casting for this awesome Sci-Fi movie" and I said "Sci-Fi Movie? Sounds great!" So Laurel hooked me up with Troy and I got to audition and I became Jack Wellaby, Planetary Geologist - Please don't take me for granite! I got to do a great scene piloting a shuttle-craft, walked down a hallway that looked like it was on another planet, got to shoot a music video for the films and we shot at a quarry that looked like we were on another planet, which was awesome. When we were doing Temple of Joy, Troy said "We want to get alumni from Planet X" so we got to audition first. I think the best equipment he has is a time travel device that allows us to do the movie. We go back in time and forward in time...plus we can redo a scene if it didn't come out quite right! It's great!
Sounds great, when is Temple of Joy coming out?
Troy: That's a tough one because we have two major challenges that we're dealing with. One is that we make a bad habit of shooting when it's hot and space suits and heat don't go well together. Also it's very wet this time of year and that's going to hamper our progress as well.
Eric: We started shooting in October, so we did get to shoot some of the cooler part of the year.
Troy: Yeah, we actually were in Spain, in Cardona, north of Barcelona up in the mountains. The Cardona Castle is this amazing, massive fortress that was a significant piece of history during these campaigns of the Moors trying to invade Europe and that was the one place they were being held back. We shot there, we were there while during the screening of Journey to Planet X at Stiges. So we took the time to go up into the mountains and shoot some scenes, which are actually very important scenes in Temple of Joy. We did the same when we were in Sedona Film Festival, we shot several scenes in the deserts of Arizona.
Eric: This is really the first film where we're making use of different locations, other than just shooting around the local areas. Being lucky enough to be at these film festivals we're making use of them as best we can.
Any last words you'd like to provide?
Eric: We appreciate the interest in our films, we kind of entered into this not as a chosen profession, but it's something we've found we enjoy immensley. Being creative is a great counterbalance to the analytical nature of our jobs. It keeps us in balance.
Troy: It's great for the mind! Definitely check back because in six months we'll have much more to show and tell! Don't forget folks, check out http://ginnungagapfilmwerks.com/!
Keep it tuned here for more info from the fine lads at Ginnungagap Filmwerks!
Don't forget to watch Planet X at Vimeo.com or at it's official website: http://planetxthemovie.com !