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The Heights of Independent Filmmaking Or: Shooting at 2 Degrees & 12000 Feet

By First Look Studios Home Entertainment
Jun 8, 2006, 09:57

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Production History of Subject Two by Philip Chidel

- On November 1, 2004, my producing partner Dean Stapleton and I sat on a bench on 34th & Madison in New York City and decided to make a movie. At that time, we had no idea what kind of film it would be. All we knew was it had to be very low-budget because we had to pay for it, and it had to be different from any indie film that's ever been out there.

We realized Dean had certain resources in his hometown of Aspen, CO, including access to the Alfred Braun Hut System, a group of municipally-run cabins that dots the area’s mountaintops. Alfred Braun was Dean's grandfather; he had built these huts. It was perfect. Isolated, with breathtaking winter scenery for unparalleled production value. This would be a totally insane endeavor, especially since there was no story yet.

So I started writing my kind of freak show, Dean began tackling the complex production logistics, and together we approached Christian Oliver to join our producing team and star opposite Dean — the three of us had met years ago in Dennis Lee Kelly’s Renegade Actors Workshop in Los Angeles, so we knew we could work together well. Besides, I was writing the role with Christian in mind, so he had to say yes.

He did say yes, but we were suddenly on deadline — to shoot in Aspen in winter at the Alfred Braun Hut System, we knew we could only rely on snow for the first few months of the year and finding the best available cabin would be difficult. So we jumpstarted the production. I finished the script within a month. By mid-January, we had a crew gathered in Aspen – including Rich Confalone, our Director of Photography whose head was split with a machete while working in Peru a month earlier. Ouch. By mid-February, the production was wrapped.

Let me repeat. On November 1: clueless. 3-1/2 months later, a script was written, a production planned, and our HD feature was in the can. That's how fast this project came together.

- Our shooting location was The Barnard Hut — a remote cabin in a remote place. Accessing the hut required an hour-plus snowmobile ride (!), caravaning our crew and dragging our food and equipment on a sled — and it was a good thing we went there, because our original choice for a cabin had its trail buried by an avalanche the week before our shoot! The Barnard Hut had an outhouse, no electricity and no running water. It slept eight; we were nine. This is the place we ate, slept, worked and breathed. It was cozy.

- Temperatures were usually freezing, and at least one night shoot registered a balmy 2 degrees. Waist-deep snow limited mobility; thin air limited breathing (some crew had high-altitude sickness, myself included). The thin air also complicated our action shots: a 30-second take resulted in 20-minutes of gasping for breath. Also at that altitude, light changes quickly; within some takes, you could actually see the light change.

- Our ending had to be rewritten due to a three-day snow which rendered our intended location inaccessible. Other scenes had to be re-shot as well, due to inconsistent snow on the background trees.

- Heavy snowstorms threatened not only our shoot, but also our ability to leave on the last day and return home. The night before our departure, Dean and Christian set out – after sunset – to break trail through the deepening snow. It was dark, it was cold, the landmarks were buried, visibility was nil. They got lost. Their snowmobiles got stuck. After a half hour digging their snowmobiles out from the snow, they finally managed to return to the hut, unsuccessful in their endeavor, five hours after their initial departure.

- We lost half a day when we lost a snowshoe. The search through the snow resulted in digging a 100'-long, 5'-deep trench which looked like a valley on the Death Star. We found the snowshoe. It wasn't in the trench.

- On the bizarre personal front, not only is our composer Erik Godal a fellow Aspenite, but he was born in the same hospital room as Dean Stapleton, just hours apart. Erik, currently a Los Angeles-based film and TV composer, is still recovering from his storied childhood with Dean.

- On the technical front, we shot in 24p HD with a Panasonic Varicam.

First Look Studios announces DVD release of Official 2006 Sundance Film Festival Selection SUBJECT TWO Starring Dean Stapleton and Christian Oliver Street Date: July 18, 2006

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