Make a No Budget Movie: Chapter Thirteen

First and Last
September 23rd, 2011

Late October. The leaves were turning, and the light had dimmed to a soft golden hue. My movie, and most of what I’d filmed so far, took place in the summer, but I still didn’t have an opening scene. I still didn’t have the sequence where we are introduced to Renard and his insurgents as they massacre a party of hapless redcoats. 

What I did have were a bunch of guys who still wanted to be in the movie. I had my redcoats, four new volunteers: Alex Long, Ochuko Kpolugbo, Angus MacGregor, and Mike Salsbury. They needed to be dressed as a woodcutting party, which meant shirt sleeves and red waistcoats. For hats I used the same hats that had been seen throughout the film, the two “bowler” type hats, the cocked hat Colin and Tom Cromwell had both used as Rangers, and a wide brimmed hat of mine that Cliff has used. They also needed axes, but since I didn’t have any 18th century axes (as I’d expected to after recruiting all of the re-enactors I never actually recruited), I had to make some. I found photographs of period axe heads and made copies out of thick cardboard. Axe handles at the time were straight, and I ended up taping one of my axe heads to the handle of an old pickaxe. The other two handles came from a single long spade handle that I cut in two. With their heads spray painted matte black, the axes looked real. 

There were seven of us in my van as we made our way to the location, a meadow and some woods at York Redoubt National Historic Site. Mike had come to play Renard, with Steve Mosher to reprise his role as the white-shirted Acadian who had whacked Tom Cromwell. 
In the meadow I took the shot that I had envisioned, long ago, as being the opening shot of the movie. This was a scene of long meadow grass, waving gently in the wind. The camera holds on this grass, and then we see just the legs of men walking through it, past the camera, the legs of the doomed wood cutting party. It was one of those lingering shots inspired by Hertzog. The grass was brown and stiff now, but the light was perfect. I got the shot and it’s great. 

From the meadow we proceeded to the woods. I had a spot in mind for the massacre scene, but on our way there I spied another clearing on the edge of the trail and chose that instead. Here was where Major Aldridge’s men would be surprised and killed near “Bloody Creek,” the act that sets the rest of the movie in motion. My volunteers took to it with relish, and in fact were so excited and so filled with suggestions for how they could die that I abandoned my shot list and let them do their thing. Mike Salsbury was probably the most enthusiastic, and gave me the most realistic fall in the movie. 

Angus MacGregor played the first redcoat to be killed, shot by Jim’s character, Joseph. Jim wasn’t there that day, but I’d shot his bits for this scene two months ago, at Uniacke Estate park. Angus just had to fall back, his forehead smeared with fake blood  that I’d made from my corn syrup mixture. I also tried a blood effect when Ochuko Kpolugbo’s character gets struck in the neck by Renard’s axe, using a hidden Windex bottle to simulate a blood spurt (the effect didn’t really work as well as I’d hoped, though it works a bit). 
The last redcoat to be killed was also shot by Jim, though Jim had done the shooting months before. This was Alex Long, who crawls along the path, mortally wounded, and dies on the edge of the bloody creek that gives the film its name. The creek was really just the edge of a swamp, just a big puddle. I would later blend it together with some shots of a real creek. 

That was that. It was a strange feeling to be done, for I now had the entire historical sequence, all of the script I’d written, in the can (or on about two dozen DV tapes). Before I shot the modern sequence, I had a lot of work to do: more refined editing, plus sound effects and some optical effects for almost the entire film.

The modern sequence could wait until winter.