Here with our 2nd "Almost 20Q" Interview - I present Chris Preksta the Captain behind this pulpy production:
1. What is the origin of the Mercury Men?
The short: I noticed a serious lack of ray guns in modern entertainment. The long: I had been working on a feature project with a production company for nearly two years that just wasn't gaining any traction. I was getting really anxious not filming anything, and I've always wanted to film something with ray guns, so I pulled together a small crew in October 2007 and filmed a black and white short over the course of a day and half. It just followed this nameless office employee fighting off glowing men with a ray gun. We screened it at a few film festivals, including Comic Con, and it was really well received. I started thinking there may be an opportunity to tell a bigger story.
2. What drew you to creating a pulp / serial styled adventure ?
I love both the look/design and the style of storytelling, especially the cliffhangers. I'm also a huge fan of black and white.
For years I've been saying they ought to bring back serialized shorts proceeding feature films, similar to what Pixar has been doing for years. That way viewers get a bit more for their buck and studios get the opportunity to try out ideas, characters, actors/directors before committing to an expensive feature. Can you imagine going to see Iron Man 2 and before it they play a 5 minute Captain America live action short of him storming a Nazi base? And if you end it on a cliffhanger people will make sure to check out the next Marvel movie to see what happens. Maybe one day we'll get to see Mercury Men before the summer blockbuster at your local cineplex!
3. What was your writing and development process? Did you conceive it as a feature THEN break it down OR was it always conceived as a serial? What sparked the title? The idea?
I, along with story contributors Ben and Curt, work in outlines/index cards for a long time. Probably 75% of the process. Once you get into a script it's pretty easy to lose sight of the big picture. I really aimed for this story to work both as a serial and as a feature/DVD. Each episode works on it's own, but a few episodes together form a larger act.
The original short was called The Mercury Men so the title just carried over. It was the first and only title I came up with, and it was there from day one of the idea. When you hear or read it your brain sort of naturally poses the question "Who are the Mercury Men?" Which makes for great marketing/posters of course.
We were a little worried calling the new series The Mercury Men and even considered changing it for two reasons. One, I knew a lot of people would confuse us with The Mystery Men Ben Stiller movie. And two, further sequels won't always have the Mercury characters so it may be a little confusing later. While discussing a possible title change, Curt Wootton, who plays Jack, told a story of a Terminator 2 trading card he had as a kid with a picture of the liquid metallic T-1000. The card was subtitled "Mercury Man." He told us that name always struck him with a bit of awe. That settled the debate.
4. What's your background? (School? self-taught? location? experience?)
Went to a local film school here in Pittsburgh. Hated it. Everybody was making either really bad experimental video stuff or a rip off of Boondock Saints. I left after three years and took the money I was spending on tuition to help pay for my first feature film Captain Blasto.
5. Yes, Captain Blastowas your first foray into this arena - what did you learn from it (Production, marketing, distribution)?
I learned practically everything from it, both good and bad, and too much to list here. The most valuable lessons I took away were: the nuts and bolts of how to make a production run, that being incredibly well organized will help you gain and keep volunteer cast/crew, and the incredible amount of discipline it takes to make it through an entire production. I also learned that the "make a good cheap movie, take it to film festivals, sell movie" model of filmmaking was dying REALLY fast. 6. Let's get into the production: How long did it take? Ups / downs?
Pre-production went from March 08 - September 08 and included everything from writing, designing/building/buying props and costumes, schedules, shot lists, and storyboards (I draw storyboards for every single shot of the film.)
Principal photography began on October 2nd 2008 and went for three weeks, shooting on nights 6 days a week. Average crew size was roughly 12 people (from Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Ohio), all working till one, three, sometimes five AM and then having to go to their day job and come back to film at five PM! We shot for a week in a downtown parking garage and it was really neat/eerie to be eating "lunch" at midnight outside in the middle of a dead quiet city.
We had three locations: a church office floor, an insurance company office floor, and the parking garage. We found locations through both the Pittsburgh film office and friends. Once we knew what we needed we just started asking around, even putting it out on my Facebook status. If you can't find it that way, try to get in touch with your local film office. They should have a ginormous database of location pictures. The trick is finding the ones that won't charge you thousands of dollars. We got turned down by about a dozen places.
We shot on a Panasonic HVX and rented a small lighting/dolly package from The Gaffhouse, a local equipment house. If you're interested in shooting your own film/series and don't have your own equipment or a great budget, never be afraid to ask a local equipment place for help. A lot of times they have equipment just sitting there not making money so they'll gladly rent at an incredibly reduced rate.
7. Postproduction: what tools are you using to create this look? This sound? The VFX?
Most of "the look" is created by our lighting design. But as far as post-production I'm editing on a Mac Pro using Final Cut Pro and After Effects for the VFX. I learned how to do FX while working on the original short just by watching an insane amount of online video tutorials like videocopilot.net. I wasn't copying any specific effect or tutorial (you can see a lot of their stuff being copied ALL OVER the internet now a days) just learning how the program worked.
As for sound, we have a local studio (Market St. Sound) handling the mix for us. While I'm able to handle a lot of different areas of filmmaking, sound is the one I have to hand off.
8. Who designed your poster?
I did the poster. Art and design is my other love/hobby.
9. What are your favorite pulps?
While it's not originally of the golden age of pulps, and often not considered pulp, I've got to go with Raiders of the Lost Ark. That film inspired Mercury Men a great deal and remains a constant source of conversation between the cast/crew.
10. What are your favorite comics and comic artists/writers?
Darwyn Cooke hands down. The New Frontier is easily among my top 5 comics. The style of art, story, and characters is everything I love. I'm a big fan of 60's design.
The Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale dynamic duo is a close second. They create the most cinematic comics.
11. Raygun or jetpack?
Jet pack, which I'm REALLY hoping we can pull off in a Mercury Men sequel.
Rocketship. I'm claustrophobic. And a huge fan of space.
13. What's next for Mercury Men?
Beyond just getting the series finished we're working hard on some fun stuff for this season such as the digital props and trading cards we've been releasing on the blog (http://themercurymen.blogspot.com). We're going to be releasing something every few days. We've got some behind-the-scenes video coming soon and some projects that viewers can contribute to the story. We're also already working on the story for the next volume of the series.
14. I see it's available on blip.tv - is this the only venue available?
It's also available on iTunes.
15. What online marketing tools are you using? Facebook? Twitter? Ning? etc... what do you think of each one in terms of effectiveness for what you're trying to accomplish?
I really think the interaction and dialogue with viewers is the most important part of this for me, and I am absolutely genuine about that. I love both sharing what we're doing, how we do it, and also hearing what others are doing.
16. Do you have traditional distribution (DVD, TV, Cable, International) yet or are you shopping it around? What's been the response so far?
No distribution agreement just yet.
17. What's next for you?
I've got two other projects ready to go, but all energy is being aimed at Mercury Men now.
18. What are your longterm goals in this industry?
Feed and house my wife and future kids. Beyond that I like telling fun stories that also have a deeper meaning in there. I'd love for Mercury Men Pictures to one day be the Pixar of live action film.
19. What do you want to say to the audience out there?