Yesterday we finally shot the bomb testing scenes for our movie Go South for Animal Index, which is a fable of Los Alamos based on the poem of that name by Stefene Russell. For reasons that would be difficult to explain, the big day began by incinerating a stuffed Mr. Peanut via fireball on an empty keg of beer. Our generous host Wesley was pyro master.
Mr. Peanut bit the dust, so we had to go after him and torch him more individually, a sign of things to come.
None of us have ever torched a stuffed animal before, a strange action that bears a very strangely heavy weight in my shooting script. Mr. Peanut taught us they melt fast, so we'd have to be careful and shoot fast once a critter was on fire. And they end up looking like this.
So, we decorated our fake bomb with stuffed animals and our atomic scientists, led by Herr Doctor Teller (Paul Casey), did what they do.
What they do is direct underlings to tinker with hunks of industrial restaurant salvage we arrange to make look like at least a Surrealist zombie movie's equivalent of a bomb shop or, in this case, a bomb launch pop. In the first of the two bomb tests, a soldier (Tim McAvin) stands guard while Herr Doctor and two other workaday nuke docs (John Eiler, Neal Alster) direct a soldier-technician (Chuck Reinhardt) to fiddle with bomb pod gadgets.
There was an element of atomic scientist strip tease in this first bomb test scene, because I wanted John and Neal stripped shirtless and doing kind of a primitive male fire dance when a bomb goes off successfully.
When John heard this plan, he bought some wifebeater T-shirts for the shoot, and I took the hint. I did not ask my friends to dance shirtless in a zombie movie in our flabby middle age.
On stand-by in a little thicket next to the bomb test pod was a pile of zombies, waiting to be thrown at the bomb test when it was set to pop.
Herr Doctor gave that cue to another soldier (Thom Fletcher) who standing guard near the zombies. I directed Thom to roust the zombies by grunt-crawling through the thicket and pushing them out ahead of him. I didn't notice that he kept grunt-crawling across the field to the bomb until this action was in two takes and he was stuck doing it for half the day.
Zombie walking toward a bomb that is about to explode is an art form, and there are those who have mastered it. Eric Marlinghaus (far right) is such a natural his zombie colleagues had him demo a few of his moves between takes so they could admire them.
Then we blew shit up. As you can see, we made sure our zombie actors were far from harm, though we framed our camera shots so it looks like they were about to get immolated.
Scientists react a little bit.
"Okay, let's do that again with more reaction." I liked Tim's ad lib shot of his rifle into the air.
I was very pleased with the quality of the acting.
I can't remember why anymore, but early in the framing of this movie I saw zombies walking through a field of burning stuffed animals as the image we would shoot around the bomb tests to suggest The Bomb and its apocalyptic future.
The walking-through the fire would have required fire-proofing boots, once we saw how these things ignite, so instead we staged more private interactions of zombies with burning stuffed things. They tended to pull apart, as Alpy does here with her private dance doll -- a suitably creepy image for a movie about splitting the atom.
I had the idea of having the zombie actors pick out from the pile the stuffed animal they would have their private dance with. I'd like to think this brought out a little something extra in the actor. It is certain that something brought out a little something extra in Jocko Ferguson's private dance with his burning stuffed animal.
We planned a break between our two bomb shots to breathe some fresh air and let the first fire burn down, so I planned some interim scenes to shoot. There was zombie arts and crafts, for example. Stefene's poem incorporates a quote from the anti-nuke activist J. Truman that "A is for Adam, B is for Bomb, C is for Cancer, D is for Death". Matt Fuller and I scored that as a sing-songy nursery rhyme outro in the song from our poetry score "Atomic Cowboy Yodels". That's where we'll edit this scene.
Tim McAvin works on our scores as well as movies, and he sings that song with me on this score. I called him over to guard the A-B-C-D scene, but they had started filming without him and the scene looked good as a four-zombie tableaux. We did have Tim guard the next scene in what we called a "Captain Morgan" pose.
That scene was the application of Hitler moustaches to the stuffed animals before the bombs are tested on them.
Laurent Torno III and V. Elly Smith shot the whole day for me, a reunion of our original crew on a movie shoot that has dragged on more than a year and now involved about ten shooters.
We also needed to shoot a zombie trundle scene of stuffed animals, since we shot another zombie trundle scene of stuffed animals out in Cuba and needed to have it end somewhere. So we had those same zombies (Joyce Pillow and Jocko, with Lydia McGhee standing in for an actor we couldn't get back) trundle down zombie alley and dump the animals around a bomb set to blast.
We had to set up another match-back scene to something we had shot in Cuba: the suicide of Captain Buster-Jangle (Thomas Crone). After Buster-Jangle ate plutonium from a bomb and died, his corpse was put into a wheelbarrow, trundled, and dumped at the base of a bomb, nested in stuffed animals.
We needed to burn something that looked like Crone. So we had Crone donate the hat and shirt he had been wearing in this movie, and James and Cassi Blackwood spent some down time making a stuffed Thomas Crone -- a ScareCrone.
We knew from the way things were going up in flames that we would need to toss ScareCrone into the fire exactly when we were ready to shoot it burning. I tossed it in myself, and it flopped down upside-down like an upside-down crufixion. I had the wrong camera setting for this still shot on my camera, but trust me -- there was a wow factor and I expect one in the finished movie. It took forever to burn down and looked like a flaming torso the whole time. Laurent and Elly camped out on this mage for like ten minutes!
After we wrapped, Elly took a stuffed animal and roasted it to serve as a demented prop in a future movie shoot. Yes, throughout the day, there was a sick roasted stuffed animals on a stick thing going on. I love making conceptual zombie movies! And it's a great way to make ordinary people put up with poetry!