What can audiences expect when sitting down to watch The Life and Death of Tommy Chaos and Stacey Danger?
“Think Blue Valentine meets Jurassic Park” and you’ll have a pretty good idea, according to filmmaker Michael Lukk Litwak.
With a romantic sci-fi storyline that involves dinosaurs invading earth, Litwak’s short film revolves around its star-crossed lovers Tommy (Doc King) and Stacey (Valerie Brody), who don’t care about the dinosaur apocalypse because they’ve got each other. But as the couple flee from the war by diving to the bottom of the ocean and flying into outer space, conflict just seems to find a way into their lives.
Litwak answered a few questions about his film (click here to watch it free on Vimeo), which recently screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Tell us what inspired you to make Chaos and Danger?
I was in a relationship that had a lot of ups and downs and I thought the metaphor of an adventure could be used to express how it felt throughout: a strange a mix of excitement, disappointment, ultimately leading to personal growth. I think when you enter into any relationship, whether it’s romantic or not, it’s natural to idealize that other person, to put them on a pedestal and eventually when they fall off it can be a heartbreaking but necessary step in realizing that they are just human.This project was my NYU Undergraduate thesis film, and it was made with the participation of more than 100 students, all working for free. It took about a year from start to finish!
How did you fund the project?
We raised 10k on Kickstarter, then had 5 different independent executive producers, and the awesome support of a company named Marabigo and a post-house named Senior Post. Our Philosophy was always, how much do we NEED, and we would adjust from there. The great thing about it was that so many people were willing to work on the project because they liked the movie and believed in it. When you give your collaborators room to be creative they are able to bring their creativity to the table and it’s more rewarding for them as a result.
What did you shoot it on?
We shot on the Arri Alexa with Zeiss S2 lenses
Tell us about the set design and costumes?
We decided early on that we would embrace the fact that everything was going to look fake and that people would suspend their disbelief if they liked the story and characters. We built the trench with a wood skeleton and space blankets, covered it with distressed tarp and then rented a lot of detailed trench/war props. We built the Spaceship and Submarine sets separately, and strategically used green screen for the windows in order to give the world a bigger landscape and not make it feel too claustrophobic.
Were there any specific film or TV influences that went into your stylistic choices?
I have pretty diverse tastes, but I particularly love directors that are production-design oriented, like Tim Burton, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze.
Tell us about the digital effects process?
We had 6 different student compositors and we used hand-built miniature dinosaur puppets and hand-built miniature backgrounds. We are releasing a Top Secret Behind-The-Scenes video that you can access if you sign up for it at www.michaellitwak.com
How much of the film was created through editing and post visual effects?
About 90% of what you see on screen is completely practical aka not CGI. The forest in the background of the grizzly bear was created digitally, but we used pictures of sticks as plates so it was sort of a hybrid. There were over 100 visual effect shots in the film but they actually didn’t take that long since once we had all the plates all we had to do was combine them. The Skydiving scene probably required the most extensive vfx since we had to combine camera-shake, heat fx, and had asteroids flying past them in the background.
What’s next for you?
I recently completed another short film called THE ORGANIZATION about a secret agent trying to figure out what his mission is. I also am finishing up a web series called EAVESDROPPING about 3 roommates that use a magical computer to spy on people. Those will be released within the next couple months so make sure you sign up for my mailing list at www.michaellitwak.com to stay in the loop!!
What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?
Make as much stuff as possible and get it out into the world. With so much stuff on the internet you need to have both quantity and quality to stand out. Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t let your day job take over your life!
For more about the short film visit: www.chaosanddanger.com