Matt Lewis (Writer/Director/Producer)
Matthew has worked in the studio system for 10 years, starting in Features Marketing at Universal Pictures in 1999, then moving to Warner Bros. before forming Angel Valley Media in 2003 to provide production and technology consulting services. Matthew has also served as an instructor for the Kodak Cinematography Workshop program, teaching up-and-coming cinematographers the technical side of 35mm motion picture filmmaking.
Aaron Sherry (Producer)
Aaron is an entertainment industry veteran, having held practically every role imaginable from production assistant to producer, as well as an extensive stage and television acting career. Aaron worked tirelessly for 8 weeks to co-produce September 12th with Matthew, and was the logistics hub of the entire operation.
Tim Donahue (Executive Producer)
Tim Donahue is a graduate of the NYFA program in Los Angeles. Over the past several years, Tim has shot Angel Valley projects in countries as diverse as The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK, and is currently working on an Iraq documentary with people on the ground in Baghdad. Besides being a member of the Angel Valley staff, Tim has also worked with Heath Ledger's organization "The Masses".
Scroll down for a production diary for 'September 12th'
from director Matthew Lewis
The script for September 12th was written more than four years prior to production.
In 2003, I'd become quite frustrated about the state of religious affairs in the West, especially in the wake of 9/11. In short, I'd felt for quite some time that faith, specifically as applied to religious concepts, is a dangerous function of the human mind, one that has led to an incredible amount of death and destruction over the course of history.
Discussing religion with people was difficult and mostly pointless - you can't make logical arguments in matters of faith, the two are antithical in nature. Having been religious for about ten years when I was younger, I'd heard it all already, and I wasn't really interested in entering into a debate. I was interested, however, in communicating the frustration I was feeling about the impact faith has on humanity, and in showcasing some of the terrible things I feel faith enables people to do.
I was specifically frustrated with the 'backlash' murders that occured after 9/11. In the months following the attacks, there were scores of racially and religiously motivated murders across the United States. Literally, people were murdered with absolutely no provocation, simply because their skin was the wrong color, or because they 'looked like terrorists.' In the most well-known incident, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a completely innocent Sikh man in Arizona was shot and killed while planting flowers outside of his gas station.
So, I began writing a story about Ahmed, a teenage boy of Middle Eastern descent, but American and wealthy, going to school in the days after 9/11 and essentially getting into an argument with his classmates. It would never be clear whether he was religious or not, but the debate would become quite heated. Ultimately, he would suffer a violent beating at the hands of racist individuals.
After the script was done, I knew that I wasn't going to produce it until I could do it right. We'd been producing other content, on contract with other companies, but I wasn't going to do this one until I had the money and time to really do it well . It would take months to prepare, tens of thousands of dollars, and a large crew to acheive that goal.
Years went by. The script was updated from time to time, but mostly sat on a shelf, staring up at me. In 2007, I decided that it was time to shoot it, the time and money was there. I promised myself that before year's end, I would at least get the ball rolling and commit to pre-production. However, the script felt like it was missing something, and that had to be addressed before we could move forward.
During the off years I'd come up with a possible alternative setting for the film, a desert scene with military involvement. It was a quick decision to intertwine these stories, and I added in the desert storyline to the script. This was what the script was missing, and finally I was happy with a draft.
As the end of 2007 approached, I was running up against my own self-made deadline. Not willing to break my own promise, I called Aaron Sherry, and quite literally said to him, "Quit your job and come do this movie with me." He accepted immediately and came on board, just beating my 2007 deadline to get the ball rolling. On January 3rd, 2008, we officially started pre-production.
Pre-production began on January 3rd, 2008 at the Angel Valley offices in Pasadena. Aaron Sherry and I began breaking down the script and defining our logistic requirements. We made our master task list, and we opened an extranet online to allow for task tracking, scheduling, file management, and general interaction between production staff. The website would serve as the online logistics hub for the operation. Casting notices went out, and thousands of submissions were received. The Screen Actor's Guild, or SAG, was engaged, insurance was secured, and paperwork started. With the show clocking in at about 20 minutes and involving four distinct locations, we decided on a 3 day shoot, and set March 1st, 2nd, and 3rd as our shoot dates.
At this time, the part of the script that occurs in America had a male lead character, Ahmed, and a supporting character, Amy.
Almost immediately we began auditions. During the first round, we met Caker Folley, who was auditioning for Amy. We liked her right away, and put her at the top of our list.
Auditions continued over the following weeks, during which time we met an actor named Rane Jameson. Rane was reading for the role of Ahmed, and he was delivering the subtle, quiet nature the character called for. But, it wasn't until nearly the end of auditions that Einat Tubi came in and read for Amy.
Einat's audition put a doubt in my mind. When I'd originally written the script, the lead role was a teenage boy. After the addition of the alternate storyline (which has a male lead, and intertwines with the original America-based storyline), it started to make sense to rewrite the role of Ahmed as a female character. I hadn't put a lot of thought into it until Einat's audition. Her performance was understated and subtle, just as I'd envisioned the Ahmed character. I also liked the idea of the relationship between the two storylines involving a girl, and the ending of the film would be even more shocking with a female character.
Aaron and I discussed this at length, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it as we continued to organize the production. Knowing our location needs were going to require a substantial time investment, we hired Clay Dodder as a location scout, and Clay began the lengthy process of driving out into the desert to find us a usable location for the military scenes. We hired Blain Brown as cinematographer, and he brought along gaffer David Cheung and his talented grip and electric team.
Soon, we were doing on-site location scouting. A soundstage in downtown Los Angeles had two sets we could use - a house set, and a law library set. If we redressed both sets, they could meet our needs. We hired Matthew Trotter, production designer extraordinaire, to handle this task.
The desert location and the convenience store location turned out to be a bit more difficult. Several of the desert locations were on land that was regularly used by people recreationally. This meant we'd have to deal with people riding ATVs and Motorbikes off in the distance. The problem is, we needed a location that was quite desolate, with no other human activity nearby.
Ultimately, we found federal land outside of Apple Valley, CA, that we could acquire within our budget and was remote enough to avoid most recreational use at this time of year. We also found a convenience store about 30 miles away that was willing to allow us to shut it down for about 6 hours to shoot.
We were faced with a decision - the budget was expanding, and in order to make the film under $50,000 (a restriction of our contract with the Screen Actor's Guild), we needed to cut the production down from three days to two. This meant that our production schedule would be very hectic, and we'd be moving at an insanely rapid pace during both days in order to get all of the coverage that we needed. Financially, we didn't have a lot of options, and ultimately the decision was made to switch to a two-day shoot. Day one would be on the soundstage in Los Angeles, where we would shoot all of the scenes in Amy's house and all of the classroom scenes. We would then drive out to the desert, put the cast and crew up in a hotel, and day two would be all of the desert scenes as well as all of the convenience store.
We locked in this schedule, and continued scheduling and booking of equipment rentals, permits, and so on. There was a tremendous amount of things that had to happen to support the film's needs. We needed everything from functional military vehicles and weapons to catering and portable bathrooms, and everything in between. Three weeks away from shooting, we still had a key task in front of us - finalizing casting. Costumes, Hair, Makeup - none of these things can be finalized until casting is complete.
We finalized our support characters quickly, but we had a few outstanding issues. First and foremost was the casting of the Daniel character, the ranting student on the America side of the film. We had not met a single actor that we wanted to cast for Daniel. We had however received a DVD from the East Coast from an actor named Brendan Bradley.
We put in the DVD, and Brendan popped up on our screen. He introduced himself, and then went into his self-shot audition. It was excellent. We knew right away that we liked him, but he wasn't available for an in-person audition. He did however have a laptop with a camera.
Soon, we were having a video conference with Brendan from the edit suite at Angel Valley. We discussed the role, and we felt that it was a great match. We cast Brendan as Daniel.
This left one major outstanding issue - what do we do about Ahmed? Do we cast Rane Jameson as Ahmed and Einat Tubi as Amy? Or do we rewrite the role of Ahmed as a female, and cast Einat? There was only one way to tell, we needed to get everyone in a room together and run the scene.
We called back Einat, Rane, Caker, and several other actors. We sat each actor down with a counterpart, and had everyone play their roles against another, looking for chemistry. Soon, Einat sat down and read for Amy across from Rane reading as Ahmed. I pulled Einat out into the hallway, and said to her, "This might sound a little odd, but how would you feel about reading for Ahmed?"
Einat replied that she had thought the same thing, and was happy to read the role. Einat proceeded to sit down and give an excellent read for Ahmed. I looked at Aaron, and he was thinking the same thing I was - Einat was in, and we were rewriting the role.
That night, the role was rewritten as a female, and the character Ahmed was renamed to Amy. The previous Amy character was renamed to Samantha, and a new role of Michael was created for Rane. The key scene involving these characters was completely re-written, and we formally offered the roles to each actor, who accepted.
We now had a locked script, a full cast, and we were just weeks away from filming. It was time for the department heads to really get started. Jenny Green, our costume department head, assembled all of the costumes for the actors. Dan Crawley, our SFX department head, began creating components needed for the gunshot effect in the military scene. David Cheung, Aaron Sherry, and myself went down to the soundstage to build a lighting plan.
For fight scene choreography, Aaron created a 3D virtualization of the convenience store, accurately measured, so we could plan the scene without driving all the way back to the desert. David Dragun was brought in as stunt coordinator to work with the actors and teach them some on-camera fighting techniques, and to manage safety.
Aaron began finalizing vendor relationships and securing the many, many pieces of equipment we would need during the show. Everything from lights and grip equipment to generators and cables to cameras and lenses, vendors needed to be contracted in and schedules needed to be set. Rehearsals were held with the actors, knowing full well that the amount of time we would have on-set to work out details would be minimal.
As March 2nd approached, Aaron's production staff began moving into overdrive to handle the large amount of paperwork, phone calls, and general scheduling that occurs in the days leading up to a production. With more than fifty people across cast and crew to coordinate, feed, house, and pay, there was much to be done.
All in all, the production had been exceptionally well planned. I slept like a baby the night before the show.
Production - Day One
Call time on the first production day was at 7am. I arrived on set at about 6:30, and the production was just moving into the parking lot. The catering truck was there preparing breakfast, the production trailer with hair, makeup, and wardrobe was there. The grip truck, the generator, all was in place.
Aaron, his 2nd AD Jenni Powell, and production coordinator Christina Reynolds were organzing people as they arrived, and I stepped onto the stage to begin planning the day's first shot with Blain, David, and Michael Bratowski, the camera operator.
We would be shooting 3-perf Super35mm (Kodak 5218 for interiors, and 5245 for exteriors) on an Arricam LT camera, using Zeiss Ultraprime lenses. The unit was configured for remote control focus/iris, as well as remote video. The shoot would be exclusively handheld, which meant our camera operator would spend a lot of time with the camera on his shoulder.
The first shot of the day would be Amy sitting on the foot of her bed. This had been pre-planned, and David's crew was already configuring a 20 foot by 20 foot silk outside the bedroom window, which would be lit to look like a bright sunny day. We quickly walked through the shot details, such as how tall Einat was, where exactly she'd be looking, and what exactly was in frame. While this was occuring, a lot of things were happening at the same time. The art department and production designer were further configuring the room, supplementing the prep work they had done the night before the shoot. Sound was being set up, a hazer was running to add some haze to the room, and Einat was in hair and makeup.
Around 8:45am we shot the first shot of the day, and quickly moved on to finish the rest of the shots of Amy in her bedroom. We moved on immediately to the living room set, and this is where we began to set the pace for the rest of the day.
We had about an hour to get from setup to completion on the shots of Amy and her mother talking. This meant everyone had to work very quickly, and in concert, in order to make every single thing necessary to shoot the scene happen in a very short period of time. The entire crew quickly got into a groove, and the scene was configured in no time flat. As we shot the scene, shooting multiple takes from multiple angles, we maintained a rapid pace, and this set the tone for the remainder of the day. We were going to be moving fast as hell, and everyone needed to be on top of their job.
We moved into the classroom set, where Blain, David, Michael and I began walking through the rest of the day's shots, all of which would happen in this set. David's crew was simultaneously building the lighting configuration needed for the scene, which Blain and David would refine throughout the day as we moved from scene to scene. For the rest of the day, David's grip and electric crew would be transparently keeping the set ready to go, while Aaron and Tina managed the rest of the crew, making sure talent was always ready to go, and generally enabling the production to move quickly. Each department head stepped up and did their jobs magnificently.
The rest of the day is a blur. We shot the entirety of the classroom content in less than 6 hours. We generated more than sixty minutes of recorded footage in that six hour period, meaning that we ran the camera more than 15% of the time we were on set. Considering that each scene required not only blocking rehearsal for talent and camera, but at least a handful of changes to the lighting configuration, this is absolutely breakneck speed, and is an incredible testament to the talents of the cast and crew.
We began to wrap around 7pm, and the cast and crew made their way to Apple Valley, CA, to sleep the night at a hotel prior to tomorrow morning's 6am call time.
Production - Day Two
After such a fantastic production day, I slept like a baby again. I woke up around 5:15AM and was in the lobby of the hotel by 5:45. We caravaned out to the desert location, about 30 miles away.
We arrived on location before 7am. At this point, the weather was beautiful. Not too windy, not too cold. Of course, this good fortune would not last.
As we began the day's shoot, the weather turned a bit against us. In the scheme of things, it wasn't rain and the sky wasn't dark, so from a production perspective, one really can't complain. However, it did become exceptionally windy and cold, which made the actor's jobs much more difficult. Of course, our actors for this scene were pros - James C. Burns and Christopher Maleki, with literally hundreds of hours of television and film credits to their names. They both delivered great performances under quite uncomfortable circumstances.
Blain and I discussed shooting with a 120 degree shutter angle, something I'd been pondering for days leading up to the shoot. The effect you see as a viewer is that the desert footage seems to be a little sharper, and the motion is a little less fluid. This is a technique often used in action sequences in order to introduce chaos. In our situation, it was a creative decision to give the desert scene a different feel than the rest of the film.
As we wrapped up the desert shoot, our last shot was the gunshot scene. Dan Crawley prepared a custom-built harness for the actor being shot, and we all prepared for the shot. All of the pressure was on Dan for timing the gag with the weapon firing. Dan sat just offscreen, with a small hose running to the actor. The gag was powered by a fire extinguisher, which drove high-pressure gas through a hose, ejecting the blood through a custom-built apparatus that causes it to mist into the air, but in a very controlled manner.
We rolled camera, and I called action. The gun is raised to the actor, and fired. Much to everyone's surprise - mostly Dan's - the effect doesn't go off. He'd left the safety pin in the fire extinguisher. Everyone got a good laugh, and Dan was incredulous, which just made it even funnier. Of course, it was a non-issue, as on take two the effect fired perfectly, and was exactly what we wanted. This is the take you see in the film.
We wrapped the desert scene, and made a company move to the convenience store. Production Design had already began prepping the store for the shoot, which included hiding most of the brand names on the products on the shelves, turning liquor bottles around, and removing shelves and displays that were in the way.
Lighting the convenience store involved blocking out all of the windows and creating artificial light for the entire store. Because the lights in the ceiling were florescent, and we were shooting on film, there was an issue of color. The light cast by florsecent light fixtures does not appear white on film. This means you need to either put a colored gel over all of the lights in the room, or alternatively, "time out" the unwanted color in post production.
Due to time constraints, we decided not to gel the lights and to time out the unwanted color in post production. Ultimately, this worked out well, and saved us more than 45 minutes of time on set.
We had lunch, and then began walking through the scenes. The grip and electric crew began their work in tandem, and soon the set was ready. Again, actors were already in costume and ready to go, and shooting began promptly.
The first shot in the convenience store was of Amy picking out milk. We stuck the poor camera team in a freezer and shot through from the back. Fortunately, we got the shot quickly, and brought them back into a much warmer convenience store.
For the next several hours, we shot various angles of the discussion between Amy and Samael, and of the fight scene. Towards the end of the day, we started to bleed into overtime, and picking up the last couple of scenes was done at a frenetic pace. Ultimately, we got all of the shots we needed, and wrapped production sometime after 7pm.
All in all, we shot and processed almost two miles of film over the course of two days. When calculated out, the camera was running on average between 12% and 13% of the day during each production day. More than fifty people contributed to the film during production.
Of course - this was just the beginning. After eight weeks of active pre-production, and two frenetic days of production, we still had weeks of post production in front of us.
Post production began at Fotokem, a film lab in Burbank, CA. Our film was processed and prepared for transfer.
We brought the film to our friends at Universal Studios Digital Services, where we performed a 2K scan of the entire show. Colorists and telecine operators John Heitmann and Michael Karlman ran the transfer, which was supervised by myself and Aaron Sherry. We transferred full-frame super35mm to 2K DPX files, as well as doing a simultaneous HD-D5 transfer for backup.
Our post production process would be unusual. Instead of following a traditional workflow, we decided to go directly to a 2K scan, and utilize a tapeless workflow. The Angel Valley facility in Pasadena was built with this in mind.
Traditionally, films are first scanned to videotape, then edited at low resolution. Once this is done, the editors return to the original film, and assemble the movie. In our case, we scanned the film directly into the computer at an extremely high resolution. Then, we are able to work directly on our source content, without ever working with tapes or low resolution files. We do however keep a tape copy of original transfers - just in case.
This requires relatively high end computers. The Angel Valley facility was built to allow editing of feature-length projects at 2K, using commodity hardware from Apple. Our editing software is Final Cut Pro, but it is running on a system specifically designed to allow for the extreme bandwidth requirements of uncompressed 2K footage. We utilize the Apple XServe RAID storage solution, with multiple RAID arrays connected to a very high end Mac Pro over a fibre channel network. This allows us to access our data at nearly 800MB/sec, or about 15 times faster than a typical home computer.
Once we had scanned the film at Universal, we transferred the files to our facility in Pasadena. The film in its unedited, uncompressed form required more than 1.7 Terabytes of storage. Fortunately, our facility has nearly 20 Terabytes of onilne storage available, and this was easily managed.
The footage was then brought into Final Cut Pro, and editing began. At this point, we had to leave for Europe for another shoot. In order to allow for mobile editing, we created copies of the movie in Apple's ProRes format, and we were able to fit the entire film onto a Macbook laptop, which we brought with us to Europe. This allowed us to continue editing while traveling.
Upon our return to the states, editing continued for several weeks, and ultimately we locked picture (finished editing) on May 5th, 2008. The film was then turned over to the audio editor Rick Santizo, who will create the final audio mix for the project.
The final step in post production is the color correction of the film, and addition of credits and subtitles. At the time of this writing, these are the final steps left before the film is complete.
This film is the product of work performed by a very talented crew under tight deadlines. Everyone from the actors to the production assistants really brought their best game to the table, working with limited budgets, resources, and time, to make September 12th happen.
My thanks to the entire cast and crew, and we hope you enjoy the film as much as we enjoyed making it.
The Day After.
24 hours after the events of September 11th, a young American girl of Middle Eastern descent engages in a heated debate on faith and religion, leading to a physical confrontation that will cost someone their life.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a special forces soldier holding a potential terrorist captive must decide whether he lives or dies, with the weight of September 11th on his shoulders.
September 12th is a no-holds-barred commentary on the state of faith and religion in the 21st century.
The film conains brutal violence, adult language, and is not suitable for children.
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