Category Archives: Film

New film project: Capt. Tyler’s Ex!

Captain Tyler's Ex poster

Workplace romances can be challenging. But when your workplace has been invaded by a violent and predatory creature from a genetics lab, it’s downright impossible.

In “Captain Tyler’s Ex,” the new romantic comedy from Toxic Bag Productions, Science Officer Franklin (Eric Van Tassell) and Navigator Whitaker (Ele Matelan) try to keep their relationship on track while being hunted down by the mysterious Specimen. The fact that one of them used to date Captain Tyler (Steve Baldwin) just makes matters worse. Also starring Alan Vuchichevich and Carly Joy as Engineers Booth and Douglas, a working couple with challenges of their own. Co-starring Leena Kurishingal (Gibson), Eric Neal (Palance).

Written and directed by Steve Baldwin and set in the world of Specimen, “Captain Tyler’s Ex” will begin filming in August 2015, with a direct-to-DVD release planned for Valentine’s Day 2016.

End of the year Lists!

As 2014 draws to a close, you’re no doubt inundated with “Best of” and “Worst of” lists all over the place. Try as we might, we couldn’t resist the urge to try a couple of those ourselves to see what the fuss is about. So, we sat down with our good friends Eric Van Tassell and Ele Matelan (both of Specimen fame, among other things) to list our top genre movies and television shows of the year. We had a couple of great in-depth chats and the results are here in our two bonus year-end podcasts!

Best Genre TV shows of 2014 Podcast

Best Genre movies of 2014 Podcast

And of course, everyone’s got an opinion, so let us know yours! Send us a note at podcast@toxicbag.com or drop a note on our Facebook page!

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Fate Accompli accepted into Bronx Film Festival

Fate Accompli, the short film we worked on last year, has been accepted into the Bronx International Film Festival. It will be showing at the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College on Friday, June 7th, 2013. This hopefully marks the first of several festivals to come this year. Stay tuned for updates!

Fate Accompli review

Last year, we did post-production sound on a short film, Fate Accompli, which was written and directed by our friend Eric Neal. Steve did some fantastic foley work, and I handled the dialog edit, effects and mix. Music was composed by Andrew Edwards. Reviews of the short are starting to show up, and here’s a good one that came out this week.

Here’s the film’s Facebook page. Also, check out the SHOrT in Chicago Film Fiesta where the film will be shown on Jan 24!

Mr. Blood reviews “The Last Exorcism”

Over on his blog, my friend and business partner Mr. Blood has posted –at long last– his review of the vastly underrated movie “The Last Exorcism” and discusses what inspiration game masters might draw from it. Enjoy!

The Sad Cafè award nominations

Jiang Hu Productions’ film “The Sad Café,” for which we did the sound mix this past April, has been nominated for Best Drama Feature, Best Editing (Feature) and Best Score (Feature) at the Action On Film Festival. Congratulations and best of luck to director Bennie Woodell and everyone at Jiang Hu Productions!

Updates, April 2011

More quick notes on what we’re up to.

• Joe has just finished tech week for Harvest at Oakton Community College. The sound design for this dystopian sci-fi play features extensive computer-glitch effects by Joe and music by Donny Who Loved Bowling. Harvest opens tonight and runs through May 1.

• Steve and Joe are currently mixing Bennie Woodell’s feature film “The Sad Café.” The film will screen at the Portage Theater in Chicago on May 22. For more info, visit the Sad Cafe Facebook page.

• Joe is doing final sound design and mixing for Getting To Know‘s newest release, Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents: Lincoln.

Season of the Witch – movie review

Mr. Blood continues his series of film reviews, in which he tells what he thought of the film but also examines it for possible Role-playing game ideas. This week’s film: Season of the Witch.

What I meant was…

how to communicate with the director during the design process?

“…judge by results, not intentions.” – Cicero

Directors, designers, help me out here. I have questions. First I’ll tell some stories.

1) I was cutting footsteps for a film where the main character is kept in the dark, off balance, isn’t sure what’s happening. I “walked” the character tentatively, avoiding heavy, deliberate, determined footfalls, thinking I was serving the character by doing so. The director looked at the scene.

“He sounds like he has really tiny feet.”

Somewhat defensively, I explained why I had cut the feet the way I did, talked about the character, the feel I was going for.

“Yeah. He sounds like he has really tiny feet.”

In retrospect he was right; I’d gotten a little carried away with the thematic approach and went too far. It was an experiment that didn’t work out. We went with heavier footsteps. More realism, less film-student thematics.

If I’d told the director in advance, “I cut the feet this way because blah blah,” would he—having my intention in mind as he watched—have been more likely to let the original, wrong footsteps stay in?

B) I was reading about the sound design for Watchmen, and how the film’s sound guys decided that they’d already mixed two big fight scenes in a row with huge up-front effects, and that for contrast and to give the film some dynamics, they’d favor the music for the third fight sequence, and turn the effects down. Director Zack Snyder saw the cut and his response was: where are the effects? The sound crew explained their intention, and Snyder’s response was, “well, we’ll just have to undo that.”

When I read that I first thought, well, there’s an example of a director not trusting or listening to his sound team, going for the obvious cliché choice to have big thwack-y punch sounds like every other fight sequence in every other action movie.

Then I started to wonder: what would have happened if the Watchmen sound team had set Snyder up for it in advance?

“Here, Zack, we thought we’d do something different in this sequence. We’ve gone ‘big-effects’ on the last 2 fights, why don’t we make this one a little more oh-I-dunno-balletic-or-abstract-or-whatever and favor the music in the mix instead?”

“Huh, interesting idea,” Snyder might say. “Lemme see it.” …roll the scene. Snyder watches.

Now, he can either say, “yeah, you know what? That works; let’s do it that way.” Or he can say, “No, I really wanted the big punch and kick sounds, bring the effects back in.”

Which way would things have gone?

iii) I’m about to start working on a short film where the two main characters fall in love over the course of the movie. I want to draw the audience’s focus tighter on the couple as the story progresses, partly by stripping away the ambient sound over the course of the film: as they get more into each other, the rest of the world falls away. Not in a Bergman-abrupt-dropoff way, not playing scenes with no ambience or diegetic effects, just subtly turning stuff down over time. But I envision playing that mix for the director and hearing “why is the fireplace not louder here?” Should I explain in advance what I intend to do? Will that bias his reaction to my choices in favor of them, when those choices may not be the right ones? Will playing the mix without any explanation cause him to over-react to those choices?

Part of this, of course, is: maybe if the sound designer is making big thematic design decisions, he should discuss them with the director before putting a bunch of time into developing them. In theatre design we talk much of this stuff out in pre-production meetings, and the tech process is such that you really can’t position the director as “first-time audience member” and surprise him/her the way you can with a film mix. But without making the director approve every one of hundreds if not thousands of individual effects…I mean, at a certain point in the process the director has to be able to trust you to go off and do your job for awhile, right?

Is it reasonable to assume that if a particular design choice takes the director out of the film, the audience will react the same way? Or is the director’s perception different because of the nature of the job?

So my questions:

Designers: how do you present your ideas? More specifically, when you have a design element prepared, and are ready to show it…do you set the director up for it or just hit play and see how s/he reacts?
Directors: how do you want design ideas presented to you? Do you want to know up-front what the intention and approach are, or do you want to see the moment as the audience will see it, with no preamble and no explanation? Are you perhaps never in the position to ever see anything as the audience will see it, since you are the director?

And of course, the flip side, the unnerving, insecure question: as the designer, am I prone to be more in favor of a design choice because I thought of it, and I know what my intention was? Will I fight for a bad idea simply because it is mine?

Chime in, please.

Wilhelm: A Plea for Respite

So there I was, in my local infiniplex, watching the new Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds. There’s a fair bit of action in the movie, much of which is part of a film-within-a-film called “Nation’s Pride,” wherein a Nazi war hero takes out a couple hundred Allied soldiers from a bell tower. As each soldier was shot, and fell, and screamed, I found myself thinking, “okay, which one of these guys gets the Wilhelm Scream?”

And, lo and behold, within a scant few minutes, there it was, accompanying some poor sap falling out of a tower window.

For those of you who don’t know, The Wilhelm Scream has been an inside joke for film sound designers for years. Originally recorded for 1951’s Distant Drums, it was used as a stock effect for other films in the 1950s including The Charge at Feather River in 1953, where it was the death cry of one Private Wilhelm. When sound-design icon Ben Burtt located the original recording in the 1970s he named it after Private Wilhelm.

Burtt used the Wilhelm Scream recording in the first Star Wars film, and then in the Indiana Jones movies, and the rest of the original Star Wars trilogy, among others. It became kind of a trademark for him. Soon his friend Richard Anderson began using it as well. And soon after that it seemed like every sound guy in Hollywood was sneaking it into fight scenes, chases, battles and so on. And if you were in the know, it was a cool moment while watching a movie to suddenly hear Pvt. Wilhelm show up.

When Burtt started putting the Wilhelm Scream in his films it was his little signature, an in-joke, a bit of fun. Now every sound designer has a file somewhere on his hard drive called “wilhelm.wav,” and he finds a place to drop it in to every action film he works on. I’m guilty of it myself. Hell, I had a guy getting hit by a train onstage and there was a Wilhelm Scream hidden in the cue someplace. Made the director giggle every time he heard it. It became a clichè, sure, but it was a sound guy’s clichè.

But recently, the secret’s gotten out. There’s a thread on the IMDB messageboard for Basterds that asks “Did you hear the Wilhelm Scream?” I’m sure every major action film’s IMDB messageboard has such a thread.

And that’s the problem.

It’s not a sound guy’s in-joke anymore. It’s not a cool little surprise, a bit of ear candy for the hardcore film fans. It’s become part of the vocabulary of action films: where will the Wilhelm Scream show up?

I fear the Wilhelm Scream has jumped the shark, as it were. Let’s try to get away from it for awhile. Just a year, maybe. Maybe in 2010 (the year we make contact), sound designers could abstain from tossing the Wilhelm Scream into every action film that comes their way (Does Ben Burtt get a pass? I am on the fence about this). After that we can all go back to raking the unfortunate private across the audio coals; hell, put him into a romantic comedy for all I care.

But give the poor fellow a break for awhile.

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