With the script for the main film written and locked, I had to write a concept script. But I didn’t want to just take a scene from the main script and shoot it. I felt like I needed to create an idea similar to the film in terms of story, style and pace to translate the same themes but through a different perspective.
It was a challenge which I didn’t have much time for with my impending trip ahead. So I bought in my good friend Gareth Beverstock AKA DeathofSanity, to write the concept script.
I stressed the importance of including riveting moments that would grab the audience’s attention in a short space of time. We didn’t want to trail too far off the core concept, so we created offspring of the key characters: the punter and the alien prostitute and a scenario that would show their illegal, quote by Gareth “Terran and Keversian” rendezvous.
In the first few drafts I had to cut a lot of visual and special effects driven moments which Gareth had written in, simply because we didn’t have the luxury of a sizable budget. I also wanted to limit the number of locations and keep it minimal. The other factor was clichés, again very hard to avoid in horror films but we tried.
One thing to know about Gareth is that he has a superhero talent for words and a mind that runs riot with description. This meant I had to minimise some of the dialogue. It killed us both, but he went back and took most of his lavish dialogue out. Even the part where the guy was an alien, had two dicks and lost control of his body and tore the girls insides up.
“There’s even a version you’ll never get to see,” Gareth Beverstock
In an early version of the concept script, an idea came about that involved a small news piece that would be in the background in the end sequence. It was originally intended as a reference to the main film featuring a clinic which would show the protagonist stumbling through the door after an instrumental scene. This idea was then developed for the concept film.
Gareth underwent extensive research which involved him spending days watching news broadcasts across a number of international news networks. The news piece went through many versions and edits before we finally came to one that we both seemed happy with.
Then came ‘Concept 4 or something.’ By this time we had to practically rewrite so many things according to not knowing where about we were going to shoot and the props that had been prepared by my friend and Make-Up Designer Sammm Agnew.
Gareth and I were still rewriting by the time I arrived in Vietnam and especially once I realised how difficult it was going to be to find an actress willing enough to do explicit scenes. I would have to rewrite the sex scenes and tone them down.
There were only a five days left until the concept shoot and we had no confirmed actors and no locations. Luckily my cinematographer friend Louis introduced me to an American actor based in HCMC called Patrick Mack. He had a really varied showreel having been in many short films and television commercials. He certainly looked the part and seemed keen. I established a dialogue with Patrick who proved to be an all-rounder. He believed in my vision and was ready to dive in head first regardless of the oddities involved in the shoot, such as the extra-terrestrial vomit and alien phallus.
A young actress and filmmaker called Đặng Thảo Nguyên contacted me when I first arrived expressing interest in the main film. She didn’t have a showreel but knocked one up in a matter of hours. I was so impressed by her efforts and variation in her performances that I knew I wanted her in the main film somehow. It never occurred to me that she could actually be our alien girl for the concept film until Louis suggested it.
I approached Thảo and asked her whether she’d be interested in playing the alien character, stating that there’d be fairly full on kissing scenes with special effects. She seemed up for the challenge. Now we had to find a place to rehearse.
Around the same time a filmmaker and actor by the name of Cory Jackson messaged me offering his help. Cory runs a studio with his partner Francis in center of HCMC. It was a prime location and the perfect spot for rehearsals.
The rehearsal day was the first time I met Thảo and I was surprised to see how young she was. But she was perfect, unassuming, cryptic and sexy. Patrick, Thảo and I began our rehearsals. It was an intense few hours but both actors worked so well together. Thảo was able to exact my choreography adding her own creepy expression.
It was funny because days before, Louis convinced me that perhaps we didn’t really need to see much but get a sense of what was going on between the characters. He was right. Less is more sometimes.
“Ok Simi, reenact what’s in your mind now, how you’d do it from start to finish.” Louis said as we sat in his apartment late one night.
I talked him through the scene straight from my head, I enacted live in front of him as I spoke. Louis stared on expressionless and I assumed he thought I was bullshitting my way through the scene. Yet I really got into it, staged ways of moving my body in a weird way while I continued walking through the thoughts spiraling forth from my mind as I went. By the time I’d finished Louis’ mouth creased a smile “See there, that’s your new ‘sex’ scene.”
It was stripped back and simplified. I rewrote it that very night.
We had the actors but still no luck on finding a location. Louis’ girlfriend’s friend came forward offering her place, but because we had to do a night shoot and there was a scene with combat soldiers, the noise would prove to be a problem.
All I needed was a dilapidated room where I could stick some neon lights and signs and voila!
It was two days before the concept shoot. We still had the haunted location on standby, but it was too far, there wasn’t any electricity, so we’d have to get a generator delivered which would add to the expense and didn’t quite fit the profile. Gareth tried to write in the haunted location somehow to make it work but it just wasn’t right.
And then suddenly Louis had a brainwave. “We’ll use my apartment and set design,” he said. We had always wanted to use LED coloured lighting and neon signs in the hotel room, but now we had the freedom to design it ourselves and create our love-hotel themed den. Louis’ girlfriend Linh purchased over 20 meters of LED lighting and that night Louis and I had a play around. It was exactly how I envisaged it but better. Louis was spot on and bought the desired setting to life.
As I wanted more neon fantasy, Gattino and I went to a sign maker, although in hindsight, it was quite unrealistic to think they’d be able to knock up a sign in a day as they were very busy. But it was so cheap to get flashing neon coloured signs made that I’m looking forward to designing some weird signs for the main film.
Suddenly as we were driving back to District 7, I saw these spinning neon ornaments in a tiny store as we drove past. I told Gattino to turn around, so he made an illegal turn in the road driving against the traffic to avoid having to go all the way back around the dual carriageway. There they were, these garish spinning neon artifacts. Gattino laughed as he realised what they were. “These are for the religious Buddhist altars.”
“I’ll take two!” I said to the lady laughing also. I managed to haggle a cheaper price for both.
When I returned to Louis’ apartment I couldn’t wait to plug them in.
“That’s what I call an inspired purchase!” The cinematographer was proud. Linh and Gattino of course found it very amusing.
More coming soon about about the actual Concept Shoot!