Behind the Scenes
The Last Broadcast represents a new revolution in filmmaking. The filmmakers, Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, having come from the world of traditional filmmaking, set their sights on the new and still largely untapped powers of the digital world.
In late 1996, Avalos and Weiler proposed the idea of making a feature film entirely based in the world of the desktop. Having made feature films, that while modest in budget, were still "standard productions" this represented a new mind set.
"The idea is to finally kill the concept of any and all feature films requiring serious money. Even though $200,000 is nothing for a film, it is still a ton of money in the real world. Hell, even $20,000 is. We wanted to do something that would be the equivalent in cost to a home stereo system... okay, a nice home stereo system... and we knew we could do it"
The story that emerged was based largely on the premise: "What and who can we get for nothing?"
The decision to act in the film was assumed. The production aspects were decided even faster.
Having met in film school before embarking on careers in the industry, the two had made short films together, the kind of film where all their friends were their crew.
They took it one step further.
"It takes me back to when I was twelve years old, shooting videos with my family's home video camera, editing inside the camera while I was shooting". The only difference now was that they knew what they were doing and that technological advancements have spun out of control in recent years.
The thing that made this concept viable was the advent of home digital editing systems. Digital cameras fed into a digital system, allowing them to do literally anything they wanted provided the impetus for the project.
"What makes the project work is the approach, the angle of the story. The fact that very little film was going to be shot was used as a benefit, not a hindrance. The same went for the casting and production of the film. Independent filmmakers have always made an art out of using what's available. The only difference now is there's a whole lot more available".
A horror movie seemed like a fun idea, and at the suggestion of a friend, The Jersey Devil legend provided the spark. What emerged was a story much more devious and sinister than any standard "horror in the woods" story ever was.
To shoot a straight forward narrative, something that could be measured against the Hollywood standard would be suicidal so a unique approach was used: " Make a film that is real life... all the characters document each other with video cameras and microphones".
The story about a documentary filmmaker making a film about a television broadcast going horribly awry in the Pine Barrens, became an intricately woven film with a final plot twist perhaps more ingenious than any in recent film.
The twist works only because the film is the way it is. Hollywood could never have done it. Perhaps more importantly, an independent filmmaker from yesteryear, or even yesterday, couldn't have done it. The story and the amazing twist have nothing to do with actual technology or special effects, yet are totally reliant upon the theory of technology and "home video" and people's impressions about what they are seeing.
The filmmakers using every format of the medium, from surveillance cameras to the latest digital fare, and actual film, exercised the use of the latest tools and toys in the industry.
"The people at Adobe are digital gods of sorts. It is thanks to them that we can do what we did. Desktop video is now in the hands of the masses if they want it bad enough." Avalos and Weiler, built PC based systems that would allow them to do what they had only dreamed about a few years before.
"We can fix it in post has taken on new meaning. How about we can create it in post!"
The film, entirely cut on Adobe's Premiere and aided with Photoshop and other image processing software, uses plenty of the effects and processes available. But this is not a "special effects" film. You never are aware that you are watching a process shot, or an effect. That is the beauty of it. The systems were used to create and edit footage, so as to appear "normal".
While trailers, short films, corporate videos, etc have been done on these systems, this is the first time that a feature film of this magnitude has actually been created from start to finish with the technology available on the desktop.
The desktop computer was the basis of operations from start to finish on the film. Of course the script, production notes, etc were word processed, but the story boards were created in a unique fashion. For example, a day before the most complicated scene of the film, the filmmakers went to the set, and with the help of a friend, went through the scene, snapping digital pictures as per action and exact camera angle. Then these frames were digitized and finally printed in contact sheet form on paper, providing a perfect story board for the next day of shooting. "The days of my block-headed-cartooned story boards are over" Avalos says happily.
The Internet, that oft spoken word, also plays a major part in the film. "Hollywood has thus far, botched the Internet as a premise for a film. Now they're running scared of it because most internet based movies have lost a ton of money and have all basically stunk. They figured out that you can't make a movie with someone typing in front of a screen the whole time because it's boring, but they haven't figured out how to use it as a really good plot point. Most of the Internet plot points in the movies are obviously written by someone who has never spent any time on the web. The people who are going to get into that aspect of the film are going to see right through it and laugh. I mean, come on... broadcast quality video piping to a laptop? Not yet."
The web is a plot point in this film, but more importantly it is also a plot point in the story of the making of this film. From the earliest days of the movies inception, it had a presence on the web. Now in the latter days of post production, it has its own website, Tebweb.com/lastbroadcast
Beyond the aspects of the web though, the movie goes much deeper. What the film's really about is believing what you see on television, or even what is told to you by a person. "We looked at the premise of Reality TV as an interesting one to dissect. In spite of its label, "reality tv" is not reality. It's something being edited, sound effects added, voice over, commentary, whatever... but you end up with something else. Don't call it reality. We took this to the extreme: reality television as a feature film. With the average viewer being programmed to believe what they see as reality on television, The Last Broadcast has the potential to make their heads explode."
Bold statements from bold filmmakers. I was hesitant to write this piece until I saw their film. The statements all ring true. Your head may not explode, but you will be amazed by The Last Broadcast.
Copyright © 1997 FFM Productions
Copyright © 1999 Wavelength Releasing