On shooting the professors’ half of the “Inertia” vignette
The production schedule for “Inertia” was rigorous, to say the least. Shooting was done on location at the University of Washington on a single weekend, with each half of the vignette taking one day. The first shoot, Saturday, was spent in Denny Hall, home of the Germanics and Anthropology departments and much of my undergraduate studies. In past years I’d spent many hours in this particular classroom, discussing Goethe and Lessing. For this day, we would be discovering the story of Richard and Elisabeth, professors and colleagues on the night of the zombie apocalypse.
In a typical film production, shoots are split between on-location and sound stage, with as much as possible being done on stage because it’s easier, faster, and cheaper. At Night Zero we shoot everything on location, so for us we can only grade difficulty relative to other locations. The University of Washington is a very friendly and accommodating facility, so gaining access to the space is about as painless as could be hoped for, but working in actual classrooms in a building well over a century old, there are other challenges to face.
First and foremost, one wall of this particular classroom room consisted entirely of windows, and in the early days of Night Zero that would have been exactly what we needed for a light source, but we’re all grown up now and have a real lighting crew to give us complete control of the scene. So the first thing done on set was hoisting up a 12-foot-square solid backdrop to block out the natural light, and then let Eric, Jason, and Justin work their magic with their own lighting instruments.
For this shoot we needed a scratcher right from the beginning, so makeup started right away with Jana working her blood and gore at the same time as getting the professors into their costumes. Adrienne, who played Elisabeth, is an experienced improviser that both Jana and I have worked with on many occasions over the years, and it was an absolute pleasure to finally get her on set for this shoot. Bob, who played Richard, is someone we know from the theater community but who’s been out of acting for some time, so we were lucky to have him as well. Our two leads hit their common stride in no time, and we were rolling.
Unfortunately the classroom then threw another difficulty at us, which I should have seen coming but didn’t consider just how much of an impact it was going to have. Knowing the layout of the room, I blocked out the action of the scene accordingly, and worked in the densely-packed chairs that crowd much of the space. Not only was this a huge pain to work on during any shots while the actors were on, in, or under the chairs, but simply having so much of the set taken up by them was a burden. The schedule for the day was not particularly long or beyond what we’d normally do, but having to deal with the desks made it feel much, much longer.
Despite how tired we all were at the end, as well as the pouring rain during strike, I think the shoot was well-received by the cast and crew, and of course the photos speak for themselves. After wrapping the cast and crew, Phoebe and I wandered down to the other end of campus to visit a classroom we hadn’t seen before, but certainly needed to. We had just fifteen hours to shrug off the stress of the day, plan out a complex choreography in this new classroom, and catch up on sleep before coming back to shoot the second half of Inertia.