|A movie of THE REFUGE OF NIGHT and HEART OF A KILLER from the bestseller books of Mike Cervello. Here is the making of "Very Special Agents"|
|The Making of: VERY SPECIAL AGENTS
People rather see and hear, rather than read. This was even a problem with some cast and production crewmembers. That is just a small model of what is happening to society on a whole. Ive been in the technology field for over thirteen years. A common problem that we have is getting customers to read over their documentation that comes with their equipment. There is more information in the documentation than they will ever read.
Thus, the idea began to make an infomercial on my books to show the public what makes them unique from other vampire stories. The problem that I faced throughout this production was getting cast members and production people who shared my vision. All too often, they were referencing other peoples work, rather than mine. It was very difficult to pry them apart from their favorite characters in fiction and get them focussed on my characters and my non-conventional storytelling that moves away from formula plots. Also, the other major task was to get too many people off the martial arts bandwagon and into story mode. The martial arts and stunts take a back seat to the story. What people dont realize is that when you are dealing with a very low budget production, words must replace expensive sets and fancy costumes. What we had to accomplish almost resembles a filmed play.
The next major task was to do this with a budget of $5,000. That meant a small cast and production crew with basement bargain sets. The original script only had three characters: Lena Banks, Donna Tella, and the angel Vera. Jennifer Egan is the original Donna Tella who made it from start to finish in this production. To date, Ive spent $56,000 on this production. So, what went wrong?
Another set of heroes in this production are Jose Lorente and Paola Cantoni. Jose is the one who introduced me to Anita. Jose and Paola proved to be very multitaskable people. They helped me to manage a very tight budget to hold down costs. Since we lost a storyboard artist, earlier in the production, Jose took on the task of storyboarding the footage yet to be shot at that time. We were filming our rehearsals with my mini DV camcorder, which helped Jose with the storyboarding. Paola took on the roles of boon operator, Production Manager, and Second Unit Makeup artist. Great job Jose and Paolayou both helped to save the production.
Besides Jose and Paola, Tim Naylor is another hero. We lost two shooting days in our production. One of those days, Tim worked like a trooper in a fourteen-hour shoot day with just myself assisting him
After that, I broke the bank and hired more production people. Tim proved to be a relentless DP, always looking for the perfect shot. Tim is the one who introduced me to Jose and Paola.
Glenn Berman did the stunt choreography for the Romola vs. Anton fight. He also setup the stage to look more like a club for the final battle fight scene. Glenn brought in my assistant director, Kevin Alcock, into the production. Kevin is the type of guy who can get props on set with very little time to do it. Kevin and Glenn helped to manage the actors in the very big theater that we were filming in.
Now for the actorsthey are all heroes. They were all working for free. I bought all of them either props (fangs or special effects contacts) and/or clothing for the shoot. We had great dedication from all of them. Eli Kerr, our assassin vampire for Donna Tella, found breakaway bottles and stools for the production. The rest of us were turning up empty in this department. Eli also paid his own air fare and hotel bill to be part of our production. Eli told me that there arent enough good vampire films out there. So, he wanted to help us in any way that he could. Eli did great stunt work and acting for our production. As Tim even said, Eli had a great sense of working with the cameras direction.
Jennifer Egan, our Donna Tella, proved her dedication from sticking with us since the conception of the production. She even ran an errand to pay Transformatorium, so that several cast members could get their fangs made up. Jennifer took her acting seriously and has earned the complements of my post production people.
Suzannah Underwood helped out by making up our contact sheet and original calendar. I must also compliment Suzannah for being extremely thorough in reading, comprehending, and executing her character based on all of my handouts, scripts, and reading my books. Suzannah knew the script and the idea behind it as thoroughly as I did. In a production so critical in trying to introduce an original concept in vampire fiction, Suzannah was very valuable. Only Anita could match Suzannah's understanding of my scripts and books by making actual quotes from both sources without anything in front of her. Suzannah, however, seemed to learn her lines just a little faster. Suzannah required less rehearsal time than most other actors with her lines.
Our Warrior Angel Wai Li Chen, played by Sky Hosoya, deserves praise as well. She not only offered me her expertise as a producer of low budget films; Sky also helped advise me on how to hold down the budget. Sky worked together with Eli to do their own stunt choreography. Sky told me the rules that she read right out of my vampire rulebook. She made her character right on the money of the way that I envisioned her to be. Sky put on the best stunt audition of anyone. It looked like the wrestling seen on TV live. It was that good. Sky is a professional wrestler and martial artist. She is also a national boxing champion.
Vera Vanguard came into our production as our third actress cast for the role. We had an impossible time trying to find a woman trained in martial arts. Veras "can do" attitude was well received by this producer. Vera is also working on promotional art for us. She is a digital graphic artist, among her many talents. Vera is skilled in traditional Kung Fu. This is Veras first starring role. Since Lena Banks is a seasoned master of martial arts and Special Forces trained, it was essential to find an actress to make it look real. I had to battle production people and other actors who were out to water-down and undermine the skills of Lena Banks. Lena Banks is the star here. Thats the way I made it happen, to be loyal to the fans that have read my books out there. Lena, or should I say Vera, thanks for a great performance.
Anna Kendrick is a champion to the production as well. She answered our call for the part of the vampire victim. We needed someone who could get into stunt work with very little training. If I had not already lost two shooting days, Anna would have been considered for the lead roll as Lena Banks. Anna is a brown belt in Judo and has good training in stage fighting. To put Anna in the lead role would have cost me the expenses of another shooting day. We were already over budget. Since Vera was not in front of the camera as someone else yet, the role went to her. I saw real talent in Veras martial arts with her stunt rehearsal before the shoot. Others agreed with my observations. Thus, I felt comfortable giving Vera the lead role.
Michael Scarpelli brought his friend, Steve into our production. Michael and Steve are excellent actors who always worked well with me. They are skilled martial artists who made their stunts look great.
Eric Jones surprised me with his rendition of his character. Since his character was not in any of my books, Eric helped me to create his role for the videogood work Eric!
Joe Scarcella brought his skills in Wu Shu to our set, as well as Vera Vanguard and Mike Pasigan to us. Mike Pasigan is also a brilliant martial artist with a "can do" attitude. When not in front of the camera, Mike was helping out our production people.
Manny Sarris took on the great task of making our actors look great on set. There was a big fight scene with fourteen actors that scared away other makeup artistsnot Manny.
Ivan Butcher came to us when we were in search of a bodyguard for the vampire queen. The queens bodyguard had to be the best of all of her people to defend her. Donna, at no time, was ever portrayed as someone with physical fighting skills. She is a witch. She relies on casting spells to defend herself. Her hired muscle does her hand to hand combat fighting for her. Anton, or should I say Ivan, great job.
This is not to pat myself on the back. I was told that I too deserve credit. As Vera Vanguard said, "tell your story." Anita woke me up one day, when she told me, "Mike, youre doing too much." She meant by myself. I was producing for the first time, directing for the first time, acting for the first time (as Tom Corey), and writing the script. Anita was ever so right. I needed help. Luckily, I got very good help. Also, in retrospect, if I were to start over, the script would have been written totally different. It would have been written as a feature film from beginning to end. Loyal Lena Banks fans will tell you, her only weakness is her love for her mortal family. I would have at least cast someone as her mortal sister, Louise. The cult would have used Louise as a playing card against Lena to try to control her when they could not beat her in combat. Also, I would have cast someone as Danco FluddLenas vampire maker and mortal enemy. With these odds against her, I would cast her spiritual guide and mentor, Andrew Smith. Andrew is the one who taught Lena everything that she knows in combat. Andrew knew the odds stacked against Lena. She started out as one against an entire population of her own kind. He pushed her into becoming the best of the best vampires in combat. (Later, Lena would recruit other vampires to help her.) As Andrew tells Lena at the end of Chapter 4 in HEART OF A KILLER (one of two free downloadable chapters from this Web Site.) "If I were you, Id be mighty concerned for your family now. If Donna sees that she cant hurt you directly, shell take it out on your family."
Just these three characters would have added internal conflict (emotional struggles) to go along with the external ones (the fighting.) The video, on a whole, would have taken on more dimension and depth. The fact that Lenas mortal sister was there would have allowed me to show more of Lena's "human side" in dealing with mortals. Having Louise in the picture would give Lena more of a vested interest in protecting other mortals from the undead. But, hindsight is better than foresight. I never expected this production to balloon into something this big. After too many deviations were made from my characters and my script, it took a monumental job to salvage the production. It all began with my drive to not accept defeat. I put my experience in fiction writing to work to retell my own work my way. It would have my end and my beginning. It was with the help of my hard working and dedicated cast and production people that we were able to make a dream come true. The cast was so badly misdirected from previous misconceptions of my characters; I took on the responsibility of educating them about who they were portraying. I made up handouts of character backgrounds. I had to get them to forget about other peoples work and focus on mine. Once we overcame that barrier, the cast and I choreographed the entire Donna Tella Showdown ourselves. Donna and Lenas confrontation that led to their great brawl and Lenas rescue by the Warrior Angel comes the closest to the Lena Banks character in my books of all of the fight scenes. It may not go down as the best fight scene, but I am most proud of it. The characters jumped off the pages of my books for the whole scene.
There is heavy competition out there to overcome to get this video recognized. This production is an underdog in a dog eats dog world. What it has going for it is an original concept for a new TV series, or a big budget movie. Vampire movies have been done to death before. None, however, have the originality of this one.
Vampires siding with the angels to protect mortals from evil vampires.
Vampire-angels that have the strengths of both species with no known weakness.
Why invest $56,000 into this production myself? Because, fail or succeed, sometimes you have to take a stand in life for the things that you believe in. If I fail, Ill be paying this gig off for the rest of my life. If I had quit at a much earlier date, years down the line, I would have regretted never completing the only chance in my life I ever had to do something that I feel so strongly about. If I believe in something, I never give up on it. Ill always see it through. After all, I am a writer, an artist, and a creator. I paint a canvas with words. This is like a baby. It is conceived, nourished, and grows. It may turn out to be successful or even fail. Win or lose, it will be my legacy. I look at it as my mark in this world. What good is living, if you cant do the things that you believe in?
I know that I am not the only one in this production that feels so strongly about what we have accomplished. I have heard stories from my cast about how they endured pain and injury, during and after their stunt performances. In spite of their soreness, they enjoyed what they were doing. Let me compliment Anita, Vera, Ivan, and Mike P for attending virtually every rehearsal. During one of our stunt shoots, Ivan worked with an injured leg. Vera had to sleep with ice packs for three nights after her stunt shoots. However, Vera had lots of fun, in spite of the pain. Sky had to soak her legs and back with Epson salts from the soreness of lifting Eli and spinning him around, before tossing him to the floor at least eight or nine times for the shoot. Eli refused padding the first few times that Sky tossed him. As our editor said, "there is a lot of heart in your production." After all, this is our baby. We have all grown passionate about it. Vera, herself, would love to be her character, Lena Banks, again for a TV series. I would like to write the episodes. Who else, other than the creator, actually knows the characters? This may be wishful thinking. But, at one time, so was the idea of a video.