Ep.1 – HANGMAN
1886. A mysterious set of cards is scattered all around the World: the MAJOR ARCANAS.
Among the greedy adventurers struggling to collect them are THE LOVERS: STONE, his TWO WIFES and his son. They just captured one of their most dangerous rivals. A MANIPULATIVE and SEDUCTIVE bird of prey.
Introduction of the episode available here: vimeo.com/21359009
The RAPACES adventure began two years ago with a crazy idea:
Paying tribute to our first love, the Western, by shooting a short movie with a very simple concept: 100% action, no dialogue, guns and real bad-ass desperados! Thus we have produced « RAPACES Birds of Prey », the struggle of three greedy cowboys for the body of another dying bastard…
Mission accomplished: our costumes and our gunfights were quite credible, despite a ridiculously low budget of about $200. In spite of the difficulties, this short movie finally exceeded our expectations. We could not stop there!
Hardly have we finished editing “Birds of Prey” that our decision was made: we wanted to develop our western concept, tell a story over several episodes, develop interesting characters, touch the audience and cross genres.
We also needed to add our personal touch. And what about a mystical touch? Fantasy and esotericism crossing the doors of a grimy saloon? The western mythology is full of strong archetypes: the desperado Eastwood style is none other than the Angel of Death personified, no name and no ties. We had a lead.
We decide to draw our inspiration from the divinatory Tarot and we build the foundations of a brand new Rapace adventure: a mystical card game, 22 major Arcanas and 22 « Rapaces » related to these magical items, struggling to collect these precious artifacts and launched into a real treasure hunt…
Rapaces is above all a family affair.
We have selected our team by bringing people we were sure of the talent and involvement. Shooting the first episode of a western webserie involves a strong organization and a flawless cohesion.
A director (Thibaut Oskian), a screenwriter (Thomas Mansuy), a team of production managers… We needed to find some specific talents.
To work on the soundtrack oh HANGMAN, we wanted composers who could create a unique atmosphere and put rhythm into the action of our first episode. The Bernagoult brothers had already worked on « Birds of prey » –doing a great job! – and they decided to follow us for a new challenge: they had already rebranded the western music style, now they also had to compose a more moving and mysterious soundtrack. Let just say that they exceeded our expectations.
HANGMAN also required a lot of special effects. Hugo Oskian had already dealt with all the visual effects of « Birds of prey » and we had confidence in him to make real our gunfight and create fully animated closing credits.
We also decided to work with stuntman Manu Cartigny. He managed all aspects of physical tricks: jumps, runs, falls and blows … The realism he brought to our fight scenes is more undeniable when striking at a genre like western also influenced by action.
We already knew many talented actors, met on other set or seen on other movies. For HANGMAN we needed « faces », but also subtle actors able to transmit a range of emotion without any dialogue.
Dan Bronchinson was an evidence for us. It was time that we wanted to work with him: very invested, very active and his physical appearance fit perfectly to this role. But Dan had much more to bring to Hangman. A simple coffee as an informal casting was enough: he agreed to be our hero.
Hervé Berty is a friend. He could have embodied very different characters with much subtlety. To play this part we needed an experienced actor, able to play the brute but not only! Hervé was Already committed to other projects with us and he seemed perfect to play a cruel and jealous bad-ass sheriff. A phone call was enough to make him a Rapace.
RUBY and SAPHYR
For both roles, we organized (a real) castings via the Internet. Meeting at least twenty actresses for each role, Mathilde and Laura have emerged as the obvious. We needed two very different characters but which could be run in a trio with the character of Hervé. Mathilde and Laura were able to get inside the skin of these two rivals women loving a man they’re trying to escape from. Above all they were also able to fully trust us.
Make a young actor play is a gamble. Being confronted with strong personalities and being completely involved when you’re just thirteen years old is a kind of challenge. Elliot was brought into the project from its genesis and he had several coaching sessions delivered by Martin Dillard, a professional actor. On the set he finally played his part perfectly and even performed his stunts without body double!
She just appears during 5 seconds but this part is actually very important! Juggler is one of the main characters of our series. We’ve found our Juggler after two days of intensive casting. France was able to identify our expectations and play during a few second a mysterious and seductive Rapace with a little touch of madness!
Pre-production was a three month process, during which we gathered everything we could to make a French western look like… a western. The last thing we wanted was the audience to see people wearing cow-boys hats running around in a French forest. While we already owned some of the props (like firearms), we designed and created the costumes ourselves, from old cloths that we cut in pieces. The costume of HANGMAN, in particular, had to perfectly match the description we had in the script, since it was really part of the character and of the story.
The location stood as the biggest challenge: we definitely had no sufficient budget to neither build a set nor count on mate painting. We found the perfect match while scouting around Fontainebleau: Darvault’s (disaffected) sandpit. It looks like a white sand desert from New Mexico, but with these incredible Fontainebleau rocks all around.
What about the gear? From the start, we knew that the only way to achieve the look we were after within our budget we’d need to use DSLRs. We’d seen what they could and could not do, and went for 5Ds (two of them) for their famous full-frame censor. Since we could not afford any DP, this 3 month pre production gave us the opportunity to familiarise with the cameras and lenses as well as to learn how to work around their limitations. We also built a $100 home made dolly that had to keep smooth on pretty much any ground, even Darvault’s sand!
HANGMAN was shot in three days in July and August 2010. The shooting was an intense and amazing experience: we’re completely lost in the middle of a New Mexico desert. While this has been a logistical nightmare, it definitely pleased the actors and added credibility to their performance. We were lucky to have many friends to help on the set, as you can see in the ending credits. A stunt coordinator (Manu Cartigny) came on the third day and insured safety while adding some “epicness” to the stunts.
Shooting with dual 5Ds was a real pleasure. Their limitations probably slowed down a bit the workflow on the set, but the look is worth every “lost” minute. Interestingly enough, we had absolutely no rolling shutter issue during the action scenes with dual 5D (which wouldn’t have been the case if we had gone for the Jason Bourn shaky cam look). We experienced much more trouble with regular camera moves, like when the cameraman is walking in the sand (even with a shoulder mount).
One should also notice the very nice weather we had: great for the movie, terrible for the live-view of the 5Ds, especially with all this whit sand around us, reflecting sun all around. We found the solution after the first hour of shooting: from that point, every cameraman was protected from the sun by an umbrella held by an assistant. Simple (even quite funny looking) ideas usually are the best.
That was the longest part of the making of HANGMAN. Thibaut took 3 months to edit the whole movie on Adobe Premiere Pro while his brother, Hugo, designed the animated ending credits and the special effects on After Effects. It took us another month to re-create all the sounds (0 sound recording on the set, everything was done in post, including some ADR), and then another one to color correct and grade shot by shot (Premiere + Magic Bullet Mojo) while Davy and Yoann Bernagoult were creating a great original soundtrack.
IN THE END
Shooting an action driven period narrative with virtually no budget is an extremely difficult task. You can work around many of the difficulties with time and dedication, but nothing could be done without a talented team and the moral support from relatives. At many points, we feared the project could not be completed « as we wished », which meant even more work and delays.
In the end, HANGMAN is what it is. We’re conscious of its weaknesses, but we’re very proud of it, since we achieved at least one thing: doing a movie we, as spectators, would like to see.
Cameras: two Canon 5D Mark II
Lenses: 24-105 F4L, 70-200 F2.8L, 100mm macro
Dolly: home made
Edited on Adobe Premiere Pro, graded with Magic Bullet Mojo. Special effects and animations done with Photoshop and After Effects. Mixed on Audacity and Premiere Pro.