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How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Futuristic Dust Bowls, Skin Tone Wet Suits and Edible Finger Paint in ‘The Well’

How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Futuristic Dust Bowls, Skin Tone Wet Suits and Edible Finger Paint in 'The Well'

Director Thomas Hammock is about to premiere his debut film at LAFF. A post-apocalyptic thriller set in the near future, “The
Well” follows 17-year-old Kendall as she fights against an evil water
corporation, led by a gang leader named Cason. Previously, Hammock worked as a production designer on various films including “You’re
Next,” “The Guest” and “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane.”

READ MORE: LAFF Review: Post-Apocalyptic Drama ‘The Well’ is a Superb Debut for Tom S. Hammock

[Editor’s Note: Indiewire reached out to filmmakers with films playing at the 20th LA Film Festival (June 11-19) to ask them about how they shot their indie, and what advice they had for other filmmakers. We’ll be posting their responses throughout the run of the festival. Go HERE for the master list.]

camera and lens did you use?
We shot with a Red Epic and a Panavision Primo

What was the most difficult shoot on your movie
and how did you pull it off?
the most difficult shot of “The Well,” and yet also one of our most iconic shots,
was when our lead actress, Haley Lu Richardson, was fully submerged in a pool
of crude oil. The shot was difficult on many levels, everything from getting
only one take at a handheld shot, to the environment (freezing cold and windy),
to figuring out what would the oil actually be such that an actor could safely
get the “oil” in their eyes and mouth. We ended up dressing Haley Lu in a skin
tone wetsuit underneath her clothing to protect (marginally) from the cold,
luckily with some rehearsals got the shot in the first take. And the big
question? We made the crude oil out of several hundred gallons of
edible/non-toxic children’s black finger paint.

What’s the one thing you wish someone had told
you BEFORE you started your movie?
Our film is about a futuristic dust bowl. We shot in an incredible, but
very sad location that had been family farms in the past, but the ground water
had dried up, the soil blew away and people had walked away from their farms.
It looked amazing, but I wish someone had warned us about the dust storms ahead
of time. We hadn’t had any dust storms when we were scouting, and they
presented a real challenge.

What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?

The general indie film advice to write
something contained, with just a handful of easy locations. Of course that
advice works for some films and stories, but you have to push to make your film
different. Don’t put the needs of production before the needs of your story;
otherwise it’s difficult to create a world for your film. Jacob Forman (“All the
Boys Love Mandy Lane”) and I broke all of those rules, creating a film with many
difficult shooting locations in an extreme environment, several lead actors
under 18, gun fights with real pyro & squibs, sword fights, a pit of oil
and a flying airplane.

What’s the best?
 The best advice came from Seamus and my production design professor at AFI, Robert Boyle (“North by NorthWest,” “The Birds,” “In Cold Blood,” “Cape Fear”). He had a very extreme example of how to approach scenes. Bob had been a war cameraman in WW2 and said when he hit the beach on D-Day with his camera, he wanted to make sure a story could be cut from the footage even if he was killed before shooting his whole reel. So Bob always shot his wides first to capture the setting and story, followed by close-ups to capture the emotion. A story could be told from that footage, he always insisted. Only after this would he come back out to shoot mediums, inserts and any very time consuming shots. We shot “The Well” largely by daylight, during the shortest days of the year, so Seamus and I constantly referred to Bob’s advice for our last couple of scenes of the day.

What advice do you have for aspiring or first-time filmmakers? 
get away from the usual areas of advice. Make sure that you consider the
look/design of your film as carefully as you consider your script. The looks of
your film should back up your characters and story and change during the course
of the film just as your characters do.

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