Mike Darling, otherwise known as RenRobot here on Zooppa, took time off from his busy filmmaking schedule to answer a few of our questions about himself, his team, and film-making in general. He’s a swell fellow, and his Zooppa Spotlight winning submission, “The End.” was a top-notch piece of filmmaking.
Zooppa: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your team.
RenRobot: I moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career about 5 years ago. I had a hard time building any momentum in the acting world, and so in 2009 Arron Marie Fenton, one of my producing partners, and I decided to jump in on the online trend of web-series and started writing Alpha Planet. Originally, I was supposed to play the lead, Adam Landrey, and find some filmmaker friends to help film it, but as we grew closer to shooting, I decided that trying to direct and act in a lead role would be a bit to much for a first project and so I gave up the role to my friend Michael Sweeney and took to directing full force. Arron Marie Fenton stayed on as co-producer but also played the supporting role of Kira in the series. Since then we’ve continued creating short films and other web series, constantly learning and improving our filmmaking skills, which are still primarily self taught.
What made you decide to participate in this contest on Zooppa? Do you often participate in video contests?
I check into commercial contests on Zooppa and other sites often, and although not every contests clicks with me, this one did. I liked the completely open-to-interpretation theme, and almost immediately had the idea we went with. Usually coming up with the right idea is the toughest part, so with a basic script in mind the rest was easy. We participate in a few contests each year, sometimes on our own, like this one, and sometimes with other filmmakers.
Describe the process of developing your piece? Where’d the idea come from? Were there alternate ideas that you scrapped?
Usually I’ll go through several ideas for a contest like this before coming up with the right one, but for some reason this one came right away. I’ve always been fascinated by time and space, so the idea that all of the universe can fit into something like the eye of a fly was an idea that was just waiting to come out. Figuring out how to create the special effect of flying away from Earth, into space, and back to the original scene was a bit difficult for me, but after working through a similar online tutorial from the people at videocopilot.net it was simply a matter of fitting in my footage and taking it a few steps further.
For your fellow filmmakers out there, what equipment did you use for the production?
For production on “The End” we used a Canon 7D camera with a Tascam DR-100 recorder and Sennheiser ME-66 boom microphone for sound. I really enjoy shooting with the Canon 7D, but I’m definitely looking forward to working with higher caliber cameras in the future.
We didn’t have any special lighting equipment, but shot at a different location than the observatory where the scene is set. Even though the observatory was closed the day we shot, there was still a good amount of people which made sound a bit of an issue. Our 2nd location was just a few minutes away and provided us with a nice shady area to shoot in.
I primarily edit with Sony Vegas which has proved to be a great one-stop-shop editing system. The effect shot was composed in After Effects and finished in Vegas. Vegas can be a bit tough if you’re not doing your own color correction and sound edits, but for me its an invaluable tool and highly underrated in the professional industry.
Was casting the role of the fly difficult? Did you put an ad in the FlyPaper for auditions?
This is such a great question. Casting the fly proved to be a very difficult job with an incredibly simple solution. My first stop was to go to a sporting goods store and see if there were any fishing “flies” that would look enough like a housefly…there weren’t. My next step took my online to look for toy flies, which were incredibly fake looking, and professionally created movie-prop flies, which look absolutely incredible but can cost hundreds of dollars each. Finally I looked on the window sills of my apartment and found several dead flies just waiting to be featured extras in a short film. I know its gross, but they worked out perfectly.
Who are your influences as a filmmaker and what makes them awesome?
By far my biggest influences are my friends that are also indie filmmakers. When I first got into producing it was because I was inspired by what they could accomplish with such limited resources and even today they challenge me to always try to take the next step. In the larger scale, directors like Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith inspire me to know that if I keep doing what I love and putting in the effort others aren’t willing to, that people will notice.
Do you have any links to your websites or other work you’d like to share?
Check out his winning submission below!