May 12, 2015. That was the first day of principal photography on Vendetta Games. Regardless of the pre-production hiccups and changes made to our scheduled, we had finally arrived. Five years of dreaming about my characters’ lives after Dishonorable Vendetta was coming to life. These next two evenings would be some of the most challenging moments in my career.
The first shoot date would be all exterior shots outside Ultimate Collision from the side alley to the front entrance and later on the scrapyard. It was a sequence where the characters played by myself, Chris, J.R., and Matt McCurdy had to infiltrate a major drug bust. My actors Eric and Luis who were playing the villains were also real life cops. So they had to radio their department to ensure we would not be stopped because of us all dressed in cop gear. Though dialogue was minimal for the scenes, I had to make sure the brief heated exchange with Chris and Matt came off great because I had to rewrite their scene last minute to accommodate the location which differed from my original script. Otherwise, everything else was good to go.
I remember when we were about to do the first shot in the alley. The surrounding area with the street lighting felt reminiscent of Terminator 1 and to some degree The Walking Dead. My AD Adam had me give the big pep talk speech to everyone before we started. Coming to this moment was already a miracle in itself. Whatever happened from here was uncertain, but that’s why us filmmakers have to roll the dice on such a risky business. As soon as we started shooting, I had chills going up and down my spine as J.R. started reciting lines that were a call back to the first movie. I had not worked with these guys in five years up until this time. So returning to this world I created on screen was already a nostalgic trip. Yet, as we proceeded with the scene, I began to feel like we were doing an all new movie rather than a new episode of an ongoing series.
The change in tone compared to the very first film was apparent in George’s camerawork with the Black Magic Cinema Camera: Zooming through a metal fence to see the agents for the first time; the shadows of the agents crossing a “no trespassing” sign; the vertical imagery of the agents reaching the doorway of the garage. This cinematography had more style and texture than the basic master and punch-in shots we were so used to. I was amazed by the filming quality it had which I compared to something I would see on HBO.
When we did the scrapyard scene when Chris’ character gets shot, I believe it was past 2am. I’ll admit that the chase between him and Eric was not as elaborate as what I wrote. You would need some serious HMI lights to light the entire space. But we managed to get cool visuals of feet running and the characters passing through rearview mirrors. The last part when J.R. and I were trying to revive Chris was tough. Time was tight and we could not get a good angle with the three of us in the shot. So George had to film us from Chris’ P. O. V. to capture our looks of panic and despair.
Two nights later, we filmed inside the garage for the botched drug deal and shootout. Knowing the complications of blocking twelve actors and the use of blank firearms, I used a program called FrameForge Previz 3D to do an overhead map of the garage space and created 3D model actors to cover the basics of everyone’s direction. I also brought in Rey Ortega to operate the Black Magic Pocket Camera to have additional coverage which would save us time. But before we got into that, we had to shoot Drew’s scenes where he’s on a roof across the garage with a sniper rifle. In actuality, however, Drew was staged on the garage roof overlooking the scrapyard. Filming him was a lot like filming Jeremy Renner playing Hawkeye in The Avengers. The easy part of the night was done.
Next we did the drug deal part of the scene. My art director Matt Stallworth had made bricks of prop dope and purchased chlorine for Emily De Villa’s character to test the potency with. George had to show her how to do it convincingly. For all the stunts of actors getting shot and falling, my producer Kalen had brought in his stunt coordinator friend Patrick Brockway to help all of us for safety. Everyone had to drop on the same gym floor mat which I had from the first film.
We were running behind schedule by 3am due to some actors missing their call times. It had already been kind of a tense evening because of miscommunication over who was driving an actor’s car into the garage, crew reflections on reflective walls, etc. Everyone was on edge when it was time to film the shootout. Garage doors were locked, my smoke machine was operational for ambience, and everyone wore earplugs for the scene. Myself and the actors would have our earplugs cut and painted to our skin tones. As action was about to be called, J.R. got us pumped up before we would step through the office doors. On action, we moved in and it felt like real world Call of Duty. At times, some of our blanks had jammed and we either kept going or played up the danger. Each take and each shot I took got my adrenaline up. I had to take water before each take because it was so intense. Intense to the point where I had to sprint across the garage only to fall on my chest and knees. The vest protected me, but kneepads were definitely necessary. Since we made enough noise by 4am, the second half of the scene showing the bad guys firing back was done with just co2 airsoft pistols.
The shoot wrapped around 5:30am, but we did not leave until closer to 6:30am due to cleaning the garage. Due to the gunfight and lots of coffee, I was on some level of edge until I got home and crashed in the bed. By 2pm, I woke up and lived my day like a despondent zombie. It was all worth it.