Welcome to my first edition of “Have Youz Seen This?” These posts will contain internet content (videos, photos, articles, etc.) that I have NOT created but find interesting and worth your while. Today’s video, Inebriation (Inception Parody/Spoof) came across my desk via James Conroy. First off, I was a huge fan of the source material, Chris Nolan’s Inception and also Hans Zimmer’s score. Take those two, and couple it with the high level of quality at which this thing is pulled off… and you have yourself a fan. I decided that just embedding the video would be pretty cheap, so I shot an email to the co-creator/director, Ben Adams, asking for a gmail interview. He graciously accepted. Ben and his twin brother Andrew are the driving force behind Atomic Productions, a rag-tag independent student film company out in Texas… made up of many friends and very little budget. Head after the JUMP for the interview!
First off, tell me what you thought of the source material for this parody… Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and are you a fan of his films?
I thoroughly enjoyed Inception and was drawn in by how succinct and artful its execution was. What the movie may have lacked in emotional heart, it made up for in visual brawn and heady orchestration. The movie is very much based in the principles of making things complex and intricately woven, and I feel that, especially visually, Christopher Nolan and Director-of-Photography Wall Pfister displayed this perfectly. The premise itself is simple, but made meaningful and entertaining through the glitz of cinematic form – something Nolan has come to exemplify with his films. Did I think Inception was exceedingly complex, or confusing or intricate? No. Is it the best film of all time? Probably not. But it’s a damn well-produced, well-made film that made me happy I bought the tickets (I saw it twice) to see it.
Was recreating the majority of his shots from the trailer difficult? How did you look to tackle the more complex visual effect’s laden scenes like the hotel hallway?
We went into the project with mixed ideas. My brother had prescribed a script in which the shots were to capture the ‘essence’ of the trailer rather than mimic each shot exactly. My aim was to copy directly the shots in terms of not just ‘essence’, but lighting, blocking, focal length, et al. We struck a balance somewhere in between. In filming the trailer, then, I had to be careful to be precise in getting the shots I “really wanted” versus the shots my brother’s script dictated we have.
It took a bit of time per-shot to light and properly stage and frame the “I’m ready”, “…..that’s how I get there” and “Give him the kick!” shots – none of which we had exactly planned to copy verbatim – but I think these closer ‘copies’ of shots help the resulting trailer to be more grounded in solid, conscientious technical execution. My thought being that if someone watches the trailers side-by-side, they can see the work that went into mimicking certain shots in terms of not just the angle, but the lighting, mise-en-scene, costuming, EVERYTHING; and I think there’s a lot to like about that. After focusing on the ‘golden’ shots – the ones I had really, really wanted to copy – we moved onto the shots in which the elements had to be basically the same, but took less setup.
The hotel hallway scenes were a fantastic mix of luck and appropriate staging. We filmed them not at a hotel, but an architecture firm in uptown Dallas late at night whilst nobody was there. After some location scouting, my brother had discovered a hallway very similar to the one in the trailer (notably in color and overhead lighting scheme, less in size and shape) and that’s what we ended up shooting in. By a large margin, the hallway footage is what took the longest to film, mainly because we arrived at the architecture firm and didn’t quite know what we were doing: do we shoot straight-on, on a tripod? Handheld? Panning? What are the actors even going to do…..act drunk or fight each other? Or perhaps fight each other drunk?
The answer to most of these questions was, much to the dismay of Sam Schweikert and Ben Haschke, the two guys in the shoot, do everything we could think of until we pared down precisely what was needed. And so we plugged away a few dead-on, unmoving takes of the actors running toward each other, but they didn’t look as good. Panning my camera side-to-side did almost nothing to add to the shot, but I realized that if I could mount the tripod at a 90 degree angle, I could make the camera rotate the frame instead of panning/tilting. And so, I quickly removed my camera from the tripod, turned the plate on it at a right angle, and put the camera back on the tripod, this time facing sideways and ready to be tilted in a counter-clockwise motion. It is with this idea that I recorded many takes of the actors running and fighting and carrying beer, etc. Some other shots – like the actors moving across the room – we achieved by shooting handheld and quickly swinging the camera at an angle while yelling “North!” or “South!” to have the guys on screen roll and jump one way or another. About 3 hours later, we had just about 40 takes of all kinds of hallway stuff, two bruised and exhausted actors, and one golden memory card full of footage.
Things like “…you break in and steal it?” shots and the cafe conversation piece weren’t as to-the-letter on exact focal length, etc, but they were relatively quicker to film, and as long as we were conscious of what the source trailer generally looked like (we incessantly pulled up Inception Trailer 3 screengrabs from YouTube on my iPhone during the shoot!) then I felt comfortable knocking those shots out very quickly. There are then, the other ‘B-roll’ shots which my brother was so adamant about having coverage for, so he himself dove in and shot these pieces – the result being the indoors slow-motion shots of slapping, making eye contact with the camera, and “…get[ting] LOTS of those drinks” in the shots. While not lit or staged like the other interior shots, this secondary footage offered a good contrast and comic relief to the deadpan, seriously filmed bits we captured prior.
In the end, all the stressing out over ‘matching-vs-unmatching’ shots was all for naught, given that we ended up with a great mix of serious and slapstick shots that are still anchored together by my brother’s slick editing.
Inebriation is a great pun (your creation?), one that’s made even better by your ability to alter the original film’s premise and scenarios to fit YOUR concept. How did it get from play on words to final product?
My brother first had the idea for ‘INEBRIATION’ as a parody that we could quickly film as a final project for a summer community college class he was finishing. He was encouraged to make a comedy by his instructor, and saw parodying the hit film ‘Inception’ as a timely and effective idea for making a short film. After some brainstorming with our little brother, Will (14) and our friend Chase, he came to the conception of ‘drunk within a drunk’, wherein – just like in Inception – people could steal secrets from others by getting them drunk.
This was clever because the concept fit so well into real-life terms just as well as it did to the concepts of the movie. In theory, we could get some people drunk enough to divulge their secrets; and in hyperbole we are indeed often forgetful of how much we drink until we sober up. It took only a little experimenting with this idea of drunkenness for my brother to realize its versatility and move forward with the concept as an anchor point for the entire project. It was also convenient, then, that drunkenness follows another, more formal name – “Inebriation” – that is similar in name and consonance to the real film’s name.
With the concept in place, my brother produced a script and I got to shooting it. Certain ideas came into play that didn’t make it into the final cut (“I want you to create me a maze in 30 seconds a drunk person could complete in 30 minutes”) but most did, and we came up with more and more as we went along. The bit about “always party with new friends” was an on-the-spot idea that we were motivated to film once I saw John and Elizabeth (the actors) walking casually across a streetcorner.
In the end, most of the jokes come through, even in the short running time, and the concept remains just as open-ended in its use.
What tools did you use to create the parody? (cameras, microphones, post production tools…)
Having recently purchased a digital SLR at the beginning of this summer, I was eager to shoot something worthwhile on it (though I had already shot two awesome music videos and short films – many of which are available on my YouTube channel) that would not as much show off the camera, but impress and entertain the audience with solid visuals.
As such, I shot on a Canon Rebel T2i (known in Europe as the Canon 550D) with the kit lens, which has a focal length of 18-55mm and an aperture of f/3.5-5. The T2i is a DSLR stills camera, so is smaller and less wieldy than most prosumer video rigs – but the quality and versatility in image it offers is unparalleled by the larger stuff. By and large, the kit lens isn’t very good, although its ability to get a wide angle is occasionally useful. For the second day of shooting, I was lucky to have the assistance (and camera equipment) of my friend Naeem, who played Yusuf in the video, and use his Canon 28mm f/1.8 EF-s lens. This lens is a good focal length (28mm on the T2i, which is a ‘cropped sensor’ camera, shows up at around 35mm zoom to the viewer) and has a wider aperture (f/1.8), meaning it offers shallow depth-of-field and more film-like images when shot with the aperture open. This was definitely a plus for the close-ups wherein we wished to copy the trailer verbatim.
The audio was a bit of a problem. Though we own a Rode NTG-2 hypercardioid shotgun microphone (which is a decently-good mic), it does not supply enough power to work standalone connected to the T2i without any pass-through to amplify it. As such, the results are extremely low-volume and essentially unusable. After noticing this about 15 minutes into shooting, I decided to scrap the mic and use the crappy onboard mic built into the T2i instead, with the pledge to replace all the audio when we were finished.
After-the-fact, then, we recorded on a condenser microphone some voice-over and ADR work, supplying most of the lines of dialog with good replacements, saved sounds with atmospherics too difficult to fake in a short amount of time (“way too expensive alcohol!”) or sounds with actors who we were unable to re-record afterwards (“you talking about….drinking?”). In short, though we had audio problems throughout, I feel the result is passable for the most part, and effective in getting across what it needs to.
There are a huge amount of Inception parodies, many with great twists on the original film’s concept (Incepcion, Contraception) but they seem to lack the level of execution and polish your parody has. How do you account for that?
We coin our ‘Atomic’ feel on how we leverage our filmmaking talents. We work with what we’re good at (impressive visuals, snappy editing, et al) and try to evolve an idea from that, rather than from itself. I very much enjoyed the parody ‘Contraception’ but would not connect it with the film ‘Inception’ were it not filled with the matching music. I don’t think the same can be said of our alcohol-centered spoof.
Essentially, we realized quickly that if we got too bogged down in our own ‘universe’ of ideas, we would lose track of what we were parodying and instead work toward a more original comedy – which, while great for any filmmaker, is not what makes a good spoof appealing. Rather, we knew that for our idea to work, every idea and bit of cleverness in it had to, in some way, relate back to the themes presented in Inception and its trailers. Though funny, when ‘Contraception’ begins introducing concepts of the cockblock, etc, it’s easy to get bogged down in the jokes that require set up. We were more comfortable working strictly within the architecture of Inception’s trailers, notably Trailer 3. Fans of the movie will know the trailers, and they’ll have feelings associated with different portions of the trailer and will know, on a general scale, what shots happen.
It’s relatively easy, then, to produce small, subtle jokes within what is already shown in the trailer and attempt to fudge the shots that aren’t. If we simply stuck to the trailer, stuck to the concepts that ‘Inception’ makes us excited about in its promotions, then we could similarly make an audience excited about the same things – just in the terms of ‘Inebriation’. As a result, we get a product less out-there, less slapstick and a bit more dry, but I think the parody is better for it. Our aim was to be clever, not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny. And laughter exceeding our expectations is just a huge plus.
You have 41 videos on Youtube, with Inebriation leading the way at 384,577 views. The next closest video is “No Rest for the Wicked” at 11,207 views. Is the leap in exposure a blessing or a curse? Has the attention transferred to any of your previous work? Can you talk a little about Youtube as a platform for creating and displaying your work?
The exposure from our ‘Inebriation’ short has been overwhelming, to say the least. Though we have, in the past, had fans of our work, they pale in comparison to the vast show of support on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and countless blogs that have helped to spread and publicize our work. Though my Twitter account was temporarily suspended and my email was clogged, the attention has been nothing but a plus for Atomic Productions – we enjoy making films and shorts and it is our primary goal to entertain people with what we do. Our video has taken off part because of timeliness, part because of its solid execution, and part because of luck; and that’s something we’re all extremely grateful for. The video’s viewcount represents enormous opportunity, and we relish that. YouTube is the ideal platform for our parody in particular because it offers the video in an accessible format to a large, varied demographic. You can embed YouTube videos practically anywhere, and YouTube and Google’s involvement in social networking means that people are eager, once they see the video, to tweet or Facebook of blog the link somewhere else, which doubtless leads back to the same old YouTube page. It’s that ubiquity that makes YouTube a truly powerful venue for presentation, especially on more topical videos like our parody.
What’s next for Ben and Atomic Productions?
My brother Andrew and I both are beginning our junior year at the University of Texas at Austin; as are our Key Grip (and actor in the hallway scenes), Ben Haschke and the actor playing Eames, Trevor Gitlin. Actors John Redlinger (Cobb) and Sam Schweikert (Arthur) are both attending the University of Southern California, with the former focusing on acting. John is also an actor in other shorts available on and offline (here’s his IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3817905/). Actress Elizabeth Judd (Ariadne) is going on tour for last year’s Tony-winning musical, Spring Awakening, in the main role of Wendla. Finally, Josh Cavazos (Fischer) and Naeem Munaf (Yusuf) are both attending college, with the former at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the latter at Stephen F. Austin University. We will also be working on a dramatic feature film this winter and will continue to produce short films for the rest of the year, leading into next summer.
Ben’s YouTube channel can be found here. Follow him on Twitter: @ben3308.