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Exclusive: Star Tobias & Directors Bitters III & Reisner on Creating Terrordactyl

TerrordactylRecently the sci-fi action film Terrordactyl was released on digital HD. The movie, directed by Don Bitters III and Geoff Reisner, and written by Bitters, follows friends Jonas, played by Jason Tobias, and Lars (Christopher John Jennings), who are ripped from their normal lives when they become the target of pterodactyls – extinct bird-like dinosaurs - after finding what they believe to be a meteorite.

Tobias, Bitters, and Reisner recently talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about Terrordactyl.

Don, how did you come up with the story for the script, and just the general idea of it?

TerrordactylDON BITTERS III: Well, the title kind of existed first. It was something I kind of joked about first in college, and then, Geoff and I had been trying to get some smaller and larger projects off the ground. And then we just sat down together one day at a coffee shop and tried to come up with ideas that we could do, simpler projects, and we just figured, “Do we do a monster movie?” And Geoff jokingly kind of threw out the title Sky Sharks, and I turned around and I’m like, “I‘ve got a title; I’m looking for a movie.” And what we kind of did, is we just hashed out some very, very vague aspects of the story that I took and hammered out over the course of a couple of weeks, a first draft. Then Geoff kind of came and had his thoughts on the narrative that we showed some other people, and we revised it, and it got to the point that it’s the story that we have, which is very much an homage to all the kind of movies we grew up with and loved.

GEOFF REISNER: It did though, I think, start out a little bit as a joke, where Don pitched the idea to me, just kind of like the title and the idea as a joke, and then somehow in the course of that conversation, it got more like “Somehow, we should actually do this!” For most of that meeting, I think it was mostly just poking fun at it, like, “Oh, this would just be too crazy to ever make into a movie," and then at the end, talking about how ridiculous it would be, it was kind of like, “Why don’t we just do it? It actually might work.”

SCIFI VISION: Jason, how did you get involved and at what point in that process?

JASON TOBIAS: At the time, while Geoff and Don were in pre-production, they were reading actresses, and they needed somebody to read opposite of some of the actresses that they were bringing in for Candice, and both of them thought, 'We want to be able to view this from a distance and watch it happen, we don’t want to read individually with them.'

So being an actor, Geoff asked me, “Hey, would you mind reading with a couple of these actresses?” And I said, “Sure, of course; it’d be awesome to.”

And slowly but surely, as things started to evolve, the pieces kind of came together. The chemistry felt strong between one of the actresses and myself, Candice Newman, and I was fortunate enough to be cast as Jonas. So I got brought on board.

SCIFI VISION: Did the three of you work together previously, or did you just know each other, or…?

TOBIAS: Geoff and I worked with each other on a couple of projects prior to this, but this was my first introduction to Don. We do have a good group of friends, who we circulate through, our “crowd,” if you will. [laughs] You know, we’ve kind of seen each other in passing, but Geoff and I had a previous friendship, and this is the first time Don and I had a working relationship.

SCIFI VISION: This movie obviously has a large scope; it has a lot of effects. So can you talk about the idea of staying within a kind of small budget, and how that process was?

BITTERS: A lot of it came down to early on having a lot of planning in place, knowing that what we were trying to do was somewhat ambitious, even though at the time we didn’t think it was so much [laughs], and then also, giving it the time, because it took probably quite a bit longer than most productions would tend to run for post to kind of just to do the huge volume of work that was required. But it also came down to where we could do little tricks or shortcuts, that really we never noticed, and planning for those things when we were shooting.

So, for example, each Pterodactyl, it’s not that they’re that unique. It’s more that there’s one model for the Pterodactyl, and we were just sort of swapping out head shapes and colors to create thousands through this kind of mix-and-max process, which allowed us to save a lot of time doing designs and things like that. So we were very much able to do things like that and shoot things in such a way that we weren’t always seeing the actual effects.

And just early on making the really good point of breaking up locations of where we were shooting each aspect of the big action sequences of 'here’s the actors firing guns; here’s the Pterodactyls coming in,' and it allowed us to kind of break up that work so it was not always having those two worlds collide on screen, physically.

SCIFI VISION: Do you have more to add, Geoff?

REISNER: As Don said, I’d done a lot of camera work prior to this, and one of the biggest things I recognized from the genre that we’re kind of going into here, is a lot of movies kind of stay in one area. And I would tell either from the trailers, even just watching the movies, when I saw environments, the sense of space would be just limited, and the one thing I knew that we had to, if we really wanted to make this feel like a bigger movie, is it could not live in just a few locations; it had to always be moving, just to break up a lot of the scenes. Even when you have seven or eight pages worth of dialogue, it has to be broken into sections over different locations. It can’t just take place in one place; that feels way too monotonous and too slow.

TerrordactylThat’s one thing that we really tried to maximize here, and that is where you can spend, as Don mentioned, lengthier production time, just because it is easier just to shoot everything out and shoot all the coverage in one location, but it looks a lot better in the long run, and it feels a lot better, if you move around, because you always have a change of backdrop for your character to interact in.

SCIFI VISION: How long did it take you from start to finish

REISNER: From a shooting perspective, I think we had somewhere around like twenty-five to thirty total days were [on] camera, and with principle cast, I think we were down to fifteen or seventeen days. And then we had lots of little pick-up days where we would literally call up Jason or Chris Jennings, who played Lars, and just be like, “Hey, could you guys come do this, like we need to get a shot of you guys walking across" - you know, little stuff like that was still happening throughout the entire production process. And I think the initial start of the movie was all the way back in 2013 or, I don’t know, Don if you could…”

BITTERS: 2012.

REISNER: Yeah, April 2012.

BITTERS: The script was actually done at the end of 2011, the first draft that we kind of moved forward with, and then we picked up either March or April of 2012, and then it was much longer than most production processes [laughs], but when working with a very low budget, the one thing you do have to your benefit is a large volume of time if you want to make sure that the quality is where you’re going to be really happy with it.

SCIFI VISION: How long did the post-production take?

REISNER: Um, like three years. [laughs]

SCIFI VISION: [laughs] It’s just from my perspective, you never know how long it takes, and you kind of forget sometimes that it’s way later by the time anybody sees it.

Jason, can you talk about working with the special effects from an acting standpoint, because I know in our previous interview, you talked about some of the digital stuff you did.

TOBIAS: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It’s definitely a different element of working within the craft itself, because you don’t really have somebody to react off of too much. However, we were fortunate enough to have an actor friend of Don’s to come in, Beau Smith, and he was a great guy. He actually dressed up in some green screen coverings, and he had this big Pterodactyl face on a helmet that he wore, which was awesome. And at least now you have a point of reference to kind of react to, versus when you just have an eye line to go off of, or some people will use tennis balls. Some people will literally just say, “Hey, it’s over here doing this!” So, it’s a challenge, for sure, but it’s a lot of fun too. It’s really is a lot of fun to do it, because then you’re really just going off of the direction that you’re given how it’s happening, and you can play out the imagination part of it, and you can just kind of run and have fun with it.

BITTERS: I was just going to add that we were very interested early on, because I’ve worked on a lot of visual effects things, and Geoff’s worked on a lot of things as a shooter, that giving actors something physical on set that they can react to, even if it is a little ridiculous, even if it is just a guy in a suit, you get just a much more genuine response.

So Jason, particularly at the end, there was a big action sequence where he’s physically fighting one of these Pterodactyls, and we were able to stage that with our actor, who was our stand-in for the Pterodactyl, where first before he was playing against air. And it allowed him to have a lot of things, just like timing, and an idea of where things are physically that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. So it was something very early on that we were very adamant about having something on set that the actors could react to.

SCIFI VISION: So, I assume that you had something more practical as well, like with the pterodactyls on top of the car; at least I don’t think it was all digital, unless maybe I’m wrong.

BITTERS: That’s something, actually, that we kind of take pride in. Because people think that we’ve had any practical effects, but the reality is, it was 100 percent CG.

SCIFI VISION: Oh wow. Okay. See I thought it was a big rubber something. [laughs] It’s hard to know.

So, what was the hardest part or specific piece of the film?

Geoff Reisner and Don Bitters IIIBITTERS: For us, getting this movie finished was very much a marathon. It was a lot about dedication. So I could say, “Oh, this scene was particularly difficult to shoot,” but ultimately it was about really dedicating ourselves to getting it finished, which is difficult, particularly when it takes a very long time, and it’s not the primary thing you’re doing for income or other things like that. So it becomes very much your second job to make sure this movie gets done. And that’s something that, on the independent level, you unfortunately just have to do to a certain degree, and so, again, I don’t think it was anything specifically difficult, but just the overall completion of a movie of this scale on a lower budget is definitely a test of endurance.

REISNER: For me I think one of the just the overall most difficult things was actually trying to find the right balance of time and energy investment into the entire project. Like almost when we first started making this movie we had an idea that it might be done in roughly like a year or two, and as we started, even in the process of shooting it, we were so happy with the performances and the dailies, just how the scenes were coming together, that it kind of made us take it a little bit more seriously. I think we initially had a certain kind of expectation, and then as you start to see a certain quality, it’s like, 'Okay, we need to maintain this level of quality,' but that is going to increase the length of time it takes to finish the movie.

So the post production process kind of really expanded in scope and size and duration just from figuring that out and getting to a place where we were all really happy with it. But you can obsess over little details forever, and anybody with creative interest can kind of relate to that. You can pick at things for an eternity. So it was finding that balance between the final product and also trying to get it out in a timely fashion before all of us lost our minds working on a movie too long. [laughs]

SCIFI VISION: Obviously working with a smaller budget makes the process harder, but does that freedom of not being a big studio production make it easier in any places, like choosing when you're finished?

BITTERS: I think it's easier in terms of, like for example, there's a scene later in the film, where we were kind of trying to break of one of the character's comedic beats, and we needed some breathing room. Geoff and I were sitting and watching the edit, and we kind of had this spot where we thought we need something here, we need a joke to relieve the tension. And it was just like, 'What if we have a pterodactyl vomit up a human skull and have it awkwardly clatter across the floor?' And it was one of things of we could do that, because we knew we had the time. If we were under a deadline, it would have been much more difficult to have those little like inspirational moments that are in the process.

At the same time, I would say having a deadline is something beneficial, because it does make you really buckle down and insure you're getting things completed in that process as best as you possibly can and then be able to move on to the next thing.

TOBIAS: I would say one of the most challenging parts was as I was seeing everything come together, because the group that we have is a very, very talented group, and I was starting to watch from a macro kind of perspective. Obviously being involved with the film was fantastic, but the seeing everything really start to elevate when I saw the edit, when I saw the visual effects start to come into play, when I was listening to Matt [Parra]'s score. And when I was seeing everything come together, the difficult part is just to not get extremely excited and want to just shout from the rooftops that you've got this really, really awesome project that you can't wait to share with everybody.

And the fact of the reality is, when you are dealing on the independent level with a very small budget, it just takes time, as everybody has said here. And you know, that four year process of going from nuts to bolts, you're so excited. It's like you've cooked this amazing meal for people, and you want to share that meal with them, and you're salivating over it. You're telling people just wait; it's going to taste so good; you're going to have a lot of fun wth it. And it's just tough to kind of hold that excitement in, because I'm very excited for everybody who was involved. They did a fantastic job, and it's a testament to them sticking with it and just kind of grinding and finishing, because so many people just don't finish. And the finished product kind of speaks for itself.

SCIFI VISION: How did the whole Comic-Con panel thing happen?

TOBIAS: Don, myself, and Geoff have gone a few times; we’ve frequented the “cons” for years. It’s just what we like to do, and it’s clearly part of our interests, if you will. And I’ve made some contacts over the years through, not only my artwork, but also to branch out through entertainment media, etc. And somebody that I made a contact with, her name is Susan Carlin, she was always a very, very big supporter of everything that I had going on, and she had the ability to start getting into people’s ears, and she also has access to panels and creating panels at Comic-Con. So we did try to give it a shot last year, but the film was kind of in the very last leg of getting everything figured out with the distributor, with MarVista, and the pieces just weren’t lining up correctly, so we didn’t make the 2015 cut. But now that everything is in a place of just being kind of served up, I reached back out to her, and I said, you know, “Susan, can you please take a look at this; I think this will be a great opportunity for the team here.” And she was kind enough to extend her hand here, put a package together, and pitch it over to the people at Comic-Con, and fingers crossed, they picked us up. So we’ve got a panel now over at Comic-Con, which we’re very excited about.

SCIFI VISION: Are you planning to go to any other convention-type things, or is it just kind of wait and see what comes of it?

TerrordactylTOBIAS: At this point, Comic-Con is the only thing we have secured at this moment. We really don’t have anything else in play the rest of the year. We have Comic-Con coming up in the latter half of summer, but then the following year, you start up again with Wonder Con, and then you go back to Comic-Con, etc., but at this point, San Diego Comic-Con 2016 is the only one we have in line.

SCIFI VISION: Jason, can you talk about working with the stunts and the guns and everything? Did you do any training or preparation or anything?

TOBIAS: I'm very familiar with firearms; I grew up with them. I'm familiar also with hand to hand combat; I've got training in that through Krav Maga and also Tae Kwon Do, so I'm very very familiar. I'm currently taking Kali, which is close quarters submission and knife fighting classes, up in the valley, which is a lot of fun. So I felt very comfortable.

Working with Don and Geoff was great, because they're very adamant about safety on set. Sometimes you'll work on productions where you'll just have guns laying around and everybody wants to play with them. Everybody wants to pick them up and run around, and you know, people aren't necessarily very comfortable when they see even fake guns laying around. So they were very good about saying, "We're ready to shoot this; this is what we're doing. This is how we block out the scene. This is our focal point. This is where everything's going."

So it was a very tight shoot on the days that we needed to do it, but it was a lot of fun. It's always fun.

SCIFI VISION: Especially I would think with the leaf lower flame thrower.

I had such a hard time not making the whoosh sound. You know when Ewan McGregor said he couldn't stop making the vibration sounds from the light saber when he was playing Obi-Wan Kenobi [in Star Wars]? I did the same thing. I would constantly make the whoosh sounds, and Don would go, "Jason, you don't need to make those sounds." But every time I'd pick it up, it felt like it needed to be there. [laughs]

SCIFI VISION: Do you guys have a favorite scene?

TOBIAS: I just like when Jonas and Lars are in the bar. You know, it's just Jonas the character is not good with woman, and he's very fumbling and bumbling, but he loves his friend Lars a lot; they have a great camaraderie. And it's just funny to me to watch him just crash and burn with this girl that he's got this huge crush on, because I think every guy can relate to that, having a crush on a girl and just wanting to be cool in the moment, and it's just a complete absolute failure. And I just had a blast shooting it that day.

But anything with a flame blower is obviously awesome too. [laughs]

BITTERS: I think kind of to jump off of that too, with all the visual effects we ended up doing and all the big action scenes and stuff, strange enough, the sequence I feel I'm most proud of how it turned out, is basically this small character scene between Candice and Jonas where there's this gun, and Candace is talking about her past and some things that had happened to her and how she dealt with them. But there's just this kind of really wonderful genuine emotion and chemistry that's happening in that scene that kind of just takes it from being just a simple character scene to being something truly wonderful. And you know, between the performances, Geoff's great camera work and editing, and the wonderful music that Matt Parra put together for that scene, it just clicks in every single way.

REISNER: It's actually the same scene for me. It was the first scene we shot for that day on that morning, and I remember we had blocked out a good few hours to make sure we really nailed it. And even in the edit as we started to put it together, it's really is the entire emotional story arc of the entire movie arc right there between the two characters. And there's so much else going on in the movie, with the action and some of the comedy stuff, but that was like the anchor in the movie, in my opinion. It kind of holds everything else together. And without that scene, without that kind of like depth with just the one scene, I feel like the movie wouldn't work anywhere near as well as it does. So that to me is probably the most powerful scene, my favorite scene, in the movie.

SCIFI VISION: Can you each in three words describe the film to you.

REISNER: I would say adventure, love, and survival, if I had to pick three things.

BITTERS: I would actually say it's the best roller coaster.

TOBIAS: Geoff already took two of mine. I will say hijinks, action, and heartfelt.

SCIFI VISION: Can you talk about the role of social media in promoting the film?

BITTERS: Jason's been a huge, huge like conveyance of the film out to his audience and followers on Twitter and Facebook, but actually our associate producer Meredith Lynn has been the key in running a lot of our social media aspects. She's regularly posting and engaging fans and even kind of finding them where they're talking about the film separate from like our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. And she's just been really, really good at getting people engaged, getting them excited, and letting them know the movie's coming. So I can't take any sort of credit for that; it's helped a ton in getting word out about the movie where we wouldn't have necessarily done it before.

REISNER: I mean, what Don said, with Meredith handling a lot of that stuff, it's been fantastic. I'm terrible at social media...And I know Jason has done a fantastic job with it himself, but it's something I still haven't really figured out yet.

Jason TobiasTOBIAS: Meredith really pulling the reins on having the Terrordactyl site up on Facebook and kind of just leading the charge with that has been fantastic, because fans have a place to go where they can check out updates. They can check on Twitter on @tdactylfilm.

Social media is a tough nut to crack. Some things really catch fire and some things don't, and it's a interesting way that media and advertising and marketing is being affected now through these apps - Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and you know, you just have to have them. And it might sound very self-serving, you know, like 'check me, check me, look at me,' but at the next level, [with] studio networks et cetera, you have a marketing and advertising team that's doing that. So we're essentially taking that on our shoulders ourselves to try to get the word out as much as possible for the release dates, where they can check the film out, and any reviews we've gotten and any stills. Just, you know, anything really to help promote the film.

SCIFI VISION: Are there any other projects coming up you guys want to promote?

TOBIAS: I have another film coming out later this year on Syfy called Air Speed, and it is being produced by the Asylum company. I play the lead; I play a guy named Curt. I'm like this cool suave - I'm from Brazil, and I basically am this action thrill seeker. And it's a plane takeover. Everything takes place on a plane. Just imagine Keanu Reeves in Speed; I'm basically playing Keanu Reeves on a plane.

And there's another film that is in the can currently through MarVista, and it is called To Have and to Kill. And they are currently in the home stretch of putting that together. [In that] I'm playing a - how do I say this? - I'm playing a well-to-do real estate investor, who is trying to convince my friend's wife into swinging, [laughs] so I'm very suave. I'm like Bruce Wayne meets Dorian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey.

BITTERS: Since we've wrapped Terrordactyl, I've been putting together numerous projects working with some of the producers on the film that we're actually currently trying to get off the ground and hopefully be shooting this year. Those are some sci-fi action adventures and some more science fiction thrillers, things I definitely think would appeal to Terrordactyl fans, some of them are action comedies, but really just really good stuff. I'm really proud of what we've come up with for those.

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