With my longtime creative partner Jared Hillman, we brought to life a storyline that would be technically complex to pull off: Jim is forced far beyond his comfort zone when his future brother-in-law drags him skydiving as a rite of family initiation.
This idea germinated from a brief personal experience with extreme sports and then musing on how much trust we willingly place in strangers in those situations. We gravitated toward the life-and-death stakes and yet saw inherent comedy in that relationship. We also felt that setting our story in midair would create a unique viewing experience and make the film distinct. But, even with an epic setting – 13,000 ft. above the world – Tandem at its core is really just a simple, primal conflict between two people.
We first had to hone in on tone – were we edging for a realistic drama or a broad unrealistic Hollywood comedy? We landed somewhere in the middle, wanting to capture the epic beauty of the setting and the absurdity of a long conversation midair. We were careful not to let it come off sketch-like however. We were envisioning a movie-going experience a la Meet the Parents.
Shortly before embarking on Tandem, I had shot a tv spot that involved wire rigging.
The National Job Bank, Netherlands
We teamed up with the same wire team again on Tandem and brought them in early on the planning process. The actors were strapped to each other for long periods of time, which wasn’t so comfortable for them but did force an interesting intimacy in their performance.
We did a lot of testing prior to the shoot to sort out logistical variables:
1. We wanted the studio camera work to float during the freefall, so not as shaky as handheld, but also not static locked down. We devised a bungee camera rig that gave it that give.
2. We needed to simulate wind in studio while at the same time record clean sound, allowing the actors to carry out their dialogue scene. We tested a number of special effect wind solutions out there from vacuum systems to fans. We ended up using ritter fans, which are very large, quiet fans.
All of the environmental modeling and compositing work was done by a pair of vfx supervisors who specialize in environmental CG and whose work we respect a lot. There were over a 100 visual effects composites required in this short, no easy feat.
We planned to intercut the studio work with real jumps to add scope and believability. We brought on a seasoned aerial cinematographer (and former competitive skydiver) to lead our aerial unit. Here you see a 35mm film camera on Greg’s head – it is quite heavy, especially when on the ground.
We over-cranked to get extra mileage out of the footage and only had about 45 seconds of recording time per jump. You better know what you want to accomplish. Skydiving stunt doubles played our actors.
We shot all of the exterior ground footage at Lake Elsinore – the owner John was very accommodating to make this possible.
I may have gotten uncomfortably close to airplanes taking off a couple times to get the shot.
One of the cameras we used was the same camera body used on Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Fake jumping out of the plane was a lot of fun too for all of the actors.
Here’s a before and after so you can see a couple examples of the visual effects we added.
We can’t forget our bird actor who demanded his own trailer.
Here’s a gallery of additional pics from the shoot. It’s always amazing how many people are involved in bringing a film to fruition.
Enjoy the film, watch here:
You can also find Tandem on: