Even if you’ve only so far seen the poster(s) or trailer for “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre“, my musical short film adaptation of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, you’ve encountered the above image of the protagonist hanging from the edge of the pit, with a monstrous eye waiting below for its quarry.
Day 8 of our shooting schedule is when we captured that shot – well, everything but the eye, photographed a previous day and added in post with VFX work. We would need an eight foot tube with the opening as wide (four feet) as the pit, in order to stretch out my body and arms within.
We wouldn’t be standing the pit tube upright for the shot. Usually in these “fake hanging from ledges” shots, the actor is lying on their stomach and the camera is placed level in the floor so that it looks like the shot is “looking down” at the character holding on for dear life.
In our case we decided we would tilt the pit tube about 45 degrees. In stead of a large fan, some gel and spray and styling would give my hair the right “downward” look. My acting would have to sell the rest. It felt a little like I was about to be shot out of a cannon.
There’s the pit tube below, angled up. Not all the flat sides – representing the walls of the cell which have closed in to force the protagonist into the pit – have been attached yet. That’s co-producer Henry Borriello at left.
For the whole film shoot we needed three separate versions of the pit. Most scenes required only the opening of the pit to be cut out of the floor of our set, raised just two inches above the studio floor. We placed a green screen or black cloth underneath (depending on the lighting). Both the inside of the pit shrouded in blackness and the reveal of the eye would be added in post with VFX.
Then we also needed to build a version of the pit that stood four feet off the ground, in order to allow shots from within the pit looking up, as well as shots of the protagonist as he is forced down into the pit by the encroaching, infernally hot walls.
For the shot of me actually hanging from the edge by my fingers we needed the big long tube. There was enough surface tension between me and the tilted tube that I wouldn’t slide down once lying down inside, but it was still very helpful that production designer Mariana Soares da Silva built a foot rest for me. Below the back entrance we at first placed green screen to aide Jimmy McCoy, our VFX guy, when he later adds the eye. But then we switched that out with black cloth to avoid the green light spill. The total darkness at the bottom of the tube caused by the black cloth was going to work better for Jimmy.
Director of photography Jason Chua up the ladder, affixing the camera at just the right angle to peer “down” the pit.
2nd Ass. camera Han Jang Houston getting ready to slate. Jason will be shooting every take on that ladder.
Jimmy asked us to take shots of just the pit walls, which he could then use later for his VFX work.
The first time I crawled up the pit tube for the shot… the moment of truth.
I just had to mimic one of my all time favorite Meryl Streep moments…
… from “Postcards from the Edge”. The trailer shows that moment in full, in the beginning and end of the trailer.
Gaffer Ja’rel Ivory setting up a monitor so I can see what we are filming from within the tube. Still gotta direct, even from there.
Peek-a-boo! Han looks at me looking up at her from the bottom of the tube.
Hubby Ed Elder and A.D. Charlotte Purser join Han.
Another view of the pit tube, or pit cannon. In this picture you can see the black cloth completely covering the back (bottom) of the pit, and the cell walls surrounding the mouth of the pit.
Whenever I was inside, Charlotte insisted that two P.A.s hold the tube from either side. In the off chance the structure attempts to roll off the scaffolding …
Ed wasn’t there that day just to visit. He also had scenes to shoot, as the rescuer. Here he is in his 17th century French soldier garb. He’ll take off his glasses before shooting…