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Spotlight: The Last Days

Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 9:50am

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Simon K Jones

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Rating: +8

Currently wowing audiences and with queues snaking around the block, the big film at FXhome.com is The Last Days, a World War Two drama that has even been giving Art of the Saber a run for its money.

If you haven’t watched the movie yet, click here. It’s a big download, but it’s well worth it! To find out more about the making of the movie, read on…

Making The Last Days: Part One

Everybody knows the feeling – that burning desire to make your first film an epic. Only when you get started do you discover just how difficult it can be – actors don’t show up, the weather is uncooperative, time runs out, the camera breaks down and gradually you realise that it’s easier to start a little smaller.

Clearly nobody told this to Eric Bryan. For his first live action movie he has written and directed a 50-minute World War Two story that follows the exploits of both American and German squads in the closing days of the conflict.

Complete with authentic costumes and props, an original screenplay and convincing acting, it’s arguably the most moving film we’ve seen at FXhome.com to date and shows a restraint and focus on character that is rarely seen in enthusiast filmmaking. We thought it only proper to find out more about the production and Eric and his cast were more than happy to oblige.

Writing the script

“I have always been fascinated by World War Two,” says Eric, “the romanticism of the era is irresistible and I truly believe that there will never be another war or time like it – the way everyone selflessly worked together is awe-inspiring.” The Spielberg-produced TV series Band of Brothers proved a major inspiration, as did the generally negative portrayal of German soldiers in most Hollywood movies. “People don’t understand that many of those guys had no idea about the death camps,” Eric explains. “They were doing their duty and they wanted to go home just as bad as the Allied soldiers on the other side.”

The screenplay grew from that thought, taking Eric about four months in total to write. “I’m not a real structured writer, I don’t do outlines,” he says. “I like to have an ending before I ever start writing because I want to know where the story is going to end up; how I get there is up to the characters.” This loose writing style resulted in the original 5-minute short blooming into a 50-minute production that would end up costing Eric over $10,000. For his first film, Eric clearly wasn’t thinking small.

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of The Last Days is its determination to be a drama first and an action movie second. For a debut movie this was a risky proposition, with the major portion of the film following the exploits of the soldiers without a single shot fired. “I knew it would be risky, starting out slow,” admits Eric, “but I really believed I had some good characters and I wanted to use that time to get to know them. If you don’t take time to develop characters then the audience won’t care about them at the end.”

It’s a strategy that seems to have paid off for most of the audience, with a sweep of full-star ratings and glowing reviews from FXhome.com luminaries. With comments ranging from “best movie on FXhome” and “this was very moving and breathtaking” to “you actually had me in tears” it would seem that aiming for character and emotion has proven to be a fresh departure from special effects extravaganzas for many FXhome.com regulars.

To find out about casting The Last Days and the shoot, click here to read Part Two!

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Last edited Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 9:54am; edited 2 times in total.

Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 9:51am

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Simon K Jones

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Rating: +1

Making The Last Days: Part Two

Assembling the Cast

A good script needs to be harnessed to talented actors and Eric decided to do things properly, placing adverts and holding auditions at the public library. Gregory Scott won the lead due to his 'everyman' quality; as Eric puts it, “You can look at him and really think ‘this guy does love his wife and he does care about his squad.’ He’s a fantastic actor and great guy.” For the role of the young, fresh-faced Sean, Eric cast Brad Roller. “I knew right away he was my Sean,” he recalls, “he has this naturalness about him. He pulls off the greenness of the Sean character so well.”

“The opportunity to be involved in a war film has always been on my wish list of parts to play,” enthuses the brilliantly-monikered Barry Battles, who brought his wealth of experience in television, film and commercials to the role of Moose. All the actors cite the film’s strong script as being a big attraction to the gig, with Sean also having an interest in the war due to his grandfather’s stories while growing up. “He travelled under Patton’s command from Italy all the way to Germany where his troop liberated the concentration camp at Buchenwald,” he says, “so my dream as an actor was to perform in a WWII movie.” Tom O’Connell (the Nazi officer) had a similar impetus. “My grandfathers were both in World War Two,” he explains. “My father’s dad was on the beach landing at Normandy and helped free Paris, where he met and eventually wed my grandmother. I felt that this movie was a great way to pay tribute to the many friends both of my grandfathers and our country lost to that cause. Even if I did have to play the bad guy!”

The Shoot

“I was somewhat intimidated at first,” says Eric about directing the actors, “since it was my real first effort and some of these guys have been on shoots with movie stars and more experienced directors.” However, the strength of the material bonded the cast and crew together, providing a firm foundation for the work. “The guys believed in me and the project, and that’s when the magic happens. Listen to your actors and let them know you trust in their ability. If you believe in them they will believe in you.”

The shoot, entirely on location, proved to involve long hours in hot, tick-infested conditions with a skeleton crew. Barry describes the shoot as being “life changing,” despite the difficulties. “We had to become a close knit group because it was so gruelling,” he recalls, a sentiment supported by Matt Carter, bringing his background in improv comedy to the role of Squeak. “It was a wonderful experience,” he says of the low-budget, independent approach, “everyone was unselfish and helped out with any part of the process that they could to get the thing done.”

During brief moments when they are not grimacing over memories of having to check each other for aggressive insects between takes, the whole cast talk of being eager to work with Eric and each other again on future projects. “It is wonderful when the director can help you with the intention you want to get across, more than just ‘give me more, give me less,’” says Tom. “Considering it was the first time for some of us on the project, I think the crew was impeccable.”

Having the German soldiers speak in their native tongue has been a somewhat controversial decision with some of the more multilingual FXhomers. “I wanted to go as authentic as possible,” explains Eric, “and it would have been quite silly if the Germans spoke English with ‘Hollywood foreign accents’ but did not understand the Allied soldiers.” The contrast of languages certainly serves to heighten the drama considerably during the climax - as long as you don’t speak German, at least. “None of the other actors knew German," says Eric, "so, all in all, I think it turned out well. Of course, there are some parts that may not be 100% accurate but it’s not because we didn’t try!”

While the unexpected sometimes meant deviating from the script, The Last Days nevertheless lived up to Eric’s initial vision. “I do have some regrets,” he says, “but that’s normal, I mean who doesn’t right? I will always be my hardest critic and see all the rough spots and know I could’ve done better. But when I step back and look again at what we created, I’m very proud of it. I learned so much on so many different levels – it was my film school.”

The Next Day

The Last Days has been entered for several local film festivals and we wish it every success – judging from the public response at FXhome.com, the film has the potential to find a much wider audience. “What I would like to see happen is a distribution setup where most of the proceeds go to Veteran Charities,” says Eric. “From the start I’ve wanted to try and give a little something back in honour of those who gave so much.”

Next for Eric is producing a series of short films with The Last Days actor Barry Battles, including a possible Star Wars skit, with plans to develop another long-format movie also in the pipeline. “I have ideas that I'm batting around but nothing concrete just yet,” he says. “I want people to feel my movies; I want to make people cry and laugh; I want them to feel happiness and sadness.”

Judging by the quality of their very first attempt, it would seem that Eric and Pale Horse Pictures are already well on the way to achieving those aims. Perhaps thinking big isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Want to know more?

Watch The Last Days
Visit the official The Last Days website
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 9:58am

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Remco Gerritsen

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Wow ! Very interesting, I haven't seen the movie yet. But I'm gonna watch now !
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 11:08am

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Erfa

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Rating: -1

I'll watch it when I get 8 Mbit. Sounds very intresting.

EDIT: Err, when did this post get rate:ed down? Strange, I think the movie's great...

Last edited Thu, 20th Oct 2005, 4:11pm; edited 1 times in total.

Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 3:05pm

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sk8npirate

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Glad to see a another great spotlight!
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 3:34pm

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Serpent

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Great spotlight. We haven't seen one of these in a while.
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 5:45pm

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Redhawksrymmer

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Finally another spotlight! I saw the movie myself when I went home from my vacation in France. It was really good.

(It would be cool if you had a spotlight on a swedish movie-making company. Well, not mine smile . But when Andreas released LAJF you could have a spotlight on AJ Pictures, considering he has been a member here for so long. Just a thought.)
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 6:08pm

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Marek

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I love Spotlights.

Congratulations on your big film, Eric! And good luck at those film festivals, I'm sure the film will do quite well.
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 6:40pm

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Lior

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this is truly a one of a kind movie. A very touching one may i add. The movies story is flawless the cammera angles amazing the acting beyond amazing. Im sure your movie can make it. try going to the boston film festival. Simply amzing
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 6:55pm

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devilskater

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once again, a very nice and interesting spotlight tarn !

I would like to wish you, Eric and crue, the best of luck for the filmfestivals and hope you'll come up with another film soon !!!

Cheers,
devilskater
Posted: Tue, 26th Jul 2005, 7:27pm

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ferral

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I really appreciate all the support guys. It does mean a great deal to me. Thanks. This is the BEST community of its kind anywhere! : )
Posted: Wed, 27th Jul 2005, 10:31pm

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Jrad

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Awesome movie. When are you going to make your next one?
Posted: Fri, 30th Sep 2005, 11:08pm

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evilmonkey389

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I think it's sad that there are many other films out there that receive no recognition while this very amatuerish and inaccurate piece is hailed. For $10,000 it should have been A LOT better than it was. Please, for the love of God, let me spend $10,000 with on one of my films. Art of the Saber is a truly brilliant piece of work and to classify this short film as a near equal makes it a sad day.
Posted: Fri, 30th Sep 2005, 11:13pm

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ben3308

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I kind of agree with you there. Gimme 10000 bucks and two years, and I'll give you an Oscar. Not to sound conceited, but you get my point.
Posted: Sat, 1st Oct 2005, 8:50am

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ashman

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Rating: +2

I think you're missing the point. A film can have a great story if it has £10 spent on it or even £1000. At the end of the day if a film is sh*t people will see it coming a mile away. Peter jackson made a film from next to nothing before he even atempted a feture, but from them you can see they had that special some thing. Even speilberg's shorts from when he was 12 were really good, If you need thousands of pounds to make some thing great then im sorry but it's not a good thing. The last days for what it is, is an amazing movie, and im betting alot of the money spent was on more to create the accuracys, with that comes atmosphere, but thats not what makes it great. First and foremost it's the story, strip away that and it would have been a $10 000 dollar flop. So to me i don't see where money makes a difference. I may offend some people out there by saying star wars episode 1 was poor, but it had a huge budget. Star was a new hope, small budget but a wonderful film. You can never make a great film from a poor script, ever! But you can make a poor film from a great script also if your directing skills suck. My point is this, there was a great script here, and what makes it a masterpiece is the directing.
Posted: Sun, 9th Oct 2005, 11:10pm

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ben3308

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I think you've missed my point entirely. The Last Days could've had a phenomenal script, in your opinion at least, but the execution was mediocre. Considering that a substantial amount of time and money was spent on it, I don't think the quality overall was up to par. If I planned on spending 10,000 dollars on something, I would rtion my budget and make my movie as good as it can possibly be, and TLD is far from a testament to that. There are several movies on FXHome that are better, IMO, for a drastically lower budget.

Writing a good script takes zero dollars, but producing a movie may take some. The script may be good but the movie wasn't. Yet the money was STILL there.

I'm not saying TLD was crap. I'm just saying it should've been better. And I know, I know, alot of movies on here should be better. But if you take into account the time and loads of money poured into this, I really expect something better than what was presented. Hopefully you can see what I'm saying.
Posted: Mon, 10th Oct 2005, 1:22pm

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ashman

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I do understand where your coming from, it was just the way it came across at first. No worries. wink

P.s. Ben i would like to see some of your projects, your clips posted on the avatar look good, any chance of getting the links to the movies? What Camera do you use?
Posted: Mon, 10th Oct 2005, 1:25pm

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ben3308

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I'm having some technical problems with compressing some of my stuff. Earlier I used as Sony DCR-TRV PC110 with a manual focus attqachment, but now I use my friend's GL2. I do have a fairly recent movie in the cinema under the title of "Found". Check that out maybe.
Posted: Mon, 10th Oct 2005, 3:00pm

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ashman

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You seem to have a real grip on the movie scene and from the pics ive seen im quite impressed. Mainly due to the lighting of the picture, how long have you been intrested in the making of films for?
Don't take this the wrong way, but the lighting is similar to micheal bays(not a bad thing), it has the same atmosphere, tho ive yet to watch any of your work. I check out the one you mentioned, in fact its about time i got round to viewing other peoples work on the site.
Posted: Mon, 10th Oct 2005, 6:55pm

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ben3308

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Thanks for the comments ashman. I've been interested in film for quite a while, about ten years now, but I just got serious (not just fiddling with the family camera) about three years ago. It all started really when I started watching CSI, and I noticed it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. I noticed he'd produced some other stuff of interest, so I started watching films he'd produced, mainly by the Scott brothers and Joel Schumacher. Then, when I came to FXHome three years ago via the name "AlamDV" from the credits of Art of the Saber, I studied as many forum topics as I could to absorb more knowledge. (I watched about half the films in the cinema and basically observed different ideas and techniques.)

I studied the lighting and editing of Tony Scott's movies (I love Enemy of the State) and the jump cuts of Bay's movies such as in Armageddon, in an attempt to emulate them. And that's when I basically started to light my scenes rather than just setting auto-exposure and and pressing record.

So it probably makes sense that my style is similar to his.

Also, I now make lighting diagrams and think about how one light will clash with another so that I can make sure everything will look how I want it prior to shooting.

In summation, I'm glad you like my style, I try to make it fairly distinct. (whoa, that could've been said in a lot less words smile )
Posted: Tue, 11th Oct 2005, 5:00pm

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ferral

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Ok just got back from my honeymoon and saw this - and I wasnt but i'm going to respond here. Let's get this out of the way first and foremost. The 10000 budget included some props and equipment that were never used. It included mundane things as gas, forks, mustard, blah, blah blah, etc...

So get over the money - please. I made this out of passion for the era and the people who sacrificed. The two years i spent on this included about 7 months just buying stuff. Post was me. That's it. Working two full time jobs. I would have to take breaks because you do get burnout.

Ben your statement of "give you 10 grand and two years" and you would have an oscar is absurd. I invite you to do it. I have seen some of your stuff and have not been impressed. In no way am I saying I'm the end all because I'm not - we are all learning and that's what it's about.

No flame war -

Cheers to all.
Posted: Tue, 11th Oct 2005, 5:14pm

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ashman

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wow, i can understand that, money is like water when making a film, and like ferral, im noticing the money disappears on things some times not related to just props. I don't really care much for budgets, i like a film because the actual movie keeps me watching, if i watch it to the end, then its an acheivement on the film makers part. This could have had $1 or $50.000 spent on it, it was still good. But hey, ive already explained ths before and still stand by it.
Posted: Tue, 11th Oct 2005, 10:07pm

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ben3308

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ferral wrote:

Ben your statement of "give you 10 grand and two years" and you would have an oscar is absurd.
Excuse my floral diction, it was a gross overexaggeration used to demonstrate a point. I thought it was implied that that statement was absurd. I even put, "Not to sound conceited, but you get my point" just to make sure that it wasn't taken seriosuly.

ferral wrote:

I have seen some of your stuff and have not been impressed.
Two things:
You haven't seen my stuff. I haven't posted any of it, save "Found" which I did to see if I could light a scene. And it worked. I think you'll find the night time lighting is done rather well, especially considering my lack of time, money, and supplies.

I can understand how you'd feel the need to comment harshly towards me considering what I've said about TLD, but don't say something if you haven't even seen what I have to offer.

About the money and the time: I understand the constraints with jobs and such, but that doesn't excuse so of the off cinematography and few editing inconsistencies I saw. If I were to use that amount of money on something, I'd do everything I could until it was perfect (or as perfect as one can make something, for that matter); and, IMO, TLD just didn't feel like that much time and money had been spent on it, even though it had.

I'm also not saying I could do any better- though I think I possibly could, given certain things- I'm just saying I don't think it was as good as it could've been. I really hope you can take this the right way, I am in no way trying to impugn your integrity as a filmmaker. (YOur Punisher video is awesome, it's one of the first which I watched on this site)

Regards, Ben

Postscript: ferral, I think we eventually came to an agreement on how I disliked this film in TLD's cinema thread, no more need for discussion between the two of us in here. wink