Jesse James Scene - An Atomic Production

Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
edited October 2011 in General
Hey guys!
Just wanted to share with you all a project Ben and I worked on over the past week following a series of rehearsals and a screen test that I shared a few weeks ago. The project is a scene re-creation from one of our favorite films, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.
It's a lengthy film, but probably the most well-shot in current existence- just absolutely beautiful every frame, and I recommend it to everyone. Partly the reason we were/are so drawn to it to recreate.

Here's the project:
[center]The Assassination of Jesse James / Ed Miller Scene[/center][/size]
[sub]The following is a scene recreation from one of our favorite films, 'The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford', in which Jesse arrives at the ranch of Ed Miller, sitting to hear his one last plea for his life.
An Atomic Production
Corey Cleary-Stoner as Ed Miller
Blake Blair as Jesse James
Directed by Ben Adams
Produced by Andrew Adams
Asst. Director Naeem Munaf
Production Coordinator Chase Arrington
Dir. of Photography Ben Adams
Edited by Andrew Adams
This was created for the University of Texas at Austin film production course RTF366D - Directing Workshop. The assignment was to take a scripted scene, rehearse, and shoot it yourself- preferably without relating to the actual film.

While many chose to re-contextualize their scenes, plot, or characters- we felt, while it'd be near impossible to try and recreate the brilliance of Roger Deakins' cinematography, it was important to retain the relationship of Ed and Jesse and the Western, period setting. We're pretty happy with the result.
Also, I know the 'Atomic' name isn't as prevalent here as it was on FXHome, but if any of you enjoyed this or have seen some of our other, previous work- be sure to "like" us on Facebook here:
Thanks, and enjoy!


  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    Well, I've seen it twice now. The one thing I noticed both times was some rather inconsistent audio. I don't remember you guys having audio problems in past projects, but in this one it was definitely the weakest part. Some lines I could hear clear and some seemed muddied a bit. Some had some weird noise, and others had none. The music fit real well though and the visuals and the acting were superb. Really impressed with Corey, although after watching the screen test I suppose I should have expected as much. Blake was pretty good too. All around, it looked wonderful. The dialog audio was the only thing that was a little off at times. Is there a reason for that?
  • StrikeEmStudios
    StrikeEmStudios Posts: 224 Just Starting Out
    I've never seen the film you recreated here but the scene shows a great deal of attention to detail, cinematography is well framed and the performance by Corey steals the show, a very talented guy.
    For me, the film felt a bit slow and lacked movement, but since it's a recreation (shot for shot?) you probably stayed faithful to the original film's style, the lighting is nice and effective, but it seems slightly too dark to make out any fine details.
    Maybe I and others could appreciate this more if the original scene was viewable for reference?
    I noticed you have a slider shot in there, I'm interested in getting my hands on one soon, what brand and length is yours?
  • Aculag
    Aculag Posts: 708 Just Starting Out
    edited October 2011
    I gotta say, the only thing that takes me out of this scene is the fact that I can tell it's shot digitally based on some of the handheld stuff. The acting is okay to pretty good, but the cinematography is the real star anyway, so even if the actors were awful, this would still be impressive.
    I definitely look forward to seeing you guys use skills like this to make something that isn't mimicking someone else's work, but I understand that this was for a project. I say it's a job well done.
    Ps. Does that dude actually go by "Clearly-Stoner" or is it just a gag because he looks like a stoner? Either way, it seems kinda juvenile and looks weird to have him credited as that in an otherwise mostly serious scene. ;)
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
    The dialog audio was the only thing that was a little off at times. Is there a reason for that?
    Hmm, odd you say that. There is, admittedly, some sound distortion and weird compressed level peaking on the lines "I ain't got much, just a pasture...."- but overall we thought we had pretty good sound coverage on this. It played terribly on some hollow speakers at school, but I've played it off two TVs, a preview monitor's sound, my iPad, and my laptop without much issue. We had both actors miced wirlessly with lavalieres, and also had a background/safety mic running sound- as well as scratch audio from two other cameras, all which blended into the sound mix.
    Then, additionally, after mixing all the sound- I had it sent to our AD, who ran it through Adobe Audition and noise-gated much of the rumbling wind and outdoorsy sounds (since, as everyone knows, the outdoors- and especially a country ranch at night- is a surprisingly noisy place) that we then replaced with subbed-in 'new' wind and background noise. I actually really like how the mix came out. The opening is trickier, because we were right by the loud transformer for an electric fence, but the rest is pretty solid in my opinion- albeit a tad bit post-processed/artifacted-sounding in parts.
    Sorry that aspect didn't work for you, though.
    For me, the film felt a bit slow and lacked movement, but since it's a recreation (shot for shot?) you probably stayed faithful to the original film's style, the lighting is nice and effective, but it seems slightly too dark to make out any fine details.
    Maybe I and others could appreciate this more if the original scene was viewable for reference?
    Yeah, it's not an exact recreation- just goes from the script as a reference more than anything, it's just notable because we kept the (generally) dim, warm candelit sort of 'period' look and shot it in and with costuming and locations for a Western setting. The actual film has several scenes like this, but the one we picked in-particular is actually in a harsh sheen of muddled, crisp gray overcast daylight in the dead of winter.
    As we live in Texas, and it's still in the upper 90-degrees here, we knew we couldn't effectively 'sell' this look, even with grading. So we went a lower-light, nighttime approach.
    [quote]I noticed you have a slider shot in there, I'm interested in getting my hands on one soon, what brand and length is yours?[/quote]
    We own an indiSLIDERmini that is cheaper and really versatile, which I would recommend and we've used dozens of times before. On this specific shoot, our AD Naeem brought his slider, which is the admittedly much nicer (and more expensive) Konova 50KG.
    I'd recommend always staying to a shorter length of track and a self-lubricating system, no matter what you buy. You won't think it off-the-bat, but portability and durability are key to these sliders and using them in tough, cool-looking spots.
    The acting is okay to pretty good, but the cinematography is the real star anyway, so even if the actors were awful, this would still be impressive.
    Wow, thanks for the compliment. Most people, myself included, seem to think the acting blows every other aspect of this project out of the water- and considering it's supposed to be an exercise in 'directing'
    (though my definition of directing is, truthfully, encompassing of the visual aspect, too)- this is especially cool. So I guess it's surprising to hear you so nonplussed by it. But definitely appreciate the visual praise, as always!
    And yes, that's his real name. Hyphenated, peculiar names perplex me as well. But no, he's really 'Corey Cleary-Stoner'.
  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    Ok, wow. You are very thorough with your sound aren't you?
    Well these are the lines that I thought the sound seemed odd.
    The very first two lines seemed muddied to me. Specifically the second one there seemed to be some buzz in the background, and maybe some clicking. I don't know. I tried it on 720p and 480p not that it should change anything but both times I heard the buzz and some clicks. Anyway...
    After those two, the next line that I thought I heard something on was the one you mentioned about the pasture.
    Now other than those two, the sound seemed flawless. I suppose I made it sound worse than it was. Anyway, do you know what happened at the beginning there?
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast

    I suppose I made it sound worse than it was. Anyway, do you know what happened at the beginning there?
    Yeah- we didn't do ADR on this project because of the general nature of it and not having the actors available, but on a more-convenient correspondence with the talent we would've subbed-in new recorded lines in that beginning.
    The issue with the sound is that there is a transformer and battery box that powers the electrified fence (since it's a working ranch, and they have cattle and there are wild dogs and whatnot that could harm them) behind Corey's right shoulder, and it caused interference with the wireless mics. We hadn't noticed at first, so when we recorded a second time, we didn't step further away from it, and what you hear is a mix of scratch on-board DSLR audio and that of a Rode mic we had booming.
    The clicks and buzz are from the battery shifting/signaling-on whenever something hits the electric fence. Any time even a blade of grass, we think, waved against the acres of fence, the battery box by us clicked and whizzed to enact an electric shock. For the most part we stayed away from it and reaped the overall benefit of the location, but those doorway shots suffered the downside to the place.
  • Aculag
    Aculag Posts: 708 Just Starting Out
    edited October 2011
    And yes, that's his real name. Hyphenated, peculiar names perplex me as well. But no, he's really 'Corey Cleary-Stoner'.
    Haha, wow. Every time I've seen his name I've inserted the extra 'l' in Cleary subconsciously. NOW who looks like a stoner?* ;) Looks perfectly reasonable to me now, but before you said that, I could have sworn it was Clearly. D'oh!
    [sub][size=-1]*He does.[/size][/sub]
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
    Haha, yeah. Sorry- hadn't even noticed you adding that extra 'l' myself.
  • DanielGWood
    DanielGWood Posts: 1,016 Just Starting Out
    I really like the original too, well designed, well shot and the score is fantastic.
    Nice recreation, agreed on Corey's performance, very good stuff. The cinematography looked great to me, though I'm hardly the expert on that. Dialogue came out pretty well here (cheap work headphones), I'd actually say more intelligible than one or two of your older projects.
    It seems like a large amount of work for a class, does everyone produce to this standard on the course? Do you get lots of these per term semester?
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
    edited October 2011
    It seems like a large amount of work for a class, does everyone produce to this standard on the course? Do you get lots of these per term semester?
    Oh, hardly. Most people just shoot in a plain room with a wobbly, rolling-shutter 'let's all use a DSLRS' look so that they can focus 'on getting that acting'. Some of them really were very good, yes- and some well-shot, too. But as far as what we did- no, much of that (the location, lighting, costuming, rigging, music, sound design, etc.) is just us having to do those things out of the compulsion to make this look and feel like the best thing out there. :D
    A shame, though, really. Because like 'Bury The Hatchet' before it, the screening and reaction seemed to be quite unceremonious. No one had anything to say or give as criticism or praise- as most just chalk us up nowadays to 'knowing talented people' or 'having lots of money to do that', which is somewhat defeating to be amounted to. Just....nothing to say about it.
    But hey, on a more individual basis, there was some nice critique from a few people and good discussion, so I can't wholly complain myself.
    Though it's for Ben's class, I'm obviously producing it, so I was going through material to do next and had picked a scene from this last season of Breaking Bad to do as the next recreation. Funny enough, though it's an exercise in sort of understanding the tenets of directing actors using already-produced material/writing, apparently the professor urged Ben to go ahead and write our own scene for the second project so thatnwe're not 'wasting our time on someone else's work'. Which I thought was kind of cool.
    As for your wondering, there are two required 'finished shoots' for the semester, each necessitating an in-class breakdown, in-class rehearsals in front of other students, and a sort of roundtable discussion on where to 'take the scene' with the actors. Then, obviously, there's also the compulsory busy-work. But two scenes is what is done, basically.
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
    Don't mean to annoy with the bump on this, but are there any other takers? For a scene sequence, it's pretty damn good- and we worked pretty hard on it. Kinda sad to get such a lukewarm reaction on this place.
  • IamJoshuaDavies
    IamJoshuaDavies Staff Posts: 363 Staff
    I really enjoyed this other than the wobble on the camera on a couple of shots which kind of ripped me away from the drama. The production values are pleasingly high and the acting/performances are fantastic - good direction no doubt. Want more please :)
  • DanielMorgan
    DanielMorgan Posts: 324 Just Starting Out
    edited October 2011
    Did you frame this using a golden ratio? Looks beautiful, there are some audio glitches ( Possibly due to mic positioning.) I am a massive fan of the film , the cinematography is beautiful. I quite enjoyed your take on it and although duplicating the quality of Roger Deakin's cinematography would be very difficult, you did it justice none the less.
    For me , the best part about this scene is the acting. The performance from Corey was excellent. I think you hit the relationship the characters had bang on. Grand stuff Andrew!
  • Max
    Max Posts: 53
    Good work guys, this looks really good. The cinematography is excellent, the lighting, the farming, the grade, everything is great. To me it looks like a jump in quality from your previous stuff, and I would love to see a short from you guys that had this sort of atmosphere and polish.
    The acting is good, but it looks like acting, if that makes sense, and it doesn't blow me away. That's not to say it isn't good, it is, and I think that all your actors have the potential to be great given the right film. I know that directing actors is the hardest part of film-making, at least for me, and getting a good performance is a combination of directing, acting, and editing.
    So, when are you going to release another short?
  • davlin
    davlin Posts: 18
    Great see a real pro-looking movie again from you guys.
    The camera style was quite a brave approach (not fond of handheld in this scene)and added to the classy acting without detracting from it.....beautifully done....a class act.
    Be very proud of this fellas you deserve it.

    What's next?
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
    Thanks for the comments, guys!
    Yeah, we definitely think this is one of our more technically-sound 'jumps' in quality, possibly also because of the 'period' style of production value- and are excited to extend it further. We've been working a lot on contacts and projects in LA and what we're setting up there is more quick-stuff, flashy, humor-based material, so it was nice to get a moment to do something a little more dramatic and subdued.
    The framing and aspect, Daniel, were in fact purposeful. We knew we wanted a wide, striking aspect ratio to accompany the cinematography and overall antiquated look and feel to the piece, so we framed (on most shots and takes) for the 'super-wide' in-mind. There are some wobbles here and there in the cinematography, and I can't truthfully say it was all done with exacting purpose- but there are exceptions to be made, as what has been cut in with the subtle, swaying motion (most notably of the closeups) was done either on a take of 'the best acting' or a purposeful 'expression of uneasiness', if that makes sense.
    We're currently working on the follow-up project to this one for the course, which we had planned to do as this scene from the latest season of Breaking Bad (and which would've been great fun to do), but instead the prof is making/allowing Ben to do something of his own so as 'not to waste our time'. What we've got now is an original script I've been working at for a week or two. It's an 11-page 'montage-mixed-with-important-dialogue-scene' type of story, and less of a traditional 'scene' scene, and we hope to have it done in the coming weeks.
    Additionally, we've got- on sort of the opposite end of the spectrum- another 5-minute 'no words/dialogue' project we're doing (similar in reason and requirement to our previous short 'Bury The Hatchet) which will be about a recovering criminal and alcoholic and star Corey, from this Jesse James project.
    Both projects are decidedly darker in tone and, technically, 'for school'- but are ones we've tweaked and been given permissions for so that we could do them in a manner and style that facilitates what we wanted to work on this fall, anyway.
    Other than that, as I've said before, we've been working on a number of comedy-style things that you will all hopefully be seeing through channels of major networks and studios in the next 6 to 9 months. All of this stuff, though, will be done and at your viewership by the end of the year.
    Our next, larger, personal comedy bit will be/is the follow-up to the parody trailer we did, The Brocial Network. It is, in the same fashion as it's predecessor, a decidedly silly, 'bro'-ified take on a serious film, and we're fairly excited about working and have already worked on much of it. Like Inception and The Social Network (both of which we parodied), the movie we picked was based on our love of the actual film (and being one of 'the best of the year' thus far) and it having a distinct and beautifully-arranged trailer. That film, as I might as well announce it here, is for the movie Drive. (Which came out in theaters a few weeks ago)
    We've been quietly working on the project and have a premiere and distribution deal set up, which is pretty sweet- but we can't talk much about it until closer to it's release. More to come on this specifically in the coming weeks.
    That, too, will be out this fall. So yeah. That's what we're up to, and that's what you'll all see fairly soon. A comedic parody project and at least two (decently) solid dramatic shorts in the pipeline. The first one coming out next month.
  • MatthiasClaflin
    MatthiasClaflin Posts: 674 Just Starting Out
    Sounds like exciting times for the Atomic crew! I hope all goes well and I'll be looking forward to the new shorts when they arrive!
  • Aculag
    Aculag Posts: 708 Just Starting Out
    edited October 2011

    Sounds like exciting times for the Atomic crew!
    Doesn't it always? ;)
    Ps. The first time you mentioned that you had wanted to do a Breaking Bad scene, that's the exact scene I thought it would be. Great scene, and right up your alley.
  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Posts: 4,370 Enthusiast
    I like the titles. :)
    It's a captivating scene to be sure. The acting held my attention effortlessly. I've also figured out who Corey reminds me of: Alan Tudyk. Which, as anybody who knows anything should know, is a very big compliment. I also wanted to mention Blake - while Corey is getting all the attention, I actually think that Blake did an equally good job here. It's a scene that only works if BOTH the actors are on form.
    The cinematography didn't work so much for me - the little micro-wobbles were distracting and the staging for the conversation seemed very basic, both in terms of characters and camera. I definitely would have appreciate a bit more variety in there. The last few shots in the glide-o-rama device were lovely, though.
    The best thing for me? The way you're embracing a subtler, more nuanced form of performance. It's a big change from the hyper-emotional acting style of your earlier projects and it works much better for me.
    As always, looking forward to what you guys do next. Which presumably is going to be called 'Drink'. ;)
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
    Thanks for the comment, Simon! Glad to hear you liked the dynamic to the acting- Blake was our third recast for the role of Jesse, trying to find someone restrained but formidable, acting-wise, to Corey that could play stoic and quiet off of his manic and talkative role. We think Blake did a fantastic job, especially with the performance in his eyes.
    He didn't necessarily have the *most* menacing look on planet earth, what with his blue eyes and reddish skin (and in fact, his hair is a super-light blonde color, we sprayed it with a dark brown hair paint prior to shooting), but he's also extremely tall in-person, and once he turned on that icy stare, we knew we had found the right guy for the role. Nice mention, I'm glad someone picked up on that- he hasn't quite got the credit he's deserved with all the praise of either Corey or the cinematography from (most) of the audience we've had.
    A shame you didn't like the cinematography, though. Valid points throughout on the more pedestrian, stagnant nature of it- and the little quibbles of movement. The best I can say to that is that we wanted (and needed for the sake of the class) the whole production to be very performance-centric and focused on the acting, and were afraid too much cinematic flash might pull away from that. The downside to that, is that on another note we also kept in some more experimental, 'loosen-it-up' camera movements in there.
    Definitely worthy points about it, and I won't say it's perfect (though I like the mix we ended up hitting)- just sad to see it didn't leave you with the same sense of professionalism/presentation as it did some others.
    And yeah, Drink would be it. You'll see more of that (hopefully) soon. Our script for our other original 10-minute short, which is decidedly more-restrained, got approved- so we'll be working on that next as well. Should be done by December. The professor shot down the notion of doing the Breaking Bad scene. Seemed to think we were comedy people that had a knack for slower dialogue scenes, maybe couldn't handle the gravitas of the 'intense gun holdup yelling fest'.
    My, how reputations and remembrances change based on internet popularity. As Aculag mentioned, the scene we wanted to do from Breaking Bad is more up our alley than basically anything else:
    Who told you about Drink, now, hmm? ;)
  • Darren
    Darren Maui, HawaiiPosts: 164 Enthusiast
    edited October 2011
    I really liked the fact that this is a departure from what I've normally seen from Atomic.
    I love westerns and the acting was done really well - kept my interest.
    Is it just my computer or is this way too dark though?
    EDIT: Ah, the gamma on my PC was the problem.
  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,255 Staff

    Who told you about Drink, now, hmm? ;)
    I'm pretty sure it was a logical assumption based on your past subject matter, and the title of the upcoming subject, "Drive." So you told him. :)
  • Andrew
    Andrew Posts: 378 Enthusiast
    edited October 2011
    Thanks Darren!
    Yeah, we've had some odd issues with the gamma for some people. The whole thing was intently shot underexposed and subtlety-lit to give that 'candlelit' look, but even with that and lots of test screening it's coming up especially dark on some screens.
    We knew because of the dim aesthetic we wanted that we'd have to trial-and-error the brightness and gamma of the final render- and ends actually did end up testing on a monitor, a laptop, two HDTVs, and my iPad before uploading. But some things still just have wildly different gamma than others. I blame Apple, for the most part. ;)
This discussion has been closed.