The Final Land

 

the making of „the final land”

 

"Two or three people in a small spaceship..." - that was the simple original idea, sometime in 2009. In the course of time it became a feature-length film, which celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 film festival "Max Ophüls Preis", has been taking part at film festivals since then, and was recently awarded "Best Feature Film" in Sydney. But what happened between 2009 and 2019? Or what had to happen to turn a simple idea into a two-hour adventure on screen?

We are already sifting through all our material and making a nice making-of-documentary out of it. But for the time being you can read the most important things here.

 

 

concept and style

 

 "The Final Land" is set in a distant future and yet deals with things that can be absolutely present to us today: Escape, search and aimlessness - it is about the odyssey of two lonely people.

At the very beginning, however, there was nothing but this simple vision of a few people in a cockpit - after all, this cockpit already had a very specific appearance: It was a dark, dirty mess of mixed-up technology. Sprawling fittings, cables and hoses hanging from the ceiling like lianas, and many flashing lights. It basically looked like the "Nostromo", the spaceship from Ridley Scott's "Alien" (1979), but much smaller, because this "picture in the head" was obviously not made without consideration of our limited possibilities.

But what should it be about? In the course of very different film experiences, such as Werner Herzog's "Aguirre - the Wrath of God" (1972) or Franklin J. Schaffner's "Papillon" (1973), there had been a completely different idea, to a film about two or three guys who had gone mad and tried to cross a desert without water - and on foot. This idea was ultimately combined with the other: The desert became the universe, the bare feet the spaceship... Also the madness (and also the water) we kept in mind...

However, until it was decided to make these thoughts concrete and really tackle the project, about two more years should pass. From time to time, ideas and possibilities were discussed in different constellations. But the starting signal was given by the construction of the spaceship model.

 

the spaceship model

 

We still don't like computer-generated images better than practical effects in their heyday in the early 80s. Accordingly, we quickly agreed to work with real models for our film.

We had been in agreement about the surface design of the ship for a long time, but its basic shape had remained open until then. At the end of 2011, Marcel first produced various drawings and Johannes decided in favour of the bulky and somewhat dull-looking variant. Everybody agreed, maybe because we felt reminded of the spaceship from Joe Dante's "Explorers" (1985) (which is about three kids building a spaceship...).

On this basis Johannes, Massimo and Marcel built the model in the course of the year 2012. Its components: Wood, screws, acrylic, model building glue and lots of plastic parts. The latter were mostly taken from model kits of any kind. Johannes fetched most of them from the attic, only a few were bought in addition. Among them were a locomotive, various ships and military vehicles and also spaceships from well-known sci-fi universes (including the Millenium Falcon, a TIE fighter, a snowspeeder, an X-wing and the Voyager). Everything was disassembled and put together with some friendly foreign objects (like a comb and some sockets) to a new shape.

Philipp gave it a red flashing light at the rear, it was painted and patinated. When it became visible later with the right lighting and in front of the right backgrounds, it had become our spaceship, just like you can see it in the trailer now.

In the further course of the project we produced even more models with the same method. One of them can also be seen briefly in the trailer (click above)...

 

 

the spaceship interior

 

For all the scenes that take place inside the spaceship, we began building a life-size and completely closed backdrop at the end of 2012. In this phase master carpenter Massimo was in charge as architect, site manager and constructor of the spaceship (and sometimes as his own henchman).

The forward half of the ship with cockpit, galley, research terminal, sleeping berths and space toilet was erected on an old, single-axle tractor trailer - so we could realistically simulate turbulences and vibrations later on. The cylindrical space consists of a sheet steel frame, clad in wood, and the interior decorated with innumerable parts that, when combined, give the impression that they have always belonged together.

Actually, however, these parts were assembled from all kinds of electrical appliances - old computers, televisions, hi-fi systems... - Massimo was especially enthusiastic about the washing machine, which had proven to be very productive. Circuit boards, cables, blinds, fans, buttons, levers, wheels and all kinds of components - everything was brought into a completely new kind of (dis)order, painted and patinated, i.e. treated with dust and dirt, in order to make it look old and used, partly also damaged. It was the same as the model, now only bigger, heavier and dirtier.

To finally bring the ship to life, Johannes and Philipp installed many, many lights and screens, soldered and wired everything, and set up a control module next to the ship, from where the entire ship's electronics could be puppeteered during shooting. In addition there were switches and levers, which were movable, flaps that could be opened, a custom-made sliding door made of sheet steel (and quickly rusted with salt water), the classical pilot's seat (originally a dentist's chair) and much more...

Meanwhile all screen contents were pre-produced with our computer graphic artist Martin: Partly senseless, but effective sci-fi chatter, partly narrative relevant content, and also some wireframe representations - of course all monochrome, the color: the good old P1 phosphor green.

 

 

props and costumes

 

A spaceship wouldn't be complete without the right things on board: things that don't exist, but should remind you of real things. And even though there are a number of props in the movie that could stay the way they were (a wrench, a pencil, a flashlight, a washcloth...), there were also some that had to be made somehow.

We basically used the same method as in model or spaceship building: We combined parts of different objects so that completely new objects came out. The weapon, for example, which can already be seen in the trailer (click above), was originally a toy weapon. We turned it into a proper science fiction weapon with various additional parts screwed on and a good load of black paint.

The overalls of the ship's crew are actually military airman's suits, which were embroidered only with different elements and artificially aged and distressed with nail brush and black paint. There were also costume parts that were almost unchanged, but had to be searched and bought - mostly on the Internet - including white, coarsely ribbed undershirts that were out of fashion in the real world, but fitted perfectly (and almost imperatively) into our setting.

 

intermezzo: crowdfunding

 

During the time of spacecraft construction we started a crowdfunding campaign with Startnext. Approximately 300 people were so enthusiastic about our project that about 14,000 euros were raised. Most of the money flowed into the scenery, otherwise into props, costumes and parts of the equipment.

That was an essential help, but the basic way of working was not changed (luckily!). We remained a "No Budget"-production, all participants had their normal life with normal jobs next to the project and had to carry on investing their own money and most of their free time into the film. Not being able to work full-time on the film and therefore not earning money from all the work, on the one hand led to a very long production time of more than six years, on the other hand it had a considerable positive effect on the creative process. All production periods were characterized by improvisation, by (re)inventing methods and by constant tinkering.

 

the shooting

 

In the summer of 2014, the main shooting took place over a period of 14 days. Every day all participants gathered at the ship, among them our actors Milan and Torben, in order to shoot piece by piece all the material from which the film was later to be assembled. The script was still very fresh, because Marcel had written it parallel to the construction of the spaceship. Scenes and story were created in a constant interplay - always with a view to practical conditions and possibilities.

An ideal shooting day began with the start-up and check-through of the ship control, then a general greeting and discussion. After the so-called "sweat and dirt level" for the upcoming scenes had been clarified, the actors disappeared to work on themselves with burdock root oil and black make-up. Meanwhile the "technical department" discussed all the special features of the day (which monitors have to show which content, which devices are used, whether haze or water is used...). And before we went into the ship, Marcel and the two filthy ones put their heads together again in peace to discuss everything thematically and, if necessary, to make text changes in advance. In the ship the exact scene structure was then worked out. Before the Rec button on the camera could be pressed, a choreography between Milan and Torben, boom operator Jan and camera operator Marcel had to be worked out - and if someone else was in the ship, for clapping or other tasks, then he had to find a good hiding place in time. It was just poky in the ship. That's why we used tiny, battery-operated and magnetic LED lamps for most of the lighting, which had a significant influence on the look of our film.

Even after the shooting was finished, smaller teams often came together at the spaceship to shoot individual pictures, such as most of the shots in which the actors were not visible, such as glances at control panels and monitors or hands and feet doing something - such things were made up and gradually integrated into the editing.

 

editing and color grading

 

From many, many hours of video material, based on the script and the many changes during shooting, a rough cut was created, which of course was still untouched and completely without trick pictures. So it was a version without music or sounds, and if the script said you could see the universe, then the film showed nothing but the words, white on black: "The universe". That had to be changed now.

In the course of 2015, Marcel made the final cut parallel to the work on the effect shots. One could only determine how the effect shots had to look exactly on the basis of the cut version. And the effect shots also had their effects on the editing.

Soon, color grading began, where each image was modified for color temperature, chiaroscuro, and other properties. A process that sometimes felt like painting and, because of the same working environment, was also closely linked to the compositing of the effect shots.

 

 

effect shots

 

Whenever you see the universe through the window or the spaceship from the outside, you have to do it (of course) with a trick. The model shots were done traditionally in front of the green screen. Normally the model stands still and the camera moves - most of the shots were taken with a self-constructed skateboard dolly by Johannes.

On the computer the model shots were then combined with other images, especially with seas of stars, which are nothing but fine holes in black cardboard, but also with shots of acrylic paint in water or dust on glass, still images of candle smoke - or, which turned out to be very fruitful, formations of cornflour on a black background. In combination, cosmic star clusters and dust nebulae were created.

In order to represent the surfaces of nearby planets or alien landscapes, quite adventurous combinations were created. Massimo built miniatures out of plaster, Philipp cut out rocks and dripstones out of polystyrene blocks with a hot wire and Marcel discovered some additional possibilities of productive alienation - e.g. shots of pancakes were transformed into rocky plains and crater landscapes.

At the end there were insights into a strange world, which were designed as realistically as possible. After all, it should be impossible to recognize the components that were actually used.

 

 

foleys and sound design

 

When we were sure that the editing was finished, we could begin to make the sound. The first steps: Free dialogue recordings from noises - and record new noises. Even though this work already began in 2016, the year 2017 was marked by sound.

But why do you first remove the sounds and then record new ones? Because the real sounds are usually too "weak" or not concise enough. But through extensive sound making, the sounds are produced in the way you want them to be. For example, with the help of a rich sounding, old backpack, all body movements were simulated. Or a cast-iron sewing machine frame with beautiful resonances was beaten, rubbed or striped hundreds of times with new objects - depending on the movements of the characters. The visual impressions were strongly influenced, e.g. the material properties magically changed when things sounded different. Marcel made most of the sounds at home. With Oliver, who joined the crew in 2017, everything was brought into the right proportion and was improved.

And then there was the kind of sound you had to invent from the ground up - because it doesn't exist in reality: Everything that the spaceship does, the control panels, the drive - all of this also needed sounds or was partly made present exclusively by sounds. So all sorts of other noises were recorded and brought into new contexts: For example, there was a grumbling oil heater, a spooling audio tape, a beeping ultrasonic device, a broken fan, a closing elevator door, a buzzing refrigerator, a lifting platform, a running VW bus engine, a muddy oatmeal, a humming beehive, a beeping alarm clock ... Recordings like these were dismantled into their components and reassembled and mixed into completely new noises - basically like in model or spaceship building or even in compositing, just with noises.

 

 

score and mixing

 

At some point the film had everything that was necessary for being realistic. Outer space looked like outer space and in the spaceship it sounded quite plausibly like spaceship. So now, at the beginning of 2018, we could attend to the music, where we again had to deal with a very special sound world. Basically, it was all about enchanting all the realistic sounds a bit.

Oliver and Marcel supplied each other with musical suggestions and worked out a musical concept together that combined synthetic sounds with recordings of real instruments. The main instrument was the cello, played by Oliver himself. But there were not only instruments of the classical kind... For example, an egg slicer was used as a plucked instrument or a squeaking rubber dinosaur - with a subsequently changed pitch - was used as an eerie effect machine. The good old howling tube played a special role.

The more advanced the music production was, the more often the music was mixed: Speech, sounds and music were brought into the right proportion. This was an important, final step, because it is of course crucial that the dialogues are always understandable, that the noises remain present and that the music never sinks away.

 

 

and then...?

 

After the completion of the music and sound mixing in autumn 2018 Marcel went through everything again and smoothed out mistakes. There was a second color grading, in which some color settings were readjusted, a revision of the space shots, especially the ship movements in space... The sound was finally mastered by a good old analog compressor. A surround sound was also developed (quickly but surely).

In the meantime, preliminary versions had been submitted to various film festivals. Finally, the "Filmfestival Max Ophüls Preis" in Saarbrücken, one of the most important festivals for young German-language film talents, accepted the submission. Immediately our poster had to be designed, a press kit had to be produced, the DCP had to be created - that's the thing a film projectionist needs nowadays to play the film in the cinema. So there was (and still is) a lot to do even after the work on the actual film had been completed. Fortunately, we had already thought so.

"The Final Land" was shown on 15 January 2019 for the first time on big screen - we are very happy that this took place in the context of such a renowned film festival. There were 7 more screenings in Saarbrücken and one more at the "Berlin Independent Film Festival". The film got its official FSK release (12+) and work on the bonus features for the crowdfunding-thank-you-DVDs has begun. In May 2019 the film was shown twice at the "Neisse Film Festival" and we celebrated our UK premiere at the "Sci-Fi-London Film Festival". Just two weeks later, in June, our italian premiere took place at the "Oltre lo Specchio - Festival dell'immaginario fantastico e di fantascienza" in Milan. Meanwhile, work began on the soundtrack, the audio play and a series of small 3D-printed spaceship models (all also crowdfunding thankyou gifts). In the beginning of September 2019, the film celebrated its Australian premiere at the "Sci-Fi Film Festival" in Sydney and was awarded there the "Best Feature Film"! At the end of September it was shown at the "Filmfest Bremen" and in the beginning of October at the "Lund International Fantastic Film Festival" in Sweden.

 

 

 

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