Archive for the ‘shoots’ category

What makes an earthquake “swarm”?

November 4, 2009

Reno, Nevada may be known as a popular gambling destination, but it is also the site of thousands of earthquakes that rocked the city last year. Scientists call the mysterious quakes a “swarm,” but what causes them is unclear – and the term itself is a bit ambiguous. In fact, my first question upon assignment to the project was, “What exactly is a swarm?”

There is no precedent for the growing frequency and intensity of the earthquakes in Reno last year. Unlike a typical mainshock-aftershock earthquake sequence, the Reno earthquakes struck with increasing magnitude hundreds, even thousands of times over a period of less than one year. Over the course of ten days, our crew questioned seismologists, geodesists and emergency responders for answers as to why this phenomenon occurred. Their insight into potential causes of the earthquakes astonished me. But I still couldn’t conceptualize just what a swarm is–-what hundreds of small earthquakes hitting every day must have felt like.

Fortunately, my confusion cleared up on the last day of our shoot. And ironically, it wasn’t a scientist who provided the answer. While sitting on a dusty slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I asked our Production Assistant, a student at the University of Nevada in Reno, “How would you define the swarm?” Her explanation was a real eye-opener: “It was like someone playing a drum nonstop. You couldn’t hear the beats, but you could feel the vibrations.”

Katherine de Gaullier des Bordes, Associate Producer

Naked Science: Reno Earthquake Swarm

Naked Science: Earthquake Swarm airs Thursday, November 5th at 10PM/9C on National Geographic Channel



October 22, 2009


So the “Clash of the Gods” series is now in the books. All ten episodes have aired. Tweets and comments from the blogosphere have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Seems the series won over some hard-core fans, which is extremely gratifying to all of us who worked on it.

Since the series premiered, probably its single-most talked about feature has been the special-effects make-up that brought the gods and monsters to such vivid life. Never before has cable TV (or really, even Hollywood) presented such a diverse, imaginative and unique cast of characters. Medusa. Grendel. Hades. The Cyclops. Each character was approached with a fresh eye for what would be most haunting and dramatic. Inspiration was taken from ancient renderings, but wasn’t slave to them. In the end, the make-up team made an enormous difference in the look of the series, and gave it the visual eye candy that really stands out from the TV pack.


Ill Willed Productions ( was the driving force behind the make-up and practical special FX. Tate Steinsiek, Matt Green and their teams worked tirelessly for months on this, and brought an energy and creativity to these characters that really pops on screen. We have our fingers crossed that they’ll get an Emmy nomination for make-up on this. But they really don’t even need one. We’re thrilled to report that IllWilled has just accepted a job on a major Hollywood film starring Al Pacino called, “Mary Mother of Christ”. And, they’ve just released a new monster-shoe line from Keds. So Ill Willed is well on its way, and KPI looks forward to saying “we knew them when.”

Christopher Cassel, Director/Writer
Clash of the Gods


October 13, 2009

Area 51 - sat photo

Tikaboo Peak rises several thousand feet above Area 51 in southern Nevada. Yes–“ground zero” for UFO theorists. We’re here at 5 AM for a purely recreational hike, of course. It would be about 2 hours with a daypack, but we’ve decided to take a 200-pound lens with us, along with the rest of our gear.
Very slow-going up the mtn. There’s no clear trail and it’s straight uphill on slippery rock and gravel. We hired 4 locals to help carry extra weight, but the lens can only be carried about 30 feet before they have to put it down to rest. We should have hired three more.
About a third of the way up, an F-16 zooms right past us. Holy sh*t. Our guides are excited that he’s this
close, but, hey, could be just a coincidence.
Then the jet circles back again and then a third time, doing crazy turns and maneuvers. Our guys are starting to wonder if the military knows we’re here.
Suddenly a helicopter appears from the other side of the mtn–starts circling overhead as the F-16 continues to buzz us.
Now our guides are sure: This show is all for us. Area 51 knows we’re out here, climbing up this mtn with a box that looks suspiciously like a missile.
Our guys speculate about how they knew we were coming. One is very concerned about getting arrested and contemplates bailing out. We’re concerned we’ll get down the mtn and the local cops will be waiting for us to confiscate our tapes and gear.
The air show goes on for about 30 minutes. Our DP sees thru the viewfinder a guy in the helicopter, perched on the edge, staring straight down on us.
We finally make it to the peak around noon… More than 6 hours after we started. It’s 95 degrees. Everyone is tired and dehydrated, but we get to work. Below us is the U.S. Air Force military base known as Area 51, aka Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, Extraterrestial Highway. We have a great view of the base, but we see no aliens tap dancing on the runway. Why would they in this heat?

Area 51 from Peak

MYSTERYQUEST: ALIEN COVER-UP airs Wednesday October 14, 10PM/9c on HISTORY.

Ice Scrapers vs. the Frost Giant

October 11, 2009

The final episode of season one of CLASH OF THE GODS is THOR.
Monday October 12, 10PM/9c on HISTORY.
Sweden runestone

Hundreds of runestones can be found scattered across the countryside in Scandinavia. Many are memorial stones erected after the death of a family member to honor them, but there are some that are clear depictions of the myths and stories that filled the lives of the Norse centuries ago.
In February I traveled to Sweden with my Director of Photography Bo Randulff, and set out on a cross-country treasure hunt trying to track down a few specific runestones that told the myth of Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. It seems that no one has ever drawn a runestone map of Scandinavia, and there is no handy iPhone app, so we were relying on some long distance research and a little luck to find them. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack that was covered in snow!
As we arrived in a little clearing in the forest we were pretty sure that we had found the site of the large rock carving we were looking for, but it was nowhere to be seen. It suddenly occurred to us that it was most likely lying under a foot of snow. Armed with only our rental car’s ice and snow scrapers we started digging, much to the amusement of some local kids. Finally we found it, and it was worth the effort.
The evil Frost Giants of the Norse myths are certainly alive and kicking, and I would have loved a helping hand from the brave Thor and his magical hammer in defeating them. But this particular battle was between the Frost Giant’s snow and me, armed only with an ice scraper.
Thor runestone
–Sarah Hodgson
Associate producer, Clash of the Gods

HERCULES – The Tale of the Bull

August 7, 2009


About that bull.

King Minos’ bull was a creature sent from God, a snow white beauty that stopped all in their tracks. In fact it was so beautiful that King Minos’ wife fell in love with it… and… well, the result was the birth of the Minotaur, half man, half beast. But that’s another story…

The bull was also a symbol of Minos’ power–and he was a tyrant. Hercules, the great hero and civilizer of the ancient world was sent on a mission to wrestle and take down this huge and stunning bull. It was one of Hercules’ 12 impossible labors.

All this is great, until you need to find a snow-white and suitably godly bull to play the part. And you’re in Morocco, and it’s January (not that the month had much to do with it, but cold weather always makes everything worse).

Morocco is sheep country. In fact there is one sheep in Morocco for every 2 people. (thank you Wikipedia) And in the Atlas Mountains, where we were filming the Clash of the Gods, the sheep have to compete with the goats. There are no lush pastures, no green grasses; instead, freezing tumbleweed and wooden film sets precariously teetering and creaking in the desert wind.

Mohammed, one of our local crew, said he knew a guy who knew a guy who might have a bull. And the bull turned out to be white, amazing!…. OK, it also had some brown patches. But no problem! Let’s paint the cow!

Great idea, right?

5AM–the day of the shoot: Our team arrives on set bleary-eyed, and still wishing we were tucked safely into bed. Today is a big day. Hercules will wrestle one of the finest specimens of nature, the huge godly-white bull of Crete.

And there in the grey morning light is Mohammed–standing next to our bull and grinning with a bucket of white paint in his hand.

So we get to work. We all feel sorry for the bull, except for Tim who is, as a true DP, filming the majestic
creature with his digital camera and tittering to himself.

Jess & Jess from scrapbook

An hour later we check in on our bull. The paint has dried in large clumps on its fur. The brown patches are still visible. The bull is looking nonplused.

OK this is not working…Lets wash the bull down, get some spray paint, start this thing afresh. But the paint doesn’t come off easily. And the owner, oddly, picks this as the place to draw the line. He won’t let us spray paint his bull.

Plan Z: We shoot Hercules pretending to wrestle the bull supertight. And our actor, all the while, has to cover the bull’s very brown ears with his arms…

What’s that they say about working with animals?

–Jess Lyne de Ver
Clash of the Gods, Associate Producer

ZEUS–Bleached, dressed & on-set by 3pm

July 31, 2009


Our art directors at UVPH envisioned Zeus as a younger man, but with white hair, a white beard, and white markings across his face and chest. White has a purity and power about it that one would attribute to the king of the gods. Plus, the juxtaposition of a fairly young guy all in white would be striking. And it was.

But it took hours.

To make his call time, Joseph Beddelem–our actor playing Zeus–had to leave Tangier, where he was filming another project, the night before. It’s a 12 hour ride to Ouarzazate. He was expected to arrive in town around 9am, and go right to the local salon to have his black hair bleached THREE times, which would take 3-4 hours. We needed him bleached, dressed and on set by 3pm.

At 10 am, we got the call that he was still three hours away. A flash flood had washed out the road through the mountains. We’d never make our day.

Thankfully, the gods intervened on our behalf. The road was re-opened, and Joseph made it to town around 1pm, and went straight to the salon. Meanwhile, we shot without him as best we could.

By 4:30pm, he was on set, but his transformation wasn’t quite complete. Next came the make-up. Getting clean, crisp edges on a very intricate design for his face and chest didn’t come quickly. Plus, his hair was still blonde – no amount of bleach would make it white. So our whole make-up department swarmed around him like bees. Here he was, having driven all night from Tangier, having endured three uncomfortable bleach cycles, scalp burning, lying on the floor of our make-up tent while his hair, face and chest were hastily polished.

At 6pm, he was finally on set. And looking just how I would picture Zeus.

Zeus Lightning

Kudos to everyone who made it happen.

–Chris Cassel,
Clash of the Gods, Series Director & Writer

CLASH OF THE GODS: Experience with Lightning preferred

July 28, 2009

On Monday August 3, KPI’s new series for HISTORY launches at 10PM ET/PT.
CLASH OF THE GODS tackles myths–big gutsy unwieldy myths filled with sex, snakes, sirens, flying dragons and monsters eating people.

Zeus Typhon

First episode is ZEUS–the greatest of the Greek Gods. So how do you cast a god? That was the question we kept asking ourselves. Zeus. All-powerful. Larger than life. Experience with lightning preferred.

We were filming in Ouarzazate – a remote studio town in the Moroccan desert where films such as Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia filmed many of their scenes. You’d think you could find godlike superheros in a setting like that. You’d be wrong.

For days we scoured the town – home to about 80,000 people with droves of tourists passing through. We held casting calls at our hotel, scoured street corners, checked out the only gym in town, which looked more like janitor’s supply closet than a Bally’s. No one had the ZEUS “look”.

We extended our search across the country. Casting photos poured in from Casablanca, Marrakesh, Tangier. Where had all the superheros gone?

In the end, we settled for a mere mortal. We cast Joseph Beddelem, an experienced Moroccan stuntman with credits including The Bourne Identity, The Hills Have Eyes and Alexander as our Zeus.

Moroccan stuntman Joseph Beddelem

Moroccan stuntman Joseph Beddelem

Joseph is one strong and rugged dude. He had an air of authority about him and his screen experience suggested he’d be able to carry the role more convincingly than the janitor down the street (who usually has a steady side job thanks to small, poor productions like ours.)

We had our man.

Next…the task of turning him into a god.
(to be continued in our next blog post–)

–Chris Cassel,
Clash of the Gods, Series Director & Writer