I'm Wesley Mellott, director, co-writer, cinematographer, and editor of KILL or BE KILLED. That's a mouthful...
What was the inspiration behind KILL or BE KILLED?
Well, Michael Mowen and I had just done a big project together called Marbletown, and we were both in between projects and in kind of a creative lull. One day, Mike messaged me and said “hell, just take me outside, tie me to a tree and film it” And I responded “Okay, and then what happens…” and that kind of snowballed into sending ideas back and forth until we had a complete storyline. The short KOBK is actually a smaller, more affordable recreation of a bigger budget feature that we came up with. Maybe if we get traction on any of our shorts, we can one day create the feature version the way it was 100% meant to be without the restrictions of having no money and having to constantly compromise.
What was your favorite moment on set?
Working with a bunch of immensely talented, creative, and dedicated individuals who all have a passion for filmmaking and want to do their absolute best each time they set foot on set. That and the creek scene :P No spoilers though!
What scene was the most challenging for you to direct/shoot?
Well they were all incredibly challenging and physically draining. I’m not exactly in shape and there were a lot of running shots with a camera. Do several takes of each shot and add a 12-13 hour day into the mix, and you’re severely drained by the end of the day.
Each scene had its own unique challenges and problems to address, whether it was dealing with inconsistent weather, or shooting long fight or chase scenes with one camera. They were all incredibly challenging in some way. But that’s why we wanted to do this project over others. We felt this project would push us and help us grow into better filmmakers.
Was anything easy?
Not. At. All.
Did you get hurt on set?
Let’s not talk about that :)
Can you talk about your tech setup? Essentially, how much gear (and what kinds) did you lug into the woods? What compromises did you make along the way?
We shot on a single camera, the Canon 5d Mark IV, which was one of my last projects shooting on a DSLR. We lugged tripods, sliders, drones, and a bunch of bounce and diffusion into the woods and set up a base camp under a canopy everyday. We also rented a Ronin, which is a stabilizer that gives you really smooth tracking shots, but it worked for only a few shots before it malfunctioned and stopped working. This led to having to compromise and go handheld on a shoulder rig for the rest of the short, which was not intended, but also may have been a blessing in disguise since the handheld feel makes the film feel a little more chaotic.
Specific to lighting, what was your strategy for shooting primarily outdoors? Did you use a lot of lighting or shoot mostly with diffusion and bounce?
Since we were filming in a heavily wooded area, when the sun was out there were large portions of shade and also really bright sunspots in the background. To prevent the hotspots, our strategy was to shoot when we had clouds so it gave us a nice even look and then just use a bounce board to bounce any natural light into our actors’ faces. This lead to a lot of sitting and waiting for clouds, and a lot of ruined takes when the sun would come out haha
Weather also played a really big factor in how we shot this movie. Each of our 3 shooting days, we had different weather, which was a logistical nightmare. First day was cloudy and overcast, second day was rainy and foggy, and third day was bright and sunny. So we basically tried to shoot out each act of the script in continuity on one specific day, then pick up with the start of the next act on the next day when the weather could logistically be a little different. This helped us not have any inconsistencies within a scene with the weather.
As a director, how much input do you give actors? Do you like to see what they come with prior to giving them direction, or do you like to get specific with them right out of the gate?
My approach with actors is always ask what they get out of the script first to see what their instincts naturally tell them, and then based off those conversations and rehearsals offer adjustments or any information that might alter the way they interpret a scene. Once they have a good understanding of the subtext of a scene, then it’s just a matter of giving them small notes and adjustments after each take.
What's next for you?
Well, I was hoping to get one more project in before my wedding, but COVID-19 has completely disrupted all those plans. We were in pre-production on a Sci-Fi Drama right before the lockdowns happened, so we'll probably pick that project back up after the wedding and everything returns to normal. Late summer, we intend to return with our horror series Short Scares Volume 4, and release a bigger, bloodier, scarier Horror project as a proof of concept for a feature :) with the ultimate goal of moving into features in the next couple of years.