With their latest feature film “Alien Country,” filmmakers and content creators Renny Grames and Boston McConnaughey, known for their YouTube channel Renny and Boston, leveraged their success on YouTube to complete a passion project years in the making, one that directly interfaced with their audience and followers.
McConnaughey explained, “Our YouTube channel began with sketches and short fan films based on video games. We slowly but surely grew our following, and that, coupled with separate commercial work, helped us lay the groundwork to transition into the longform content we’ve always wanted to make.”
“We see the rise of the ‘mini studio,’ or filmmakers coming up from YouTube who can compete visually with the big studios, thanks to the democratization of technology, and who have the added benefit of a built in audience used to interacting with them,” he elaborated. “There’s room at the table for both, as I might go to the grocery store to buy a brand name item, but I’ll also go to the farmers’ market for something indie or local where I can connect directly with the artisan.”
With “Alien Country,” Grames and McConnaughey are proving the model exists, forming their film and interactive media production company Story Mode and bringing their audience on the filmmaking journey via behind the scenes and “making of” content, tutorials, and educational filmmaking resources on their YouTube channel.
“With ‘Alien Country’ in development for eight years, we weren’t going to let 19 days of principal photography decide the result of the project,” noted Grames. “We packed as much as we could into those 12 hour days, but the pickup days ended up making the difference between the film we shot and the film we wanted to make.”
Equipped with Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K digital films cameras, Grames and McConnaughey were able to head out in the desert by themselves or with a small crew to capture pickup shots and drone footage, as well as play with VFX shots against a green screen in their garage.
“The film would have suffered if we didn’t have those shots, which we were able to get thanks to Blackmagic Design. Visually the cameras provide a cinematic look and that, coupled with the compact form factor, supports our artistic vision and ultimately lets us compete at the level we want to,” said Grames. “The cameras’ flexibility allowed us to not have to settle.”
Recreating a classic ‘80s sci fi look for the film, Grames and McConnaughey relied on a Magic Booster and the camera’s 6K sensor shooting in Blackmagic RAW to match principal photography. The Pocket Cinema Camera 6K’s high resolution and compact form factor came in especially handy when shooting with a drone.
McConnaughey detailed a captivating chase scene: “We wanted to capture the creature’s viewpoint as it chases the characters through a tight canyon. We put the Pocket Camera on a stabilizer on a drone and got dozens of beautiful shots. The camera is so easy to throw in a backpack, use handheld, on a rig, a drone, etc., and one person can build it, so you’re good to go.”
Grames added, “It’s those kinds of shots that allow us to uplevel as filmmakers. We aren’t a huge studio, but that doesn’t stop us from producing amazing content. There’s one drone shot that gives me chills. It’s from the point of view of an orb flying over a cornfield, and it really exemplifies the quality of the film for me.”
It’s All in the Details
From sweeping drone footage to small details in sunrises, Grames and McConnaughey never settled. Grames highlighted how no one sees the time and effort that goes into the minor enhancements behind the scenes.
“We needed a fast, tight night to day transition, and there was no way of getting it during principal photography. So, we went out several months later with the Pocket Cameras in hand and captured the sunrise perfectly,” she explained. “There were also two intense action scenes, one a demolition derby and another where we had a giant alien battle in a rodeo arena stadium. With a limited crew, we strapped Blackmagic cameras to the sides of the stunt cars to create the scale and scope that make this film look beyond indie. The cameras really support this guerilla style of filmmaking.”
McConnaughey added that many times people think budget is a limitation to their creativity. “They need to rethink that. They do have the capabilities because the technology, like Blackmagic Design, is available now,” he said. “Even in post, with DaVinci Resolve Studio coming free with the camera and all the editing, VFX and audio tools being added over the years. With this type of affordable and powerful tech, you can make something at a fraction of the cost that still competes visually.”
In post, Colorist Ben Hoffman created a film stock look using filters and halation in DaVinci Resolve Studio. Additionally, he enhanced the film’s color scheme, with Renny’s character Everly’s clothes and her environment in the canyons represented with red, and the town represented in blue, with male lead K.C. Clyde’s character Jimmy driving a blue truck. As the film progresses, Everly begins wearing more blue tones, while Jimmy wears red, with the shift towards purple as they come together at the end of the film.
Equipped with DaVinci Resolve Studio, McConnaughey edited the film, also using the Fairlight page for an early sound design and mixing pass for teasers and trailers, as well as the Fusion page for some final effects.
“The small details continued into post, as I used Fusion to add some camera shake, for example, when the creature jumps off a roof. I did a dozen or so of these little final effects, but each one is another addition to boost the end result. I might not be a sound designer or colorist but having these tools at my fingertips all in on suite with DaVinci Resolve means nothing is holding me back from reaching my creative potential,” concluded McConnaughey.
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