March 8, 2013

A “Phantom” in SCA

Filmmakers/SCA Faculty Discuss Latest Movie

Pen Densham, Alex Daltas, Todd Robinson, Ed Harris and John Watson

When filmmakers join the School of Cinematic Arts faculty, they do anything but slow down. Many of SCA’s faculty, adjuncts and professors continue to be an active part of the industry as writers, directors, producers and everything in between. This commitment to the moving image was on display February 22nd when SCA faculty members Todd Robinson, John Watson and Pen Densham screened their newest collaboration, Phantom, at the Ray Stark Theatre.  Following the screening, Phantom’s writer/director Robinson joined fellow SCA faculty members/Phantom producers Watson and Densham and Academy Award-nominated actor Ed Harris for a Q&A to discuss how the industry is becoming more open to small-budget films and that students shouldn’t wait until they graduate to start their own collaborations.

Creating Phantom was no ordinary undertaking; with a small budget and a lightning-speed shooting schedule, the team had to get creative. Producer Watson explained the challenges of shooting and working around these obstacles: “Phantom takes place almost entirely in a submarine, and we certainly couldn't afford to build a submarine interior, so the challenge was in figuring out how to shoot inside a real submarine - which had never been done before on a feature. We had twenty days to do it. DP Byron Werner and Director Todd Robinson evolved a brilliant lighting and shooting plan, and the actors had to be willing to work inside absurdly tight quarters. In fact the actors thrived on it, because it was so real.”

Writer/director Robinson knew planning ahead would be key to Phantom's success. "Planning is everything when making a film on a tight schedule, and I don't think I've ever been on a film where we had the luxury of excess time," said Robinson. "So planning and making quick firm decisions on the fly become a desirable part of your skill set.  You can't be learning the script on the day.  You have to know it inside and out. You have to be cutting in the camera, knowing exactly what you need to tell the story, especially when things go sideways."

Despite having a rigorous shooting schedule coupled with the difficulties of filming in an actual submarine, the team used their previous filmmaking experiences to make Phantom come together. “The value of experience is instinctively knowing how to respond to such challenges and then how to inspire others to go along with your plan,” said Watson.

Todd Robinson and Ed Harris

Inspired by true events, Phantom stars Harris (A Beautiful Mind, The Truman Show), David Duchovny (The X-Files) and William Fichtner (The Dark Knight, Black Hawk Down). The deep-sea suspense thriller follows the Cold War-era submarine crew who risk their lives to stop a rogue nuclear missile launch that threatens to ignite World War III.

As faculty members, the team discussed the importance of staying active within the industry. "The best thing we can do as faculty at SCA is stay relevant in the industry we are part of," noted Robinson. "Working is extremely important to me.  Interacting with emerging technology and the current industry climate is great experience to share with our students.  This is what makes SCA such a terrific institution and the fact that we're are supported by faculty and staff as we pursue and grow in our professional careers."

The team also made the most of bringing SCA students and alums on board for the ride to gain hands-on experience in micro-budget feature filmmaking. “One enormous benefit of being on the faculty was that I got assistance from numerous current and past SCA students on the production,” added Watson. They contributed enormously to the film and themselves [in turn] acquired valuable experience.” Of these current students/alums, Alex Daltas '00 (pictured above) served as Phantom's Associate Producer for Trilogy.

On top of being active filmmakers and faculty, Watson and Robinson have also contributed to Densham's best-selling textbook on the career of screenplay writing, Riding the Alligator, which was inspired by Densham's film class at SCA. 

Phantom opened nationwide on March 1st. For more information, please visit