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Producing Orphaned Courage with Josiah Stendel

Producing Orphaned Courage with Josiah Stendel

Get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at one of the first films to use ActionVFX

ActionVFX wants to take a moment to recognize a member of our VFX community, Josiah Stendel.

While Josiah is a self-proclaimed non-VFX artist, he exhibits immense talent for this type of work. He has recently been in the post-production stages of his short film Orphaned Courage, and has given us a behind the scenes look at the development of his film. 

"Orphaned Courage is about Elliot Thompson, a headstrong orphan raised by a retired professional MMA fighter, who discovers his long-lost brother is not only alive, but known on every street corner as a ruthless gang leader. As the net tightens, Elliot begins to realize that he’s chasing down more than his past -- it seems both brothers are on a collision course with who they really are."

Josiah was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work on the film, as well as his decision to use our products.   

What brought you into Filmmaking and how did you get to the level to produce your own film?

When I was younger, I used to make home movies with my friends – no real plan or purpose besides having fun with a point and shoot camera. But that changed a bit when I was gifted the newest release of a professional video editing software. 

Just for fun, I downloaded the old promo videos of a conference that was visiting our city and edited them up into my “own” promo video. I just wanted to use it as practice, but I shared my spec work on Facebook and a friend of a friend showed his friend and so on – until eventually it made its way to the conference director.

Out of the blue, I get this email asking if I would be interested in editing their official promotional video. I eagerly took the job and churned out my first official video. Soon after I got another email – they had another project for me. That’s when I realized I could turn this into a business. So over the next few months, I filed all the paperwork and Menlo Lights was created.

Nearly two years into owning a business, I found an old novel I had started, (as in, I had maybe two pages written) and loved the concept of creating a short film from it! It would have been impossible to make it happen without the encouragement of my incredibly supportive circle of friends and family. The film had an impact beyond anything I could have imagined and nearly two years later it’s still winning awards at film festivals across the U.S.  

How did Orphaned Courage start out? 

It began as a concept back in late 2014 – I was just jotting down loglines and trying to think of the biggest contrasts I could. One idea was about two brothers – who grew up in completely different homes with two completely different styles of fighting – one in a gang, and the other in the home of a retired MMA fighter. A pretty simple concept, but after a while it just seemed to write itself. I love it when that happens. There was favor on this project from the very get-go.

You are one of our original Kickstarter backers, what made you decide to use our products for this film?

Well, in each film I try to challenge myself in an unusual way. In my first film it was a cop car, my second film was locations and props (airport and an airplane), I wanted to increase the scale of this film – better audio and more challenging VFX. So when writing the screenplay, I decided to use the plot device of a ticking clock in the form of a burning building.

As I was scouring the web for assets, the only window fires I could find were either 3D animated or really poor quality. I found the ActionVFX Kickstarter page and loved the concept. I thought it was fantastic that you all put so much effort into taking feedback from your audience to craft a product that everyone would enjoy. Making the decision to become a backer certainly paid off.

As you previously mentioned, prior to filming Orphaned Courage, you hadn’t been extremely familiar with VFX compositing. What challenge did that prove to be on this project? 

It was an interesting challenge – especially considering the magnitude of the VFX. I mean, a burning building is quite ambitious for a beginner. I’ve always been self taught – looking up tutorials and practicing for hours on end. After nearly 50 hours of straight compositing, I’m really pleased with the result!

What were some of the most difficult parts of making this film?

We produced the entire 30-minute film with 20 actors and 40 team members from 4 different states and filmed it in 7 long days across 5 cities. It was amazing – and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat -- but one can only take so many 17-hour days! 

Finances added another obstacle to navigate – we produced the film on half the intended (and expected) budget and found out last minute that we were a few key crew-members short. It ended up working out fine – but at the time, it was quite daunting.  

When the weather made it impossible to film our alley stand-off scenes as originally planned, we decided to improvise a little with the filming of our warehouse fight scene. Behind the warehouse set was an old storage garage that had been cleaned out and vaguely resembled an inverted alleyway. With hardly a half-hour to spare, we began shifting plans to film the alley scene in there instead. We were able to pull be quite convincing with the proper lighting and camera angles.  Keep an eye out for it when you watch the film – if you can’t see the sky in the shot, it was probably shot in that room.

I was able to be involved in every aspect of the creation process, writing, directing, co-shooting, and editing the film. I love this stuff – and I’m super passionate about it. It was an honor to work with such an incredibly encouraging, supportive and talented group.

You mentioned in some of your behind the scenes footage that you were aiming to raise awareness for a specific adoption campaign. Could tell us more about that?

I have four adopted cousins – which makes this very important to me. We decided early on to use the film as a tool to raise money and awareness for an adoption assistance fund – and leave an impact doing what we do best. 

The adoption funds give interest-free loans to families looking to adopt, so over time, our donation will be used to bring many orphans into loving homes of their own.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in VFX or Filmmaking? 

In this day and age, it’s really easy to do it all in post – but you’ll get a lot better results if you learn to mix practical and visual. The burning building sequence wouldn’t have looked half as good if we hadn’t used a smoke machine to fill up the room with haze.  Ever heard the saying, “God helps those who help themselves?” It’s kind of true here too – the more you can do in camera, the more convincing it will be on the screen.

In the BTS we explain how we rigged up some special debris to cover our actor as the ceiling “collapsed” – if we had tried to do that all in post, it wouldn’t have been nearly as convincing. We added a few flames from the ActionVFX Structure Fire Collection in post and ended up with some convincing destruction.

As for going into filmmaking, go out there and start shootin’ stuff…with a camera. Age is not a disqualifier. EVER. If I can do it, you can do it. Limited resources are not a disqualifier either, but a catalyst for creativity. Remember that, and you’ll be in Hollywood before you know it.

Thank you, Josiah, for sharing a glimpse of who you are and what you stand for! Those are some awesome words of encouragement to more than just the VFX community.  Orphaned Courage will be hosting a red carpet premiere at the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington on September 22nd at 7PM. For more details on the premiere, click here.

The ActionVFX team is excited to attend the premiere in September and show support to Josiah and Menlo Lights. We will for sure keep everyone posted on our social media pages. Keep a lookout on Facebook for when we go live from the red carpet! 

First time here? ActionVFX creates action stock-footage products for VFX and filmmaking centered on user feedback. (We also have some great free stuff!)

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