When Kong Thao and I started pushing forward the idea of shooting a Western, Kong already had a script. He and I went through several sporadic meetings trying to piece together equipment, then an assistant director, then a full crew, then actors.
The way we managed to do all of this was no small feat, and stress has pulsed through my bloodstream for the last five months. I lost perspective on relationships I had in my life and almost ruined a few of them.
I spent many nights sleepless, thinking of shots to canvass the film with, if what I saw in my head would work in reality, and exhaustively tried to see the film from Kong's perspective. I am blessed to recall Kong allowing me full control over how the film looks. I studied the following films for guidance:
Stagecoach (vista shots of landscapes, shot pacing)
Bone Tomahawk (colorization, film "grain", and focal depth)
Logan (shot compositions)
Book of Eli (silhouetting, shot compositions)
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (lens distortion)
Hell or High Water (focal depth and shot composition)
For the most part I stuck with Bone Tomahawk, Logan and Book of Eli; the latter two gave Kong the main inspiration for Sun in it's entirety.
All of my studying and Kong's painstaking producing would have been for next to nothing if it hadn't been for the crew of friends and film workers who believed in the ideas we had, and this blog post will name these people individually, give their roles during production, and my perception of the impact of their work on set of Sun.
I will list Kong first, as he is the most important person to our project. Everyone listed below Kong is in order of their name's appearance on the Sun film and crew page we assembled on Facebook. Cheers to everyone listed below!
Kong Thao - Director/Write/Producer
I'm not even sure where to begin thanking you for pulling me into this project. I know our relationship was strained for some time, and I hope you know it was for the best. We got from the film exactly what we were both after. You are an amazingly gifted man with a unique life and I admire you greatly. My love for you is big, man, and all of your talent I feel humbled to be around. I look at you sometimes and I think to myself how lucky I am to be asked to work with you time and time again, to share a beer with you after a long day, or to talk about video games and nerd stuff in between takes, considering your massive popularity in our film community. Everybody knows Kong, and most have worked with you.
I take tremendous pride in knowing you choose me to work with because we work on a professional, emotional and mental level that suits both of us. I hope to continue making movies with you for as long as we possibly can. My dream is for the crazy day I "make it" in the film world and I tell my big-budget producer "I need a guy named Kong Thao to work beside me". I want to bring you up if I get the chance. To elevate the both of us is my dream, and I hope you accept on the day I get the chance to be called to the big time.
Brother, I love your work on the script for Sun. It has nuance, the characters go unspoken when those moments would exist in the real world, and you totally nailed the relationship between the leads. We all owe you a great debt to having been asked to shoot this picture for you, and I'm the first person to know you're too modest to ever say that for yourself. Cheers to you. I toast a Blue Moon in your direction.
Sara Karnes - BTS Photographer/Catering
What I remember best about Saturday is that much needed hug I got from you when you showed up on set. I was in dire need of some emotional support and that hug was the clutch of a thousand lifetimes. Your photography is second to none and from the shots I've seen you captured over the day, I'm so grateful to have such elegantly composed photos to look back on nostalgically. The brownies and macaroni and cheese were a stellar compliment to the ham my mom brought, and enough can't be said about your initial contribution to the Indiegogo campaign.
When others are quick to find reasons why donating isn't for them, you donate based on my name attached to the project alone. I need to and will express to you in the future just how amazing you are for being dedicated to everything I put my mind to. And, having you on set to capture moments as amazingly you do was really a treat. I watched you work as I worked, and I can tell you are passionate about photography much in the way I am about cinema.
Thomas "Bearjew" Cantrell - Actor - "Bandit 2"
My brother, through and through. You're the best mix of shock, awe and humility. I love watching you be you, and always have. The funniest memory I have of the weekend is of course when you took it upon yourself to employ shock and strip down to your underwear and model in a cowboy hat for anyone watching.
I noticed faces that were confused, amazed, and upset, and all I gotta say is "never change". Seriously, you are unique among a world intently focused on being normal. You're probably the greatest gift I've ever been bestowed with, and I hope you work with me again in the future. Between your hard work ethic and your inquisitive and learning nature, you would make a stellar filmmaker. Let me get you in these films, breh!
Joe Stearns - Camera Operator 1
Joe, I never knew you and I would strike a rhythm like we have in the last two years. You were brought onto a film set to help a mutual friend of ours and the all of a sudden you and I have been shooting movies together for two years... without the mutual friend! I love how that worked out and I'm not at all ashamed to say I saw how you work and was immediately attracted to that aspect of your nature.
If the world is a computer, then you and I are each one half of a two-screen monitor. I can describe to you what I'm seeing for a shot and you complete it by the time I'm done finishing my sentence. There were a few times on set that I made a simple remark about how I wanted a shot to look and you set it up exactly how I saw it in my head. I can't be crazy in thinking we ride a similar wavelength in terms of cinematography.
You took initiative to help Kong frame shots in my absence when I was busy on Saturday and I'm so pleased with what you captured. I wanted you to have the experience of making your own shots and I trust your judgment, eye for detail, and work ethic completely.
Please, please, keep working with me? I want us to take the same steps together that I promised Kong above. I want us to come and go as a team and work individually when we feel the desire (or paycheck).
But, most of all, I just want to be your friend and talk about cool stuff with you and remark about how you have literally everything in your trunk that anyone going to a music festival, film set, or apocalyptic event would need. I swear, you're the Swiss Army Knife of filmmaking. I also love that other people recognize your trunk is like a magic hat.
Tris Marie - Makeup Technician/Wardrober
I so appreciate the work you did despite being sick! I know how my allergies can get and I had a headache on and off that came from sinus pressure! I appreciate you fielding my desires for character design to the most specific degree you could maintain, and the clothing on each character looks and feels natural to the film world! Kong assembled a few sections of the film for us to consider and these characters look like they've been a part of that world for a long time!
None of this would have worked the way it did had it not been for you scouring thrift stores and cutting deals with people. You were instrumental in setting up the look and feel of the characters, and I'm so thankful you took my desires in stride and helped us fulfill the look! I hope we get to work again soon.
Reba Nichols - Catering/Special Thanks
Hey! You're my mom! And, I'm so thankful you've taken the steps with me to become a filmmaker. You've nurtured this desire in me since I was small. I'm thankful I finally pursued film when I did, though I regret not doing it sooner.
Nevertheless, your investments in my love for film do not go unrecognized. When I'm losing my marbles trying to put 20 people into a room, you're reminding me to be at peace with myself before making decisions. You tell me to remove myself from hard situations and to only speak the facts. This is instrumental in filmmaking, though I'm not too sure I'm great at it, yet.
Everybody loved the ham! I've told you that a few times now. They devoured that thing. You powered nearly thirty people on Saturday with your contribution to the film. In my mind, this was an immense investment into the lives of others, and I'm thankful ten times over to have your support emotionally and in catering for my friends.
Aaron Damron - Actor/Grip/Gaffer - "Henchman 3"
This guy right here! I've never seen someone so intent to move when instructed! I'd be telling you something and you were already on your way to it! I am so grateful for our friendship over the years. The last year has especially felt important since you've begun working with us on film. Aaron, I can't really put into words how much you mean to me as a friend alone. Your work on the set was of a great relief to me. I'd have never guessed I'd be a filmmaker way back in high school, and I certainly never would have thought we would be working on films together. That blows my mind.
I knew if something might fall through the cracks, I could trust that you'd execute and take care of anything left undone. I'm blessed to report we never had anything that didn't get accomplished. We all worked tightly. But, having you around to move lights, to setup and tear-down at a moment's notice, and just to laugh with was super important to my weekend.
Being my bunk mate was pretty cool! I felt like I was at church camp, but church camp was actually film camp and I didn't have any asshole counselors sweating me about the power of prayer and to be in bed at 10pm!
Mickey Stone - Actor - "Alastor"
Gosh, is it okay to tell you I just want to keep working with you over and over again? This ride started last year when I saw you act through a short with no dialogue. I knew you were a heavy hitter and I knew I had to have you. When I asked Kong to put you in the film, I actually begged, urged, pleaded with him to do so. It didn't take him much convincing, as he'd liked your work before.
But, seeing you actually on set was the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself to stick to my affirmation that I'd work with you some day. Thank you for the mid-afternoon talk Friday that powered me through the day. You exude confidence and compassion, all at once. Thank you, Mickey.
Deimian Costello - Actor/Assistant Stunt Coordinator/Script Supervisor - "Henchman 2"
How in the ever-loving world have we not worked together before? I loved the talk we had late Thursday evening. I will remember it forever. Having you on set was like having a caffeine drip in my arm and whenever I needed a pickup, I just came to you and you dosed me up. Man, your energy was perfect for this set. And, you were also wise about when it was okay to be frenetic and when you needed to be focused. Your countenance during the chaos of filming was noted by me through the entire production. I will always be grateful for your work ethic and strong understanding of the film world. I hope we work together again soon.
Will Fuller - Slate/Friday AC1
Thanks for your help Friday! I sure wish you'd have been on set to rock with us the rest of the weekend, and I understand needing to fulfill your work responsibilities! What time we did have you, I am grateful for! I hope you'll work with us in the future! I would love to have you run a camera with Joe and myself.
Alfredo Pando - Camera Operator 2
You said it best, Alfredo, "When I'm around you, my smile is the biggest, and my laugh the loudest." I'll take a moment and brag about you saying that to me because you feeling that way about me means so much. When you asked if you could throw in on production, I knew what to expect out of you. Your strong work ethic, your visionary qualities in mapping shots, and your easy-going nature were all so powerfully felt through the production. I am still in awe of the wholeness of Alfredo.
I love how you see what I don't. That alone is the whole reason why you and I should always work together. You see what I can't, you offer support and vision, and you execute what I ultimately choose for the shot. Letting you run free with the B camera was my intention from the start. I knew your creative mind would have a heyday mapping steadicam shots for yourself. I will be better at giving you direction next time, if and when you need it.
You are a blessing to both know and to be able to work with.
Raymond Roberson - Actor - "Griff"
From breakfast beers to the time I got way too close to you to tell a joke and you had no idea what was going on, I felt like I gained a brother. I had the tremendous pleasure of getting to know you through our extensive talks about why Blade is the ultimate super hero and how nobody can top Wesley Snipes! I found your characterization of Griff exactly how Kong had imagined him to be.
I love that you slid in "old man" into your dialogue to show love for the Blade films, and how quickly you were ready to shoot a scene that was dragging on but doing so with a whole heart! I can't help to think we struck gold by casting you. I hope what you see is what you envisioned it to be. I know we captured some of the most emotional acting work I've seen in years, and I'm not just trying to blow smoke up your ass.
I wouldn't do that. I think your talent level far surpasses your journey. You should be higher on the actor's social ladder, and I know one day you will be. You've got a tremendous aura about you and it was so easy to feel full of inspiration while shooting your scenes.
Mike Strain - FX Coordinator
I can't imagine our little film without your contributions! I know I wish I'd spent more time with you, asking you questions about your world of film, but what I did get I was thankful for. I'm glad Kong had you to bounce ideas off of, and I thank you for helping him complete every vision and detail surrounding the special effects he had cooked up in the script! Not that you'd need the affirmation, but your stuff looks amazing on camera.
Steven Brown - Actor - "Henchman 1"
It was a pleasure having you on set and I love poking fun at you when someone curses around you. It goes back to your work on Atelophobia and I hope you took it in good nature! It means the world to me you'd take a role where you didn't speak. I know you to be one of Missouri's finest character actors, and if you'll have us again, we'll make some beautiful magic happen again.
Thank you so much for going with the flow of changing hats for your character. Once I'd found my brother's hats, I wanted to incorporate them so desperately into the movie, but couldn't figure a way to do so without just hanging them on the wall in a shot. Having you wear the hat throughout the film means so much to me. I get to see my brother's hat again, being used to create character depth to an immensely thought out film world I tried to convey outside of the writing. I hope to see you soon.
Loreli Love - First Assistant Camera/BTS Videographer
I so appreciate having you on set to help Joe with camera operation! Loreli, I can't apologize enough for deleting our friendship on Facebook. It wasn't personal! But, we've already discussed that in its entirety! I would love for you to come on and work with us again in the future. Your countenance on set is admirable. You're quiet but firm and self-assured. I love those qualities about you.
I appreciate how you roll with everything I needed and were of an immense help to Joe during production. I could count on you and Joe to do exactly as I'd asked for the frame and movement. Your ability to listen and make movements based on what you hear is a trait I wish so many other people had!
Jacob S. Brower - Actor - "Bandit 1"
A true method actor, indeed! I heard you went around patting some pockets! That's a roll of the dice, my man! But, it was an interesting time to be around another method actor! I love method, though I think I can rock a good character if need be. So, you were intimidating and challenging to be around and I think that was exactly how your character would have been in a filming situation! Take no prisoners and hand me over your shit! I dig!
James Styron - Sound Mixer/Boom Operator
I don't know you well yet, but dangit, my friend, that's not for lack of desire! You're quiet, like pretty much any sound engineer I've ever met. But, when you speak, you've got tremendous insight as to what you're hearing and seeing! You are a true professional and I would love to work with you again! I sure wish you were recording when I started hearing a voice in the shed, though! I'm still spooked by what I heard and I just wish I had proof it happened!
Thank you so much for picking up where others left off and for doing a tremendous amount of work with a brand new crew of people. I'm not sure how many of us you knew, but it sure felt like we all knew you! I mean, I especially felt like you'd been around for a long time and that was comforting to me.
Ryan Shields - Stunt Coordinator
Thanks so much for working the actors into a tight and cohesive unit by the time we set cameras on them to record! Without that steadfast quality to get things done, our Saturday could have easily dragged under the pressure of a looser ship! It didn't! Thanks for helping Kong get what was in his head out and into our frame!
Madison Strain - Assistant FX
On Sunday, you called me "Mr. Jed", which I lauded as pretty remarkable and kind of you! I appreciate the amount of respect you paid me by adding "Mr." when you spoke to me! I never expect or require such salutations from anyone, but you made it a point to show me that respect and I'm grateful! Thank you so much for assisting us and making our film tight as can be!
The work you did with the knives on Friday night looks amazing in the lens! And, thank you for putting yourself into the needs of Sunday's shoot and helping with lights, continuity, and general pleasantries with the rest of the crew! I'd love to work with y'all again!
Matthew Murphy - Assistant Director
You've been on this project almost as long as I have, and your workload never wavered! If it weren't for you, Kong's workload setting up any and all paperwork going into the film would've been immense! Dude, I'm so grateful we are still working together after almost 4 years of friendship! I can't wait to do another project with you in the future!
Your attention to detail serves us in such a way that we don't have to worry about new additions or removals from the script! You just roll with what's needed for the moment. And, by the time we put feet on the set, your work was evident from the first moment to the last! Without you, we'd be a scattered mess! I'm so blessed to know you, Matt. You're large and wonderful and hilarious. Thank you for being with us.
You are such a blessing to have in my life, Matt. I hope I express that to you enough in person. You truly are an amazing friend to me.
Jerry-Mac Johnston - Actor - "Truman"
Mr. Jerry! The man who'll lay in cold mud to get the shot we need, and never complain! Working with you has been a dream of mine since I heard you say the word "fuck" in a short you voiced called Lunch! No doubt! I've been wanting to hear that sultry growl of yours in my movie for a long time, and you gave me everything you had for the character!
Shooting you on camera was an easy feat and you look absolutely amazing in-camera! I can't wait for you to see the amazing portrayal of grizzled ex-cop you put onto screen! I'm bias, but it'll probably be your favorite role!
Christopher Mitchell - Grip/Production Assistant/Camera 2 1st Assistant Camera Operator
Where in the loving heck have you been all my (film) life?! Dude, having you on set was like having two Alfredo's! You're pretty much worthless, but, hey, at least you're easy to pick on! Naaaaahhhh, I'm just playing! Dude, what can't you do? When someone needed something, you were on it! That's an admirable quality to have, and your energy on set was so well received and needed! I hope to work with you again in the future! I went to look for a photo of you for this article and I made it maybe ten pictures down the "photos of Christopher" page and you went from an adult to 11 years old. Not real sure how old you are or how you snuck onto our set. But, if you work as hard as you did for our movie, you're in any time you want, youngin!