With much delight, I am overjoyed to close out March with what the month has been building up to: the completion and release of the short film, Who Will Survive.
The Who Will Survive thumbnail
Before I reminisce about the making of Who Will Survive, I shall set the stage…
In March of 2013, a year ago, this month, my family embarked on a trip to Tucson, Arizona. This trip was our third venture to Tucson, since 2011. Our trips to Arizona have held more than the simple vacation.
In A Reflection on February, I made mention that I have undergone a remarkable journey. One of incredible trauma and adversity, yet powerful hope and victory—a journey of profound depth. As I was thrust upon this remarkable journey, so was my family. My mother and father, who were there for each and every minute of it, fought for my life when great peril enshrouded it.
Our first trip to Tucson, was an answer to their relentless quest for my recovery. A recovery from the long-term effects of toxic mold. On the first Tucson trip and those that followed, relationships with the doctors and specialists who posses a unique and uncommon understanding of mold toxicity, blossomed.
The Tucson endeavor was one in claim of medical expertise and a roadmap for medical recovery. But what I’ve repeatedly left Tucson with, is far more than medical recovery: emotional healing.
The trips have overflowed with profound intimacy and bonding amongst my family, and a mutual love has strongly developed for the soaring environment of Arizona’s landscape: its crisp air, clear and vast skies, desert visage, and triumphant mountain ranges.
Who Will Survive, and the two days it was filmed on, is a gleaming fixture of the joy Arizona has given my life. The day Who Will Survive saw, I have treasured as one of the best days of my life.
The grand picturesque Arizona landscape in a scene from Who Will Survive
It was two wonderful weeks that we spent on our third Tucson trip of March, 2013. As it was a rich time with my family, so it was a rich time with other families—families we’d met, who had gone through struggle of a mutual kind: toxic mold.
In the rural outskirts of Arizona, we’d driven out of Tucson to visit with two such families, at the home of whom would become costar, cameraman, and co-director of Who Will Survive, that afternoon. Her name was Aurora.
Aurora and I had hit it off, two years, prior, in November of 2011; our second Tucson trip. During the course of a single day, our families met, and became fast friends. If ever there was something that swiftly sows friendship, it is the common bond of struggle.
Aurora and her dad had bought a particular robot that day, and Aurora and I drove it around a shopping complex. We drove it around inside a grocery store, and even an Italian restaurant, before the attendant asked if we’d like a table.
Two years later, I anticipated being reacquainted with her. When the time arrived, and we were to split off and find something to do, it’s safe to say we didn’t know quite what.
We kicked off the afternoon with some of her video game collection. She handed me a controller I didn’t know the buttons to, and whose buttons I’d immediately forgotten once she taught me. I clumsily fiddled with the controller, didn’t know what I was doing, nor cared much to. I was frustrated by my lack of interest, and the stiffness I had in those moments.
I was in Arizona. The landscape of their property was staggeringly beautiful. I didn’t want to be cooped up in a garage, fixed on a screen, when I could be out experiencing that nature.
I turned to Aurora, and honestly expressed my disinterest. She of course asked, “What do you want to do?”
For each Tucson trip, I’ve brought my camera and heavily documented each day of our adventures. I brought it with me wherever we went.
My reply was probably in the back of my mind before stepping afoot on their property. I suggested, “Do you want to make a movie?” From then on, Aurora and I hit it off, once again, and went about improvising and shooting together a film on a day that became a most cherished memory. Not only for myself, but for all of the dear friends who were apart of it.
When stepping out of the garage, welcoming the Arizona majesty as the sun shone down on me, an idea for the film effortlessly popped into my head. I suggested we do a tongue and cheek spoof on the survival-in-the-wilderness type reality show. A title for the film immediately came to my mind: Who Will Survive.
We proceeded to film one scene after the other, wholly making it up as we went along. Aurora would show me around the wondrous area, as ideas for scenes and plot points were inspired off of the locals and objects around us. A rusty bathtub, a small junkyard, an old windmill, and a broken hose, all became fixtures, locals, and plot points of the film.
The unique mesh of prairie and desert in the Arizona highlands
The total improvisation and spontaneity of Who Will Survive was wonderful. Who Will Survive came as naturally, and with fluidity, as anything I’ve ever done as a filmmaker. I took in every moment, dictated the film, and knew it was a special day.
Coming out of what I’d been through, it was freeing. I came alive.
A wide shot of Who Will Survive, encompassing the topography
Our characters became the host, the roboticist, and our main characters who were plunged into the wilderness: the daring Zalandra Borealis Smith, and the bumbling Freddy Squander.
Wes as the host of Who Will Survive
I play the host, Chet Stewart, who coincidentally shares the same first name as a more recent character of mine. 😉 I’ve come to realize a habit I have of naming my spontaneously created characters, “Chet”.
Aurora as the Roboticist
Aurora plays the eccentric German roboticist, whose name I didn’t attempt to translate when doing the credits.
As Aurora and I were both playing dual characters, our distinction became the hat. I did not wear the hat as host, as the hat was a main trait of Freddy. Aurora did not wear the hat as Zalandra, while she wore it, inside out, as the roboticist.
Aurora as Zalandra Borealis Smith
Aurora plays Zalandra Borealis Smith, our fearless female who is ready to take on the wilderness. I love this character’s name, I must say.
Wes as Freddy Squander
I play Freddy Squander, the screwball bumbler with delusional preparedness, and unique idiosyncrasies.
Lest we forget the charming robot, R.O.V.E.R. This was the robot that Aurora and I drove around in 2011. Before embarking to shoot Who Will Survive, I asked Aurora if she still had the robot. She dug him out, and R.O.V.E.R. became the fictionally-ordained lens in which our characters’ exploits were revealed to us—a charming ingredient in Who Will Survive.
A frame of R.O.V.E.R. that was used for his cutout
Also in the film, we have our fierce tribal pack of natives. These natives were played by the children of the other family that was with us, that day.
The native tribe
When Aurora and I began filming, we were wary of the prospect of younger kids being around. We were worried that they’d get in the way, or demand that they have prominence in the film. Turns out, they were the most wonderful kids I have ever met.
They weren’t loud, overbearing, or intrusive, as Aurora and I judged they could be, simply by their age. They were wonderful to be with. They came up with suggestions, helped out, and became apart of the film, immensely. Aurora and I loved incorporating them, and we were all close friends by the end of the evening.
We made excellent use of time, as we never took more than a single take on a shot, unless I wanted multiple angles of it. We were efficient and mindful of time, but upon sunset, the sound of parents shouting for us to return back home, echoed out to us. We were hopeful that we could come back the next day, and finish the film.
The kids begged their parents to come back the next day, as Aurora and I surely brought our hopes to ours. Dressed in the same clothing, we went back the next day, and joyously shot our final scenes. The kids had brought a friend of theirs, along, too, which added an additional member to the tribal pack.
Wes as Freddy scales the windmill
After I came up with the notion of Freddy, in a moment of delusion, jumping off of the windmill, I was uncertain if I could pull it off. Once I did, I could have done it all day. We captured several angles of it.
I don’t consider myself as much of a stuntman as I was in my younger days, but I’ve still got some stuntman in me, and certainly did in 2013.
Undoubtedly, this is the greatest stunt I have ever performed. It’s debatable whether or not I would do this stunt, again. But when a camera is rolling, it’s amazing what happens.
Wes as Freddy makes the leap in Who Will Survive
As far as Aurora is concerned, she blew me away. She said she’d never picked up a camera, yet her camerawork was terrific. Aurora was a fantastic actress, as well.
Aurora as Zalandra conquers the wilderness
Obviously, she shot my stuff, and I shot hers. For the one shot we were both in, together, as the host and roboticist are rejoicing at the flight of R.O.V.E.R., one of the kids steadily held the camera. Aurora had a tendency to look at the camera, but it works, when considering an “inconspicuous” R.O.V.E.R. is trailing after her.
She took my direction effortlessly, and was perfect in every way. Ours was one of the best collaborations I’ve ever had. Despite not having spent anymore than three days with her, she is a good friend. I told her, if hundreds of miles did not separate us, we would surely make many films together.
After Who Will Survive was shot, and our Tucson trip, climaxed, I was overjoyed by our footage and looked forward to piecing it together once I was home. In the remainder of 2013, I never finished Who Will Survive. I had started it one day, but only begun a minute.
At the dawn of 2014, as I seized the future and dreamt the launch of Wes Brooks Productions, finishing Who Will Survive, something very close to my heart, was what I wanted to finally do.
After completing and releasing Trekkies Into Darkness, This Time in History: The Battle of Gettysburg, and meticulously crafting the Trekkies Into Darkness page, I began editing on Who Will Survive. I did not resume where I’d left off in 2013’s post-production, however. I started with a freeing breath of fresh air, and the blessing of a clean slate.
As this month has presented its challenges, it wasn’t until after I rose up and did Viewpoint: A Convention of States, that my love and aspirations for Who Will Survive could be realized, as I wove the film together, with sheer delight.
R.O.V.E.R. in flight—the single visual effect in Who Will Survive
While the film is playing off of that survival-in-the-wild reality show type genre, Who Will Survive is filmic, and has a theatrical bearing. The color and contrast treatment I gave it, and its soundtrack, which I’m very proud of, makes Who Will Survive a grand little short film.
Wes as Freddy, running through the wilderness, fleeing from a wild animal
On a deeper level, it was truly remarkable to have awoken from the darkness, to spend a day doing so naturally what is in my heart: filmmaking, with those who have endured the struggle of a mutual root. We weren’t just making a lighthearted film. Beneath the fun ride of making it, was the joy of five individuals who bonded with each other. Five individuals who shared something no one else could ever say to them: I know your struggle. That was the larger essence of those two days, and my third adventure to Arizona.
That trip gave me a vision for a victorious future and the redemption of my life. When arriving back home from the trip, I was in tears. I so strongly feared that I would fall back into a spirit of victimization and darkness. Since then, a slip of paper has been on a wall of my room, aside the door. While not readable, it has appeared in This Time in History and Viewpoint. It reads, “There is no backwards, only forwards.”
Who Will Survive is a personal reverberation of those words which I strive to diligently live by.
In conclusion, it’s deeply fulfilling to have resurfaced those precious memories to life in the form I’ve dreamt of, after having made the memory, a year ago. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share it with you, and I hope you enjoy our improvisation amongst the grand Arizona spectacle, in Who Will Survive.
Tomorrow, I will bring closure to March with our second monthly curtain, on what will be a momentous first of April.
Upwards and onwards,