My overall philosophy of making The Millennium Bug was, from the beginning, a “do it yourself” approach. If we couldn’t do it ourselves, whatever that ‘it’ was, we wouldn’t do it. Everything was practical, in terms of effects and the art department. Jim and I share the same philosophy, which is always ‘utilize the resources that you have.’
Our greatest resource was that we were smart enough not to paint ourselves into a corner. There were no big action scenes that required a thousand extras, five F-16 fighter jets, an exploding volcano, and a collapsing dam. Of course, we probably could have done those things in hindsight. The practical approach took a hit when it was decided that, after scouting the local forested mountains around Los Angeles, specifically the San Gabriels, no suitable forest could be found. What I wanted was a redwood forest, or something that one might find in the Pacific Northwest. I wanted something like Endor. Big trees and ferns. Rays of moonlight shining through branches. The whole movie takes place at night, and I wanted light to drop off into blackness. With the low budget, which still had yet to be solidified, there was no way the production could afford to go on location where those types of trees were, so after a conversation with Jim, we decided to take the bold and somewhat foolhardy step and shoot the whole movie in the studio. Close and medium shots would be done on a forest set, and wider shots and establishing shots would be done with miniatures. In the end, I got the specific look of the forest that I wanted. We did eventually do some B-roll up in Los Padres National Forest north of L.A., but that was the only time we went outside in the whole production.
Preproduction continued, and ramped up considerably when a suitable warehouse was found in North Hollywood. Why a warehouse? Simple: cost. We considered actual soundstages for a day, but once we realized that soundstage space was way outside our budget, we committed to a warehouse. Though small, about 700 square feet, the North Hollywood warehouse would serve as production offices, set fabrication space, miniatures workshop, and finally, soundstages. Unfortunately, we were pretty close to the Burbank airport, which wasn’t good for sound, but it was all we could afford. We figured we would get the best sound we could during production, but anything unusable could be re-recorded during ADR sessions in post production. As it turned out, renting the warehouse was the single greatest expense of the film.
Even before the warehouse was secured, it was decided early on that all the special effects shots would be done first. Usually, it is just the opposite. Principal photography commences first, and then effects photography follows. There were several reasons we shot it that way. One, the movie would sink or swim based in large part on the effects, so we needed to prove to ourselves that we were capable of creating a believable monster in a believable environment. Second, we knew that greenscreen elements would play a large roll in connecting the actors to geography, and it was better and for us, easier, to link actors to what we had shot than vice-versa. Another reason, and one that proved our approach right, was that we would have a pretty cool fundraising reel of effects to show people.
The condition of the warehouse before we moved in was, to put it mildly, grotesque. Our unit had previously been used for some kind of cooking business, and there was grease and inch-thick crud on some of the walls and floor. The bathroom was a horror story itself. But within a week, Jim and I had it swept, mopped, scrubbed and double-coat painted. Who did we hire to do the work? Easy. Ourselves. Who else would clean as well as the owners of the first headquarters of The Squire Film Shoppe? And who else could possibly look at an un-heated, un-airconditioned shack of a building and say, “It’s perfect! Now let’s make a monster movie!”
In the end, would anyone believe us if we said that this space would not only be a forest in all scales, but also a three-room cabin, a two-room jail, an abandoned well, a crypt, a crypt basement, a cemetery, a monster nest, a one-sixth scale ghost town, and a green screen stage? Anyone in Hollywood, with their “conventional” thinking, would have said, “No way!” And they would be wrong.