Cast & Crew Profile #3: Ken McFarlane

Ken McFarlane portrays Roger Patterson, the obsessive cryptozoologist whose career spent hunting the elusive Millennium Bug has finally come to a head. Ken shares his memories of the shoot:

My favorite memory is having my head smashed into a wall about 14 times. Fellow actor John Charles Meyer seemed to like doing it, except for the take when I fell at full force into him, causing him to speak at a higher pitch for a while.

In another scene, actress Ginger Pullman and I had to climb into a closet under the stairs which was maybe big enough for one small person. We also had to cram a crew member in there to achieve the shot. I was on my back with my legs over my head with Ginger and our PA folded around me until we heard “Cut.” It took two people to lift me out, because there wasn’t enough leverage or room to unfold legs and body parts on one’s own. Of course, we had to do ten takes. I didn’t want to tell (director) Ken that I was under a doctor’s care for back and neck problems.  

The most disgusting part of the shoot was my costume. We dressed for cold weather and shot in Burbank California, with temperatures in the 90s and hotter. I sweat a lot on a cool day, so after three weeks of wearing an unwashed costume, it smelled pretty rank. Producer Jim even asked me about needing to take a shower; I think he thought it was my body and not the costume that smelled like the Millennium Bug.  But in a weird way, the costume’s odor helped me as an actor with the believability of camping in the wilderness, brutalized by crazy people and eaten by a giant bug.

The most bizarre experience was having my head cast in plaster. Our makeup/SFX designer Robert and his assistant Bridget covered me in goop, with my mouth open in a frozen scream, at a makeup school where I could hear classes arrive and leave. As I sat in a corner for what felt like four hours, I could communicate only with hand movements to say yes or no. I think that was worse than laying in pools of blood and goo wearing a smelly costume. At one point during the casting, I fell asleep and Robert thought I was having a heart attack because of my breathing. It felt good to give him a scare for once…

Born in Nova Scotia, Ken spent his adolescence in Los Angeles, got his BA and MFA from CSU Northridge, and filled his adulthood with independent film and theatre. He recently played Polonius in Ty Mayberry’s innovative staging of Hamlet. Prior to that, Ken stepped into the shoes of a mortician trying to make sense of a dysfunctional Irish family in William Norrett’s comedy Brendan O’Lenihan Leaves Three Daughters. Other theatre credits (from New York, Vancouver, and Los Angeles) include Dracula, Six Degrees of Separation, True West, The Misanthrope, Enemy of the People, The Lark, Much Ado About Nothing, Two Gentlemen of Verona, JB, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Cockroach Nation, Molly Sweeney, and The Book of John, as well as the title roles in the world premiere productions of Godislav and The Crown of Minos. Film credits include Change For Food, The Golem, Noise Matters, Empire Builders, Annabelle, Rose Colored Glasses, Insomnia Manica, Delusive Dreams, The Short Cut, and the role of the bloodthirsty but lovable, martini-crazed “Jerry” in Caesar & Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre and its sequel, Caesar & Otto’s Deadly Christmas. Ken also made an appearance as a Roman general responsible for one of history’s greatest military defeats, on The History Channel’s Battles B.C.: Hannibal.

Visit Ken on IMDB.

Watch the trailer for THE MILLENNIUM BUG.

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Director’s Notes #5: The Aesthetic

One thing that all of us had to wrap our heads around was the aesthetic of the film we were making. How would the effects look? The production design? The lighting and cinematography? In that order:

  1. Ken-Cran-Hotel1. Effects: After examining the suit I had built, we all agreed that we were not in any way attempting to compete with Hollywood visual effects. It was not a slight against my monster suit, but from the start, we knew we were not competing with Cloverfield, or Peter Jackson’s King Kong, or even the Emmerich Godzilla. Their approach was complete realism. That’s what big budgets get you, for better or worse.Regardless, no one was making giant monster movies with men in suits and miniatures, and that’s what we wanted to see. Now of course, Cloverfield was awesome, just powerful and loud, and Jackson’s King Kong was beautiful and poignant and thrilling. But they were different. We wanted our movie to have a sort of artificial reality to it. I kept saying, if audiences remark, “wow, what a cool miniature,” I was okay with that. We weren’t going to fool audiences today who are used to million dollar photo-real CGI. But we did think we could kind of wow them with our own aesthetic.Surrealism was the word of the day, and The Millennium Bug was, if nothing else, a surrealistic exercise in multiple ways.
  2. Production Design: My experience with designing and building haunted house attractions for three years in San Diego really informed the look of our film. If I do say so myself, Jim and I had done some pretty amazing work at the Del Mar Scream Zone, and it was simple to bring those techniques and sensibilities to the production design aspect. I knew what materials we would need, and how much in general they would cost.I was fortunate that the writer (me!) set a third of the movie, too, in an old, crumbling house,because it allowed for some really great possibilities. I like old, Ken-McFarlaneabandoned buildings because often times they are richly textured, say nothing of the potential creepiness of their history.One of the things that I knew I wanted early on was “moldcicles.” I stole the idea from the “rustcicles” in Cameron’s Titanic. We used Great Stuff expanding foam a lot on the movie, and that’s how we created the moldy walls and moldcicles. So, the Crawford home has plenty of mold and moldcicles, water stains, filth, dirt, grime… you name it.
    At one point, I considered having piles of bones in the corners, but I decided that was too similar to a certain chainsaw house, and abandoned the idea.One thing I have to say is that very nearly everything in the cabin and later, the jail, was handmade. Although Uncle Hibby’s chair was purchased at a yard sale, the sofa, dining room table, grandfather clock, wood burning stove, end tables, shelves, beds, nightstand, desk, etc. were all handmade by me and Dustin Yoder. If we needed it, we built it, not only because it was much cheaper to do it ourselves, but because we were creating our own aesthetic. Nowhere will you find furnishings that look like those that we have in the movie. And that’s how we wanted it!
  3. DP Oktay Ortabasi (right) and 1st AC Nito SernaCinematography: Which camera we were going to use was not much of a question. A friend offered the use of his Panasonic AG HVX 200, which shot variable frame rates, an important consideration since we were going to be shooting miniatures. The problem was that those variable frame rates were only available at 720p, and we wanted full 1080p. The compromise was therefore simple: miniatures at 720p, live action actors at 1080p. Mixing both resolutions was not a concern, because we figured that we could either upconvert the 720 footage, or just master the whole movie at 720p.Just as important was the simplicity of capturing footage on P2 cards and not tape. Later on, we upgraded the camera to the Panasonic AG HVX 200a, which had greater low-light capability, among other improvements. It helped, too, that the camera was owned by co-exec producer, visual effect supervisor, co-production designer, and part-time Belgian waffle maker Dustin Yoder, so if there were any technical issues with it, he could solve them.Of equal concern for The Millennium Bug team was how to get a “cinematic” look. Our director of photography, Oktay Ortabasi (pictured above right), an accomplished and amazingly talented shooter, knew not only how to make monsters and miniatures look beautiful, but also lit actors to look at times grotesque, and at other times stunningly attractive.Ken-PaintingI remember our initial dialogue when we hired him on, which I paraphrase here: “So it’s a horror movie?” says Oktay.“Yep, a real monster movie!” Ken replies.“What do you want the movie to look like?” “Pan’s Labyrinth!”“Really? That beautiful?”“Um,” I say. “Well…”In the end, he gave me what I wanted, but times ten. It helped, too, that we used a Letus lens adaptor and prime lenses. The AG HVX has a fixed lens, and nothing screams out VIDEO more than a fixed-lens camera. But going with the Letus was a no-brainer, and it was really the final tool in a very small tool belt we provided Oktay.Overall, the movie looks as good as it does through a combination of efforts. Dustin, Oktay, and I worked very hard to give the movie it’s “look,” and Jim sweated gallons trying to find us an (almost) all volunteer crew, which was no small task, especially in production-savvy Los Angeles! No matter what, The Millennium Bug’s aesthetic should prove to everyone that a low budget film does not need to look low budget.