On Feb. 7, Amazon Studios will select its Best Test Movie of 2011 from five finalists, including Sky Pirates, written and directed by Gary Milin. This week, we’re telling our finalists’ stories (see more here).Learn more about the Annual Awards — totaling $1.1 million — here.
The year is 1940. America has yet to enter World War II. But the U.S. government recruits a hotshot circus pilot to accompany a top-secret mission into deepest, darkest Africa. The goal: To intercept a Nazi Zeppelin involved in an archeological expedition to unearth an artifact that could make the Third Reich invincible.
That’s the premise behind Sky Pirates, an action-adventure test film written and directed by Gary Dragan Milin, a native of Yugoslavia. Milin lives in Toronto, where he works full-time making test movies and developing his production company, Earthlight Entertainment, Inc.
Why did you make this test movie?
I chose Sky Pirates as my big showpiece project because it was a blockbuster-type story with lots of action and spectacle, the type of script that is best suited for test movies. They cost so much to make, and anything that can help mitigate such a huge risk will eventually be accepted by the Industry.
How long did it take to make it?
Sky Pirates was a two-stage project. First me and my lead artist created a storyboard rough cut between April and July. We then spent several weeks developing certain techniques and assembling and training a larger team. Then, once everything was ready to go, we completed the animatic version in about two to three months.
Tell us about your team/collaborators.
Michael James Derrah is my lead artist and Earthlight Entertainment’s first hire. Karen Wood was my second hire. She had a very clean and precise style that was a little more cartoony than Mike’s.
Mike Zhang was a classmate of Karen’s, and he came aboard to do the painting. His coloring really complimented Karen’s artwork, and the result was a test movie that had a very light and whimsical tone.
Matt Scott is a very talented animator who did all the 3D animation and rigging. Kyle Broemser did motion graphics and backgrounds. Martin Sokol was brought in to do some of the more challenging motion graphics, along with compositing shots that involved 3D elements.
Adrian Novotny is my 3D modeler. After finishing the rough cut, I started searching online for 3D models I would need for the animatic. I expected this to not be easy because some of the aircraft featured in Sky Pirates, like the F9C Sparrowhawk, were extremely rare. But Adrian’s models were absolutely the most accurate and highly detailed I had ever seen.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in telling the story?
Hard to say. Everything was a major challenge. Up until last year I was just a screenwriter who never took any filmmaking courses in my life, so I had no real experience with telling a story visually. I’ve never worked on a creative project as part of a team before, and I’ve also never been in a leadership position before. So it was a really steep learning curve for me.
What’s your favorite line, scene or moment?
When the airship, the USS Francis Drake, finally manages to escape from the stricken British submarine just seconds before the Nazi U-boat blows it up. The British Submarine Captain, with his last breath, salutes the departing airship and says: “Give ‘em hell, Francis.” A split second later, a Nazi shell hits the torpedo compartment and the submarine erupts in a massive explosion, just as Jack and Sara are lifted skywards on the Drake’s drop car.
What do you most enjoy about filmmaking?
Reaching a wide audience. And having other people see the story in the same way that I do. That’s something that rarely happens with a script.
What do you hope the audience gets out of the story?
Enjoyment. Plain and simple.
What other movies have you made?
Myth of a Modern Man and The Break-Up Artists, which are both on Amazon Studios. And I’m currently working on a new test movie, which I hope will be ready in about three months’ time.
What made you decide to be a part of Amazon Studios?
Before Amazon Studios came along, my plan was to write several highly commercial scripts and move down to LA and try to jumpstart my career as a writer. Years earlier, I had moved into my parent’s basement so I could focus on my writing full time. And I spent those years improving my craft, writing practice scripts, and developing highly commercial story ideas. I also managed to save up about $10,000 which I hoped would last me about 6 months.
By the end of 2010 I figured my writing was approaching professional quality, so I started writing my first showpiece script, which I decided should be The Time Machine. This was the one I hoped would finally open some doors for me.
However, I barely made it to the end of the rough draft before I became aware of Amazon Studios. And although I had no intention of participating at first – I was working on my own plan for breaking in, after all – I soon changed my mind when I realized just what a revolutionary idea the “test movie” actually was. “Test screening” a project at the script stage before millions were spent on production was a genius idea. And I just knew that this was going to become the future of the movie Industry.
So right then and there I made a very difficult decision, and it was easily the most difficult decision of my life. I decided to take all the money I had saved up for my trip to LA and to use it to make a test movie instead. In the end, I just went with my gut feeling and jumped right in, and I’ve been making test movies ever since.
What have you gotten out of the experience?
I used to be a big dreamer who wanted to make movies. Now I’m a movie maker with big dreams.
— Ernest Jasmin