NLP recently wrapped production on a multiscreen video installation for the National Museum of the United States Army.
Production began in October interviewing Cold War veterans about their experiences with “alert” drills. These exercises, conducted regularly for decades, simulated an attack by the Soviet Union on American forces in West Germany.
Borrowing a strategy from Oscar-winning director Errol Morris, the interviews were conducted with an Interrotron-inspired setup: the subjects addressed the camera directly, but in place of the lens they saw a live video feed of their interviewer (yours truly) projected on a teleprompter screen.
After weeks of preparation we headed down to Camp Edwards on Joint Base Cape Cod to reenact an “alert” drill. In the scenes we filmed, our reenactors were awoken in their barracks at 0300 and deployed to their various defense positions, as U.S. Army soldiers in Germany did for decades during the Cold War. Coincidentally, we did end up filming those scenes around 0300 that morning…
Left: Army veteran Juan Castro in his interview at Cambridge Community TV; Jesse and Brady test the camera setup at our in-house studio here in Allston.
Camp Edwards was the ideal location for our shoot. The base features locations that are unique in New England, including authentic WWII-era barracks, M-113 armored personnel carriers in the motor pool, and a wooden guard tower at Tactical Training Base Kelley.
Above: Crewmembers Oz, Brady, Lenny and Jesse on location at Camp Edwards.
The overnight shoot was an exhilarating 24-hour filmmaking marathon. The crew finished dressing the set on Tuesday morning, outfitted and trained our reenactors in the afternoon, began shooting in the evening, and didn’t wrap until 4am—at which point we broke down the set and left Camp Edwards just in time to see the sun rise over the Cape Cod Canal and get caught in rush hour traffic heading back to Boston. A long but satisfying day.
Some of the highlights were watching SFC Vrooman whip our “recruits” into shape with a quickie boot camp, hearing APCs roaring around us in the dark of the motor pool, and seeing our cinematographer Jesse climb onto the hood of a moving two-and-a-half-ton truck to get the perfect insert shot.
After catching a few Zzzs that day, we filmed the final piece: a dramatic reenactment of a U.S. Army Europe General briefing politicians on the military standoff between East and West Germany. The Old Lincoln School’s dated interiors are scheduled to be upgraded to welcome back elementary students, but its current state—an out-of-date industrial vibe—was perfect for our shoot.
Right: SFC Vrooman’s boot camp; a reenactment scene featuring an authentic WWII-era Jeep.
We had some fun dressing the set with a mix of furniture we salvaged from the school and wall décor inspired by archival photos of the White House “situation room,” historic maps, and more recent films such as Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall (also notable for inspiring this little gem).
The “General” was filmed with a partial blue screen which will be transformed in post to an animated map of Cold War Europe. Our 3D animator Eric was on hand during the shoot to ensure that our footage we generated could be combined with the planned 3D animation of maps, tanks, and troops.
We’re now off to the races with post production! Check out these screenshots of the live action footage and animation coming together, and check back for updates!
Above: 3D animation within live action footage transforms a blue screen with tracking points.Social tagging: immersive exhibit > interview > military > multiscreen > Museum > museum exhibits > oral history