Embers & Dust: Behind the Scenes

Featured Filmmaker: Patrick Biesemans

On the evening of October 30th, 1938 Orson Welles’ voice traveled far across the radio waves, bringing word of an invading alien army from Mars. The theatricality and delivery of his War of the Worlds performance, along with recent memories of the Hindenburg disaster (one year prior), sent many listeners into a panic.

embers & dust gene with green light

Inspired by Orson

I learned about the Orson Welles broadcast of War of The Worlds and the subsequent chaos it caused in college. At the time, my classmate Ryan McCoy and I thought that backdrop would make for a great short film about imagination. But low budget filmmaking wasn’t great in 2005. And honestly, aside from the festival circuit, there wasn’t a great place to release your short film. There wasn’t much of an online film community, not like there is now.

So we decided to table the idea for awhile… Like a decade.

Creatively speaking, with Embers & Dust I wanted to craft something in live action the way Hayao Miyazaki, Don Bluth, or Brad Bird would do in animation. Those three have an amazing sense of setting, nostalgia, and drama in their respective bodies of work. Miyazaki alone has amazing gift for creating stories that are so interpretive and surreal but still play on very human emotions. I wanted to do something like that but with my own skills and voice. And the broadcast just seemed like the right environment to express that in.

Watch the Film

While Orson deliverd his performance, unfortunate coincidence would fall upon the town of Concrete, Washington where, at the height of the invading alien attack, a power transformer blew out sending the entire town and surrounding areas into darkness. These circumstances are the backdrop of Embers & Dust.

Careful Casting

Properly casting our leads was something I was pretty adamant about from the beginning. When you’re making a passion project it’s so easy to throw a posting on Craigslist and see what you get, or cast some friend’s cousin or dude from work that’s an aspiring actor. It is important to exercise due diligence at this stage. You want the right face, the right voice, the right presence, and the right attitude.

embers & dust henry

There is a built in attitude for filmmakers that working with children is difficult or annoying. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Henry, the young man that played Gene in our film, was great. I mean, he kept it going at times like 2AM, he’d play with the crew between takes, and when I asked him to focus he was front and center. He was fantastic to work with. But I had done my due diligence. I spoke with out casting director who recalled Henry’s professional conduct at auditions. I met with him and his father (who is also a joy to have on set), and we talked a couple more times before we got things going. Casting is so much more than just putting someone in the role.

Behind the Scenes

The first day of production was an exciting nightmare! Since most of our film takes place in the evening, our production days started later in the afternoon. You try to sleep the night before but you’re too excited! You wake up from what little sleep you got, and you’re already filled with anticipation! By the time the camera is rolling you’re just getting into the swing of things.
Those first few shots should set the pace. Unfortunately, not long after we started rolling we got hit with a torrential downpour that halted us for a couple hours. (Really my fault for pushing to shoot in August… and in upstate NY.) But there is usually a general excitement on set, so once the rain died down, we picked right back up and just got moving. We found our groove pretty quickly.

On the other side of things, when you’re getting close to those last couple of shots, they’re usually nothing crazy. They’re either easy shots you held for last, or shots you might have had to compromise on earlier in the production. So you see the end coming pretty quickly, and you start thinking “damn, we’re really grooving here! Why does it have to end?”
Our last shot was of a calendar. I remember thinking “Years of kicking around this idea, months of planning, and days of shooting… and a calendar is where all this effort culminates.” That’s filmmaking for you, everything down to the last detail and insert shot.

I passionately hate the idea of being with it, I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time. ― Orson Welles

When you have the opportunity to create something from your heart, don’t compromise or get knocked off balance when someone isn’t seeing what you’re trying to express. It’s your voice, and sometime people won’t understand it. Filmmaking is still art, and just like any art form, it’s a matter of expression and interpretation. If it feels right in your core, follow it and see where it takes you. On that same note, you may not see what you personally accomplished right away. I’m finally getting used to my work sinking in with me much later after completion, when everyone has moved on to something else.

embers & dust still shot
Find out more about Patrick and the Embers & Dust team.

embers & dust poster


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One Response to “Embers & Dust: Behind the Scenes”

  1. Kenneth George on November 30th, 2017 9:55 am

    Wonderful write up. Imagine if a prank of this scale was pulled in today’s day in age by the media. I enjoyed the style of the film and portrayal of a hardworking 1930’s rural town. I am interested in knowing which selection of lenses were used to get the shallow DOF and vignetting effect on the porch scene specifically.

About the Author

Growing up against the diverse landscape of Northern California, Patrick learned to gravitate towards small melancholic moments and find the fantastical within them; creating an emotional hook with visually arresting imagery. For Patrick, short films serve as postcards from another time and place; a beautiful story told in a constricted space and told briefly.   Patrick has directed two previous short films, a handful of commercial content, and an independent feature film that was released through The Orchard in 2016. Embers & Dust is the first short film written, produced, and directed by Patrick.


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