Interview w/ Brian Curtin, Director of “Beyond Black Mesa”

The past few weeks have yielded an assortment of impressively directed and produced fan-made films. Among them, Beyond Black Mesa is the one that has perhaps hit the closest to home here in Alabama and as you can see in the film itself it rivals some of the best indie films I’ve seen anywhere else on the net in terms of acting and quality.

However, Brian and his crew are no strangers to success when it comes to fan films as their debut effort, Concrete Hustle, currently stands with over 3 million views on YouTube. Both films show the kind of appreciation that only a group of fans could ever convey and yet are honed with the experience and attention to detail of a seasoned team of film makers. Between planning his next film and preparing to launch a Special Edition DVD of his latest triumph, director Brian Curtin was cool enough to offer a few words on the film and how he brought the world of Half-Life to full life.

Photo courtesy of Jason Wallis Photography

The alien horde is upon us, Brian! What’s you weapon of choice: crowbar or chainsaw?

Crowbar… but, if I had a real choice- lightsaber.

Good answer. So, how long ago did you begin working on Beyond Black Mesa?

The first spark for a movie was after Half-Life 2 (HL2) came out, but It wasn’t actually possible until about mid-way through 2008. We learned some tricks and got the drive after we finished Concrete Hustle.

The entire production, from marketing collateral to the film itself, is remarkably polished and well presented. How much did your role as an Art Director at Big Communications prepare you for making the film?

A lot of being an Art Director can be seen in the bulk of this project. I couldn’t just do a short film, I wanted to do the whole package with posters, web site and DVD packaging. Film making is a huge passion and hobby, but I still enjoy all aspects of design, though I have to credit to my girlfriend Joy Gravela for a lot of the marketing. She was a marketing machine when it came to getting the word out about Beyond Black Mesa. Plus, the whole crew was good about spreading it around.

Can you give us some more details on the main character, Adrian Shepard, who these other characters are and how they fit into the Half-Life universe?

He’s a soldier originally sent into the Black Mesa facility to silence the remaining survivors after the disaster. After he serves his purpose, the G-man puts him in stasis for an indefinite amount of time. Let’s imagine Adrian Shephard is thrown back into the world from G-man’s stasis. The world is in ruins and now his only option is to join the resistance and fight along with them. He teams up with fellow fighters to help warn the distant underground hideouts of the opposing forces moving through the area and wiping out the last bit of resistance.

So does this story takes place outside of the HL continuity?

Originally, our goal was to have these events take place directly in the middle of HL1 and HL2. I based the timeline off a possible HL2 opening script written by Marc Laidlaw, which can be found in the HL2: Raising the Bar book. It suggests that HL2 events occurred 10 years after HL1 (some people say 20, but we went with 10). So that’s why Adrian says “It’s been 5 years since the disaster,” at the beginning of our film. The great thing about this is nobody really know exactly what happened in between and that left us with a lot of room to interpret our own events.

The abandoned factory seems like the perfect setting- how did you go about scouting for locations?

We got really lucky- that old factory is seriously 15 mins from our house. Also, the contact we had their let us pretty much do anything we wanted. It was perfect.

Did you and your team go back and replay the games throughout your work on the film?

Well, I’ve played them all a long time ago, but yeah, I played them all a little through out the pre-production process just to make sure we we’re nailing the look and feel. Too often I would keep losing track of time and would play way longer than I planned.

If you had the choice between having a “headcrab” strapped to your face or a xenomorph from Alien inside your stomach, which would you choose?

Neither are appealing, but for some reason the headcrab seems less painful than a creature exploding out of my stomach.

Well played, well played. Was anyone at Valve aware of what you were doing or offer to get involved?

Nope, there would have been no way to contact them. Also, Concrete Hustle was all we had to show, so… I don’t think they would have jumped aboard.

Concrete Jungle, while not quite as fully developed as Beyond Black Mesa is no less technically impressive. Did you employ many of the same techniques in the production of both?

Not to much, Concrete Jungle mainly consisted of tracking lightsabers frame by frame and some really well practiced choreography. I don’t know if I can ever rotoscope frame by frame for 6 months again, too painful. Beyond Black Mesa used different variety of techniques (and a lot more of them).

Obviously you took great care in bringing Black Mesa to film, but the exclusion of the headcrabs have some HL fans divided. Was the decision prompted by budgetary limitations or was it more of a practical concern over how the effect might be pulled off?

Both. It really is unfortunate, but there was no cost efficient way to do them and make them look right. Most people don’t understand the reason why we could not include them and it’s too bad some can’t see past that. Besides, I think the faster, more deadly Left 4 Dead zombies are more exciting.

Agreed, I love the zombies! How did it feel to receive 500,000 YouTube views in only two days?

I think we had a pretty good fan base from Concrete Hustle and we did a pretty good job of raising awareness with the trailers, but I think a lot came from some good relationships we developed with some very helpful online gaming web sites.

In light of its success you’ve announced possible plan for a limited DVD release. What can fans expect from the DVD if/when it’s released?

The DVD is going to be really cool! It will give anyone interested in this project a good look into everything that made it possible. There will be crew commentary, outtakes, vfx breakdowns and very interesting behind the scenes interviews. I’m working on them now and we should have them up on the Beyond Black Mesa site in a month or so. Plus, that’s the best way to fund our future projects.

Speaking of future projects, any plans of what you’re next film will be?

We’re in the early phases of our next project, though it will not be an extension of Beyond Black Mesa. It will most likely be an original story, but will still be in the sci-fi/action realm. So anyone who’s enjoyed our previous projects will enjoy this.

Well then, only one question remains… what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

I think I ate dog poop… or maybe that was a dream. But that was a while back.

Written by Rondal

Rondal is the Editor-in-Chief of Strange Kids Club and a creative instigator who tackles each day with Red Bull-induced enthusiasm and a mind for adventure. Rondal has written for other sites including Rue Morgue, Fuel Your Illustration and Bloodsprayer. His obsession with horror movies, 80s animation and action figures is considered unhealthy by medical professionals.

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