Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Phoenix Incident – an Indie film as a transition from Game Development


March 2016 – As a precursor to the first Silicon Valley Comic Con, Keith Arem held a screening of his first film “Phoenix Incident” which he wrote and directed. The “found footage” style science fiction thriller, focuses on a story that is based on the actual reported UFO sightings. The actual incident took place on Thursday March 13th, 1997 and marks the date of the Phoenix Lights, the largest mass UFO sighting in US History.

Keith Aram at Dolby Labs Theater for Screening of Phoenix Incident

The firm was a first for Keith who previously created sound, directed and produced video games including iconic titles such as Saint’s Row. The transition to film making was quite an experience. In the game design, there are unlimited light sources, and an infinite number of virtual cameras that can be placed on a scene. This is not true for a live, on-location video or film sequence. At several points, to be able make nighttime shots visible, they had to introduce artificial lighting to the scene. Similarly, the project used a number of capture sources – RED video cameras, 16mm film, military and NATO stock footage, and VHS tape.

The “found footage” feeling was created by doing a playback of the original footage shot on the RED cameras, being played on a TV and either captured on VHS tape or captured on 16mm film and then re-digitized to work in the digital workflow with Final Cut 7. This flow was supplemented by some CGI creatures. The effects were added and integrated into the film using traditional CGI flows. The creatures were also saved in exportable form to be used as an asset in the games that accompany the film.

Phoenix Incident 2016



The film was created on a $1.3M budget as an indie project. It has been shown at several festivals, and Fathom Events features and is moving to VOD with a Shazam sweepstakes on April 8. Based on the limitations of the budget, they had to choose both economically and artistically what was the best method for the creation and capture of critical content. The helicopters that were in the film and used for the close us was real. The A10 and F15 jets were a combination of commercial stock footage and CG.

A large amount of time was spent in post to address visual VHS tape artifacts and time code artifacts that resulted. One of the challenges on the project was the capture of sound. The live action was managed with the characters wearing lavalier microphones and also having boom mics placed out of frame.

The screening took place at the Dolby Labs theaters in San Francisco towards the end of GDC. It was also the night before the opening of the firs Silicon Valley Comin-Con (SVCC). At the SVCC Keith and the project had a table to show off the Flir Footage (which is available on-line in its entirety), the trailer and give out poster and collectables for the film. The film received a warm reception by the UFO believers’ community at the event, along with the enthusiasm from the general science fiction oriented crowd.

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