Martin Yernazian served as Cinematographer (and subsequently as Editor) during the Teaser shoot for the "East of Byzantium" promo footage, prepping for and executing a grueling 3-day shooting schedule. He balances his cinematographer duties with directing/producing and editing a variety of long and short form projects. Martin has collaborated with Roger Kupelian on a variety of such efforts such as the music video for Serj Tankian's "Honking Antelope" (Elect the Dead).
EoB: What were some of the challenges in shooting this teaser? MY: "East of Byzantium" started visually as a painting from the mind of Roger Kupelian. After 7 years of research he had produced an large number of production art pieces, (references, maps you name it he had done it.) My job was to recreate those elements with a camera and lights. And for those who has seen Kupelian's art they know the amount of detail that is involved. So with the same intensity that he treated it his paintings we treated the shoot. And I believe we delivered!
EoB : How did you past experiences help you in meeting the challenges of shooting the EOB footage? MY: I was born and raised in Argentina. A country that very rarely gives you second chances. I came in to the shoot with that attitude, or we do this right or it will suck! No time to practice! it has to be great. I was very adamant to put in all the 15 years of film making and photographic knowledge to bring this to a prime. My biggest goal was to light things very well, knowing that afterwards we were going to have to place new backgrounds in and cut the sequences to match. It was important that the camera wasn't intrusive but at the same time remain with the characters, specially during the fight scenes. We were very lucky to count with 2 Red ONEs for coverage and about 80 some lights to blast the scene with, plus a great crew that allowed itself to be pushed to the limit.
EoB : Did you know of these historic figures previously? MY:Of course! I'm an Armenian from Argentina. I grew up listening stories about them from my grandparents. But now I think I can tell them a few stories that they might not know ;D. Let me tell you, it has been a pleasure been part of a project that complements our culture by taking it to the next level artistically.
EoB : What would you change if you had to do this shoot over again? MY: Change? Mmm that is a good question. But I think I wouldn't change too much but if budget allowed, I would add more dramatic scenes, 2 more cameras (a Phantom HD to shoot 1000 frames per second sequences and another Red One for coverage.... oh an a mini Si 2k to put in characters swords, shoulders etc) I would play with water, fire, dust elements. The good news about all of this is that we can still do this! And after 2 years of working side by side with Roger I think we can kick some serious ass, better than before.
EoB : What would you recommend for those who want to shoot a project with the Red? MY: Have a great script, Be prepared like if it was the last thing you will do. Don't conform, push the limit. Try old lenses, weird lenses, be creative and enjoy it. The Red cam ( And for that matter any digital camera today) gives you the chance to do things that our Cinematic forebears couldn't do. Take advantage of that. Be responsible with that great power. Make things better than before, make things honoring those that came before you and those that will learn from you in the future.
Dro Arzooian plays the part of General Vartan in the Teaser Footage for the "East of Byzantium : 451" Project. Dro pursues Fine Art and regularly has gallery showings. Playing this iconic hero from Armenia's 5th Century history was a new challenge for him.
EoB: What's your professional background? How did you get the part? DA: I was born in an artistic family and soon began following in their footsteps. I have a BA in Graphic Design, but am more interested in painting and sculpture. Getting the part was kind of interesting too. I had a small studio next to Fugitive Studios and kept seeing all these people going in and out there [for casting sessions] but didnt really know what is going on. At the time I was going to one of the "hairy" periods of my life meaning I kept my hair long and my face unshaven. That caught Roger's attention one day as he was passing by my studio. He asked me for some head shots and explained the project, and that is how it started.
EoB: How much did you know about the character of Vartan before you started working on this project? I had a pretty good history knowledge so I would say I knew more of an average person about Vartan and Battle of Avarayr.
EoB: What was the process of training for the role of Vartan like? DA: It was very interesting to me; I had to do some workout sessions to get in shape, and at the same time we had very good trainers who were working on our battlefield skills. It was a blast being there every day with all these interesting people and doing something different. It opened up new possibilities in my mind and showed me how we can develop ourselves beyond what we are when there is a cause.
EoB: How would you describe the 3 day shoot for the teaser footage? DA: Those were some of the best days of my life.The energy was flowing all over the studio and everybody was so focused and determined to do whatever possible to make it happen. I enjoyed every second of it, especially being the main character, which was a blast. They made me feel like I was the ruler of the world.:)
EoB: What would you say were people's reaction to this subject, as many Armenians have very strong opinions about it and non-Armenians approach in a different way? Do you have any Persian reactions you can tell us about? DA: There were some Persians among the actors and they seemed very enthusiastic about the project. I myself was very cautious about Persian side because I was raised in Iran and I have seen how beautiful they are as a culture. After their depiction in "The 300" I didn't want to see Persians being represented as savage monsters. Our project was depicting a historical event without putting down the other side and I think that was why everybody was feeling OK with the concept.
EoB: What do you think is the importance of the story? DA: The story has been bound to Armenian's survival for centuries, Vartan is a hero for our youngsters and the story is an action of faith and freedom. I have a little different view to the whole story but right now it doesnt really matter: we had to really be of that era in order to feel and realize what our real options would have been, and how our actions would affect our future as Armenians. I think the story is about one of the major turning points in our history, which caused us to forever remain as Armenians.
EoB: What takes up your time now? DA: I am concentrating on Painting these days : I've had several sold-out shows, and I am planning to go to Armenia and start a studio, so I can divide my time equally between there and my home in California.
All images by Ruzz Vartanian and are copy-protected. All rights Reserved.
Henry Torossian AFFA and NASM is a professional physical trainer and runs his own gym in Los Angeles. Henry not only trained Dro Arzooian (the Teaser Footage's General Vartan) for the part, he also appears as a soldier in a variety of roles. The training of the troops was at his gym, and it is our pleasure to interview a participant and longtime fan and supporter of the project -- as well as a frequent art model for Roger Kupelian's paintings, (notably the upcoming graphic novel for 451 A.D.)
EOB: How did you get involved with the project? HT: Roger and I are good friends... like brothers I would say. When he told me about this project he had been working on for years and even better, it had to do with our Armenian history, I had an instant curiosity to know what it was. Just knowing Roger's film work, I knew this was going be an unprecedented movie about our ancestors. Once I saw his storyboards, I was taken by the rich story and bravery of our people. I firmly believed it needed to be shared with the world and I would do my part in helping him in anyway I could to see his dream come to reality.
EOB:What did it feel like to become your character? HT: It was an amazing transformation for me. I'm not an actor, nor care for the spotlight. I like flying under the radar, but for some reason when Roger asked me to be a part of the journey and best of all, wear a real chain mail vest (which weighed about 60lbs for the entire shoot) I instantly wanted to feel what it was like for our Armenian warriors to wear this gear during a real battle. It was the closest I could get to tasting a bit of what it was like back then. Once they helped me put that heavy armor, I was instantly in warrior mode. It was as if I was put on cruise control and some furious gladiator had taken over.
EOB:Not only were you training one of the main characters but you got trained yourself? Can you tell us a bit about the the process? HT: It was a process I enjoyed very much. I trained "Vartan" aka Dro for about 6 weeks and was able to push him and motivate him to be in tip top shape. He (Dro) was a trooper. We had sessions twice a day. In addition, we had an our of sword fighting lessons and fighting formation training [by Lou Klien and Oberon Selicio]. By the time filming came, we were ready for battle. "300" had nothing on us :)
EOB: Can you describe the fundraising events that took place at the Casitas stages? HT: It was good to see all the supporters come out and show their respect and support for the hard work Roger and the crew had put in working non-stop for months.
EOB:What is the one thing you hope people take away from this project? HT: That "who you are is worth fighting for"......
EOB:What are you up to now? HT: I'm enjoying my time with my newborn son, Tristan Torossian, who is 13 months old and already knows who Vartan Zoravar is, (thanks to Roger's amazing painting of Vartan(451) in the last battle, that hangs in my living room.)
Henry can be reached at: Fitness Forum, Fitness Forum, at 3191 Casitas Avenue , in Los Angeles, CA. TEL: (818) 679-7808.
Eli Jarra is an award-winning Visual Effects Artist, and accomplished VFX Supervisor. He has worked extensively in television and film. Jarra supplied two Oakley Red Cams for the filming of the East of Byzantium Sizzle Reel as well as some the most memorable visual effects shots.
EOB: What were some of the challenges in shooting the EOB teaser?
EJ: Always in working with new technology, there's usually a reluctance to using gear untested in its infancy such as the Red cameras. After all we were creating a fully virtual environment. Each scene each take each shot would be green screen and would need to be treated as a visual effect later in post. We'd have to create a pipleline that not only transcoded the footage to a format readable by all the different applications, but create an infrastructure that could support all that tremendous amount of data.
EOB:How did you past experiences in technology and VFX help you in meeting the challenges of shooting the EOB footage?
EJ: Shooting with the experience I've learned over the past 15 years really helped me contribute to the production. There's a solution to each problem, trick is to find the quickest most effective way to that solution within the boundaries of production. It's is a machine that's constantly churning, it's not gonna slow down and wait for you. So when production calls, you've gotta answer and that can be quite challenging within the confines of working with this new technology.
EOB:Can you describe how shooting with the Red is different than other HD cameras and what innovations have been going on lately?
EJ: Red allows us to shoot at a resolution 4 times greater than current HD cameras on the market. (see attached jpg) Having that extra real estate or picture canvas allows us greater flexibility when it comes to visual effects. You can punch in a little tighter for the re-framing of a shot, so your composition can be more cinematic even after you've finished shooting. Obviously having that higher resolution allows us greater flexibility in the software when pulling green screen keys and layering the production elements within a composite. The new technology coming in the next six months is really exciting. More resolution capabilities, higher frame rates (slow motion work), and better overall throughput on the next generation cameras is going to simplify certain tasks as well as give us broader creative choices.
EOB:What other projects have you been involved in shooting lately?
EJ: I shot some plates and did some FX work for Michael Jackson's "This Is It" using our Reds. We were doing this incredibly intensive FX shot with dancing soldiers. We shot the soldiers using a motion control rig on a huge green screen soundstage in culver city. The idea was to replicate a dozen soldiers into hundreds, even thousands and have them all dance in unison to the music. We used the reds to shoot individual soldiers and groups of soldiers to map on 3D sprites that would later be used in the software to generate the massive crowd replication. Anyone who sees the movie should recognize the shot straight away, it was an honor to work with Mr. Jackson. And as you can see, setting these soldiers up in an completely virtual environment shares a lot of commonalities with what we were doing on East of Byzantium.
EOB:What would you change if you had to do this shoot over again?
EJ: Now that we've gotten the lay of the land, it will be nice to explore more dynamic camera moves and implement those into our environments. Having more grandeur type of shots mapped out and storyboarded helps in aiding us visualize when we shoot but now with the means of pre-visualization, we are able "see" what the environment and camera move is doing beforehand allowing us to tweak the parameters so when we're there on set, we can execute shooting all the plates necessary to create a fantastic looking shot that transcends us beyond just having the camera 'locked off'.
EOB:What would you recommend for those who want to shoot a project with the Red?
EJ: Consult with someone who's VERY familiar with the technology. When realizing your project, the work from the Reds doesn't stop at the production level, it carries straight on through post production as well. Having that information worked out ahead of time can keep you ahead of the curve and on budget!
Eli Jarra / Think Pictures Visual Effects Supervisor / East of Byzantium http://www.thinkpictures.com
Editor: It's come to our attention that there are a number of persistent myths circulating over the internet (so what's new?) by individuals unattached to the project. Before we go forward dispelling the ones we know of, we should say that this blog, and indeed the East of Byzantium: 451 A.D. website exists in honor of those who have, in times past, supported us with time or resources, and also to keep old and new fans informed of our progress.
Once negotiations are finalized and production begins, this site will most likely be pulled down and replaced. That may be the end of the blog as well. At the end of the day, there now is a lot more buzz, both within and without the Armenian community, about these characters, stories, and upcoming project.
Now, for the Facts, or Fiction: #1: The Teasers and footage we are seeing now, even unofficially over the net, is the final product. Fiction. We discussed this in our FAQ (See earlier post). This is part of a sizzle reel, and in-and-of-itself represents an accomplishment. To our knowledge this is the first time this subject matter has been filmed, especially by the latest technology (see Eli Jarra interview). Some of the costumes and actors, as well as design elements will doubtless carry on to the final feature in some fashion, but this level of proof-of concept was important, as very few outside our community (and some within, believe it or not) had any idea of these events.
#2: Production is underway. Some Fact, Some Fiction. We have just completed an extensive development period, and negotiations are ongoing to secure executive producers and funding towards production. A feature screenplay exists and its Graphic Novel is underway. Samples have been posted. There is always initial interest, and often ongoing interest from production companies. It's just a very big project and those take to secure the green-light.
#3: The AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union) is funding the film. Fiction. We're in touch with AGBU staff to try to get to the bottom of this one, as it keeps getting published. If anyone knows where this originated they should contact us at email@example.com
#4 East of Byzantium is encountering legal issues with distribution. Fiction. And please be wary of people claiming to know people who know people attached to the project. The Hearsay Rumormill is renowned. Added to the internet, it is potent. Plus if they really did have inside information, they are legally obligated to keep it confidential.
#5 The history behind the project is inaccurate. Fact or Fiction? We have been answering questions from day one from people suddenly 'concerned' that history is told correctly. However, many of these individuals had no problems seeing Braveheart, Gladiator , Glory , or The 300 many times over, or tuning in every week to catch the next steamy episode of the Tudors. All those immensely successful projects 'tweaked' their history in order to tell a story within constraints. East of Byzantium's story arc is based on real events, which even upon the best research, bears itself out as a tangle of fact and legend. Sometimes there are gaps and one has to fill those in with the best deductions. Some are understandably not comfortable with that. They are welcome to make a documentary on the subject.
Finally, a little thank you from us at EOB; to all those who donated time and resource; were there on our shoot days, the fundraisers and got us news coverage, all to make sure East of Byzantium had a fighting chance at the big screen; and especially to the Arthur and Sona Parian( 13) who donated the contents of your piggy bank to the project (the envelope sits on Roger Kupelian's work-desk as a reminder) we hope to make you proud. (For more about Arthur and Sona's gift please see: