Ryan Vs. Dorkman - The Sequel

March 3, 2007 1:26 am

A short time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, two ordinary average guys took the fanfilm world by storm with an epic duel that was "Ryan vs. Dorkman." Meet Ryan Wieber and Michael "Dorkman" Scott, fueled by the success of RVD,  the duel continues...

I had the great opportunity to talk with Ryan and Michael concerning the long awaited  release of the sequel to their widely popular lightsaber duel. The premiere was held in California (US) on February 24th, with the web release on the night of March 1st.

With spectacular effects and brilliant choreography, this film is not to be missed. Read on as Ryan and Michael give us a better look behind the scenes.


How was the turn-out for the premiere? What was the reaction like?

Ryan: Turnout was very good. When we got there early, there was already a line of 15 people or so. The theater seats 400, and it looked about 3/4 full to us, especially filling for the second hour, when we were playing RvD and RvD2.

Mike: People seemed to laugh and cheer in all the right places -- it's hard to say because while we were playing it, I was panicking about the fact that the laptop showing the film was running out of battery power (I forgot to bring the AC adapter to the screening). I was distracted with the terror, knowing that the computer would die before the end of the film, which it did. Luckily two of our audience members ran out and bought us a new one while we answered questions, and we were able to screen the film in full. After a half hour's anticipation, and the possibility of not seeing it at all, the reaction to the ending was through the roof. We got a standing ovation.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? What interests you, and what  you might be found doing outside of work and projects?

Ryan: It's the "outside of work" part that makes that a tough question. Work, for me, is always busy, and it was a real challenge to maintain enthusiasm and sanity working 10 hours a day in After Effects, and then coming home and opening up After Effects again to work on another project. Even now, with RvD2 finished, most of my time is spent at work, and it has sort of become my mission to deliberately do nothing when I have the time to do so.

Mike: I'm sure many of your readers can relate, but I feel like it's been a long time since I've done anything outside of this project. I like watching movies, of course, and good television. Just before we got rolling on RvD2 we watched the entire series of Babylon 5, which I hadn't seen before, and we've been keeping current with Heroes. I also like good books, and in some of my spare time I try to write. Also before we got into RvD2, I was taking a martial arts class, and I'd like to get back into that or some other form of regular exercise and shed some film-flab.

When did you both meet up, and what originally sparked the idea to work on  RVD?

Mike: We met online on a film site we both frequent,
fanfilms.com. The first time we really took notice of each other was in a lightsaber effects contest, in which I took first and he took second place after a heated competition that left us less than friendly with each other. But when I took on another effects project some time later (the fan film "The Formula"), and the slate was too heavy for me to complete alone, there was only one person I knew talented enough to take some of the sequences. So despite our rivalry, I asked him to come on board. Working together on Formula, we eventually became friends, and have remained good friends ever since.

Ryan: The funny part, though, is that the fan film community didn't know we'd ever become anything other than enemies from that old contest. So when the first lightsaber choreography competition started up, we thought it would be funny to not do individual entries, but instead to do one together, where we literally fight each other. We met face-to-face for the first time to work on choreography for RvD and over the course of about 3 weekends, made that fight. Our goal was to make, first and foremost, a great fight with focus on the choreography, but in a way, we're "playing" ourselves, so we made no effort to make Star Wars inspired costumes and stuff like that. i think people responded to that simplicity.

Michael, do you also work in the industry?

Are you hiring? [laughs] I actually lost my job last August, right when we were about to shoot RvD2. At that time I was working at an engineering firm that was bought out and moved to Cleveland. Since then I've been collecting unemployment benefits, essentially making RvD2 my full-time job. But my benefits ran out this week, and the film is done, so I'd better start looking!

Have you both worked together on other projects?

Mike: Besides sharing FX duties on "The Formula," and of course the original RvD, I made a short film called "The Monkey's Paw," based on the short story of the same name, and Ryan was AD for me. He also did the titles and a few effects shots for the film.

Aside from your own work with RVD, and other projects, what is your  favorite lightsaber duel scene (whether Star Wars or fan film)?

Ryan: Darth Maul vs Obi-Wan is the reason I love lightsaber fights. The first effects test I ever tried to do was to emulate the shot from that fight that they had in the trailer for Episode I. The choreography and speed and intensity is fantastic. For me, that's kind of the pinnacle and the goal of what I want to do with saber fights.

Mike: Tough question. My favorite "official" fight scene is a tie between the fight with Darth Maul in Phantom Menace, and with Darth Vader in Empire. In fan films, also a tie between Duality, and an entry into the third choreography competition named Eclipse. In both ties, the former film I like for the lightsaber swinging, blade clashing action, whereas the latter of each pair is more thought-out and character driven, with fewer strikes or attacks but each one meaningful.

What I really liked about the first RVD, aside from the fantastic effects, was the  brilliant choreography. I read that you worked this out over the course of a few  weekends. Did this also include spending a lot of time reviewing duel  scenes?

Mike: The only fight scenes we watched during our choreography weekend, as I recall, were from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- which Ryan had never seen! I think we may also have watched The Matrix a few times, but that was more to get a sense of the rhythm of a good fight scene.

Ryan: I think we looked for inspiration in movies and other fan film saber fights, but in terms of choreography we were mostly just bouncing ideas off of each other that we had. Also, it was the entire film that was done over the course of three weekends. The choreography itself was completed in one weekend, with occasional changes or adjustments on-set.

Another thing that really got me when I first saw the original RVD, was the effective use of the camera. Details, such as the shot of Michael's broken glasses on the floor, really helped strengthen the video, I thought. Was a lot of this planned prior to actual filming?

Ryan: In a general sense, yes. We would propose ideas like that like, "I knock you, then shot of the glasses skidding on the floor, then back to you..." and then when we were filming, it was about just placing the camera and seeing what worked and looked best. Most of the time we were on the same page without having really discussed it. We were mostly just looking and finding the angles as we went. If we watched a take and it felt weak, we'd try another angle, and see if it worked better.

One big step forward for RvD2 is that we did all that before we even went onto location. In the choreography process, we would give special attention to the angles and really try to find the best shots as we were recording our choreography footage.  We wanted to have a good sense of that early on, and have a strong plan when we got on set, so we could move forward as quickly and smoothly as possible. There's still stuff we made up on set (a fair amount of it) but for a lot of the fight, we had it pretty figured out months before we really shot it.

I was absolutely stunned by RVD2. Seeing that long list of credits, I am curious to know what the workflow was like, and how it was getting everyone together on this project.

Mike: In terms of that long list of people, there was no workflow to speak of. Most of the people named in the credits donated the money we needed for airfare and lodging and our score, but the editing and effects were still done solely by myself and Ryan, and two 3D artists contributing three shots (the first shot where I'm looking at the stump of my arm, and two shots utilizing a CG lightsaber).

Ryan: The crew of people who worked on RvD2 directly is actually quite small (excluding the musicians who played on the soundtrack). When we filmed, it was only 4 of us: Myself, Michael, Travis Boles (who drove 11 hours from Texas to Georgia and filmed most of the fight) and Brandon Flyte, who is a friend of ours and helped us do whatever else we needed, which was indispensable. The 4 of us shot it all in about a week together.

On the post-production side, bringing people on to help us out was very fluid. We had ideas, for instance, to film our own pyrotechnic elements, and we would just start asking people we knew, like Bob Forward, who runs Detonationfilms.com. As it turned out, he was a big fan and happy to help us shoot all kinds of elements that worked great for this project. Mike can talk about our composers a little later.

Mike: The post workflow between me and Ryan was pretty simple. We did all of our cutting on a MacBook Pro loaded with Final Cut Pro, mostly in the mornings after nights of filming. We did our FX work on PCs, not because of any kind of platform or processor preference, just because those were the desktop machines we already had. Since PCs can't read the DVCPRO-HD footage from Panasonic P2 cards, we had to render out a version it could read, and we discovered that the only truly lossless video format out of Final Cut was, in fact, "None" compression. So we were both working from a 26GB master edit of RvD2, isolating shots one by one in AfterEffects and doing the work, rendering them back out, and then plugging those into the Final Cut timeline.

The soundtrack is also amazing. How did you find the composers?

Mike: I found Gordy when I put out a call on Craigslist when I needed original music for "The Monkey's Paw." He sent me a link to his website and I immediately knew he had the chops to score not only that film, but anything else I might throw at him. He's a brilliant composer, and we really clicked and had a great experience working together. When Ryan and I committed to RvD2, there was no question that Gordy was our first choice to compose the score. In fact, I believe that it was because we knew Gordy that the decision was made, early on, to get an original score. When we discussed it with Gordy, he asked us if he could bring Kyle on board as co-composer. Our attitude was, if Gordy trusts him, we trust Gordy. Both of them brought a tremendous amount of talent and passion to the plate for us and we look forward to working with them on our future projects.

Most often, no matter how satisfied someone is with their finished work, there is sometimes something that may still bother them. Is there anything you might have done differently?

Mike: I wish we had committed to a digital arm removal (during the final sequence) earlier than we did. Ryan and I are both of the opinion that digital effects should be the last resort to any problem. Besides the shot where it's actually chopped off, which we knew would be digital, we had intended to use a severed arm prosthetic to achieve the effect in-camera. Unfortunately, the prop wasn't delivered on time.

We kept pushing it back and back waiting for our prop to arrive until finally, on the last night, we knew we had no choice and decided to shoot it with the intention of adding a CG stump later, and just hope for the best. We had planned our shots around an in-camera effect and not a digital one, so we had to change our plan completely and I think the last portion of the film suffers somewhat for it. That last night was really rushed, and we had to work mostly within "safe" angles and more or less locked-off shots, whereas if we'd had more time to plan
with that in mind, I think we might have been more daring with how we shot and paced that.

Ryan: I think there are always things you're never quite satisfied with, and it comes down to hoping you can finish in the time allotted with the budget you have, and have something you're proud of. There's a small handful of things that, especially retrospectively, could have perhaps been done better, but that's inherent to filmmaking. For me, it's mostly things on the post-production side. A few visual effects shots that I would have liked to spend more time on, things like that. But if there were no deadlines, nothing would ever be finished. In the end, I'm proud of the work we did. 

The choreography in RVD2 was again fantastic and even more intense. How long did it take this time around to prepare for the shoot, and how long did you actually spend filming on location?

Ryan: We started months before the shoot, going out on weekends and filming choreography ideas. So when it came time to shoot, we had a lot of concepts that we had developed and practiced so we could move quickly on-set. We gave ourselves about 10 nights on location, starting around 8:00pm and going until workers started coming in and using machinery about 7:00am, and we filmed 7 or 8 of those nights.

There were also some great comedic moments in the film. Given all the work that went into this, do you feel there was a good enough balance of fun involved to keep things moving?

Mike: I think individual viewers will feel differently. Some people apparently think the moments of humor throw the pacing off or somehow "cheapen" the film. I think they're necessary to keep the whole thing tongue-in-cheek, so people know we're not taking it too seriously. We also spend a lot less time striking poses this time, it's almost non-stop all the way through, so the little moments of laughter help break it up and give it a breather. I will say, though, that even though we knew it was kind of funny, I didn't expect the saber hitting me in the face to be hands-down the biggest laugh of the film. It seems to be everyone's favorite moment.

Ryan: Absolutely, it is always a biggest response from every crowd I've seen the film with. I think those kinds of moments are what give the sequence personality. We're two regular guys who have lightsabers and for some reason are engaged in an epic duel. It's not meant to be completely serious. Getting people to laugh with us brings them in, lets them enjoy it more, and become more involved with us as characters, which is important, even though it's an 8 minute sequence with no dialogue.


As with anything, there is always something that can go wrong at any given time. What kind of obstacles did you face in making RVD2? Moreover, were there any hard lessons learned?

Ryan: I think on-set our main obstacle was time. We spent the first two days in Atlanta getting set up, figuring out how we wanted to arrange the stuff in the factory for the film, work out some lighting, plan the geographic flow of the choreography, etc. And then, of course, it always takes longer to actually film sequences (especially action) than you think it will. I think we gave ourselves as much of an advantage as possible by working out most of our choreography beforehand, and planning it so that we could spend about 10 nights with access to the location in which to film everything. Even so, we found ourselves very pressured to keep moving quickly and prioritize what we needed to get versus what we wanted to get. In the end, we had to omit a chunk of choreography involving hand-to-hand fighting that we had planned, in order to actually finish the film. The sequence works perfectly fine without it, in fact we made a strong comedic moment out of NOT fighting hand-to-hand, so it worked out just fine.

Mike: Here's some lessons: No matter how long you've been up or how tired you are, if you're going to be running a two-hour film festival from a laptop, make sure you have your power adapter. That's a hard lesson that I shouldn't have had to learn, but there it is.

Also, always always always back up your work. That's a no-brainer and luckily we had heeded this advice. All of our work flowed down to an external hard drive which, of course, failed on us the morning we were going to do our final render. Luckily, we had prepared for that possibility and all of the rendered footage was backed up elsewhere and we were able to reconstruct the edit fairly quickly, but that's just typical, isn't it? My desktop computer also started crashing for no good reason that same morning and I had to run several system restores to stabilize it. I truly believe technology can be intentionally malicious, because there had been no problems before that morning.

If anyone's wondering why it was out so late on March 1, that's the main reason.

Aside from Adobe After Effects, what other programs were used in the making of RVD2?

Ryan: Final Cut Pro for editing, Soundtrack Pro for sound editing, Pro Tools for sound mixing. We also used 2d3's boujou for 3D camera tracking for many of our shots, especially the parts involving the wall. I believe our 3D artists used Maya for modeling/animation, and mental ray for rendering.

 Now after RVD2, are there any plans for future projects?

Mike: Absolutely. We've had a few people approach us wanting to work with us. There's a new website,
5minutehorror.com, that will be specializing in short form horror films that has asked us to contribute a short for the site. I wrote a script for that which we're all excited about. I've been working with a management company to develop an idea for an action feature, and I'm hoping to also develop a feature based on one of H.P. Lovecraft's stories. And a few big ideas that will have to wait until later in our careers. We're always discussing new ideas. Plus I'm hoping that RvD2 will catch the interest of people with existing scripts, which will make our future possibilities that much broader.

Ryan: People always immediately ask when we're going to make RvD3. I always tell them we'll wait another 4 years and then we'll talk. In all seriousness, I think in the immediate future it's going to be original work like what Mike was just saying, but we'll surely get back to playing with lightsabers later on.

Do you have any tips or advice for others looking to create their own films, or who are looking to get into this line of work in general?

Ryan: I'm going to give some controversial advice. Kids often ask me if there is a film school that I recommend, or what sorts of courses they should take in college. I tell them that they don't need to do any of that. Is it a good idea? Yes, it absolutely CAN be. But is it necessary to being a filmmaker? From everything I've seen, no.

I never went to film school, and I never really took a filmmaking class. I'm certainly not a billion-dollar filmmaker or anything, so you can take that with a grain of salt, but I've heard a lot of stories about people who spend ludicrous amounts of money on film school and never use a camera, or arguably worse, schools that put a camera in your hands and don't tell you what to do with it. I think if they had spent all that money simply making a film, instead of trying to learn how you're "supposed to" make a film, they would have gotten a much more educational experience. Is this true of everyone and every school? Absolutely not, but it is something I hear about a lot.

I would say the same goes for the field of visual effects. Having the credentials to "prove" to people that you should technically know how to do something is good, but it is completely secondary to being able to show them that you actually can. Build a reel, make a film. Actually do it. Even if you aren't very good. You grow and improve through. If you can do this without going to school or taking classes, then fantastic. Video technology and software is getting cheaper all the time. If you can train yourself to make a film or do visual effects just well enough to get a first job or freelance gig doing it, then you have that to put on your brag sheet, and you have that much more experience. Leverage that to get another gig, and another, and a bigger gig. It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work, make no mistake. But the opportunity is there, if you can prove yourself. And it is my opinion that you can do all that on your own.

Mike: In terms of film school, I agree with what Ryan said. I didn't go to film school, but I've worked on a number of film school sets, and it's just sad sometimes to watch them spend so much money and believe they're getting something out of it, when they could have spent a fraction of it on a decent digital camera and a Netflix subscription and gotten as much or more practical experience and education.

Also, do this for me: think of the worst possible experience you can imagine making a film. Really try to imagine everything going wrong, because it will. Try to place yourself in that position, and then ask yourself, from that place, "Is there anything else I'd rather be doing?" If your answer is yes, forget about filmmaking and just do that other thing instead.

This is not glamorous work and most of the time it's not even very much fun. It's a long, frustrating, difficult process getting a film made, even a short film, and it can be thankless too since most people online thrive on trying to cut you down. If you're looking to be a rock star of the movie world, don't bother. Do it because there's nothing else you'd rather do, and because you can't think of a better experience than seeing your dreams come to life.

That being said, also realize you don't need any one's permission to be a filmmaker. You don't have to wait for someone to tell you you're great, or to give you money, or whatever. If you've got a camera (or can find a friend with one) and enough passion, you'll find a way.

Now with The Making of RvD2 (DVD) and the RvD2 Original Soundtrack (CD) soon to be available, any words on these that you would like to add ?

Mike: I want to make it very clear that we are not selling the films. Lucas is very accommodating to the fans and is willing to turn a blind eye to our hobby as long as we don't start stepping on any toes. No money changes hands if you want the films in DVD quality. We'll be putting up an ISO torrent you can download and burn yourself, and we're going to try to work something out where if you send us a blank DVD, we'll burn the films to it for you and send it back.

What you're paying for with the DVDs on our website is behind-the-scenes material. There's going to be a lot of in-depth technical information on how we achieved the effects (stuff non-FX people might find boring), a documentary showing the process we went through in putting the film together, stuff like that. The free DVD of the films will be included with your purchase, but I want to say again that you do not have to pay anything if all you want is the films on DVD.

Ryan: A lot of people have watched the film and said "I'm going to make a donation to you guys right away!" Well, why not get something back? If you liked the film and want to help us recover from it and make more stuff in the future, please pick up a copy of the CD and/or DVD.



You can check out both RVD and RVD2 at the official website:

For more information on Ryan Wieber, including tutorials on creating lightsaber effects, please visit Ryan Wieber's website

All supporting images are copyright (c) 2007 Blinding Light Productions, and may not be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission.

Nick's Notes is a Renderosity Front Page column with Managing Editor, Nick C. Sorbin, providing reviews, interviews, and general commentary.

March 5, 2007


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Article Comments

papachile ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 07 March 2007

LOL! I loved it. I especially liked the end! LOL! Awesome movie.

nemirc ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 08 March 2007

I watched both of them on youtube today :D Love the minute 4:22 of the second movie ;)

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