Interview with Mike Zawacki and Scott Norman, The Wars of Other Men, Part 3

Welcome back for part 3 in our chat with Mike Zawacki, director of steampunk short film Wars of Other Men, and Scott Norman, who plays the Lieutenant.

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here


Airship Ambassador: What are some memorable fan reactions to Wars which you’ve heard about?

Mike Zawcki: There’ve been some good ones. We’ve had people tear up at the end, including a couple of people who served in combat in various wars. Those are definitely the most humbling. I remember a lady who came up and thanked us, saying her son was serving in Iraq. So we gave her one of the collectible patches we had made for the film and some other swag. And there have been a lot of people who just really enjoyed the film and were enthusiastic about it. That’s really nice to see too.

Scott Norman: I love watching people watch the film. (I’ve seen the film so many times that the audience is more interesting to me. ;-} ) The “oohs & aahs” when the blimps appear on screen always tickle me. A few people have gasped when one of the characters falls victim to The Fog, and held back tears at the end (or let them flow) — that lets me know they’re caught up in the story. I think some of the other more flattering responses are the questions afterwards about things that aren’t even in the film, when people want to know more about the world they’ve just been introduced to, back stories of the characters and the war, and whether there is going to be “more”.


AA: People continue to hear about and watch Wars. How are those new viewers finding you – conventions, website, word of mouth, etc?

MZ: Pretty much all of the above. We’ve really been concentrating on attending conventions, especially Steampunk and other alternate history conventions and doing as many screenings and meeting as many people as we can. So most of it comes through that, or through write-ups we’ve gotten on Steampunk sites and filmmaking publications.

SN: I made an effort to get the film into smaller and newer conventions where I thought it might be well received. It was kind of hard being a two-man promotion team who had other responsibilities. But, people took to it, and I guess the convention initiative let to word of mouth, because we’ve gotten invitations to screen at other conventions we hadn’t heard of or approached. So, it’s a cycle. Conventions lead to word-of-mouth, which leads to conventions, and so on…


AA: What kind of attention and opportunities has Wars generated?

MZ: We’ve been asked to screen at a lot of conventions, including a goodly number of international events (sadly we couldn’t afford the airfare to places like Holland or the UK!). We’ve had lots of offers for help on the next project, from everything to production assistants to costume and prop makers to having some really cool locations offered up for shooting.


AA: Every creator I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their work come to fruition. What was your experience like?

MZ: My experience… Ugh, it was hard. Really hard. Harder than anything I’d done before. As I’d said before we set out with the intention of making something that was slightly more ambitious than we were comfortable with. We’d never done a period military history (even if it was a made up period). We’d never done something with so many visual effects. We were also stepping it up a notch in terms of the equipment we were shooting on.

This is the first film where I had to worry about lens changes, for example. In the past we’ve shot on some decent prosumer cameras like Panasonic HVX-200s or Sony EX3s which just have a stock zoom lens. We didn’t shoot with any zooms – everything was prime lenses. Which means they gave us really great shots but it does slow you down – if you want to move from a medium shot to a close-up you can’t just zoom in and adjust focus. You have to pull the lens, swap it out with the new one, move the camera, adjust focus and a few other settings, and so on. I wasn’t prepared for how much that would impact our schedule.

The complexity of the guerilla shoots was more than we’d ever tried. Usually when you’re going in guerilla you just run in with a minimal cast and crew, shoot in the available location, and get out. We were going in and setting up power in some cases, doing complicated make-up effect shots, and doing a lot of set dressing. It was really demanding for the cast but it was doubly (or triply, even) for the crew.

What I really wasn’t ready for was how long the visual effects took. That surprised us all, even Kevin Capizzi. Having never done anything on that scale none of us had a solid idea of how long all those shots would take. We ended up adding more people to Kevin’s team but it was still very complex. That got really demoralizing, actually. We were used to being about to turn films around fairly quickly so to have Wars grind on for so long with our poor VFX team doing great work but having so much in front of them. It was worth it but, man, there were times….

pvt cavanaugh

AA: Personally, I’m glad all of you persevered, but it does sounds rather gruelling. For the aspiring film maker, what lessons did you learn along the way in creating Wars?

MZ: The big lesson I learned is that if some portion of your team is starting to experience seriously overwhelm start looking for more team members to help them out as soon as possible (in my case it was Kevin, slaving away on dozens of shots all alone).

We did a very good job on the preparation side, and that’s something I would stress to any aspiring filmmaker. Connie Mangilin, who was one of our producers, did a lot of heavy lifting at the outset of the process to plan everything out, have location scouts handled, our shooting schedule laid out in a way that minimized any waste of time or energy, and so on. Everyone was clear on how the cast & crew would get to the set, get fed, where they’d be able to go to the bathroom, and when they needed to be done. It didn’t keep some of our shoots from going long but at least we knew where we were supposed to be and when.


AA: If you weren’t creating steampunk films, what else would you be doing now?

MZ: Boy…. Having a lot less fun, I guess.


AA: Hahaha, well, at least there’s that ! What have conventions been like, and the fan reaction?

MZ: The conventions have been amazing! We’ve had a tremendous time screening the film, talking to people about the project, discussing how we could all work together on future projects, and just generally meeting and playing with cool people.

SN: We haven’t been able to appear at all the conventions that we’ve screened at. Well, not physically, anyway. Skype and Google Hangouts have come in handy to field questions and conduct talk backs after the film. One sci-fi group seemed really impressed with the virtual visit after the film,

The reactions we get to the film are overwhelmingly positive. I think there’s a real appreciation in the Steampunk community for people who are creating content for the community, so people have been great. We’ve gotten good, honest, constructive, and really positive feedback.


Let’s break here in our chat with Mike and Scott.

Join us next time as they talk about influences, life, and being creative.

Follow the latest news and information on the movie’s website, twitter, and facebook.

Information is also on IMDB, the internet movie database.

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 8:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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