Project Name: Schism
Genre: Narrative Short
Run Time: 10:30 (estimated)
Written and Directed By: Andy Sylvester
Capture Format: Sony HDR-FX1HDV
YouTube: Schism


Randy Norris starts his day with a cup of hot coffee. He looks out his kitchen window as the traffic report plays on the radio in the background. As he's shaving and dressing for the day, a breaking news report comes on the radio about an escaped serial killer named Karl Decker, who has been on the loose for six weeks after escaping from a mental hospital. Local authorities believe that he may be connected to several more murders.

The news anchor acknowledges a field reporter, who is live from Healy Hall on the campus of Georgetown University. He gives us more about the history of Karl Decker, who spent six years killing in Georgetown. After a decade of incarceration, he finally escaped by strangling his psychiatrist and bludgeoning two guards to death.

As the report continues, Randy gets in his car and drives off. As he drives, his surroundings become more and more rural. After a short while, he pulls over to check a map. As he looks at the map, he notices someone in the rearview mirror, standing behind his car's trunk. The man darts quickly away. When Randy gets out looking for him, he's nowhere to be seen. As Randy turns to get back in his car, he notices a scrap of cloth with a red stain that is caught in the trunk latch.

Popping the trunk open, Randy is horrified to find a butchered body staring back at him. He slams the trunk and attempts to call 911 but has no service on his cell phone, so he speeds off to find help. Unfortunately, a short way down the road his car breaks down, stranding him in the fading light of an abandoned country road. When Randy starts hearing noises coming from the woods, he decides to walk to find a phone. As he does, he notices that something in the woods is following him, and begins to chase him. Randy takes off running.

When Randy stops running to catch his breath, he sees an old house atop a hill. He runs towards it, and bangs on the door. When he gets no response, Randy tries the handle, which is unlocked, and he enters. As he slams the door, the house's occupant confronts him.

Randy explains that he needs to use the phone to call the police, and why. The homeowner directs him to the phone in the kitchen. Unfortunately for Randy, the phone is dead. He slams the receiver down in frustration, to find the homeowner holding a gun on him. He thinks Randy is Karl Decker, the serial killer. Randy protests, and produces his driver's license to prove he's not Decker. When the homeowner approaches to examine it, a struggle over the gun ensues, and when the gun accidentally discharges, the homeowner falls down dead.

Next to the homeowner's body, Randy notices something unusual about his driver's license. The picture on it isn't him, it's the face of the dead body he'd found in his trunk. In shock, Randy walks to the couch and sits down. The camera zooms slowly in on Randy, as he recalls some of the recent atrocities he's committed.

He is Karl Decker. He stuffs the homeowner's body in the trunk of a new car, and walks off camera.

The Story of Schism

Schism began with an eight-page script and an impossibly long shot list.

When we were doing the breakdown, we asked ourselves more than once if we were going to be able to get so much captured in such a short amount of time. We were shooting outside, which was new. We were shooting in a car again, but with a much larger camera than we had used in the past. And we had scheduled special effects for the first time.

We teamed up with our usual crew, but this time the camera was being run by Ed Stulginsky, audio was captured by Danny Davidson, and the special effects were executed by Mike Faulkner.

As the week before the shoot progressed, the weather report worsened, calling for "torrential rain" on Sunday. This forced us to move every single outside shot to Saturday, and every single INSIDE shot to Sunday. This meant that more than two and a half pages of shots (94 angles in all) had to be captured between 10:00 a.m. and 6:08 p.m., when the sun officially set. We were nervous. This left very little room for adjustment or error.

Friday night, the first night of the shoot, we planned to shoot the cutscenes from the final sequence and test our rigs for the car. Kelly Edington, who also starred in "HoLT," played the female victim, and her husband Jack played Dead Randy. We were shooting all of Kelly's scenes and only half of Jack's, because he needed to appear in the trunk on Saturday. We'll get back to that in a moment.

Kelly's scene went very smoothly. We only needed a couple takes from each angle to get some great footage, but Matt broke the box-spring on his bed from tackling her. Jack's scene, on the other hand, was a bit more challenging. We brought in an old friend and F/X junkie, Mike Faulkner, to do the gore makeup and to rig the throat-slitting scene. We used a $2.59 grinder-dulled Target-brand chef knife, several cups of fake blood, eight feet of aquarium tubing (to carry the blood to the knife) and a baby syringe (to drive the blood through). The idea is that Matt holds the knife (which cleverly hides the end of the tube) to Jack's throat and steps on the syringe as he draws the knife across, releasing a stream of gooey fake blood. Take after take, the knife slid across Jack's throat completely dry. No blood. The infant syringe just didn't have enough pressure to push the blood fast enough or far enough to gush like we wanted. Eventually, Andy crouched down under the camera, and blew on the tube manually. Finally, there was blood.

We wrapped Friday night with more than a couple beers, and a fun stabbing scene. Matt, covered in fake blood and kneeling on a shower curtain, was supposed to repeatedly stab a box rigged with a couple of sponges that had been saturated with fake blood. On the first take, the sponges stuck on the knife, so we ditched them, but Andy thought of an alternate idea: arterial spray.

Mike filled the baby syringe with blood, and as Matt frenetically stabbed downwards, he sprayed it right in his face. It's not the most realistic effect, but it's one that is totally worth it when you see it. The original raw audio when we were filming it is filled with drunken laughter to such an extent that it's surprising Matt wasn't laughing as he was stabbing.

The laughing ended, however, as we tried to transfer the video to the editing computer. The firewire connection wasn't being recognized, so we weren't able to see our dailies on the computer. We fought it for several hours before giving up for the night, but it was a problem that had to be addressed. We found out after the shoot that the camera rental company that we used had suddenly changed their policy without telling us, and we had to notify them ahead of time if we wanted a camera with a working firewire. After a polite conversation, they agreed to do our transfers free of charge.

Saturday started out well; it was perfectly overcast outside. But because we'd be trying to transfer Friday's footage the night before, we'd forgotten to cue the tape up and inadvertently taped over all of Kelly's takes. We gritted our teeth, and got on with the shoot. Luckily we were able to get Kelly to re-shoot her scene on Sunday night.

Fortunately the rest of Saturday went extremely smoothly. We started at our "Driving Roads" location off of Route 50 in farm country with the car interiors, first from a primary angle and then from a secondary angle. Once all the interiors were shot, it was just a matter of getting the shots of Matt walking and of the car driving by.

The house that Matt runs up to is owned by a friend of Audio Supervisor Danny Davidson, and is located in Herndon, VA. The angle you see is from the back yard, where you can't see the new townhouse development on the right or the McMansions over the hill to the left. We wrapped Saturday night with the shot of Matt stuffing Andy into the trunk of their parent's tan Accord.

Sunday started at Pat and Gerry Sylvester's house in Ashburn, VA with the scene of Matt getting ready in the morning. As with Saturday, the shooting schedule proved to be very efficiently written and we wrapped early enough to take a nice break before heading over to long-time friend Chris Yuastella's house in Falls Church, VA to shoot the final showdown scene between Randy and Homeowner.

The struggle scene was another first for us. We'd never used physical fighting in anything before, and we were a little unsure of how it would look in the final edit. In the end, the edit works great because of the brevity of the scene, something we thought would be closer to reality than a long drawn-out fight. Also we felt a longer fight would look too choreographed, or just generally too fake.

Andy and Matt edited Schism with Adobe Premiere CS4, and wrote the entire soundtrack. The Schism logo and poster were designed by Andy, and still photography was done by Ed Stulginsky and Danny Davidson.