On The Set of Dead Air

Posted on 01. Apr, 2008 by in Film/TV, Profiles

words by Jon Weinberg, photos by Robert Todd Williamson

It is close to midnight when I pull up outside the Figueroa Plaza in downtown L.A. Stepping out into the light of the full moon and the stillness of the night, I find the setting fitting for what will take place tonight inside the building in front of me. I enter a large open room that is being used as a make shift sound stage in what I’m told used to be a bank. Crew members and actors are buzzing about readying the set and themselves for what will be a long night of filming on the indie horror film, Dead Air, directed by film and television actor Corbin Bernsen. 

Dead Air tells the horrifying story of what happens when a biological terrorist attack strikes a major American metropolitan area, and the victims are turned into raving “maniacs”. The story centers around Logan Bernhardt (Bill Moseley), a controversial radio talk show host, his producer Lucy (Patricia Tallman), and Logan’s sidekick Gil (David Moscow) who insists on staying on the air during the resulting chaos. 

Bernsen’s publicist meets me inside. To my left is the façade of a news studio that is still having the finishing touches placed on it for the first scene of the night. The crew is setting up lights and tinkering with the set. Snacks are appearing on the craft services table nearby, actors are getting into makeup only several yards away from that, and Corbin is speaking with producer Chris Aronoff, making sure that all the small details are being taken care of. Although this is all happening at once with dozens of conversations bouncing off the high concrete ceilings, there is a sense of calmness in the room. 

While I’m waiting to talk with Corbin, producer Jesse Lawler comes by to make sure all is well with us. Jesse is very welcoming and is genuinely excited to be working on Dead Air with Bernsen for the third time. “We have a pretty great little cast in this one. One of the challenging things has been coordinating all the actors’ schedules.” Although there will be around 25 shooting days on Dead Air, principal photography began almost a year ago. Corbin later explains that while they were working on their previous film, Donna on Demand, he felt it would be great to get another film in production while they had access to the sets and sound stage. They shot most of the interiors and over 80 pages of the script in ten days last March. Jessie informs me that because of the hiatus, several of the actors are currently working on other projects. They will be using body doubles until the actors are available. 

We are then politely interrupted by Corbin who wants to know if one of the doubles is in fact here, so that they can get some confusing shots worked out for the second set up of the night. 

With that matter cleared up, Jessie pulls out his laptop and treats me to the trailer for Dead Air. I am now excited to see the “maniacs” in action. Later tonight some 150 bloodied extras will be rolling in and I’m looking forward that that! 

It appears that the crew is almost ready for Corbin, but before he gets settled into his directing chair he sits down with us to share some thoughts on
the project. 

Whether from his tenure on the Emmy Award winning LA Law, his plethora of movie roles or his current work on the TV series, Psych, it is almost certain that you have invited Corbin Bernson, the actor, into your home many times over the past 20 years. 

In Dead Air however, Corbin’s primary focus is directing. This is Bernson’s third project as a director and although he admits directing is hard, he finds it very rewarding when it all comes together. “I enjoy the challenge of pushing the envelope. Making a unique horror film on a small budget is like saying, ‘let’s go to the moon on a ten-year-old’s allowance.’” 

Not only is Corbin helming the film, but he also has built parts of the newsroom set for tonight’s shoot. He is in fact also the production designer on the film. He shares with me that he has a background in carpentry and even used to build homes. I see his attention wander to the set and I sense that he is eager to start filming. But before he flees I ask him what has been the most fun for him on the project. “Getting to determine what’s scary,” he tells me, “and coming up with stuff that I find to be inventive.” When I ask him for an example he begins to describe the way a character is going to be killed off later in the night. It is definitely an imaginative way to have someone die, but before he finishes all the bloody details he asks me not to write about it so that it can remain a surprise. Sorry, I guess you will just have to wait and see for yourself. 

Corbin heads over to the set and I follow, finding a place behind him and amongst the crew where I can see the action in the monitor. I watch as Bernsen directs the two actors playing news anchors through various news reports. 

Bill Moseley

When there is a break in the filming, I give up my prime location to get a few moments with lead actor Bill Moseley. I recognize him, but - and I know this may be blasphemy for all you horror fanatics - I learn that he has starred in many of the most memorable horror films over the past 20 years only after consulting my notes. Bill is well known for his role as Chop Top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and more recently for playing sadistic serial killer Otis B. Driftwood in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects

The character of Logan in Dead Air is a bit of a departure for Bill. This time he gets to play the good guy. We step outside to make sure we don’t get in anybody’s way, and he tells me he is happy to be back working on the film. We chat about his work on Dead Air and he confides, “At first the intense shooting schedule was kind of a shock to the system. I’m used to a slightly more relaxed shooting schedule. I’m more of an organic actor and like to feel my way through stuff.” Tonight is his last night of filming on this project, but he has been keeping busy lately. Since the initial filming of Dead Air last year, Bill has worked on six other productions including a horror opera. He excuses himself and heads over to makeup, and I introduce myself to actress Patricia Tallman. 

Pat is smiling and looks quite awake for two in the morning. She too is glad to be back. “You never know if a project will get finished. This has been a fun project and everyone is so great to work with.” Pat is playing Lucy, the radio show’s producer, and lets on that her character is a bit of a girly-girl. “I’m a stunt woman and I kicked ass in the last film. I cry a lot in this one. It can be frustrating.” Some of her previous work includes Babylon 5, and the remake of Night of the Living Dead. We are talking about the business of acting when her thirteen-year-old son wanders over. He’s on spring break and came to hang out on set for the night. He has his cell phone out and is in mid-text. Pat is very curious about who he is texting at such a late hour, but like a smart teenager he dodges the question well. I am curious to find out how the filming is coming along, so I make my way back to the set. 

Back in the mock newsroom they have swapped the original backdrop with one representing a news studio in another city and have added a couple of infectious “maniacs” to the scene. On my way over I stop to make myself a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich - my compliments to craft services. Over the next half hour they proceed to shoot various versions of the scene in which the newsroom is being overrun. The night and corresponding shoot starts to wind down and I need to pack up my things, but they’re stuck on the other side of the set and I’m afraid I’ll make too much noise. When they finally yell “cut”,  I’m able to quickly grab my stuff and escape into the quiet of the night. The wee light of dawn is not far off as I find my car on the almost empty street. I take my keys out and approach my car while I nervously glance over my shoulder. I figure it’s best to make sure that before I go home there are no “maniacs” following me. One can’t be too cautious with them lurking about.

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