Steffen Werner proves that nothing in impossible no matter the circumstances. He started filmmaking at the age of 55, taking huge project in 2016, called “Starship Troopers Deadlock”. A 40 mins film on zero budget!
Steffen was born in 1966 in Leipzig, Germany. He did two years graphic design before switching to a pure technical study in Automation Technology. Since 1992 he had been working as a software engineer in a huge software company, but he never lost connection with art and creativity via web design, which was part of his work.
In 2016 he decided to come closer to art so he took the challenge to make a movie.
The project description in his own words:
“I want to come closer to the art, therefore I decided to make a movie, because I think it is a mixture of programming and creativity and it covers a huge bandwidth of capability which I want to bring down to the ground. I am a handcrafter too and filmmaking is a craft.
I have selected the topic of “Starship Troopers” due to the team spirit of this movie and also because it is a science fiction, which did not yet uncover of its universe as it should. Moreover, I am interested to span a bridge between the 3 real actor movies of Starship Troopers and the 2 animated ones.
Nevertheless, I tell an own story with own characters, even with own, new, never seen enemies – we invented our own Bug. Means, the movie plays in the Starship Troopers universe, it used its terms and vocabulary, but tells a complete own story. We used also the props what they used in the original movie – no the original ones of course, but we made or own replicas of it and we did additional for the movie a new development of prop elements, which was never seen in a real actor movie of this series.
I united over 90 people to realize this project. Huge parts of the work I did by my own, like camera, video editing, VFX, SFX, 3d animation, sound editing, prop making and a lot of things more.
Especially the prop “M3-2 helmet” is my very own design and invention. It is an extension of what we have seen in the original film. The design has taken some ideas from the animated films and merged it together in reality.”
“Starship Troopers Deadlock” details
The premiere of “Starship Troopers Deadlock” will be in June 2022. The movie is produced in German and English.
Here is the IMDB entry for it: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14859702/
For the movie Steffen has also produced a music video, which is already released and you can watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2i3AU2JLZs. It is part of the movie, but a kind of pre-release.
And of course the trailer of the movie is also available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SapwRF5WcFs
– After working for a long time in the technical industry, you have decided to re-enter the art scene, in an area that you didn’t have any experience before. But you have entered filmmaking with a huge project. How difficult was the start?
I had no experience in film making. I did small home video before for private consume, but never a real movie. The start was hard. But I understood it only later that it was hard. Because at the beginning there was just the idea to do it. I was not thinking about the whole process. I had some ideas how I could start and I was just focused on that. On that way I was protected to scare about the rest of the way.
The start was forced by a friend. We did about two years before in 2014 some actions together in a very cool location, an old industrial ruin. I was inspired by this location – its name is “Reichsschwefelwerk Haßmersheim”. Look it up and you will discover the impressive history of this building. At the end of 2016 he contacted me, saying “if you want to make your movie in this location, you have to do it yet this year. Because the real estate will change the owner and then we have no longer access to it.”
That was in October 2016. We agreed a shooting to mid of December. I had about two months left to prepare all. I knew that I wanted to make something with Starship Troopers, because I am a fan of it and I had made at this time already some replica props of this movie. I had the helmets and the armors. We used this equipment already before on other events like obstacle races. We made this kind of championship full armored with a bunch of crazy guys. During this time the idea was also born to make more in this direction.
However, in October 2016 I had no script, no detailed plan how to do it, the weapons were also yet missing and some other props, I had no camera and I had no actors. To close these gaps there were two months only. Anyhow I made it, I cannot say how. But on 10th December 2016 we were on set at this location. The first thing I figured out there, was that the topic “audio” seemed also to be important. I was never thinking about it, I thought okay there is a mic integrated in the cam, it could work. But of course it didn’t work. Per chance, a friend had an audio recorder on set, so we used it. Later we found out that this audio footage was also not usable.
The shooting was long and cold. We started at 9 o’clock in the morning and finished twelve o’clock in the night. My friends and the actors wanted to kill me due to no planning of break or recreation from my side. I was just driven by the idea and adrenaline and so I forgot everything around me. We shoot the whole film in one day! You may guess what the result was? Yes, of course huge parts of the footage were not usable. I was flashed after this event and I needed some months to understand that this was really happening and it was not just a dream.
Then as I came back to ground and I reviewed the footage I have also seen that not all was bad. A lot of material was really nice and that motivated me to continue.
– What were the main challenges you had to face in order to complete the project, which is worth mentioning again that it was a zero budget film?
Right, no budget – zero budget. I had no contracts with any actors, all who contributed were driven by my enthusiasm only. Everybody who contributed paid by themselves what was needed to come and survive on set.
The main challenge over this long time of five years was to keep the people together to stay with the project. Sometime people jumped out the project or even disappeared without a trace. And sometimes such people left an important gap.
The challenge was always to find a plan B, to find a creative idea how to close this gap. Sometimes that was hard and hopeless.
– You had done most of the creative work yourself. Music, FX, 3D animation, you have even designed a prototype for the M3-2 helmet to name a few. How did you manage the organisation of all these and ensure that production would be on schedule?
I did a lot, but of course not all. Something was done by these 90 people. Especially I tried to get help for things I could not cover for. At the beginning that was a lot, later I learned a lot and on this way I was then able to cover a lot.
So for music I was in the comfortable situation that a Canadian compositor offered to contribute on the project. He jumped in together with a friend who has SFX skills. That was the start on the audio topic. Later I was able to cover the whole SFX topic by myself. 3D animation is also a topic which I cannot cover in a professional way to get exciting results. Here I was looking a long time for support. But over the time is was possible to convince a 3D expert to contribute at the project. At the end we were a team of 3 people including myself who was busy with the 3D stuff.
Movie editing and compositing I learned over the years. For real FX I am a handcrafter with always exciting ideas and enough creativity. I made all physical props by myself. I think that is the main treasure of this project. And we talk about science fiction and not about a crime film, where you can use daily things as prop.
How I kept the production on schedule? The secret is – there was no schedule.
– For the making of this project, you have assembled a team of 90 people. What were the challenges of assembling and managing that team?
How did I manage the whole organization of 90 people? Later in the project we made more shootings to close gaps of erroneous footage of 2016.
These follow up shootings I organized always as an event. That means for the participants it was not just a shooting, it was rather an exciting event.
And that was the motivation for the people to stay with me and the project. They knew, they get always something unforgettable and exciting stuff.
– How did you manage to handle any onset difficulties?
Onset difficulties are always a problem. For example, on the first shooting in 2016, the guy who should act as one of the survivors, told me during shooting, that he cannot continue due to end of power. I just accepted it and said to the rest of the crew, that I need a break.
I rewrote the script in this time and I convinced a girl to take over this main part. Then we continued. I think that was the hardest problem which was to manage during shooting.
Another harsh situation was during a location scooting, we discovered a place which should be used instead of the no longer available location Reichsschwefelwerk. We wanted to make some test shoots to see how we can get all with less light and power from accumulators only, because it was an old bunker without power. During this we figured out that it was no longer a free to use place and finally the police stopped us. That was an exciting moment because the risk was to lose a lot of material, notebooks, props, cameras, light and other equipment. And all that in a foreign country, because this bunker was located in France! In the end, after talking to the people and to the police, we explained them that we were no marauder or thieves but artists. There was then a happy end, we became familiar with the new owners and we agreed with them a new follow up shooting.
I generally manage problems – the only thing what helps is talking, talking, talking. Nothing else.
I am familiar with such processes due to my real job – I am team leader of an international developer team in software development. There, it is daily business to manage problems in the team. This experience which I have from decades in the IT business is also helpful during film making.
– Working in a fairly new area, on such an important project what are the qualities you have earned as a director and generally as a creator ?
Oh, that is a lot. I learned to stay patient and always thankful to whatever I can get. I got a lot of technical skills like SFX handling, movie editing and compositing, creation of VFX – VFX is mainly done by myself completely. I learned a lot about audio, because that is not my world, I am a more visual type. I learned also something about 3D animation and story writing as well as then the dubbing of the whole film. Because we had no usable audio footage, the whole audio part of the movie must be redone. We dubbed it in two languages, in German and in English, but also the complete ambient noise was redone completely. Here I learned a lot from my voice actor team (about 14 people). They are all audio book makers. They have a very high demand on hearing. From them I learned to hear in layers separated by fore and background. A completely new world for me.
– Which director has influenced your work?
I have no favourite director and I did no analysis of other movies before. I am a fan of science fiction films in general. I like Terminator, Alien and military science fiction like Battle Los Angeles or similar. Starship Troopers of course. And I had just imagined how that should be.
– What is your advice for people who decide to pursue arts at a later stage in life?
Just do it. Don’t look at others. You have an idea, great – then make it happen. Don’t think about problems. You will find a solution for all problems step by step if the time comes for it. If you want to know what is behind the horizon? – you should walk to it!
– What are your future plans?
After this project I will continue with filmmaking, maybe I will do a directors study at the Munich Film School, which is possible with an age of 40 and above only. Furthermore, you need a reference film for the application. That is another reason why I made this film. So I am an aspiring director, who has already taken some practical steps.