On Set with Brubaker's Angel of Death

Local superstition says the long abandoned Los Angeles mental hospital - which is now used exclusively for filming -- is haunted. A ghostly doctor is said to be seen roaming the sixth floor, walking past patient rooms left in the condition of their last inhabitant - or last production to film there. This is the set of "Angel of Death."

The direct-to-internet series stars Zoë Bell as Eve, a contract killer who intends to bite the hand that feeds her. While CBR News was on set, filming concerned Eve's neighbor Vera, played by Lucy Lawless. The action of the take is simple enough: Vera enters the apartment to drop off some pamphlets and snoops around, making her way to a closet. Along the way, she takes special note of a pill bottle. With director, script supervisors, the monitors, and other production personnel ensconced in an alcove outside the room, the set is very much a world of its own.

"Angel of Death," announced earlier this year at Comic-Con International in San Diego, will appear on the Crackle website next year in ten 8-to-10 minute segments. The story will focus on Eve's attempt to kill her organized crime superiors after she suffers a serious head wound. This trauma, described previously by Bell as "blade to the brain," leads her to see visions.

The project began when producer John Norris met with writer Ed Brubaker about optioning Brubaker's ICON series "Criminal." "Sony was looking to expand their digital presence and do something more innovative; something meant to be a feature and seen online. They thought 'Criminal' would be a good thing to do that with," Brubaker told CBR.

"Criminal" was not available in the end, so Norris mentioned working on a project with Zoë Bell. "I was such a huge fan of hers after her stunt work and her documentary 'Double Dare' and seeing her in "Grindhouse," so I thought, why don't I try to come up with something just for her?" Brubaker said. "I suggested to [John], 'I have a notebook full of crime story ideas, why don't I just see if there's something that would make sense to sort of retrofit for Zoë and practically the first thing that popped into my head was the 'Angel of Death' idea. It was just one sentence in a journal, but I immediately saw this whole story."

Bell says she first encountered the project a year-and-a-half ago. Given a look at various concepts, this one "sparked my interest," she said. Entering into the project as it was still being shaped, she was excited by a "solid action role for a female." The enthusiasm on the part of the producers also made the idea more inviting. As opposed to "business type moneymakers" she encountered elsewhere, everyone involved in the planning "Angel of Death" was "genuinely excited."

Back on set, another take was called for by director Paul Etheredge because of a lens issue. The shot is altered slightly and the subsequent take is "great for camera." At this point, Bell walked onto set and took a chair by the monitors. Bell, Etheredge, and a script supervisor discussed whether or not Eve would make her bed at this point in the story. Bell argued she would cling to that little bit of normalcy. The bed, it turns out, was made earlier in the day, leading the director to question it.

Bell's career as a stunt-woman began on the set of "Xena: Warrior Princess," where she doubled for Lawless. She said taking her first lead role in a project is similar to the first year on that series. "You kind of feel you're doing somebody else's job," she joked. Since "Death Proof," Bell's starting to feel "ownership" over her acting. With that sense of ownership in craft, she reported a comfort level with acting is forming. Brubaker believes she is going to be a huge star.

The challenge of writing in small episodic chunks is nothing new for Ed Brubaker. "I'm used to writing everything in chapters. The challenge was making sure I could fit enough in each chapter in the amount of pages we had available. We had a guideline of between eight-to-eleven minutes on the outside per episode," he said. At the time the script was first written, it was believed the average Internet program ran anywhere from three to five minutes. "I've since learned there were other internet shows that did run longer. It's a very elastic medium."

Brubaker believes both a twenty-two page comic and a eight-to-ten minute episode require similar things from a writer. "I think going from comics -- where everything has to be four-to-six issues to tell one story -- I was able to take that mindset of trying to make sure each chapter has the right parts in it, but move the story forward and that it builds to one longer story."

Brubaker confirmed the eventual DVD will see each episode brought together a cohesive feature. "Paul [the director] actually said he'll do a take that's a more extreme reaction of characters in case they need something like that when editing the episodes' [endings]," he said. "But what they'll do when they edit it for the [DVD] is take the cliffhanger moments out and make them a little more subtle. The director's cut feature version might actually end up being thirty seconds or a minute shorter than the online version."

There is also the possibility of more stories from "Angel of Death." "I have a couple of different sequels in mind, actually," Brubaker said.

Brubaker hopes the swiftness of production and the constraints of the format will lead to a resurgence of inexpensive crime dramas. "I'm thinking maybe people will create more stuff for this market," he remarked. "I think people will get new careers out of this stuff." Brubaker also thinks as the format grows, it will provide a new forum for actors as well. "One thing I've learned in my few years dealing with Hollywood is most actors aren't working," he laughed. Even popular actors have more downtime then they would like, and the speed and flexibility of the immerging medium means more opportunities. "Most of them would rather work."

Back on the monitors, the shot came closer in on Lawless. This version of the shot was half the action of the wider takes, consisting of her first entrance to her decision to look in the closet. In this take, we can clearly see the Vera character leave the pamphlets on a table near the bill bottle, but neither object quite comes into shot. After the take, Etheredge asked for the camera to tilt down more so the pill bottle and the pamphlets clearly appeared in shot. All were pleased with this form of the shot. Etheredge called for one more take of the shot. One slight alteration was made. The camera was moved a foot or two to the left. Etheredge yelled "cut" and it was agreed they had the footage they needed from that set-up. With that, the director said, "Movin' on."

What does Vera find in the closet? We'll find out when "Angel of Death" premieres early next year.

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