Low-budget horror movie wraps up filming in Lakeville, Minn.
LAKEVILLE, Minn. -- Paul Cram was looking forward to a better-than-average day of work.
“I don’t die today,” said Cram of Columbia Heights, dressed in a blood-covered prison uniform on the set of a horror movie.
“I do get my tongue cut out, though, so that will be intense.”
Losing body parts is in the job description for actors in “The Soviet Sleep Experiment,” a movie that has finished shooting in Lakeville.
The budget is under $250,000, which is defined in the industry as “ultra-low budget.” At that price, the process of creating the made-in-Minnesota movie is far from the glitz and glamour of movie-making in Hollywood.
The film is based on an urban legend about an experiment done by the Soviets in the late 1940s. “Post-WWII, something like this could have happened,” said movie publicist Sara Leeper.
According to the script, prisoners from the Gulag are offered their freedom if they participate in the experiment. Guards confine the prisoners to a chamber, where they breathe a gas that makes sleep impossible. After 30 days, the men go crazy — and murder, mayhem and lost body parts follow.
The movie is similar to the short film “The Russian Sleep Experiment,” made in 2016.
The new film, however, has a relatively big-name star — Chris Kattan, a veteran of Saturday Night Live and movies including 1998’s “A Night at the Roxbury.”
Kattan is the half-brother of the movie’s soundtrack composer, said Leeper, which might explain how he was persuaded to join the cast.
The pace of work on Dec. 20 was frantic.
Leeper said the cast had been going through real-life sleep deprivation, working up to 20 hours a day. “That’s what coffee is for,” she said.
The cast gathered in the unused half of a building supply warehouse in Lakeville.
It was dark and cold — the furnace was off because the sound of the blower was picked up by the microphones. Many of the 30 actors, technicians, directors and friends kept their winter coats on.
They huddled around the movie-set chamber, which looked like an 18-foot cutout of a Nazi submarine. Bloody handprints smeared the interior walls.
In a chamber the size of a single-car garage, the actors would work most of the day for what would become about 30 seconds of film.
“Action!” shouted director Barry Andersson. Outside the chamber, he studied a monitor showing exactly what the cameras were filming.
Kattan staggered through the chamber door, in bloody prison garb. He bellowed, “I have to put you down!” and shoved a Soviet guard to the ground.
“Cut!” said Andersson. “Kattan, can you crouch down so we can see your silhouette?”
They tried it several more times, until Andersson was satisfied. Four seconds of the final movie had been shot.
Pete Bisson of Vadnais Heights waited by the chamber door.
Fighting once is difficult enough, but fighting all day long, until a director says it looks realistic, could be accomplished only by someone like Bisson.
“Yeah, we’re gonna toss some people around,” shrugged stunt coordinator Bisson, who worked on films for 13 years in Los Angeles.
He wasn’t too worried about the chamber fight scene. “We aren’t crashing motorcycles. We aren’t jumping off buildings,” he said. Under his prison uniform, he wore elbow and knee pads, and the Gatorback-brand gut-protection that stunt motorcyclists wear.
“Action!” shouted the director.
Bisson slammed the guard to the floor. The guard kicked him in the legs, dropped him and pummeled him.
The fifth time they did this, script supervisor Rachel Weber winced.
“You all right?” she shouted to Bisson. The scene was so realistic that she thought Bisson actually was injured. “Oh, God, that was a butt-clench,” sighed Weber.
Bisson was pleased. “When the director asks if you are OK, you did it right,” he said.
Crist Ballas watched the stuntman climb out of the chamber. The bleeding eyes and the torn ears were all his handiwork, and they looked hideously real.
Ballas is a makeup specialist who was on a team that won an Oscar for 2009’s movie “Star Trek: the Beginning.”
He explained that blood and guts were not terribly challenging. “It’s not like it’s a werewolf transformation or anything,” said Ballas.
Next to him, Elizabeth Richardson was examining her handiwork, which was — if anything — even less glamorous.
Her contribution to the scene was the fecal matter.
“It’s Nutella, chocolate pudding and crunchy peanut butter,” said prop master Richardson.
She’s somewhat of an expert in this one aspect of cinema. In action sequences, she said, “It can get all over your body. That’s why it should be something edible.”
The crew finished filming on Dec. 21, and the final version will be available on cable TV outlets in late 2019.