A force of toy soldiers invades the shores of their enemy and establishes a beachhead for further operations.
BEACHHEAD is a low frame-rate stop-motion web series with three acts: BEACHHEAD, BRIDGEHEAD and SPEARHEAD. The plot follows Reconnaissance Team Alpha (Recon) as an uncompromising General orders them deeper and deeper behind enemy lines.
BEACHHEAD features expansive set design, realistic special effects, and blends 16mm film, HD and SD video, and over 3500 high resolution photographs. Eighteen years in the making, SymmetryFilms brings you the first two acts of a war epic in miniature.
Go from BEACHHEAD to SPEARHEAD in seven webisodes, below.
BEACHHEAD is inspired by the Canadian experience at Juno Beach, Normandy and in the push to Caen. It is an action packed homage to cinematic war epics like The Longest Day (1962), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Thin Red Line (1998), and Band of Brothers (2001). Also influential are the gritty, front line images of war photographer Robert Capa and the frank journalism of war correspondent Ernie Pyle.
Below are promotional posters from 2013. They are followed by world war two propaganda and some research photographs.
DECADES IN THE MAKING
As a parent, it’s conflicting when my sons ‘play war’. I loathe war. But toy soldiers were enormously impactful on me when I was young. I watched dozens of war epics on Late Great Movies on CityTV. I shopped at army surplus stores and dressed in fatigues. My interest in war and war epics become entrenched in my play and in my creativity.
As I entered high school, my soldiers were gifted to neighbours and my fatigues turned skate punk. But my love for the war epic remained. During my post-secondary studies at Carleton University and Algonquin College in Ottawa, I was also an active member of the Independent Filmmakers Cooperative of Ottawa (IFCO) where I learned 16mm filmmaking and experimented with stop motion. I watched hundreds of films from around the world and became inspired by epic anti-war films that went beyond Hollywood heroism and propaganda. I came across a toy soldier with the same face and hat, molded in different positions. I imagined the figure moving frame by frame and decided that moment to create a 16mm stop-motion short film version of the anti-war epic. Below is the original camera test for BEACHHEAD, circa 2004.
I did several weeks of research and developed a story inspired by the film The Devil’s Brigade (1968) and a collection of Canadian letters to home. In May of 2004, BEACHHEAD was born on the banks of the Ottawa River with a crew of five. Several experimental versions were edited in Adobe Premiere and screened for small audiences. The experience inspired an increased scope of production and a deepening of the story’s characters.
In Vancouver, in 2004, I decided to return to the beachhead and expand the story. I wrote a script that included the existing 16mm footage as back stories for the main characters. I sourced props and equipment, and in spring 2005, with a crew of seven, we captured 8 minutes of stop motion action in 4 different locations. More than 150 props were used.
With the still images captured and post-production looming, I created a comic book version of BEACHHEAD to use for promotion and grant applications. I designed it in Comic Life and printed only two copies in high resolution. I still have one of them. I hope to do a comic for BRIDGEHEAD as well. Below, you can download it or flip through the slideshow.
In fall, 2006, I moved to Toronto. I was awarded a completion grant from the Toronto Arts Council and began post-production. I edited BEACHHEAD in Final Cut Pro 7; an effects editor worked in Adobe After Effects; a sound editor mixed the film in Pro Tools, and I cast actors to record voice overs at an exclusive recording studio in North York. Post-production lasted three months.
In November 2007, BEACHHEAD: A War Epic… premiered as part of a Remembrance Day curation at the Revue Cinema in Toronto to an audience of 200 people. BEACHHEAD also played at film festivals including World Kids International Film Festival.
BEACHHEAD (2007) ended in a cliff-hanging, suspenseful way because I ran out of time, energy and resources to finish the film. I just wanted it out there for people to watch. It has accumulated more than 1.3 million views on the YouTube and is regarded as one of the most enjoyed toy soldier war epics. Watch the retired 2007 version in the playlist below, as well as behind-the-scenes videos, trailers and promos.
After the success of BEACHHEAD, I had planned to follow up quickly with BRIDGEHEAD. I submitted four unsuccessful grant applications and ran two mediocre crowd sourcing campaigns. As my career increasingly consumed my energy and creativity, a sequel was looking more and more unlikely. Over the years, I dreamed of how to make it happen; I redrafted the script numerous times, I sourced props at flea markets and dollar stores, and I continued to find cinematic inspiration from anti-war movies. I knew I’d return to the beachhead eventually. You can download the script and see some of the BEACHHEAD administration below.
I couldn’t get to camera until 2011 and then returned again in 2012, both times with no crew and a limited production budget. There was also budget uncertainty for post-production, but I was committed to completing the project. I built a modular set on my back deck in west Toronto and worked overnight so I could control the light. The set faced harsh winds and rain damage before I even got to camera. Once I did, it took eight overnight shoots over two weeks to complete the action. Below, you can watch a playlist of behind the scenes action and the making of BRIDGEHEAD.
The BRIDGEHEAD footage sat on a hard drive for years before I could really commit to it. I tinkered with clips and did some tests, but post production didn’t begin until late 2016. I revisited the BEACHHEAD edit in Final Cut Pro 7 to add some missing segments, and to enhance some problem areas. I had planned to export the project to Final Cut Pro X but decided to stick to FCP7 to do a rough cut of BRIDGEHEAD and to completely overhaul the special effects for both BEACHHEAD and BRIDGEHEAD. I collected an explosions and tracer fire effects, sourced hundreds of sound effects.
I painstakingly corrected every camera shift to stabalize the animation. I then moved the project to Final Cut Pro X for colour correction, sound mix, and final stages of post-production. As you can see below, the BEACHHEAD FCP library is comprehensively organized and the sound mix has hundreds of individual clips.
Finally, in March, 2021, against the odds and with a great feeling of accomplishment, I completed the first two acts of the trilogy! They premiered on YouTube in April.
The third act, SPEARHEAD, is script-locked, has storyboards and development planning is underway. In 2014, friend and colleague, Sean Horrell produced an urban battle sequence inspired by BEACHHEAD. He asked me to complete it for him and I suggested incorporating it into the BEACHHEAD series. He agreed, and I have designed a special effects treatment and comprehensive sound mix to match BEACHHEAD and BRIDGEHEAD. You can see this SPEARHEAD sneak preview below.
BEACHHEAD is a juxtaposition of the atrocities of war and the innocence of playing war; the sentiment is somewhere between entertainment and an anti-war ethos; and it is the culmination of my affection for war films and toy soldiers.
Four cities; eight cameras; two recovered hard drives; over 400 gigabytes of data; hundreds of props; two dozen collaborators; inestimable hours in development, on set, and in post-production…
An epic feat for an inspired web series. I hope you enjoi!
Make a donation to the project.
If you want to support BEACHHEAD, please make a donation here to be used towards the third and final act, SPEARHEAD. Suggested donation is $10 but you can set your own amount.