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, naturalistic 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 and beyond. 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 is a slide show of promotional posters from 2013 followed by actual world war two propaganda and some research photographs that inspired the character and set design.
DECADES IN THE MAKING
In the 1980s, I watched dozens of war epics on Late Great Movies on CityTV and frequented army surplus stores for clothes, accessories and toy soldiers. My interest in war and war epics become entrenched in my play and in my creativity. As an adult I loathe war. BEACHHEAD is intended as an anti-war piece, a reflection on my lost innocence.
As I approached my teen years, soldiers were gifted to neighbours and army 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. In 2004, I purchased a toy soldier set at a vintage store and many of the figures were the same soldier; same face and boonie hat, same rifle and backpack, molded in different positions. I imagined the figure moving frame by frame, advancing from a lying position to a crouched position, to standing and firing, then to running… I decided that moment to create a 16mm stop-motion anti-war epic.
A later camera test for BEACHHEAD, circa 2006.
I did several weeks of research and developed a story inspired by the film The Devil’s Brigade (1968) and a collection of World War Two letters to home from Canadian soldiers. In May of 2004, BEACHHEAD first went to production 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 production experience and positive feedback inspired me to increase the scope of production and a deepen the story’s characters.
In Vancouver, in 2004, I decided to return to 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.
Set photos from three days of production.
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 produced it in an early version of Comic Life.
Download the 2007 BEACHHEAD comic, or flip through the slideshow below.
In fall, 2006, I moved to Toronto. BEAHCHEAD sat unedited on an external drive until I was awarded a completion grant from the Toronto Arts Council and immediately 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 a 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. It premiered on YouTube the same day. After more than 1 million views it is highly 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. It didn’t happen. But over the years, I dreamed of how to make it happen and developed the story; 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.
Download the script and see some of the BEACHHEAD administration below.
I didn’t get to camera until 2011 and then returned again in 2012, both times with no crew and minimalist production capabilities. 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 for BRIDGEHEAD.
Watch a playlist of behind the scenes action.
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 in earnest 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 to add to the on-set effects like this firecracker exploding a prop tank.
I painstakingly corrected every camera shift to stabalize the shaky 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 hundreds of files, comprehensively organized and the audio mix has hundreds of individual sound 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. We agreed to incirporate it into the BEACHHEAD narrative and I completed 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 lost innocence of playing war; it is the culmination of my life long affection for war films and toy soldiers.
Four cities; eight cameras; two recovered hard drives; 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!