HN Entertainment recently posted our chat with The Spear Sisters, who directed the Alien short film Alien: Ore. We were also lucky enough to chat with producer Victoria Burkhart, who also had a part to play getting Alien: Ore together and our very own Nicholas Whitcomb was able to ask her some questions about the short.
Victoria has been involved with a lot of interesting productions over the years including Peter Jackson’s King Kong along with a steady stream of Neil Blomkamp projects such as District 9, Elysium, Chappie, Halo: Landfall, The Escape, Rakka, Firebase, Zygote, and even the Alien 5 movie that never got made.
You can watch Alien: Ore below, before jumping into our interview with Victoria Burkhart.
HN: How did you initially become involved with this project? What is your background with the Alien franchise?
BURKHART: “Directors Sam and Kailey Spear initially contacted me about the project the day that they saw the posting on the Tongal website. They had previously done a project for Tongal so would get their notifications about upcoming competitions. As soon as they saw the project, they emailed me and asked me to be involved. How could I turn down the chance to be part of an Alien project?”
“I was involved with very early development on Neill Blomkamp’s Alien feature film that never happened, so being able to jump on board Alien: Ore with Sam and Kailey meant that I actually still got to produce a tiny piece in the Alien franchise, which was amazing.”
HN: Did you know The Spear Sisters beforehand? What was it about their film that had you interested?
BURKHART: “Sam and Kailey actually connected with me early in 2018 when they were looking for an additional producer to help out with a Crazy8s project.”
“Crazy8s is a competition they run in British Columbia, Canada whereby six short films concepts are selected out of 100s and given eight days to create a short film. Vendors, locations, restaurants, crew all come on board for the love of film making. It’s a really neat thing to be a part of.”
“The girls already had some producer friends involved, however, due to the nature of the project and everyone’s busy schedules they needed another hand to help wrangle things. I was never really interested in doing a crazy8s project, however, when I read their script for ‘CC’, I knew I had to do it. I saw the potential in their storytelling and really wanted to be a part of creating something with them. So, luckily we had a great experience together on ‘CC’, which meant they came back and asked me on board again for Alien: Ore.”
“First and foremost, I am a huge Alien fan. Sam and Kailey asked me to meet with them to go over some of their ideas for the short. As part of the submission, you are allowed to send in more than one idea. This was the one that got selected from a few that they sent in! The thing I really liked about this particular short, Alien: Ore, is that whole idea of being stuck underground. There’s only one way out!”
“I’m slightly claustrophobic so I was already freaking out just reading the script. I knew that if I felt that way from the read, then it was for sure a home run as a short. I also think the world has room to grow. There’s a lot of stories that could still be told! I liked that it wasn’t just a full circle ending. It’s left very open, which is something you can do in a short.”
HN: Can you talk about the logistics of filming with regards to your location and filming in a mine?
BURKHART: “We were incredibly lucky to have our mine location – Britannia Mine Museum on board from the very beginning. We went on a location scout even before our short was selected. British Columbia, Canada is known as one of the biggest filming locations in North America right now and locations can cost an arm and a leg to film in. Multimillion-dollar films can pay the price, but a little short film made on $30,000? No way.”
“Britannia was so supportive of the Alien franchise, our team, and the whole idea that they came to the table in more ways than one. We could not have done this project without their help.”
“Logistically, shooting in a mine has its own set of issues. The mine is very damp, with water dripping constantly, the dark, mud, sharp mine rocks everywhere, having to wear hard hats and our radios not working all the time in the mine shaft. Communication is key on any production so we had to have production assistants stationed every 50 meters or so to relay back to the outside world so that we were always in full communication with the shooting crew. Safety was number one to make sure that no one hurt themselves in the mine, especially during our running scenes.”
“We also had to build our elevator set in one of the mind spurs! And because we needed to see the exterior and the interior of the elevator in the mine, we couldn’t cheat certain shots to do this. Our production designer Cheryl Marion had a lot of back and forth on the design of the elevator. We had to make sure it fit enough miners in it and also had to have a working door, which limited the size of the elevator too. We did also build the interior of the elevator in an open space and we shot that on day 1 so that we could get all the close-up coverage, then at the end of the day, one art department had to deconstruct the build and rebuild it for the end of day 3 inside the mine.”
“And then, of course, drips started happening on the elevator while we were shooting. We also had to make sure we had heated tents right outside the mine for the cast so they did not get too cold between takes. Sounds easy, but at some times we were filming deep in the mine and it would take a couple of minutes to walk out the mine.”
HN: When was it decided that the Xenomorph would be created digitally, and how was that process?
BURKHART: “Sam and Kailey very early on wanted the Xenomorph to be practical. As soon as we knew about the project we started trying to source practical Xenomorphs. Yes, there are ones online you can purchase, but would they hold up to the detail that we needed on camera and be able to do the things we needed it to do without having a fully rigged animatronic version? Not on our budget, ultimately it came down to budget.”
“We just didn’t have enough money to purchase a practical Xenomorph. We knew also that we would have to do some VFX Xenomorph work anyways, so that would mean double up of costs too. I have a very strong relationship with Image Engine VFX here in Vancouver. I worked with them on District 9, Elysium, and Chappie.”
“When I contacted Shawn the executive producer at Image Engine VFX about doing some of the visual effects work for the short, he knew we were trying to achieve it practically. The first thing he said to me was ‘Well, you always have us to fall back on. If you need as you’re in luck! We have a Xenomorph model we created for fun here sitting and waiting!’.”
“Shawn invited Sam, Kailey, and myself into Image Engine to look at a test they had created of the Xenomorph and I knew from then we would never be able to create a fully practical Xenomorph to do the things we needed it to do. Through the love of the Alien franchise, we were able to pull off a lot for next to nothing. Initially Image Engine was only going to do the Xenomorph VFX work, but in the end, they decided to take on everything, which streamlined the process in post immensely for us. There was a lot of other CG work done on Alien: Ore including all the screen graphics, a matte painting of the mining colony at the beginning, the corroding axe, fake snow at the beginning because our snow machine on the day decided not to work and a bunch of general clean up shots. IE really played a huge part of pulling this project off. We did build 5 life-size alien eggs though, that was cool having them on set and dressed with all sorts of slime.”
HN: Was there anything that was cut from the short or something you decided against filming at the time?
“Surprisingly, we stuck very close to the script! Small things were trimmed but nothing significant. Sadly we had to cut a few Xenomorph shots to ensure the tension was right for the short and also to keep in the same vein of the original Alien film, which had very little Xeno. See less of the creature and let the audience imagine though good sound design and score.”
HN: How cool is it to have contributed to such an iconic franchise with something like Alien: Ore? I think it’s such a neat idea on the part of Fox and Tongal to have put together these shorts.
BURKHART: “I agree! The fact that up and coming filmmakers had a chance to work within the Alien franchise is amazing. The support from Fox and Tongal was amazing throughout the process. The really neat thing about these pieces is that you really just want to make something awesome for the fans in the hopes that they like it and think that it fits into the same world.”
HN: If given the chance, would you be willing to work on something else in the Alien franchise?
BURKHART: “Um, let me think, YES!”
“I think every single person who worked on the project felt the same as me and hopes to see more. That was why we were able to pull off this film – everyone loves Alien. The reality is that it’s going to be hard for any story to live up to the hype of the first Alien film. Hopefully whoever is a part of it gets it right and creates a strong story, with the right amount of everything else.”
We’d like to thank Victoria for her time and please feel free to check out the other fantastic Alien short films on IGN.