In November 2014 a new Alien fan film was announced, Alien: The Adora Files. Set between Alien Isolation and Aliens, Alien: The Adora Files tells the tale of the fate of the starship Adora. I recently had the chance to chat with the enthusiastic man behind the project, German filmmaker Felix Christian Berner.
AvPGalaxy – Welcome, Felix! First off, thanks for taking the time to have a chat with us! Tell us a little about yourself. When did you first get into film making?
Felix Christian Berner – Thank you for having me! I got into film making at the young age of 10. My father gave me a video camera as present for my birthday. From then on I started filming. Most of the time I was creating little action sequences or films of me and a friend of mine as James Bond – I was a huge James Bond fan as child.
After school I decided to study design and specialized in making short films. I was ever in love with science fiction, ever since I saw Blade Runner and Alien and Aliens. I loved the dark, dirty and dystopic future visions of Scott and Cameron
I was thinking about studying film but I decided to study design because design (communication design) includes all aspects of making movies but you learn more compared to film study – you learn how to design, to style, to use colors.
Parallel to my passion of making short films, I was extremely interested in designing and creating digital artworks – so it was easy for me to combine both interests in one study.
AvPG – How long have you been a CG artist?
FCB – I was never a CG artist – it was just something I learned by doing – because it is too expensive to hire real CG Artists. I am lucky to have some friends who specialized in CG and who are kind enough to help me out with some stuff like the spaceships in my current movie – Thanks a lot to Dieter Joppich !
A lot of stuff I was learning just by doing – it is phenomenal that if you grow up with techniques and computers and softwares, you are able to learn it without a teacher – like you can see on the young people of our time with smartphones in the hand from beginning of life.
I grew up in film programs and design software…not sure how I learned all that stuff. When I had a vision to create something, I was never thinking about the “how should I realize it?” – I just did it….maybe it is true and there are talents in each one of us which give us the ability to do amazing things.
AvPG – You are not wrong there! Its so wonderful to be able to teach yourself. Let me rephrase the question – when did you first start teaching yourself to create digital artwork and environments?
FCB – I started learning at the age of 13. I was an anime and manga fan and a fan of Dragon Ball Z. I had the impulse to create an anime website and from then on I started creating digital artwork and websites for myself. I started teaching myself all the stuff I need to know to realize my visions.
In the last years, I was owner and webmaster of many websites from anime pages to Counter Strike clan sites to my own online portfolios.
AvPG – That’s fantastic stuff! Let’s start talking a little bit about Alien. When did your love for the Alien franchise first begin?
FCB – I saw Aliens – I think – when I was 8 years. And Alien a bit later…and there is an amazing evidence online for that – please feel free check out the website and go to the picture folders – there you can see and find a lot of drawings I did as child. I was infected by the Alien movies – I have never felt love so intense with a movie franchise.
I was so in love with the Colonial Marines, that I said as a young German child, that I want to be in the US marines when I am old enough. I was impressed [in Aliens] by the guns and the armour and the marine stuff – and for sure, the Alien drones.
This was my first contact with the dark and dystopic sci-fi worlds I talked about before – followed by watching Blade Runner and all the other master pieces of the 80’s.
AvPG – So it sounds like Aliens is your favourite out of the series? Did that affect the approach you took with the The Adora Files?
FCB – That’s hard to say because I love Alien exactly as much as the action orientated Aliens – also Alien 3 is a wonderful movie. I love all 3 parts because they treat the Alien universe with a lot of love – but to be honest – my fan film is extremely influenced by Alien: Isolation. My movie is a kind of link between Isolation and Aliens.
The look of my movie is influenced by Aliens – especially the colors and atmosphere but it was not my intention to create a Colonial Marine movie. It is sad that there aren’t a lot of Alien fan films but there are lots fan films that are showing just Colonial Marine action. No-one was brave enough to work out an Alien fanfilm.
The marines are just a supporting element in my movie – but the main story is dealing with the incident on the USS Adora – a transport ship of the evil company Tyran Industries – not Weyland-Yutani because I think there are more powerful companies out there in the Alien universe and I wanted to show that Weyland-Yutani has a kind of enemy out there in space, a competitor who is trying to beat them.
AvPG – Can you tell us a little about the genesis of Alien: The Adora Files? Where did the idea to do an Alien fanfilm come from?
FCB – All my ideas in my life come suddenly without a thinking about it – not sure when and where the idea came from but for sure I was walking through my city and was listening to music and BAM – the idea was suddenly there, in my brain. Years before I was working on a feature film called Order 76 and created tons of costumes but I was never able to realize that project.
After playing Alien: Isolation I was on fire again and once again obsessed with Alien – I was also really sad about having all these costumes and props stored in my basement without ever using them in a movie and got the idea to use all that movie stuff in an Alien fanfilm – so we could say that my costumes and props gave me the idea for the fan film.
AvPG – As I understand it the film is being filmed against green screen with live action props and characters? Why did you take this approach?
FCB – Over many months I designed and produced the costumes, patches, symbols and the complete universe of my film on my own. Then I switched to the role of set designer and built a complete green screen set in my apartment to work after that as director and camera guy; in the end I’m also the editor and CGI/VFX artist. I’m grading the movie and doing the sound design – only the music is done by someone else. I am a one-man movie machine. haha.
I used my expertise with the green screen keying technique and built an entire set in my apartment! I had used this amazing technique before in some other sci-fi projects and had thought about how to create an amazing look between real footage and CGI backgrounds. It is far too expensive to build complete sets – but if you are able to use CGI, a green screen is all you need. This is cheap but takes months in the post-production.
It is a dream of mine to someday create a sci-fi movie with real, physical sets – but right now – I am really fine with the green screen.
AvPG – So it was a case of using what you’d got? Your CG skills allowed you to make more of your apartment?
FCB – For 4 months I was living in a green screen because I used my own apartment for shooting. This was the cheapest way –this movie cost me lot of money. I really hope the fans will like what I do because I do it for the fans and I am the guy who is paying all the bills.
AvPG – I believe the Alien is also one of the live action elements in the film? Can you tell us a little about the suit and the actor inside it?
FCB – Everything is live action except for the backgrounds and spaceships. The man inside the Alien costume is a friend of mine who is also in love with Aliens and who is the owner of an amazing Alien suit. However, it was hard to make this costume look real – I used tons of soap and shampoo to create the liquid slimy look of the skin and the dropping spittle out of the mouth. I lit the suit in a way that made it look as realistic as possible
AvPG – Are you happy with the Alien suit and the work you’ve been able to do with it?
FCB – Look at this *picture below* so yes– I am really happy.
AvPG – Alien: The Adora Files includes a Working Joe, the androids introduced in Alien: Isolation. Are there many other elements from the game being included?
FCB – Yes…many female elements from Isolation…. if you know what I mean…
AvPG – As in Amanda Ripley?
FCB – No comment. *laughs*
Alien: The Adora Files takes place between Alien: Isolation and Aliens and features some characters from game and some from the movies – for example also the father of someone you already know. I am really proud of our Working Joes because in the universe my movie takes place in we have a company that is called Tyran Industries which is rival/competitor of Weyland-Yutani.
Tyran is the leading company of an alliance called The Union which also includes Seegson as a partner, so Seegson and Tyran are working close together to defeat Weyland-Yutani. The ship on which all hell is breaking lose is called the U.S.S. Adora — a Union space ship that belongs to Tyran Industries — where the crew is fighting/losing against some aliens — but where the aliens are from is a secret right now.
My movie is kind of a sequel to Alien: Isolation but with strong military aspects like in Cameron’s Aliens. I don’t want to say too much right now but be sure that I am creating a fan-film for the fans and because of an appeal I did on some great Alien fan boards, we are also featuring some fans as Colonial Marines in the background – like Spat from Spatcave, the creator of the amazing Spat Armor!
AvPG – You had quite a few Colonial Marine cosplayers from around the world get involved with the film. Could you tell us a little about that?
FCB – We are so thankful for all the cosplayers that helped us out. You have to know that the idea to include marines came extremely later after finishing the “first” shooting of the movie. One night I woke up and screamed out: “WE NEED MARINES!”
Through a good friend I found the guys of BASEMENTAL PROPS which are a cosplaying group of Colonial Marines with extremely good armor and weapons. I asked them if they want to be part of my movie and they agreed but after shooting I realized that just 3 marines wasn’t going to look good enough.
I started to shout out on each Alien board/forum and ask if there were people who wanted to be part of a fanfilm and something magical happened! People all around the world bought a green screen and filmed themselves in front of it- just for us! It was so amazing – this collaboration of people around the world just for a fan film. Suddenly our project became international. In the beginning it was just a German project. The Alien/Aliens fanbase is amazing. Thank you to each marine out there!
AvPG – And just for those out there wondering – the film is being released in English?
FCB – Yes, for sure. Some actors are speaking English which is with a German accent but why not? Maybe this person is German on an international spaceship? We also have native English speakers in our film. My German actors speak really good English so I am happy about that.
All my movies are filmed and released in English. The German film industry is horrible – if you do genre films you have to aim/point to the USA. My last project. RAM – Future is Bad, was also released in English.
AvPG – Can you walk us through the process you go through when filming the film? How do you go from filming in front of a green screen to having your actors in a realistic environment?
FCB – This is the part of making a movie where you have to prove that you are able to direct and you have to be an actor too because if the actor isn’t quite doing what you want, you still have to motivate him. You have to tell the actor everything – what is in the environment that they can’t see. I have worked with actors who have asked me about the smell in the air on the spaceship or the material of the chair they are sitting on. You have to be able to create an complete world around the actor just with your words. Sometimes I started shooting by telling them “now..close you eyes and imagine…”
I have not counted how many actors are in my film right now but I think around 20-25. Each one I have to help to enter this “universe”. It is interesting to see the guys who filmed their-selves in front of green as Colonial Marine for our project – there was no one who gave them instructions but everyone did an amazing job.
AvPG – So after you’ve filmed the actors in front of that green screen, what do you do?
FCB – After filming the actors, I used a software to key the green – this means to tell the software to make all the green background transparent – amazing how this could be possible – but this magic is happening. After keying a lot with many filters, you have actors on an non-existing, transparent background – then you have to change the colors, and contrasts to make it look expensive and Hollywood-like. After doing this with tons of filters and effects – you have to create the backgrounds. There are many ways to do that, and many software to create CGI – I used a mix of all of them to achieve what I needed to.
AvPG – How long does it generally take you to complete a scene? From filming to digitally replacing the background?
FCB – This depends on how many filters you use and if your lucky enough that your software did not crash 100 times on your Windows computer! For one scene with all steps maybe a day. Just today a friend asked me how far I was with the project. I told him 90% and that each percent is a day. I’ve already worked 90 days just in post-production. This is what I call passion – I have no time for anything else at the moment!
AvPG – That certainly is dedication! How long over all do you think you’ve been working on the film?
FCB – It was since I did the first announcement. I think it was November 2014? No – October ! And to be honest – I am really looking forward to the release because if you work as much as I have on a project you becomes crazy!
I said thousands of times during the production that this movie will be my last one! – haha It was near a daily burn out. Sometimes people do not know how much work is in a movie. I just hope that people can be respectful with those who create films. It is an easy thing to sit down in front of the computer and watch a film in 10 minutes which takes half a year and a lot of your own money and time to realize.
AvPG – Have you ever seen the fanfilm, Alien vs Predator – Redemption? They took a similar approach to what you’re doing.
FCB – For sure! I talked a lot with the director [Alex Popov]. At the time I was working on a sci-fi movie called Mankind which will be released after Alien: The Adora Files. I talked with him about the idea of a collaboration but he was busy chatting with Hollywood. The funny aspect was that Hollywood contacted me too because of my Mankind trailer (which is offline right now).
I liked his fan film a lot but as a filmmaker I saw thing I would have done in another way. Details his film was maybe ignoring – costumes which could be better and so on – and sometimes his backgrounds could look a touch more realistic – but this is no evil criticism. I really loved his film and the other movies and short films he has done!
I was also talking with the director of Aliens Epilogue during his production. I was playing a bit with the colours and cut of his first trailer which impressed the director [Darren Kemp] and so we started talking about the idea of producing a film together. I like the idea that sci-fi directors collaborate together to create something new. In the era of the internet, that is easier to do as you can see with the Colonial Marine submissions of all the cosplayers.
AvPG – Thanks again, Felix for taking the time to chat to us. Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
FCB – I make this fanfilm for the fans. This project is non-profit. I do not earn any money. I invested money to realize a dream – a dream as Alien fan to create an Alien fan film. This film will be something special with many hints and details referring to the Alien universe. I invested time and love to create what you and the audience will be able to watch very soon. It is a fan film for the fans with fans and I really hope that you will understand and like my vision of the universe.
Myself and my (none existing crew) have decided to continue Alien: The Adora Files with an upcoming sequel called Predator: The Protos Mission (Protos is the name of the rescue ship !) – so – stay tuned and thank you for the interview!
Be sure to head on over to the official Alien: The Adora Files website and check out some of the pictures they’ve released so far. Give them a Like whilst you’re there too. The film is currently due out at the end of April 2015.