When Parallax View last checked in with Billy Dickson, ASC, he was putting the finishing touches on IQ-Supremacy, aka Palmer Supremacy, a web series-turned-feature film that Billy served as writer, producer, director, editor, colorist and visual effects artist, and which served a proof of concept for a new approach to shooting almost entirely against greenscreen.
Since then, Billy has directed a feature titled Believe that is based on a script he wrote some years ago. The tale struck a chord with a friend, actor Ryan O’Quinn, who said the setting reminded him of his hometown of Grundy, Virginia. Soon Billy was in Grundy, a down-at-the-heels coal mining town, shooting the film. Believe was in theaters in time for Christmas 2016. From financing to screen took less than a year.
Believe concerns a small-town businessman who runs the statewide Christmas pageant. “It’s not a Hallmark kind of picture with the lights and the beauty of the season,” says Billy. “We weren’t looking for that perfect main street in an idyllic town.”
On the 25-day shoot, Billy made extensive use of available light and carefully chosen locations. But his recent adventures in greenscreen techniques also came into play. “We didn’t plan for any visual effects on the film, but in the end there were over 100 VFX shots. We realized, for example, that one of our vehicles was too big for our insert trailer, making it unsafe to navigate the mountain roads. We set up a couple of greenscreens in the hotel parking lot and shot all the car interiors right there, to be comped in later.”
Effects also became necessary for a scene depicting a fire. Local fire marshals determined that the building contained accumulations of coal dust that made any open flame an unacceptable risk.
“Stuff like that you don’t expect, but you make it work,” says Billy. “And for the movie, it probably worked better in the end.”
Part of the sales pitch was the potential for an evergreen property that would see an annual bump in sales and rentals around the holiday season. Smith Global Entertainment is distributing the picture through their contract with Sony Home Entertainment.
Believe is one element in a mixture of work that Billy has crafted for himself after burning out on television schedules. “You start reinventing yourself,” he says. “I wanted to do more projects that were interesting to me personally. I still shoot promos for all the new CW shows a couple times a year. Those are great shoots, and they allow me the opportunity to do more writing.”
Billy also recently worked on a documentary commemorating the 25th anniversary of Toy Story, interviewing George Lucas, Tom Hanks and many others. “I love being part of the interview process, whether it’s asking questions or shooting people’s faces, whatever it takes. For the past five years, I’ve been doing a Fourth of July special in which we interview people around the country about what it means to them. It’s a way to travel, to hear interesting stories, and a way to do something inspiring and step outside the box. I’m always learning something and meeting some great people. Just about every day, I apply the skills of a writer, or a director, or a cinematographer.
“I still absolutely love shooting,” he says. “It’s just in my blood. I would find it hard to give it to somebody else. Part of me would be thinking about how I could use the money more efficiently. At the same time, with the experience I’ve gained as a director, I think I know when to fight and when to cut my losses. Early on, as a DP, I would really fight for every little visual morsel I could get, and sometimes that comes back to bite you. So it’s been a growing period. Wearing different hats, I see what each person goes through.”
Believe is now selling on DVD at your local Walmart and other box stores, and is also available on VOD. Palmer Supremacy is also currently available at Amazon.com.