This short film captures the harrowing experience of a veteran who has returned home physically but is still trapped in the throes of traumatic stress. The film serves as a powerful call to action, shedding light on the critical mission of the non-profit organization Boulder Crest Foundation.
Boulder Crest Foundation commissioned Neymarc Visuals to develop a TV commercial and brand film to raise awareness about their post-traumatic growth programs, which help veterans, law enforcement officers, and first responders overcome post-traumatic stress through growth-focused programs.
The resulting commercial “On Duty” launched the beginning of a remarkable journey for the non-profit organization through its bold marketing strategy and the NPO’s consequent exposure from the promotional film, but also for the creative filmmaking team behind its conception and production.
The Boulder Crest Foundation reached out to Neymarc Visuals to develop a short brand film entitled "On Duty," aiming to illustrate the way military, veterans, and first responders are perceived, especially those who are struggling with PTSD and other elements of the job that still haunt them to this day, through stress both, mentally and physically.
Writer and co-director Andrew Neymarc recalls developing the creative vision for the film: “we had to undertake extensive research in order to understand the real-life impacts of PTSD and portray them in a realistic yet engaging manner that would be respectful to our audience”. Depicting the consequences of PTSD in ordinary life was the primary hurdle, which the creative team aimed to effectively capture through the metaphor of the uniform- and its invisible weight - carried home by veterans in their everyday life. In the film, the hero finds himself moments away from drowning as the weight of the uniform sinks him lower underwater.
The second challenge was casting for the lead role. The film required strong performances from an experienced actor for the production to move fast on such a tight shooting schedule and for the actor to be successful in conveying emotion to our audience. But more importantly for the Neymarc brothers, the hero had to feel relatable and authentic to the veteran population- and unfortunately needed to be very comfortable underwater due to the extensive underwater scenes.
This struggle turned into one of the film’s biggest strengths when client, Ken Falke, proposed “an active duty guy with tattoos that had been to Iraq and Afghanistan”: Wayne Mcelmoyl.
For confidentiality reasons the team cannot disclose too much information relating to the lead cast but Andrew says “Wayne is a highly skilled, versatile talent that performed extraordinarily under pressure thanks to his extensive experience in the military and impressive comfort underwater. He was a pleasure to work with, from the very first audition to the very last day of shoot and beyond.”
Remy Neymarc, co-director and director of photography, describes the creative process moving forward: “we crafted storyboards, previsualizations and animatics in pre-production, which serve as great visual blueprints and a guiding path to our team. Providing a series of illustrations that reflect the flow of the narrative at this stage provides the proper foundations for production to get launched.“
While a large portion of the film takes place on land, several sequences required underwater shooting. The idea was to showcase our hero drowning under the weight of his past trauma.
This required a whole different production pipeline, one where underwater and cinema cameras intertwined. Thanks to the NYPD academy, we were able to utilize their training pool as a medium to capture the necessary underwater footage. Although the pool provided the foundation for the shoot, it was not as deep as the team had hoped, only measuring 12 feet deep. The team needed a greater depth of a minimum of 18 feet to achieve the desired ‘lake’ effect and for the drowning to look plausible. But thankfully, Neymarc Visuals’ in-house VFX team was able to see beyond the location’s constraints and transform the pool into a lake through the use of both practical methods and visual effects.
VFX Supervisor Michael Tan explains “we were able to expand the boundaries of the pool to give the appearance of a bottomless lake by covering the sides and floor of the pool with deep-blue tarps to limit the viewer's sense of depth.”
Using our ARRI ALEXA Mini LF equipped with a Nauticam Underwater housing thanks to our production partner, Anthony Lenzo, Underwater DP and Owner of Air Sea Land Productions, we were able to start prepping for the shoot by scouting and performing camera tests underwater.
We were faced with another challenge during production. Sarah Verstraete, head of production at Neymarc Visuals, noticed the water was too clear causing the ceiling to be visible in our director’s viewport. For good reason: the pool served the purpose of training law enforcement agents for the field, not cinematic film projects.
To overcome this, the G&E crew custom-built a rig onto the ceiling to mimic the sky and attached a light to a camera crane allowing the team to position the “sun” anywhere over that grid, while also retaining control for panning and tilting effects. This is how we simulated our sunlight. We also asked the NYPD to stop the filter pump in the pool which was making the water look so clean. By doing that, we successfully created micro-particles and organic matter commonly found in lake water.
It’s this sort of attention to detail which sets the Neymarc team apart during the creative and production processes.
With one of our most complex shots to date now completed, we headed on land for another critical scene involving our main hero’s emotional journey; shedding the weight of his past trauma at the Boulder Crest Foundation.
Although the intended aesthetic for the scene's look development was to portray a sunlit outdoor environment representative of Boulder Crest, unanticipated circumstances resulted in an overcast shooting day, which meant the sky in our scene didn’t match our original vision. We tasked our visual effects team to do a sky replacement, brighten up the scene, and create natural light flares in addition to high-caliber color-grading (by senior colorist Phil Choe at Nice Shoes) for the final picture.
After completing the project, the Boulder Crest Foundation hosted its Gala at the Manhattan Manor, honoring its donors and supporters, during which the “On Duty” film was premiered.
With an audience of over 230 in attendance, the event generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for the non-profit.
Online, ‘On Duty’ quickly garnered a staggering digital presence with over 50,000+ likes and comments and over 260,000+ views across social media platforms. And counting.
Most importantly, Boulder Crest Foundation reported a significant +1000% increase in applications for their programs over the last few weeks.
We are proud to have played a small part in helping the non-profit reach these goals.
Update: we are happy to announce we’ve been commissioned by Boulder Crest to produce two more films! Stay tuned.
Client: Boulder Crest Foundation
Featuring: Wayne McElmoyl, Caitlyn Marr, Aurora Scott, Rosie Scott, Reid Scott
Writers & Directors: The Neymarc Brothers
Producer: Sarah Verstraete
Associate Producer: Emily Chin
Executive Producers: Darren Goldberg and Ken Falke
VFX Supervisor: Michael Tan
VFX by Neymarc Visuals
1st AC: Martel Berry
Production Designer: Amanda Crout
G&E: Bizz DeCrenza, Petey Ortiz, Keve Huggins, Hansel Manzueta, Erick Somwaru, Louis Thybulle
Underwater Team: Anthony S. Lenzo, Thomas J, Strobel, Rob Weintraub, Steve Miller, Bobby Gallipoli, Peter Guastella
HMU: Kayla Jo
BTS Shooter: Daria Meyer
Color Grader: Phil Choe
PAs: Curtis Dorval, Tommy Espinal, David Corbet, Ben Lekparic, Emily Jasani, Miguel Bernal, Camille Legally
Art PAs: Cynthia Dunston, Emma Rotman