How to do a hand from the grave, graveyard scene
In a couple of weeks I'm participating in a short film festival. The story is basically finished and we'll start filming next week. However, there is one scene that leaves me mildly desperate. In the film we'll do a hand-from-the-grave-grabs-hold-of-someone's-arm-scene (I know, it's been done a million times, but I think it'll work well in the story).
As far as I can tell, it really involves burying someone in a box under a thin layer of dirt (so that's my first question, are there alternatives to actually digging a hole somewhere and stuffing somebody in there?)
If digging a hole is necessary, I was thinking of filming a grave yard but shooting the actual scene somewhere else (because I doubt we would be allowed to play around in the actual graveyard) and somehow insert that little patch of dirt in the graveyard footage, but I'm afraid I will not be able to make it blend together. Also, I thought of just making a fake grave somewhere, but then how do you make people believe that one grave is actually located in a graveyard?
In short, who has any ideas to make a kick-ass, pee your pants, hand from the grave, graveyard scene? I use Vegas Pro 8 for editing.
Closeup, build a platform with a piece of plywood and hole cut out of it suspended from appleboxes, cover with sod/dirt. If it's ~18 inches from the ground, it allows an actor to lay comfortably and reach their hand out. With the correct camera angle (low and up) you can give it the background of the grave yard.
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This has everything to do with how you frame the shot. For a dean hand to burst forth and grab a living person's arm, that person already has to be down on their hands and knees at the grave side.
I can think of a couple of ways to do this.
Trying to use practical props and sets as much as possible, the gimmick would involve a short wooden platform the size of the grave, about 8 to 12 inches deep, with room for the grieving actor to kneel on it and a hole in one side near the camera for the dead actor's arm to fit inside the box for the pop-up thru the dirt and/or pre-cut piece of sod. Take the rig out to the park and add fake tombstones. Proper camera blocking will help you blend the prop in with the real terrain. You could shoot this in your yard against a blue (not green) screen and then composite it against a wider "plate" shot done out at the graveyard or other location as well.
Depending on the angles, you don't have to show very much of a "real" location at all. If shooting straight down onto the grave from above, for example, you could be almost anywhere, then the tight side-angle of the grab, done with extremely narrow depth of field, again, can be shot anywhere. Your actor drops their keys on the grave, looking down from over their shoulder, the camera follows them as they bend down to grab the keys...
then smash-cut to xcu of the hand bursting up to grab a wrist, from the side, or again, from above, looking down, but now much closer.
What these guys said is pretty much what we did once.... I never did a hand coming out of a grave, but I did once do a human head in a picnic basket.
Ok... it's not as morbid as it seems... it was a PSA for a Shakespeare in the Park production and a couple on a picnic blanket in the park opened their basket to see inside it the disembodied head of Sir William reciting "Now is the winter of our discontent."
For the wide shots, it was just a basket on a blanket on the ground... you couldn't see in the basket. For the closeups, we had a board that we actually just rested between two picnic table benches... the actor sat on the ground with his head up through the hole in the plywood (and hole in the bottom of the basket).
Now, our board was covered with a picnic blanket, but it could just as easily have been covered with dirt, or even sod (although sod is heavy, would need a sturdy construction).
As was said, it's all in the framing.
One anecdotal story that's slightly related... a zillion years ago before I was a wanna-be director back when I was a wanna-be actor, I was appearing in an episode of "In the Heat of the Night" (whether or not you remember that NBC Carroll O'Connor show will be very telling of your age). Anywho, we had one scene in a cemetery one day... and they were very careful to keep all the action and cameras pointed in one particular direction. I finally noticed that was so only the fake prop tombstones would show... they were being careful not to photograph any of the real headstones. I wondered, to myself, why that was... and if they didn't need the real stones, why were they bothering to do it in a cemetery at all?... they could stick their fake stones up in any field. I later inquired and learned that it was because the empty grave itself in the scene was real... waiting for some poor late soul to be planted in it later that same day. Now, this was a big-time high-dollar network primetime show... but I guess they still didn't want the bother and expense of digging their own hole. Which I thought was a little odd.
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I want to really thank you for the ideas! I can definitely work with this. Unfortunately the story of which this scene formed a part will be postponed to a next festival. Due to our actress' schedule, we had to go for a much simpler story(taking less time shooting and editing)than the one we had. But your tips will be used, fear not.
Oh and Todd Terry: I don't know 'in the heat of the night' but having regard to the time it was broadcasted, I was definitely alive and kicking. So it's more a 'I'm-not-from-the-US-but-from-the-Netherlands-thing than an age-thing.