UFO Diary Review and Interview
By Scott Green
August 29, 2016
UFO Diary: The Review:
UFO Diary is a very good and enjoyable sci-fi action-comedy short film about two World War II Women’s Army Corps (WACs) officers in the early days of WWII who fight an alien invasion of LA, becoming the unlikely heroines of one of the most famous UFO incidents in history: the 1942 Great LA Air Raid Aka The Battle of Los Angeles.
I recommend seeing this film, either on line, or where it is playing near you. UFO Diary was recently an official selection of the 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival, and will next be aired this Labor Day weekend at Dragon Con Independent Film Festival in Atlanta on Sunday, September 4th, 2016.
The film, based on an actual historical event, takes place on February 24, 1942, less than three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two women, serving in the WACs, Captain Diana Ravello (Govindini Murty) and Lieutenant Margie Petrova (Rachel Newell) have been assigned to create a film documenting daily life on the Fort MacArthur army base in San Pedro, California. As the two women are filming, they make a discovery that leads to them being instrumental in thwarting an alien invasion of Los Angeles.
During WW2 over 400,000 women served in the military. Besides being an enjoyable sci-fi action film, the film is also a tribute to the women that served an invaluable role in the military, during WW2.
The events behind the film are one the weirdest, most inexplicable events during WW2. In the early morning hours of February 25, 1942, radar operators saw an unidentified intruder on their screens, and terrified civilians reported seeing formations of enemy planes. The anti-aircraft batteries starting shooting, and by the time they stopped, they had fired over 1,400 rounds of ammunition. The anti-aircraft gunners eventually stopped firing, to avoid hitting the fighter planes that had arrived to defend the city. No wreckage of the attackers was ever found and the only damage was caused by shell fragments and automobiles that crashed in the darkness. What was the cause, no one knows and it has never been truly explained.
Watch UFO Diary, here or Vimeo:
UFO Diary is directed by Folio Eddie Award-winner Jason Apuzzo and is produced by and stars Govindini Murty as Captain Diana Ravello, with Rachel Newell as Lt. Margie Petrova.
The film has been featured in American Cinematographer and The Huffington Post. UFO Diary has cutting edge VFX by ILM and Weta Digital artists. UFO Diary blends WWII-style combat cinematography with cutting-edge VFX, and recreates the look of Kodachrome 16mm film – as used in classic WWII color documentaries like John Ford’s The Battle of Midway. Check out the article in American Cinematographer on the making of UFO Diary to get a more detailed description. The January 2016 American Cinematographer article on UFO Diary, can be read here:
UFO Diary the Interview: I had the pleasure of interviewing Govindini Murty, the Producer & Lead Actress of UFO Diary.
- What was the inspiration behind UFO Diary?
My filmmaking partner Jason Apuzzo and I were inspired to make UFO Diary by a famous historic incident that occurred here in Los Angeles during WWII. In the early hours of February 25th, 1942, an unidentified object appeared over the skies of Los Angeles,setting off a panic. It was just a few months after Pearl Harbor, so people thought it might be a Japanese plane. The Army fired over 1400 rounds at the object – but nothing brought it down. Over 100,000 people in Los Angeles witnessed this incident, but it’s never been explained. UFO enthusiasts have since claimed that the object was a flying saucer – an alien visitor from another world! We thought this was such a colorful story, we couldn’t resist turning it into a sci-fi short film.
More broadly though, Jason and I are tremendous fans of both science fiction movies and historical epics. As romantics, were inspired by both the look backward into the past, and the look forward toward the future. So when we had the opportunity to unite both our interests in a film like UFO Diary, we were very excited.
- I found the choice of the 2 leads being from the WACs interesting. Did you do any research regarding the roles of the WACs during the war? Do you know if they were sent out to do filming like they did in the film?
We made the two leads WAC heroines because we thought it would be a fresh approach to make two women the protagonists of a wartime sci-fi film. And yes, we did a lot of research into the role of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in WWII. Over 150,000 women served in the WAC during WWII, and yet many people today don’t realize what a crucial role WACs played in the war. WACs carried out many vital duties in addition to their administrative and communications work: they flew airplanes, drove jeeps, were truck mechanics, chemists, welders, sheet metalworkers, and even scientists and technicians on the Manhattan Project. WACs were even trained to operate anti-aircraft batteries as part of a top-secret project known as Battery X. This is what we allude to in the air raid scenes in UFO Diary, when my character Captain Diana Ravello jumps into a jeep and starts firing an anti-aircraft gun at the alien spacecraft!
So it is possible that WACs could have been combat cinematographers in WWII. WACs did all kinds of jobs that were not officially acknowledged. For example, it was recently discovered by the U.S. Army Women’s Museum that WACs had flown planes in combat zones during WWII – and this was considered to have been impossible. The U.S. Army Women’s Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia has done an excellent job of documenting WAC history. In fact, their mission is to document the history of all the women who have served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War to today. I find this history quite moving, because it shows that women are not only capable of being in the military – they have actually been in the military since the founding of our country. It’s time that these women got their due. That is why we dedicated UFO Diary to the Women’s Army Corp and all of the women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
- I thought that both you and Rachel Newell did a great job. Rachel was very funny, was it hard to not break up during filming?
Yes, Rachel and I had a lot of fun during filming! In fact, there were so many crazy antics that we created a special comedy sequence for them in the film – “the women in the army training” sequence. You see, once Rachel and I found ourselves in WAC uniform, and had the chance to play around with all that WWII equipment and those vintage military vehicles, we couldn’t resist improvising all sorts of comic business! Our writer-director Jason Apuzzo liked what he saw, so he gave us free reign to improvise a lot of new material. We pretty much went wild dreaming up new bits of lunacy that our WAC heroines get into! We also were delighted that our fellow WWII actors played along and had as much fun with the scenes as we did.
- It looked like you did a very good job trying to keep it period authentic in regards to atmosphere, equipment, etc. How difficult was it to do this? I’ve seen feature films that didn’t do as well as your film.
Thank you, we’re so glad to hear that. It was a big goal of ours to have UFO Diary look as real and authentic as possible. The concept behind UFO Diary was that the film was edited together from”found footage” that had originally been shot during WWII – and then rediscovered in the present day. As a result, Jason and I studied a number of real combat documentaries from WWII to get the style right; these included such classics as John Ford’s “The Battle of Midway,” William Wyler’s “The Memphis Belle,” and John Huston’s “Report from the Aleutians.”Although we shot digitally, during the post-production process we added film grain and color grading to evoke the look of the 16mm Kodachrome film that these classic directors used.
As for the WWII sets and props, we filmed at a real WWII-era fort, Fort MacArthur in Los Angeles, which is now a museum. We also studied classic Hollywood movies from the early 1940s. For example, the khaki jumpsuits Rachel and I wear in the film, as well as our hair and makeup, were inspired by Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake, and Paulette Goddard’s characters in the 1943 war drama “So Proudly We Hail!”
Jason and I were also honored during the course of filming to spend time with two WWII veterans: Ret. Master Sgt. Wilbur Richardson, who was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 flying multiple missions over Europe on D-Day, and Ret. Master Sgt. Buford A. Johnson, a Tuskegee Airman who was the first African-American jet mechanic and Crew Chief in the U.S. Air Force.We were very inspired by both these gentlemen – by their courage, good cheer, and amazing stories.
- I like that during the action the soldiers took orders from you without questionand your character was right in the middle of all the action. Do you see her as a badass GI Jane type of character or as an ordinary person rising to the occasion?
I see my character as both! Captain Diana is both a bad ass and a regular gal rising to the occasion. Interestingly enough, in the midst of the action, the soldiers reacted to me as they would to any captain or authority figure. A number of the actors were ex-military -and they had no issues in taking orders from a woman. I found this very heartening. Maybe they could see that I was genuinely interested in WWII history – and they were all history enthusiasts – so there was genuine rapport and mutual respect between us as a result.
Also, it was the tough attitude of the real women who served in the WAC that shaped the persona of my character. In the course of making the film, I was fortunate to get to know several WACs who served in the 1960s and ’70s. They told me many heartfelt stories about their experiences. They were brave and resilient women who had to overcome a lot of discrimination in order to serve. One WAC veteran from Florida, Haydee Figueroa, particularly inspired me with her verve, spirit, and patriotism. She also loves UFO Diary, which is really great!
- Your VFX were really good. How hard was it to act when so much isn’t in front of you but added later?
Thank you, our wonderful VFX team put a lot of hard work into those shots. As for acting – yes, it was definitely a challenge to react to an empty sky! However, what helped me in those scenes was to think of them as another form of theater. Anyone who has done theater knows that you have to use your imagination to react to locations and situations around you that do not necessarily exist in the form of physical sets or props. Sometimes you’re just by yourself on an empty stage, and you have to create an entire imaginary world around you.
I did Shakespeare like this, and years ago I also did a play called “Top Girls,” in which I played Lady Nijo, a 13th century Japanese court lady at an imaginary dinner party of historical women.We were acting in a “black box”theater in Vancouver, B.C. – so we had no sets or props, just our costumes. My role as Lady Nijo required me to conjure up an entire Japanese imperial palace and courtly retinue out of thin air, all while dissolving into tears as I told my tragic story – with the audience sitting just a few feet away from me! Years later, reacting to a not-yet-present CGI saucer in UFO Diary was easy! It turns out that theater is great training for shooting VFX-heavy films.
- Would you like to give some more information about the VFX. I thought they were really well done, especially given the constraints of a short film.
We were fortunate to work with a talented team of VFX artists from ILM, Weta Digital, and Digital Domain. Our VFX team included Kiel Figgins (Avengers:Age of Ultron), Antony Vannapho (The Twilight Saga), Rini Sugianto (The HungerGames), Delano Athias(Deadpool), Bren Wilson (Paradise Lost), and Sean Dollins(Prometheus), as well as up and comers like Shun Kim and Justin Albers. They were intrigued to work with us because they found it an interesting challenge to integrate a CGI alien space-craft into live-action WWII-style footage.
As Jason and I mentioned at our HollyShorts screening, this integration was a painstaking process of 3D match-moving, animation, lighting, and compositing. Match-moving in particular was an enormous challenge because all our footage was shot hand-held. For example, we had one long continuous 45 second shot in the bunker that was very difficult. Our 3D matchmover, Sean Dollins, who’d worked at Weta Digital on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, and also on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, did an exceptional job in tracking those shots, even when others said they were impossible. We also had a wonderful Emmy Award-winning editor, Mitch Danton, and editing assistant, Sarah French, who with great taste and instinct edited together our VFX shots and live-action footage into a compelling whole.
- What are the advantages and challenges in working in a short film?
The advantage in making short films is that you can try out innovative storylines and cutting-edge VFX without the enormous logistical and financial challenges of a feature film. The challenge of making short films, of course, is that you are limited in length. There is a great discipline to making a short film though. It requires you to be succinct. Short films are like an Elizabethan sonnet or a Japanese haiku or an Indian miniature painting: they are a compact, meaningful, and symbolically-charged way to tell a story. Short films are a wonderful proving ground,and I hope to make more of them.
- Do you see yourself eventually moving to feature length films?
Yes, I do.I have written several sci-fi screenplays inspired by NASA-JPL missions that I plan to act in and direct as feature films. One is about a woman astronomer searching for exoplanets, and another is about an astrobiologist preparing for a mission to Jupiter’s moons. Jason and I also have a feature-version of UFO Diary that we’d like to make. Jason has written a wonderful script for that, and we’re very excited about it.
- Are there any other mediums you’d like to work in, such as documentaries, animated, tv, webisodes?
I would be happy to work in all those mediums, but I am especially intrigued by documentaries. I find myself constantly documenting things.There are many times I’m doing an interview when I see a fascinating expression or revelation come across my interviewee’s face, and I think how I would love to capture that on camera. I would love to do documentaries in two broad areas: classic art and storytelling, and the space missions carried out by NASA-JPL. I’m also interested in long-form TV, because it allows a director to explore character and plot in novelistic detail.
- Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to let us know about?
I’m very excited about an upcoming screening of UFO Diary at the Dragon Con Independent Film Festival on September 4th, 2016 in Atlanta.The festival is part of Dragon Con, the largest sci-fi and fantasy convention in the world with over 65,000 attendees.It should be a very fun screening and I hope everyone can attend it!
Also, I have several women-led sci-fi short films that I plan to direct in the next year, plus I’m writing a non-fiction book.These projects are all inspired by real space science, in particular NASA-JPL missions to other planets. I’m fortunate to have gotten to know anumber of prominent JPL engineers and scientists while researching these projects. For updates, you can follow me on Twitter @GovindiniMurty. You can also find out more about UFO Diary onFacebook, where we have over 10,000 fans:
To find out more about UFO Diary check out their links: