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Working on the Vault set can be tiring sometimes, but who can complain with an endless supply of fortune cookies and water? Not us!
There is a rumor that one of our characters, Mark from Indiana University, aka Trash Guy, is named after Mark Cuban, the man who helped make "The Vault" possible, who also graduated from Indiana University, and is also known to have sold trash bags door-to-door in his first job. C'mon like we would do that...
The Keyboard Room
This room was always in our plans. Initially, we had the room first appear in Episode 2. If you’ve seen Episode 2, you’ll remember that Henry basically tries to do too much at once. He panics at discovering the number of players inside the Vault, and eventually gets a little overwhelmed by what’s going on. We thought, what better way to add to the chaos than someone banging random keys on a piano. We ended up deciding that, in order not to reveal the truth behind the room, we couldn’t really show it. Why would the character hurt the team by making a racket. Also, why won’t they respond to Henry trying to get their attention. We thought it wasn’t an interesting enough way to introduce the room.
We still wanted the room to show up in the episode somehow though, at least over the intercom. It was too good of a room for that moment. We wanted something to really add to Henry’s frustration. Something so annoying that it would get him to shut off all the buttons. That’s when the dog bark came to us. Henry would, nearing the tipping point of frustration, call one last room and hear nothing but a bark. ”Hello?” ”WOOF!” ”Oh you’ve got to be kidding me,” he would say. We wanted the viewers to say the same thing. A dog in a room? Are you serious Vault guys?
Between Episode 2 and 3 Mario and I talked about the idea of doing a bonus episode where we revealed the keyboard room. It would intersect with Episode 2 in a way that people might not see coming. We weren’t sure we wanted to reveal why the keyboard room was so interesting, but eventually we decided it was important.
Casting I knew that the character in the keyboard room would be deaf, but I didn’t initially think about casting a deaf actress in the part. For some reason I thought it would be seen as bad thing, but Mario said something that in retrospect seems pretty obvious now. ”Don’t you think it would be worse if we didn’t?”
I posted an ad on craigslist which said pretty much what you would guess. I got several hits pretty quickly, and eventually decided to go with Kristi Mahe. She had several quality video submissions and a Facebook page with almost 1500 fans, something that is always a bonus for us. I remember when I sent her the pages I was a little nervous about what she might think, but she couldn’t have been more excited.
As the shoot neared I started to worry about how it would go. We’re so used to directing verbally. It’s something you just take for granted that you can just tell somebody what you them to do and they do it. I thought, maybe we should play it safe and get someone to sign. I posted an ad but got no responses, and eventually I asked her if she wanted to bring anyone. She said she might bring a friend or two along.
The Shoot The shoot was on a Saturday night. Mario and I went over the logistics of it, all the blocking, etc. We knew it would be an easy set-up, so we wanted to make sure all those questions were answered in advance. My friend Bernie also came to the set to help out in any way he could.>Kristi arrived with a friend, but not someone to sign for us. No one was in town that weekend since it was the weekend after Thanksgiving. Her friend, also deaf, came to take a few pictures and watch the shoot. They were very friendly and made us immediately feel comfortable. One of the first things I realized was that she had a blackberry and knew how to use it. Texting took on a new meaning that night for sure. She would type up questions and send them to me constantly, or just type in her blackberry and show me. It was actually pretty fun. The first thing we do when the actors arrive on set is to let them pick out a shirt, which is always a lot of fun for them. Now, the shirts are not quite random (spoiler alert?), but there is room for some flexibility. I had 6 or 7 options lined up for her, one of which was a UCLA shirt I was secretly hoping to use for another actress in a later shoot. After cycling through them a few times, she took the UCLA shirt out and looked to me as if to ask, “can I wear this one?” My head found itself nodding. UCLA it was.
We went into the room with the main set and did a few of the poster photos that we always do. After that we did the first set-up. We were going to be filming everything way out of order, which might be the norm for a lot of film productions but we typically do things in order as much as possible. For this shoot though we figured it would be easiest to go in order of difficulty, starting off easy. Keep in mind we were also filming her scenes for a future episode or two, and without going into too much detail they were much more complex.
Initially I found that my way of directing people who couldn’t hear me was to talk quieter. It just happens, you don’t really do it on purpose. Kristi was very good at understanding what we wanted though, almost to the point that it was a non-issue. She must obviously be so used to that way of communicating with people, but for us it was a new experience.
One thing we did was use Bernie as a go-between to text her some of the more complicated stage directions as we prepared for different set-ups. Bernie did a great job of keeping that going quickly while we were working. He also went behind the set and would control the lights as another way of cuing Kristi to certain timing moments. In retrospect it would have been much more difficult without a third person there, so thanks again Bernie!
As I was watching Kristi performing, I really tried to picture the shoot from her perspective. She is sitting a keyboard that has hundreds of instruments and other sound effects, all of which mean very little to her. There was one moment that she was cycling through the different instruments on her own. It was interesting to see which ones she would pick out. Imagine you see something like a clarinet somewhere. You know what it sounds like and why it’s different from, say, a saxophone. Kristi has no idea what sound it makes. I say this because this is what I was thinking during the scene. This is not only what our character has to deal with, but it’s what she has to deal with in real life.
If you think about The Vault, being deaf is a big obstacle. It’s a game highly dependent on verbal communication. Not to compare the two, but a blind person would have an easier time within this particular context. Once again, another thought that crossed my mind during this shoot.
The shoot was going so well that near the end, we decided to shoot one additional scene. Mario and I had discussed the possibility of this scene, but figured it had a 5% chance of making it into the show. Not because we didn’t want it, but we just didn’t think we could pull it off. We had Bernie tell her via text about what we were thinking about doing, and she wanted to do it.
I have to say, this was something I’ll never forget. Mario and I can’t wait to cut those scenes, and for people to be able to see for themselves. It’s hard for me to get into it without giving away spoilers, but I think when people watch the show and understand that what’s happening is real and true, they will have a similar reaction to what I had.
Kristi would sometimes re-do takes that she didn’t feel like she nailed, even when we thought she did. This is one thing I’ve noticed with some of our better actors. They ask to do certain scenes over if they don’t feel great about them. We always let that happen, even if we feel great about what we’ve shot. She was no different, and at the end she asked if she did alright. I texted her “amazing,” for which I received a lovely hug that I happily accepted.
We wrapped. Mario and I edited much of Episode 2.5 the next day, and we were very pleased with out how it turned out. It was hard for us to figure out how best to reveal the secret of the room, but we ended up with a version that we think works well enough. It’s not an easy thing to pull off if you actually think about it. If you go back, there are a few clues right from the opening shot. For example, she has no blindfold. The rest we’ll let you go back and look for, some of which were her doing on her own accord.
I think my favorite part of Episode 2.5 is the juxtaposition of Henry complaining about how “impossible” the game is for him to Kristi’s own challenge with her room. I hope the idea that comes across is not just that Henry really shouldn’t complain, but that everyone has their own challenges they have to overcome. I feel like this shoot certainly was a new challenge for us, and I’m glad we were all successful. I look forward to challenging myself more and more in the future.
"The Vault" began in none other than...co-creator Mario's apartment. That's right, there's a kitchen to the left and a fish tank (unseen) to the right. The Vault was set up in the middle of Mario's living room, and you can see Aaron's siblings lending a helping hand in the upper photo. It wasn't until after procuring funding that The Vault moved to it's own location. We can honestly say it is the best web series ever filmed in Mario's apartment.