So last Thursday Reid Gershbein, a filmmaker and friend of mine (through Twitter), screened his two ultra-low-budget feature films. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to enter the building, so maybe I can't tell you where it screened. I'll just say it was a certain studio in Redwood City, it starts with D, rhymes with "beam smirks", and had a giant panda in the lobby--a panda that looked like it knew kung-fu. Really, I think the non-disclosure agreement was really about anything I learned about in-development projects, and since I only went as far as the screening room right past the lobby, I learned nothing.
Anyway, that was my first time in a real studio screening room, so that's kinda cool. But let's get to the movies.
First up was HERE. MY EXPLOSION... The film centers around Sera (Eleese Longino), an artist who makes things out of paper (for example, a city scape with roads and cars made out of folded maps) and then burns them (and films them burning). But the interesting thing about her is what happens when she drinks coffee. Or rather, when she puts her coffee cup down and leaves the room. It always moves seemingly on its own. Usually this only happens with coffee cups, but at least one time an entire car moves on her. When she shows this to her unemployed (and loving it) friend Francois (Jeffery Davis, whom I met at Cinequest when he was in CANARY), he freaks out a bit but he's a relaxed, easy going guy who accepts it pretty quickly. In fact, he proposes an experiment. She drinks a cup of coffee, he'll hold on to the cup while she leaves the room. Whatever strange thing happens, he'll witness and/or experience it. And...well, you'll have to see the movie to find out. Which is easy enough to do, since he's giving it away for free.
Beyond the plot, other things to like about the movie: First, a bright color palette. This is very surprising for an ultra-low-budget (I think he said he made this for $500) movie. It usually seems like most indie filmmakers live in a world without primary colors, but not Reid. He also uses some very inventive, experimental camera angles. He's not afraid to shoot handheld at an angle or around a wall filming a reflection in a mirror. The music is cool, and he does some interesting things with stopping the soundtrack and letting the conspicuous silence draw your attention to the picture. The soundtrack and the camerawork serve to keep the audience more than a little off balance. This is an odd world where the story takes place. It looks exactly like our world (in particular, San Francisco), but just strange enough that you know you'll have to roll with some weirdness to get through it. And that's how the characters react, too. This isn't a sci-fi story where they have to figure out why this weird stuff is happening so they can stop it. In fact, why it's happening is hardly considered at all. Instead it's magic realism--accepting a magical event (or events) and exploring realistically the effect it has on Sera and on all her friends. And that's really cool.
The same bright colors, strange camera angles (even more so), interesting soundtrack, and much of the cast were back for Reid's second film, THE DABBLER, THE DREAMER, AND THE MAN WHO BROKE THE WORLD. This was made for about $100 in a total time (from first shot to final cut) of 2 weeks. In fact, it's part of the inaugural round of the 2 week film collective that Reid has started. Again, it centers around a group of friends and there's a lot of interesting dialogue. Jeffery Davis is back as a guy who has been working on a novel in his head for 10 years and finally might have an idea for a theme (maybe he's the Dabbler?). Cheryl Fidelman seems to have it all together--she attends sexy naked parties (no, there's nothing shown on screen, just a lot of talking about parties) and seems to know exactly what Jeffery should write about. And Orlando Mendoza (who appeared in HERE. MY EXPLOSION... as a bartender) is so full of stress he just wants out (of what? That's never explained). Orlando goes to Seth Burnham (also in HERE. MY EXPLOSION...), who is either a demi-god, a force of nature, or just a guy with some amazing connections (and even more amazing pants). He gives Orlando a box (perhaps Pandora's?), and when Orlando opens it...all electricity stops working. No lights, no cars (can't start), no cell phones. Just walking and talking to people. And the interesting thing is, when the world's broken, people are still people. Sometimes even more so. Suddenly live performance and storytelling is a popular pastime. Without distractions, Jeffery bangs out his novel in a flash (but still doesn't give Cheryl credit). Cheryl, meanwhile, who had everything together, starts to fall apart a bit. Now that everyone is going to naked parties, she stops going. It all does get resolved, eventually. But mostly it's a very laid back, optimistic story of people being more important than all the electronic gimmicks around them. And of course I'm still a sucker for magic realism, so this night was pretty darn cool.
You can download both films and learn more about the 2 week film collective at Reid's website, here (where you can also support Reid by buying invisible imaginary air).