Making “Zombie Team Building”

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“Zombie Team Building” was produced with Inside Creative Minds for the 2010 Almost Famous 48 Hour Film Challenge.  For the challenge, the theme we had to use was “a white lie”, the prop was a mirror, and the line of dialogue was, “What just happened?”

A boy and his zombies.

The limit on the finished running time of the movie had to be a five minutes.  However, we elected (or maybe I did, and failed to mention this to anyone) to shoot a ten minute movie in the same amount of time and just turn in a five minute version for the competition.  It was ambitious, but since we were able to pull it off with “Masters of Daring,” I knew we could do it again.

I flew in from Fresno, California just four hours before the kick off.  The next 48 hours would prove to be an exciting and challenging whirlwind.

We were going to shoot in two locations … an awesome industrial exterior to open the movie, and then office interiors where we can run amok.  My girlfriend arranged for the outdoor location, and we toured it right after the kick off, but it fell through at the last moment.  It was for the best, though.  Splitting up the day with a location move would have killed us.

Bracken lines up the next shot

The office building we shot at, which producers Elyse Rukkila and Tray Goodman scored, was scheduled to be renovated.  That meant we had permission to destroy certain walls and splatter fake blood all over the place.  So cool.  I just wish I would have had time to enjoy, like the rest of the crew.  Yes, destroying the building became the favored pastime of the crew, who occasionally got out of hand.  I remember walking down the hall, thinking about an upcoming shot, when an axe handle burst through from the other side of the wall.

What I had originally conceived as a very visual, actiony movie, turned out to be quite character and dialogue driven.  Craig and I wrote what we knew of corporate culture, which was effectively secondhand experience, but it wasn’t until Bracken Batson chimed in with his first-hand experience that the material finally jumped to life.

The ten minute version of the movie included a scene where a zombie (played by Noah Klinge) bursts out of a wall and pulls poor Logan through the hole.  It wasn’t in the script, we just made it up on the spot, but I mean come on … if you can have a zombie burst through a wall … then ya gotta do it!

It can’t believe we pulled it all off in 48 hours.  Props to everyone for doing an amazing job, I’m so grateful.  And thank you to our zombie hoard.  At the Almost Famous 48 Hour Challenge ceremony, ZTB won First Place Comedy, 3rd Place Audience Award, Best Use of Theme, and Craig Curtis took home an acting award for his performance.

The film got a great reception at the Phoenix Comicon (check out the behind the scenes videos),  and coming up on September 3rd it plays at the Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival!

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To watch “Zombie Team Building” visit our website at Squishystudios.com!

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Before Squishy Studios

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This is entirely too much information!! Think of this as more browsing material, or as an archive of sorts.  It’s okay … I’m giving you permission now … you don’t have to read this all!!

Long before there was a Squishy Studios there was “Blackwell Moo-Vs.”  And long before “Blackwell Moo-Vs” there was “Technocom Productions.”  And I think somewhere in the middle was “Blackbat Productions.”  The point is, before the Squishy Studios movies there were a bazillion other (and noticeably worse) movies that preceded them.

Presented here is an abridged sample of the Blackwell Moo-Vs Filmography.  Let this be a lesson to you …  To make a good movie you need to make at least ten bad ones first.  Or maybe twenty, if that still doesn’t work out.

The following descriptions were taken directly from our old pre-Squishy Studios website, The Blackwell Moo-V Homepage.

The banner from our old website


Team 26 – 2002/2006  (Short Film)

Team 26, shot in 2002 and finally edited in 2006 (I’m sorry!  I know!!), is a comedy about two spy organizations pitted against each other in mortal combat.  The badguys have a virus bomb that will end all life on earth, and the goodguys have sent wave after wave of their best agents at them … each having been wiped out completely.

Now down to their twenty-sixth team, assembled from the best of what’s left, our latest group of agents must save the world.  They are:

Abby Brightlinger (played by Samara Jones):  An art forgery analyst who’s never seen combat, let alone saved the world.

Chance Gamble (played by Shay Alber):  A cocksure agent who goes againsts the grain of the organization, taking reckless risks that … well, fail every single time.

Clay Powers (played by Craig Curtis):  A Master Puppeteer who… A Master Puppeteer?!

 

 

Craig Curtis (left), Robert Thale (center), Logan Blackwell (right)

Pauper on Pennyshire Street – 2001  (Short Film)

This silent movie is set in the Prohibition era, with a husband (Logan Blackwell) down on his luck, barely able to afford the single grape he and his wife eat.  Soon his resolve to find work lands him a job with a mysterious salesman (Robert Thale).  It turns out that the salesman has expensive potted plants with booze poured inside of them to sell to knowledgeable custumers!  Will this unprecedented scheme work, or will the pauper and the salesman be arrested as liquor bandits by the local policeman?  This unique movie boasts an extensive use of camera techniques, obscure music, and sexism.  Finally, some old-fashioned entertainment that the whole family can enjoy!

Starring Logan Blackwell, Robert Thale, Gwynne Sullivan, and Craig Curtis.

Poster from the feature film “Forever Midnight”

Forever Midnight – 1998  (Feature Film)

“Forever Midnight” is a story about three friends, during the summer after high school graduation, who are about to learn if they don’t control their own lives, it’ll control them.  It’s a frank and realistic, but also quirky look at three character’s lives and how they diverge and intersect, each very different yet much the same.

Fenix has always been the girl expected to succeed, but now she wants more.  As college nears, her choices narrow, caught in a tug-of-war between her domineering mother, her boyfriend, and what she thinks she wants.  And instead of fighting any of her battles, she seeks more freedom, more excitement, and more life, carelessly burning bridges behind her.

Jaytree’s enthusiasm to find any sort of authentic relationship drives him very close to compromising that very thing.  And Roman’s upbeat and carefree attitude shields his frustrating disappointment in himself, and his world quickly disintegrates behind the mask.  “Forever Midnight” is not a story about finding your direction in life, but about not losing yourself along the way.

“FM” played a limited three-day run in Phoenix, Arizona, at the AMC Arizona Center 24 multiplex where it filled over two hundred attendance per screening (March, 1999).  The film was also picked up by Auburn Moon Agency’s “Flixtour”, which sends one independent film a school semester to different colleges and universities throughout the country (Sept. – Dec. 1999).  It screened in fifteen colleges thoughout the mid-west (Notre Dame, Evansville, University of North Texas), and the east coast (Rutgers, Penn State).  And “Forever Midnight” was accepted into Avid’s Feature Film Camp which provided free non-linear editing services for the film.

Starring Sarah Byrd, Erick H. Weir, James Hoenscheit, Michael Bigney, Kelly Ortez, Cara Jackson, Linsey Shupe, Ayisha Byrd, Anthony Nelson, Sally Jo Bannow, and Cliff Smith.  16mm film, 104 minutes.  Written and Directed by Nathan Blackwell.  Produced by Tray Goodman.  Director of Photography Matt McFarland.

Forever Midnight Website

Karate! (Fact and Fiction) – 1998  (Short Film)

Featuring Logan Blackwell, Craig Curtis, Jason Curtis, Robert Thale, Brian Blackwell, Nathan Blackwell, John Chan, Shay Alber, and 14 more!  Literally 7 brand new shorts and 8 new skits, with an all new commercial for “What The..?”, making one giant, unbeatable epic karate movie, with a massive cast paying homage to our past lineage of Moo-V’s.  We started shooting about January and finished shooting June 1, with real “when ever we had people”/”make them all up as we go” spirit.  The production was so strung out, it was fact, it was already 80% edited by the time we finished shooting.  Moo-V finished June 2 (marathon editing!!!).

I Think the back of a cheezy video cassette would go like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Logan Blackwell, Me (with long hair), Christopher Smith, (in the background, left) Craig Curtis, Robert Thale, Samara Weir

“The makers of ‘Action Jack’ and ‘Joe Swift’ bring you the karate epic to end all karate epics!  “KARATE!” (Fact and Fiction). The longest Moo-V ever to be released, this karate anthology features Logan Blackwell, Craig Curtis, Jason Curtis, Robert Thale, Brian Blackwell,  John Chan,  Nathan Blackwell, Shay Alber, with special appearances by Steve Marcus, Clinton Layton, Gabe Burnham, Christopher J. Smith, Erick H. Weir,  Samara Jones and many more!!!  You’ll love forty eight minutes of why you should never, ever learn karate!”

VHS, approx. 48 min.

Action Jack (Gabe Burnham, left) and "Big Jake" (Jason Curtis) plan how to both raid the drug dealer's compound, and ditch Action Jack's mom who wants to tag along on his birthday.

Action Jack! – 1997  (Short Film)

Shot entirely a fake-documentary style, complete with interviews, we follow around Action Jack (a Class 6 action hero who dispenses his own unique brand of justice) for a day as he tries to take down an evil drug ring.  He is assisted by his sidekick, or more correctly an intern, a Class One action hero who majors in sociology at ASU and minors in “action hero.”  Before they set out though, Action Jack’s mom shows up as a birthday surprise and decides to tag along.  Luckily, they handle this difficulty at Enrique’s headquarters by pushing her in front of some henchman who shoot her dead.  Once the duo get closer up to the house, they realize that the house is highly secured.  Interspersed throughout the movie are insightful interviews by Action Jack and others about what it’s like to be an action hero.  Now it is time for the sidekick to cover Action Jack, but he’s not good with handling guns and ends up shooting Action Jack dead.  Then the sidekick launches into a rousing speech about he believes in God, respects women, and plans to fight for America, being a United States American citizen.  He stands tall and is ready for battle.  Unfortunately, he is then gunned down with as many bullets as can be fired into a human being.  The beginning and ending credits are a marvel in how they showcase the many talents of Action Jack and his sidekick as they fight crime and make the streets safer for their city, and for America!  The exciting theme song is a selection from one of the Rocky motion pictures.

After filming this, we thought this Moo-V was going to be a real piece of junk.  Thankfully, we were all wrong.  He’s truly a movie that was born in the editing room.  This film had a lot of great editing and camera shots and music, all of which couldn’t really be sensed just by standing around on a film shoot, on the other side of the camera.

VHS.  Approx. 8 min.

 

Poster for “Without Allies”, starring Erick H. Weir

Without Allies – 1997  (Short Film)

“Would you take a life to get yours back?”  That’s the question asked in this surreal, Twilight Zone-esque short.  Allen dies, and is proposition by “A Man” to kill his nephew in return for is life.  After much reluctance, Allen agrees, setting forth a string of tragedy of murder and fate.  My second 16mmfilm, approx. 8 min.  Written by Nathan Blackwell, Produced and Directed by Nathan Blackwell and James Batson.

Yup. Superhero movies are in our blood. Or maybe it’s just looking dorky that we’re attracted to??

Joe Swift – 1996  (Short Film)

Ah the epic to overthrow “Joe Spade.”  You have to admit, for what it’s worth, it’s pretty gutsy to make a superhero movie as cheesy as this.  Starring Steve Marcus, Jason Curtis, Craig Curtis, John Chan, Logan Blackwell, and Shay Alber.

The President of Squishy Burgers has been kidnapped by the Cheese Whizard!  Only Joe Swift and his trusty sidekick, Spandexx, can stop him!  Also, they must put an end to Sam Quick, Joe Swift’s possible brother!  Furthermore, someone has to drive the Cheese Whizard’s cousin, Hank, to the airport! Around 20 minutes long, we knew we were talking business now!  This is the first appearance of all things Squishy, which has since taken on a greater role.  In the beginning, that’s James Batson robbing James Batson if you didn’t notice.  The machine the heroes get information from is W.O.T.S.N.U., or, The Word on the Street Nuclear Unification system, or something like that, since the name was made fun of twice in the picture but never actually said ever! (Logan’s so petty!)  By the way, Bill “Blerb” Erb shows up here as the “Incredible Universe Joe,” so there is in fact another movie role he’s done with us (see his bio).

VHS.  Approx. 18 min.

 

 

 

 

 

Shay in “One Against Another”

One Against Another – 1996 (Short Film)

My first 16mm film.   I wanted to show off my action chops with an almost-music-video chase film that plays with the conception of who is the goodguy or who is the badguy (hence the terribly esoteric title).  This story, or situation, all evolved from two versions of a script.  The first being a Western no less, and the second being a modern adaptation of it.  Finally throwing out any dialogue (of an extremely wordy script) we have the ultra-action, John Woo-esque film that was made.  This was easily one of the hardest shoots I’ve ever been grinded under.  See The Quiz for details.

Starring Erick H. Weir and Shay Alber.  B&W, 16mm, approx 3 min.

 

The movie I’ve won the most awards for, “Alone.” A tone poem of loneliness.

Alone – 1995  (Short Film)

A mood piece about a lonely girl waiting for a phone call that’s just not coming.  Shot completely silent, all the sound was added later in post-production.  Barni, with her white dress just seems to glow amid the black grain of the film.  Possibly the most successful film I ever made, gathering a total of six awards.  To this day still one of my very favorites.

Super 8.  Starring Barni Qaasim.

Joe Spade:  Ace Detective – 1994  (Short Film)

A murder has been committed and Joe Spade, Ace Detective, has been hired to solve it.  Unfortunately, the man hired to find the killer is the most clueless person on the planet.  Joe Spade (Nathan Blackwell) takes the case from Ms.Hart (Samara Jones) who must know who killed her brother, Hagen.  (interestingly enough, Hagen, a name we thought we made up, is Erick H. Weir’s middlename, aka Samara’s fiance)  The only possible suspect is Hagen’s landlord, Bruno Jinkins (Gabe Burnham at his most classic).  With his henchmen, Righty, his left hand man (Logan Blackwell) and Moose, the muscleman (twelve year-old Brian), Joe and Bruno thwart each other left and right.  Well, not exactly.  Actually we zip from joke to joke and eventually end up at the obligatory final fight.  Joe Spade: Ace Detective uses the plot really as a backdrop, with the real heart of the story being the crazy situations and jokes it creates.

Nathan Blackwell (with pony tail) is Joe Spade.

Regardless of how it stands up today under viewing, “Joe Spade: Ace Detective” in many ways created the Moo-V.  It was the first to extensively use editing and music, the first to use actors outside our circle of friends, and not only exceeded the typical “one day concept/same day shoot” doctrine, it stretched five to seven days of production (memories a little foggy here) with (gasp) a the first Moo-V to actually have a completed script!  In addition to all this, Joe Spade was also the very first Moo-V to be screened by a mass audience who were not directly related to the people involved.  I believe the estimated count of attendance was around one hundred people, which was unchallenged until Joe Swift, Karate!, and Forever Midnight. Because I starred in it, the quality visual shots really dropped out of picture and the whole thing turned into a stage play of sorts.  Really raw and young, but ambitious enough to own up to.

VHS, 30 minutes long.  Starring Nathan Blackwell, Samara Jones, Gabe Burnham, Craig Curtis, Logan Blackwell, Brian Blackwell, and Jason Curtis.  Written & Directed by Nathan Blackwell.

Death:  The Movie  – 1993  (Short Film)

In this paean to senseless violence, Gabe O’Bryan plays a karate mentor who is assassinated because of…some reason.  Now the fighting begins!  Two brothers, Bo (Jason Curtis) and Derek (Nathan Blackwell), attempt to avenge the death of their master. Watch Jason accidentally hit his head on our dog’s big metal water pail!  Watch Nathan’s character get pushed into the swimming pool amid the frost of November!  Watch Gabe O’Bryan return to action for no logical reason, then get killed again! Even after many years, this movie is still tiger-ripe with excitement!

With the success of That Dirty Rat, prat falls and falling comedy was in, and Death: The Movie is smothered in it!  The fighting music you hear is from Street Fighter II.  For Gabe’s legendary head-smashing scene, you can notice beforehand that we had him fill his mouth with a lot of ketchup and tomato juice, or some sort of concoction like that.  This is Gabe O’Bryan’s only Moo-V appearance.

 

Gabe Burnham (director and star) is “The Godfather”

The Godfather – 1992  (Short Film)

Gabe Burnham (the Godfather), Nathan Blackwell, … and ultimately Logan Blackwell, Craig Curtis, Robert Hoekstra, Jason Curtis, Scott Curtis, etc.  When Gabe likes a movie – we make a movie about it.  Originally a loose reenactment of the movie “The Godfather” with a “Romeo and Juliet” twist.  In the version that survived, Gabe (the Don) dies.  Afterwards, however, I got so ignited to do more of the movie, we shot a half-dozen additional scenes – creating a weird new plot that involved a rival crime boss (played by Craig) and the FBI (Robert, Scott, and Jason …  maybe Jason was a mafia guy they were chasing).  Things of note:  In the version that survived, it has the very first shot that I was ever complimented on (which most possibly gave me the confidence to direct on my own movies.  Additional lost scenes:  The FBI guys chasing someone in Craig’s backyard.  Craig with a horrible Italian accent asking someone  “Tony, Tony, Tony.  Want some spaghetti?” to an ice cold plate of pasta (with a little mold on it I think).  Logan throwing punches out on the roof, the angle was so weird (from behind) it looked liked he was on some ‘Nordic Track’ skiing treadmill.  Last, I remember brainstorming with Gabe over possible expansion ideas, walking through the grass golf course of Encanto Park one sunny mid-day, our brains full of ideas.

VHS.  Directed by Gabe, and shot by Nathan.

Gabe Burnham (left), Nathan as Indy (center), Brian, and Logan (right)

Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Black Sheba – 1987  (Short Film)

My first real movie.  Indiana Jones must recover the legendary Black Sheba idol, doing battle with the villians who oppose him.  The best parts have to be Gabe as the Bartender, our “parachute” special effects, the gun fight, the walking through the jungle, mom’s hand in one shot, and the whip effect.  Not to mention Logan as the ever smiling villain.

Super 8.  Starring Nathan Blackwell (Indy & Black Sheba Spirit), Gabe Burnham (Bartender, Thug), Logan Blackwell (Raven), Brian Blackwell (Thug), Jack (the Dog).  “Directed” by me (Nathan) … but my mom held the camera.

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Making “Masters of Daring”

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“Masters of Daring” was produced, in association with Inside Creative Minds, for the Almost Famous 72 Hour Heroes & Villains All-Star Challenge (yeah, that’s a mouthful).  The nature of this special invitation only challenge was unique, because in addition to the theme, prop, and line of dialogue we had to integrate into our film, each team was also given a randomly selected character.

More specifically, a hero or villain designed by Kleos Studios.  The character we drew was “Reflex”, who wore a jogging outfit and could see ten seconds into the future.  We were also given the character a full week in advance so that we could cast the role and make costumes.

Craig and I at the kick off event where the characters are randomly chosen.

Me and Darren Ito, of Shutterbright, with our character selections.

We decided to fulfill one of our long standing dreams … to make a black and white 1940’s adventure serial, like the ones that inspired “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  We changed Reflex’s outfit to reflect the genre, and then went on a mad dash to secure props and locations.

Brian in a costume test for our character.

Craig and I, in Sedona, moments before we leap into the car to drive back to Phoenix

There was one hitch, however.  Craig’s brother, Scott, was getting married in Sedona at the same time as the start of the competition.  What Craig and I had to do then, is covertly write the story DURING the wedding, all while avoiding shame upon our households, and then drive down to Phoenix that night to write the script.

Luckily Cortney McLeod’s set, from her film “A World of Trouble”, was still standing, which we used it for the opening scene.  Costumes were also mined from Adam Rini’s film, “Jerry Gold.”  Because we had the time, we could jam pack each scene with era specific props at a very low production cost (the whole movie only cost $200 to make).  The office scene with Logan and Gabby, there’s at least fifteen era accurate props on the desk alone.

There was some genuine panic and confusion in the first few hours of production, but eventually we found our footing.

Shooting the office scene. Notice our green screen window.

The reality of our Crime Wizard costume.

The production was a whirlwind.  With a production crew of only two, myself and Bracken Batson, along with Art Director Basl McIntyre, we shot at a blistering pace, racking up our all time record of eighty-one camera setups in a single day (previous record was forty-six).  Editing took a full two days, with myself and Bracken taking around-the-clock shifts.  The film tied for First Place, won Best Use of Character, Best Music, Outstanding Individual Performance for Gabrielle Van Buren, and Second Place Audience Award.

A Film Festival vs Comicon Film Festival

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Dragon*Con is one of the biggest comicons in the U.S.  It’s the East Coast San Diego comicon, essentially, being in Atlanta.  Last year, “Until the End of Everything” played in their Independent Film Festival, and it was a thrill to go to.  It was easily ten times bigger than our Phoenix Comicon.  This year “Zombie Team Building” got in and plays in September.  Man, I sure want to go, but I don’t think I can swing the finances.  Sad face.

Film festivals are uniques beasts, one that I found film school teaches you basically nothing about.

There’s a lot of hustle and work to promote your movie, to pack as many people as you can into your screening.  Postcards with your movie poster on it is a must.  Networking with other filmmakers is also a must.  But “comicons” are very different than typical film festivals.  With a comicon, the screening room ain’t all that big.  The Phoenix Comicon held under a hundred.  The Dragon*Con one was bigger and much more cozy.

But, you almost always fill the room, usually because of how small it is, and because there’s already a guaranteed audience.  So you get that without any work.  However, the film festival is never the big game at a comicon.  All the press goes to the dude in the custom Iron Man outfit, and the attention of the organizers goes to the celebrity panel of Stargate Universe or the Buffy Reunion.

The one thing you can do, however, is publicize the movie and try to grow your fan base.  But that takes money and help.  Big posters, maybe a cardboard display, a street team of zombies (in zombie make up, this is, not indentured slaves.  Although they are kinda…)  So that means money.  A lot of money.  For “Until the End of Everything” I spent more money making the T-shirts, posters, postcards, and press kits than I did making the movie itself.  And there’s a point, usually after you look at the scant fifty or so people in the audience of your screening, and think about your empty bank account, where you wonder if all the effort is worth it.

I do think it’s worth it, in the long run, but you really have to commit to the big game.  You have to spend tons of cash, giving you enough supplies to promote your film at a dozen, or even two dozen film festivals.  By then you got a buzz.  A growing fan base.  But, as of yet, I just don’t have the resources to do that.  At this point it’s been a learning process.  Preparation for the big game.

Here’s some pictures from last years Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival, and don’t forget to check out my blog with our two videos on our Phoenix Comicon experience, if you haven’t already.