Thursday, April 16, 2015

Adrenalin Productions – Finding Success by Following Passion (Part 2)

After building a small indie film group, building a solid reputation out among conventions, film festivals, fans, and the NC area filmmaking community, Adrenalin set out to work on their most ambitious project to date. This was the point that everything that seemingly could go wrong in fact seemingly did go wrong. What started as a planned year of optimism and creative energy became almost two years of exhausting struggles to finish the project. By the time it was finally done, a lot of people were feeling more than a little worn out.

Parker, Mulligan, and some of the other members of the growing Adrenalin family were burnt out enough owing to the issues around the filming of A Few Brains More that they balked at the idea of doing another full-length feature anytime in their immediate future. However, none of them wanted to stop doing film work completely. This resulted in several years of creativity expressed with short film projects, each one allowing them to experiment with their tone and style, hone different aspects of their craft, and do work with other budding indie film groups in the North Carolina area.

Films like the oddball comedy The Ghastly Ghostly Gas, the slow build horror Cache Me if You Can, and the old school throwback 400 Ways to Kill a Vampire were all created under the Adrenalin banner. Parker also started an all woman film group, Sick Chick Flicks, with a number of other talented area women that she had met since founding Adrenalin. Together they created the darkly disturbing yet uplifting short film Mother as their first project. Various members of the Adrenalin family also kept busy with projects of their own such as Monthly Visitor, or by doing work with others either in front of the camera or behind the scenes with projects like Bombshell Bloodbath or The Gospel According to Booze, Bullets, & Hot Pink Jesus.

It was not only a good time for them creatively, but it was a period where their efforts began to earn them greater notice. Their work was beginning to see more recognition for both the storytelling and the technical aspects of their filmmaking in the form of more awards won at festivals and conventions both in North Carolina and beyond, and they were seeing growing critical praise. Members of the Adrenalin crew were finding themselves becoming invited guests to conventions, and Adrenalin itself was becoming the host to events and event rooms at some of these conventions. Their successes and reputations were also making it easier for them to make connections with a growing number of other creative filmmakers and thus strengthening the creative talent pool from which to draw from for future endeavors.

The passage of time also allowed for something else to happen. With each week that went by, with each new day that passed and further separated them from the events surrounding the shooting of A Few Brains More, they found themselves once again thinking about the prospect of doing another full-length feature film. As they occasionally (and not entirely jokingly) put it, it had been long enough for them to start forgetting just how difficult doing a full-length indie film could be in order to allow them to once again dive in and remind themselves all over again. The only question became what to work on.

The direct follow-up to A Few Brains More was off the table for various reasons, not the least of which was the unavailability of the two leads who no one really wanted to recast. 400 Ways to Kill a Vampire had been a surprise runaway hit for them, and writer and star Bill Mulligan had been hard at work on a script for a continuation of the story, but his still unfinished script would have been the makings of an at least three hour long film. That was simply not practical with the nature of indie/gorilla filmmaking. In the end, in the grand traditions of many a great comedy, they ultimately turned to their own past hardships for inspiration for their “first intentional comedy” full-length feature film, Fix It In Post.

Christine Parker: “Which is basically the story of A Few Brains More, just set in the apocalypse.”

Bill Mulligan: “Right. I think the trauma of having made, you know, feature length movies on low budgets, and just the funny things that happen.  The characters you have, all the little bits of tension and everything there. We kind of made it funny and just added in the apocalypse element.”

Christine Parker: “Yes.”

Bill Mulligan: “So this was pretty much a conversation we had back and forth to a con or something. We’re driving in the car for a long time and you’re just talking about stuff, and somehow that came up. Wouldn’t it be funny if we were in the middle of nowhere and civilization ends. I think people have done the idea of people making… As a matter of fact, George Romero’s Diary of the Dead; they’re making a zombie movie and there’s an actual zombie apocalypse. So ours was not that there was an actual zombie apocalypse, but if there was an apocalypse that people would assume that there would be zombies.”   

So a part of the gag here is that there are no real zombies in the story told in the film. But it does play on the idea that we’ve almost been conditioned to believe that the zombie apocalypse could happen any day now, as well as the idea that we would simply accept that zombies should be there if any other type of apocalypse were to happen.

Bill Mulligan: “Normally, you know, if you looked outside and you saw zombies walking down the street…”

Christine Parker: “Oh well, it was bound to happen.”

Bill Mulligan: “You wouldn’t say zombie walk. Really, we now think that’s a possibility. I have students who ask me if there could actually be a zombie apocalypse. I don’t mean that they’re asking in a dumb way... It’s like, is there any conceivable way, and it’s like, I wish I could say yes. And we put that in the movie too, the fact that people were disappointed…”

Christine Parker: “Yeah, that there wasn’t a zombie apocalypse.”

Populating the apocalypse of Fix It In Post is a cast of characters made up in part of exaggerated versions of their own filmmaking family, as well as those who once seemingly tried to cut their cinematic legs out from under them. An insane wardrobe lady ransoming the wardrobe is mentioned right out of the gate, and some key characters in the later parts of the story are thinly, or maybe not so thinly, disguised versions of the people who created their biggest filmmaking headaches.

Bill Mulligan: “Paybacks’s a bitch, and so is Christine when she writes a script.”

Christine Parker: “That’s right. That’s why I kill my critics in my movies. Yeah.”

Bill Mulligan: “Yeah.”

Christine Parker: “Castle Vardulon got a really nice death. He got gutted [in Fistful of Brains] and had his guts pulled out. He was very happy with it.”

Bill Mulligan: “Yeah, who wouldn’t be? That’s always been my goal in life.”

But, lest I create the wrong idea about the project; the film is about far, far more than getting a little cinematic revenge on critics and past problem children. At its heart, Fix It In Post is a filmmaker’s guide to surviving the apocalypse. Well, at least if the filmmakers in question are somewhat inept at both filmmaking and dealing with real life.

The film’s main characters are a bunch of lovable losers who are filming their ninja vs. zombie epic out in the middle of nowhere when a Carrington Event, an EMP created by an enormous solar discharge, hits the Earth and fries almost everything electronic. Suddenly life is without luxuries like cellular communications, and, more importantly, without modern necessities like electricity and vehicles. In order to survive this new world, the ragtag crew needs to depend on their skills and wits. Their biggest problem is that their skills and wits are pretty much only useful when it comes to making (occasionally bad) low budget horror films. Check out the trailer here.

However, that does give them at least a slim chance since those skill sets allow them to play on the fears and expectations that many would have when the apocalypse hits. As one example, they create an army of “zombies” to raid a store for food, terrifying some of the other looters. It doesn’t quite work as well as they hoped it would, and the most important item they manage to collect isn’t the first thing that one would think of. Their misadventures in surviving life in the new Stone Age tend to go downhill from there.

The film was also a bit of a departure for Adrenalin in that it features essentially no real horror elements. It’s a survival comedy set in the apocalypse, the key word being “comedy,” and comedy can be a very tricky act to pull off.

Bill Mulligan: “Comedy is risky. So, okay, we had our premier.”

Christine Parker: “Yes.”

Bill Mulligan: “And how’d you feel?”

Christine Parker: “I felt really good. They got… They really got it. People were laughing out loud through the whole thing.”

Bill Mulligan: “Which you want to hear in a comedy.”

Christine Parker: “Exactly.”

Bill Mulligan: “Deathly silence, you know… With a horror movie you can kid yourself that no one is reacting because they’re so flipping terrified that their hearts are stopping. That’s why… It sounds like they’re sleeping, but they’re shutting their eyes in terror. You can kid yourself. You can lie. With a comedy, if they ain’t laughin’ it ain’t funny. They’re not laughing inside. They’re not holding it in.”

The premier in question was at 2015’s MystiCon in Roanoke, VA where it received both laughs and an award for Best Feature Film.

While getting the movie into film festivals and conventions throughout 2015 (as well as a DVD release) will be high on their agenda, no one connected with Adrenalin feels content with just doing that over the remaining 8 months of the year. Sick Chick Flicks is already at work on a new project while others are either currently preparing or finishing projects both being done for Adrenalin as well as being done outside of Adrenalin. In the meantime, if you see them at your local con, stop in and find out what’s coming next. If you see their films playing at a convention or festival, take a seat and check them out for a spell. And if you see that Fix It In Post is screening?

Christine Parker: “If you ever want to know what goes on behind the scenes of an independent film, come check out Fix It In Post because… Yeah.” Wicked laughter follows.

Well, behind the scenes if it’s in the apocalypse with independent filmmakers colliding with a bunch of cannibal redneck zombie hunters. By the way, how exactly does one make a silent musical? 

If you’re interested in investigating Adrenalin Productions and their various productions, here are some links.

Bonus content- Christine Parker and Bill Mulligan are both way more entertaining than a print interview can properly convey. That’s probably why they get invited back to do so many panels at conventions these days. This link will take you to the (almost) unedited audio of the interview that some of the quotes I used were pulled from. We covered way more ground than what’s been presented here, and some of the tangents led to entertaining stories about making indie films in general as well as a few other topics. If you choose to check it out, I hope you enjoy it.

Jerry Chandler writes stuff. He writes lots of stuff. Occasionally it's even interesting stuff. He hopes you found this stuff interesting. 

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