Cinema Nor Cal
New works from Chico’s up-and-coming filmmaking scene
Traditionally, filmmaking has been the most rarefied field of the arts, a lottery dream shared by the many, but a form accessible to only a very, very few. But over the last decade, revolutionary advances in off-the-shelf technology have democratized the field, putting the possibility of realizing the dream in the hands of the backyard auteur operating on even the most limited of budgets. As the phenomenal success of the $10,000 shot-on-video feature Paranormal Activity shows, sometimes that modest dream can pay off all the way to the multiplex.
And the rise of the new ethos is starting to play out in our own back yard.
“In the past few years, the Chico filmmaking community has really come together to make some exciting projects,” offered local filmmaker Joshua A. Siegel, an ex-pat of the L.A. scene who landed in Paradise in 2006.
Since then the graphic artist-cum-filmmaker has been consistently utilizing the nascent DIY technology and local talent to create short action, horror and sci-fi films such as The Cypher, Toxin and the award-winning A Midsummer Nightmare: The Betrayal (Best Art Direction—Short, and runner-up for Best Special Effects—Short, at the 2012 Action on Film International Film Festival). His first feature-length horror film was Bloodwood Cannibals, which was released direct to video in 2010. Bloodwood was an entertaining and enthusiastic riff on the zombie genre shot in the hills of Butte County, and features loads of familiar faces from the local theater scene; it’s a prime local example of the possibilities of an approach once derided as “backyard filmmaking.”
“For me, screening Bloodwood Cannibals at the El Rey Theatre to a packed audience was the moment that I no longer felt like an amateur,” Siegel said. “But really, it was a slow evolution. Like anything worthwhile, filmmaking takes practice. You learn from your mistakes and try to make each project better than the last.”
On Saturday (June 15), Siegel’s latest project, Dream Raiders, premieres at the Pageant Theatre. This new project is a sci-fi adventure series about a team of misfits whose members have incredible powers in their dreams.
“Dream Raiders was conceived as a series of 12 episodes, each under 10 minutes long,” Siegel said. The first episode, a prequel short film called Mission Zero, will be screened at the Pageant along with a collection of Siegel’s other shorts. The episode was filmed locally over three weekends with an all-volunteer cast and crew to keep the budget low. “One of those weekends was at Bald Rock near Berry Creek,” Siegel said. “The remote location looked magnificent on camera, but the cast and crew battled frigid, gusty winds all day. Everyone was grateful that the next weekend’s shoot was indoors.
“Mission Zero introduces our audience to the series, which we intend to pitch to television and film producers in Los Angeles. [In the prequel] Sophia, the leader of the Dream Raiders, enters her former mentor’s dreams to bring him back to the real world. But Ronin is addicted to his dream state and won’t wake up without a fight.”
The character of Sophia’s mentor is played by Robert Parham, an internationally respected martial artist (now living in Fairfield) who has claimed five world kickboxing titles and multiple karate championships, and has been inducted into several martial-arts halls of fame.
Mission Zero also features local theater actress Jennifer McAfee in the lead role of Sophia. Even though she’s not a martial artist, McAfee quickly learned to move like one with the help of fight choreographers Chyna McCoy (also from Fairfield) and Chico’s Conan Duch.
McAfee also stars in Perception (which premieres at the Pageant the week after Dream Raiders, June 22), a locally made short film by Shawn Dyer. Dyer is another of the active players in the local film scene, having shot a handful of his own short films and music videos for local bands (Brass Hysteria, The Yule Logs), and started the Not Quite Hollywood film-production company with partner James Smith, as well as a new offshoot, Ulexite Films. Dyer also co-created the annual Shortz! Film Festival (Aug. 10-11, at the El Rey Theatre), and helped start the Open Filmmaker Alliance (www.opfma.com), a website resource where filmmakers in the area’s burgeoning scene can meet to connect and collaborate.