deadCENTER Film Festival
downtown Oklahoma City
While 2012 marks just the 12th deadCENTER Film Festival, it sure seems more grown-up. After all, X-Men star Famke Janssen doesn’t make a Saturday-night date just for anyone.
To preview the next five days of flicks — including six we think you shouldn't miss — Oklahoma Gazette spoke with five filmmakers with Sooner State ties, so see local!
Bringing Up Bobby
Actress Famke Janssen makes her writing and directing debut with the Oklahoma City-lensed Bringing Up Bobby, but it could have been her 10th, or maybe 20th. If only that cad James Bond hadn’t stepped in her way.
Having majored in writing and literature at Columbia University, Janssen was accepted into the American Film Institute screenwriting program ... and then offered the plum role of villainous, vice-thighed vixen Xenia Onatopp in 1995’s GoldenEye, which marked Pierce Brosnan’s first go-round as 007.
“I was sort of debating which way to go at that time in my career,” she said, “but when the Bond movie came around, I thought, ‘I have to take this opportunity.’ And I kind of got derailed for a long time.”
And how. Perhaps best known as Jean Grey in the first three X-Men movies, Janssen — who will take a daylong break from shooting the Netflix werewolf series Hemlock Grove to attend Bobby’s deadCENTER premiere — tried to get several scripts off the ground before Bobby did, from a story she co-wrote with Oklahoma native Cole Frates.
Taking charge of the dramedy, which stars Resident Evil franchise heroine Milla Jovovich as a misfit mother, came naturally.
“I think it suits my personality a lot better,” Janssen said. “As an actor, everything’s always in the hands of other people. You have no control over your life, and I’m a control freak! [Directing] was perfectly suited to me.”
Still, that doesn’t mean it was easy. “I’m not going to lie to you:
It’s a ton of stress,” she said, noting the project was shot in a whirlwind 20 days. “And you know what Oklahoma is like in August.” —Rod Lott
Mark Potts nurtured his love of movies in Enid, where he grew up and worked for a time in a shopping mall theater. The filmmaker pays homage to those days of hanging out, eating stale popcorn and watching free flicks in the comedy Cinema Six.
“Looking back on my time at the theater, I think it was as equally important as any studying I did in college,” said Potts, who now lives in Los Angeles. “I watched movies all the time. We stayed late, ate terribly, and just enjoyed the movies.”
While Potts has been a deadCENTER favorite for such slacker-comic triumphs as S&M Lawn Care, Cinema Six marks a significant departure for him and co-director/ co-writer Cole Selix. It’s a comedy, but its story of three moviehouse employees stuck in arrested adolescence touches on some mature themes, including marital discord and abortion.
On a more fundamental level, Potts said, it’s also his first film to have anything resembling a budget. There’s even an uncredited appearance by Saturday Night Live regular (and Tulsa native) Bill Hader.
“We had a real crew to help us out. No longer were Cole and I running lights and sound,” Potts said. “Actually, I take that back: Cole and I never used lights. But we had lights this time around and, I’ll tell you, those things help a lot.”
Six is also their raunchiest to date, but Potts said the potty talk just fit with the characters’ maturity levels.
stuck in adolescence, making dirty jokes and swearing all the time,” he
said. “We had someone say that all the swearing was a slight against
creativity and I was like, ‘Are you serious? We said “Queefer
Sutherland!” That’s a vulgar and creative pun!’” —Phil Bacharach
Just Crazy Enough
After working together on a few suspense films, friends Lance McDaniel, Sean Lynch and David Greene were eager to lighten the mood.
“All of us wanted to do something that was family-oriented, because we had worked on so many scary movies,” said McDaniel, also deadCENTER’s executive director. “I have nephews and nieces that have never seen anything I’ve worked on. We wanted to do something our families would be proud of and watch and enjoy.”
They pored over ideas, but the one that stuck was a comedy about twins separated at birth, one of whom becomes a psychiatrist, while the other becomes a patient at a mental institution.
The result, Just Crazy Enough, was shot entirely in Oklahoma. Its cast and crew include such notable locals as former NBA player-turned-artist Desmond Mason (as a mental patient) and Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd (who provided the trippy music score).
For the lead, however, the filmmakers looked outside the Sooner State, casting Saturday Night Live alumnus Chris Kattan, whose off-kilter persona and prowess for physical comedy were well-suited for the roles of the twins.
“He was instrumental in freeing up every actor to realize they could bring their own sense of humor to their role,” said McDaniel, who directed. —Phil Bacharach
The Unusual (Calling of) Charlie Christmas
What with the lead character donning a hockey mask, one could be forgiven for assuming The Unusual (Calling of) Charlie Christmas to be a slasher film.
Instead, per director Adam Hampton, it’s a “Bruce Springsteen version of a superhero movie. That’s what I was shooting for.”
The Shawnee-based Hampton didn’t have to look far for inspiration for his revenge tale: He found it in the daily headlines.
“I wanted to tell a superhero story in the context of some difficult times. Domestic violence, bullying — these are not fixable with a John Wayne/ Superman approach,” he said. “It bothers me, keeps me up at night. I’m as sick of it as Charlie was. I wanted to tell the story of a guy who needed a change, and this frustration pushed him.”
That guy is Charlie Christmas (producer Kenny Pitts), a socially awkward high school janitor whose costumed vigilantism divides the community while bringing others together.
Most of the film was shot in Pottawatomie County, with cast and crew working for pizza and beer. While $7,700 was raised through Kickstarter, the production was still “paid for with pennies” and generosity, Hampton said. “We were lucky.”
Charlie Christmas was shot over the course of three years — “People had kids, people got married, people got divorced,” he said — and now awaits its world premiere Saturday.
“I don’t have the words for the excitement I have,” Hampton said. “Charlie’s acceptance is sweet validation for a starving filmmaker. Until the movie is seen and shared, it almost doesn’t exist. I honestly cannot wait.” —Rod Lott
Where Did the Horny Toad Go?
Stefanie Leland and some friends were visiting one afternoon a few years ago when the topic turned to childhood memories. The question arose: What happened to all the horny toads?
It’s a good question, especially for folks who grew up in the Southwestern U.S. and are older than, say, 30. Horny toads — or horned lizards, to be accurate — were once a staple of the region. Boasting a dragon-like head, frog-like belly and natural camouflage, the tiny creatures were as irresistible as they were weird-looking. But then they all just seemed to … disappear.
Leland, who was studying biology in college, decided she would make a short documentary on the subject for a class project.
“The more I started researching it,” she said, “I realized it was going to be a longer process than just a semester and a short film.”
Quite a bit longer. The OKC resident began work on Where Did the Horny Toad Go? in March 2009 and wrapped up this spring. Along the way, she interviewed scores of horned-lizard experts and enthusiasts for an info packed but charming documentary.
The film answers its titular question, while also delving into more whimsical excursions, such as the legend of a horny toad that allegedly lived for more than 30 years trapped in the cornerstone of a Texas county courthouse.
“I wanted to make this film understandable to anyone,” said Leland, whose husband, Beau Leland, is also a local moviemaker. “I got into film to make a positive change. I hope Where Did the Horny Toad Go? will touch audiences and energize them to become proactive stewards of species conservation. I don’t want it to be just limited to horned lizards — although I love the horned lizard — but I want to open up the idea of conservation of other species of wildlife.” —Phil Bacharach
Hey! Read This:
• 6 flicks not to miss at deadCENTER Film Festival 2012
• Bringing Up Bobby on-the-set report
• Native American movies at deadCENTER Film Festival 2012
• Steven Drozd's The Heart Is a Drum Machine album review