“Really Strange Stories of the Totally Unknown,” a sixty minute unauthorized video satire of popular paranormal television, features THE X-WIVES, UNRESOLVED MYSTERIES and INVASION OF THE BALLOON PEOPLE. It’s the first production from fledging video company Between the Lines Productions. This hysterical satire was shot in the new DVC format and edited on a PC using off the shelf computer components and software. THE X-WIVES and UNRESOLVED MYSTERIES were written and directed by Stefan Petrucha. INVASION OF THE BALLOON PEOPLE was written and directed by Steve Holtz.
[ SO, WHAT’S YOUR STORY? ] ^ Stefan: Steve’s a corporate tax lawyer, I’m a comic book writer – both born and bred in the Bronx. ^ Steve: Born, anyway. ^ Stefan: We’ve known each other since elementary school. ^ Steve: Stefan was 6th grade valedictorian. In his commencement address, he insisted, “We will not – we must not – allow our education to stop here.” ^ Stefan: Unfortunately, in many ways, it did. I’ve been doing video satire since college – including a spoof of “Dawn of the Dead” called “Afternoon of
the Airheads” and a two hour combination of Star Trek and Charlie’s Angels called “Chadwick’s Airheads: The Motion Picture.” That early stuff, shot in the late seventies was done on reel to reel black and white tape. The images were crude and editing was a painful experience. ^ Steve: I’ve always been into film and writing. My spec screenplay, “Honor Among Thieves,” was a semi-finalist in the Chesterfield Competitions. ^ Stefan: Rather than invest in a single film, we saw digital video as a way to make not one, but many projects – hone our skills and actualize our creative desires at the same time. ^
[ WHAT WAS LEFT ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR? ] ^ In the opening sequence, the teaser for “THE X-WIVES,” a divorced housewife, after starting some eggs for breakfast, is attacked by a giant chicken. We originally shot a protracted scene, where the chicken walks in, finds the eggs, flips out and then engages in extended hand to hand combat with the aforementioned ex-wife. The scene just didn’t work. The chicken was revealed too early. The jokes didn’t fly visually. I lopped out two thirds of the sequence and was left with this very elegant intro, short and to the point. ^
[ BUDGET, SCHEDULE, STATUS? ] ^ The ultra-low budget was paid for out of pocket. Our biggest expenses were gun rentals, a red wig, and legal fees to an intellectual property firm to make certain we weren’t violating any trademarks or copyrights with our satire. It was taped entirely in DVC on a SONY VX1000 in about five month’s worth of weekends, then edited with a Plum Card on a Pentium 166 PC with about 8 gigs of hard drive space. ^
[ DID YOU HAVE TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING BECAUSE OF THE BUDGET? ] ^ Having worked in no-budget video before, if anything we were terribly pleased by how much we were able to accomplish for so little. Digital Video has a very warm look to it, and our CGI sequences, though simple, are effective and impressive. Our UFO sequence in the X-WIVES and the deflating janitor scene in INVASION OF THE BALLOON PEOPLE actually received applause during the premiere. ^
[ WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE MAKING THE FILM? ] ^ We almost got into a fist fight over one scene in which one of us wanted to discharge a prop pistol two inches from an actor’s eye and the other thought that maybe wasn’t a good idea. Other than that, it was mostly a hoot. Everyone was terribly helpful, all of the actors reliable and enthusiastic. Thanks to the cooperation of local store owners and such, we were able to shoot in a wide variety of locations including a supermarket and an office building. ^
The most grueling scene was probably the one involving six children dressed as Elves in Black, shot in a small, hot motel room. Even then, the kids were great, the space was just particularly cramped.
As for the editing, we often worked with a beta model of our video capture card which required a lot of intensive care. Getting the system to play out the final hour-long video was a marathon of trouble-shooting during which Stefan often felt like Dr. Frankenstein trying to breathe life into his monster. The end result looks pretty sharp though – and now knowing what we learned via the process will make future efforts much smoother.
TrueSpace, the 3D modeling program from Caligari (with which we generated the UFO effects), was a particular breeze to work with, as was Final Effects from MetaCreations.
[ WHY DID YOU DO IT? ] ^ As for the BALLOON PEOPLE, Steve was sitting at his desk, day-dreaming as usual, and wondered what it’d be like to walk in to his boss’ office only to discover a janitor inflating his half-deflated carcass with a hand-pump. ^
Stefan loves the paranormal. He thinks it’s a hoot, among other things. Shows like THE X-FILES and UNSOLVED MYSTERIES are incredibly somber, making them really perfect for satire.
[ WHAT’S THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE VIDEO? ] ^ We’ve been very successful both in achieving promotion and making the tape available. Really Strange Stories is available through Tapeworm Video and on sale at retail outlets such as Border’s Books & Music. We’ve been covered and/or reviewed in The New York Daily News, Millimeter, Gina Smith’s Connected, The Fortean Times, Wrapped in Plastic, Alternative Cinema, The Video Librarian, and Outre. ^
Over the last year, we’ve built a number of relationships with computer software and video companies, as well as the media, which we expect will prove useful for our next productions, THOSE WACKY UFOs and FECAL MATTERS.
[ ANY ADVICE OR PEARLS OF BRILLIANT FILMMAKING WISDOM? ] ^ Stefan: Shoot in video. It’s much cheaper and easier to manipulate. ^ Steve: Don’t discharge a weapon two inches from an actor’s eye. ^
[ WAS IT WORTH IT? ] ^ Absolutely. We reveled in the process, have been happy with the results and are strengthened by the experience. More sleep would be good, though. ^
[ WHAT NEXT? ] ^ Stefan’s in pre-production for a satire of UFO documentaries called THOSE WACKY UFOs – which is a more universal subject. Naturally, there will be more extended special effects and modeling sequences, and he’s eager to push the ultra-low budget envelope. ^
Steve’s in pre-production on FECAL MATTERS (his meditation on Freud’s theory of sublimation – or how all high culture is related to infantile sexuality) and RESOLVING RAYMOND (about a timid wife who poisons her abusive ne’er-do-well husband and drags his flatulent carcass around her apartment building).
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