These days independent filmmakers are having a hard time. We all know this. Studios are increasingly stingy with their money and when they do give people money they want to get their hands all over the project (not that there is anything new about that). So what is a filmmaker to do when he won’t compromise his vision and has a nearly completed film without the funds to finish it? A lot of them turn to places like Kickstarter and Fundrazr.com. Grassroots filmmaking. It’s a rough way to go about it but it can work.
This is what Patrick Read Johnson is doing with his film 5-25-77. He started this film in 2007 and had a deal for all the money he needed but then the company backing the film was bought out and all the funds dried up. But he had a mostly completed film so he wasn’t just going to quit. Five years later he’s on a road trip from Illinois to Hollywood, showing working prints of the film to anyone who wants to see it. Some of the Austin crowd that went to see it liked it so much that they rented out a theater at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz so they could show it again and help raise some more money, which is how I found out about it. There wasn’t a big crowd, about forty people or so, including several members of the Austin chapter of The 501st: Vader’s Fist, in costume, helping to promote the film out in front of the theater in 100 degree heat!
I knew very little about the film going in, just what I saw in the trailer. It seemed to be about a young budding filmmaker in the late ’70s, and the release of the movie that was about to change his life. But what I didn’t know was that this is basically Patrick Read Johnson’s story. The film is about him as a teenager, about his family life and why he wanted to make movies. Spoiler! It was 2001: A Space Odyssey that started this whole thing. And this really crazy thing happened that unless it had actually happened to Patrick I never would have believed it. In order to support her son, his mom called the editor of American Cinematographer magazine, Herb Lightman, and basically harassed him into meeting her son and introducing him to his hero, special effects guru Douglas Trumbull.
Unbelievably this ploy worked and Pat (played excellently by John Francis Daley of Freaks and Geeks) found himself in Hollywood and getting a studio tour of the facility that just so happened to be shooting both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars: A New Hope. While there he was introduced to none other than Steven Spielberg and then taken on a tour of the Lucas Film art department (the number of people that donated their scale models of things like the Millennium Falcon and tie fighters to the film is impressive). And then, even more unbelievably, he was taken to watch a working print of Star Wars. No one that was not working on the film had seen it yet, which basically means that Pat (Patrick) was, or is rather, fan zero. This really happened guys. So of course he had his mind blown. Then he went back to Illinois with this whole new perspective on making films and had to contend with all the obstacles life threw at him when he tried to share this revelation with his community leading up to opening night.
It’s an incredibly honest and personal film and I can’t wait to see the finished version. Basically there is a ton of post production work to do on it. Fixing composite shots, effects, color, audio mix, paying for the music rights, etc etc. And Patrick is still playing around with the editing. In fact the cut I saw was a bit different than the cut shown at the previous screening. I have the utmost respect for what Patrick and his crew are trying to do. He’s on his way west right now so, if you are interested in a screening or you just want to support, visit his site www.heartsofdorkness.com, and donate or contact them to get a screening in your town!