By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
Set for release in late 2016- early 2017, director Mike Messier’s Disregard the Vampire, currently in post- production, is an utterly absorbing glimpse into the creative process. Entailing the production of an independent feature that transformed and was re-imagined as Distance from Avalon (penned by Messier), the account chronicles the various delays and pressures of getting a feature from script to screen. For the cast of this particular composition this is an initial two day delay. Such is due to reports of a hammering blizzard in the area where imaging was to take place. As the piece goes on, we witness various re-writes and additions to a screenplay that the cast admits to being a bit perplexed about. It also incorporates the trials of an actor being released from the affair and another thespian, Scorpio, taking over with less than twenty-four hours’ notice. This only heightens the chaos and general stresses of putting the attempt together. Of all these foundations: one of the most interesting attributes is its underlying focus on the burden of shooting a sixty-five (now reportedly seventy-eight) page, feature-length script. This is in the amount of time one crew member states would be perfect for a short film.
The twenty-nine minute ‘rough cut’ of this effort I was lucky enough to see is mesmerizing because of these incidents. It showcases the passion and focus which goes into a project such as this to great effect. This will also assuredly prove a terrific teaching tool for up and coming moviemakers. It will also appeal to those of us who are interested in the craft itself. Artists of any ilk will assuredly be able to relate to the beauty, and simultaneously unforeseeable destructive forces that often take flight, when engaged in the act of creation. I know this characteristic struck a tremendous cord with the writer within me. The James K. Van fleet quote in the concluding seconds also provides a perfect punctuation point for this sentiment.
The personal stories from those involved, ranging from set designer Shevon “Muffin” Young and Court Fisk, itself are just as endlessly watchable and informative. Likewise, a sequence involving the emotional impact a bout of credible weeping from Anna Rizzo’s performance as Ginger has on one of the squad is especially stirring. Such sights make the undertaking all the more well-rounded and fulfilling. In turn, we are not only amended guidance from Messier himself, whose introspective narration and climactic bits of self-interviewing humor add all the more depth and heart to the exertion, but from all involved. This decision will prove all the more intriguing for those who dream of being in front of the camera as well as behind it. Such is one of the smartest moves this warm, uplifting and courageous ‘insider’s look’ offers its patrons.
All the while Messier’s guidance of this transcendent labor of love is just as striking and intimate as the previously stated elements. His stylistic approach here, which calls to mind documentarian Michael Moore, is incredibly entertaining. Eileen Slavin’s skillful excisions to the material are exceptional. Of this particular detail Messier states: “Further VO (voice- over) and final editing will be mastered by Tim Labonte.” He is a fellow collaborator with Messier. Furthermore, Labonte is an award-winning silver screen master as well. Scorpio’s music fits the atmosphere presented herein exceptionally well. Chris Hunter’s cinematography is crisp and impressive. It all comes together to evoke a product that is elegant, sophisticated and illuminating at every turn.
Messier describes the $50,000 budgeted Distance from Avalon itself in the following manner: “An intellectual, highly sensitive school teacher and profound philosopher named Joe experiences a failing marriage, past life digressions and suicidal regret en route to initial comfort then mind control from La Croix Distance (Distance from the Cross) a wild haired mojo man who lives in a world of pain and manipulation. Their battles are enhanced by stolen soul, Heartbreak, La Croix’s rebellious muse, and Ginger, Joe’s insightful co-worker who is tempted by the Distance from Avalon.” The plot sounds wonderfully enigmatic and alluring. I look forward to the final product.
The chain of events in Disregard the Vampire are also breathtaking. It reminded me a lot of German director Warner Herzog’s similarly exhilarating Burden of Dreams (1982). They both illustrate the feverish dedication it takes to make a dream of telling a tale through the cinematic medium resonate into fruition. This is often when the impossible odds of doing so constantly pile up. Yet, Burden of Dreams, which concerned Herzog’s shooting of Fitzcarraldo (1982), saw completion of an undertaking from start to finish. Disregard the Vampire lets us peek into a development which is still in production. In many ways this is even more captivating and awe-inspiring. This is because its promise and potential is still in an infinite state.
Throughout the duration, Messier frantically fights to keep Distance from Avalon afloat. Not only does this make the sum simmer with an underlying intensity, as the clock ticks and fate appears to be shaking his head at the enterprise, but it also heightens the hunger inside Messier. This desire is to prove these forces wrong. All of this transpires is as he continues to evolve with these circumstances and move forward. Such adds a cryptic yet, ultimately, inspiring pulse. It is one which throbs with increased immediacy and interest throughout the endeavor. Messier offers brilliant work here. Disregard the Vampire is a mandatory experience. It will especially appeal to the struggling combatant as well as the motion picture admirer within us all.
Note: Besides this exclusive early review, I am also honored to present the world premiere of the official 2 minute preview of Disregard the Vampire (above) and the Distance from Avalon teaser (below)!