Superheroes and The Twilight Zone in Southwest Louisiana

Anyone remember Elastigirl from Pixar’s Incredibles? Or to jump further into the WayBack machine, do you remember The Twilight Zone TV series and movie? Two local filmmakers do and they’re letting their imaginations run wild to create something entirely new!

Let me introduce you to filmmakers Patrick Shawn Bennett and Anthony Phillips. Recently, I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall during the making of Stretch, a story that will be told through short episodes or “webisodes” on www.popninja.com. Here’s what Mr. Bennett had to say about the series:

JAM: Special effects will be required to make the series. Can you tell us about them?
Patrick: Since this is a superhero action series, there must be super powers… the particular super power the character in Stretch has is the power of elasticity. Basically, this means she can stretch like a rubber band. This effect will be done by digitally animating the stretches over the actual video frames that we shot. Everything from gun flashes to explosions will all be done digitally. It’s cheaper… and safer.

JAM: What things do you like about making a web series instead of a short film or feature?
Patrick: I like the fact that the episodes are super short, so it only takes a few shooting days to complete each one instead of several weeks or months of shooting. I also like that it is a series and you can make changes as you go from one episode to the other. If you see something that is working well, you can add more of that in the future. These short episodes are designed to be watched on a computer or tablet or phone so the runtime is kept very short. People can view them on a lunch break or anytime they want and it doesn’t require much of an attention span. The episodes will be 8-10 minute in length. Short enough to keep your interest and because it’s episodic, we can really develop characters and carry plot arcs forward over the course of a season.

JAM: Were there any surprises during the casting process?
Patrick: I already knew that we have a great pool of talented actors right here in Lake Charles and the surrounding area. No surprise there. When I say talented actors I don’t mean my neighbor’s cousin who was the star of his high school play 20 years ago. I mean actors that train with acting coaches and take classes and have been in feature films, short films, commercials, plays, etc. These are real actors who train hard and master their craft. The surprise was that they are a lot more talented than some may realize. It was easier than I thought it would be to fully cast the series locally.

JAM: Where will Stretch be showing once it’s completed and how often will the episodes be released?
Patrick: I have designed the series to be exclusive content to a website I have (popninja.net) which is an entertainment website featuring news on movies, TV shows, comic books, games, collectibles and more. The site also has an indie filmmaker area where I spotlight indie filmmakers, indie films and more. Right now I’m just concentrating on getting the pilot episode completed. Once the pilot is edited, I will use it as a blueprint to follow in the production of the other episodes. I am planning on shooting six episodes for the first season. Once all six are completed, I will release an episode each month on the website. “Stretch – the series” has a Facebook page that will give updates on the production of the web series as well as news on when the episodes release. You can find it at www.facebook.com/stretchseries. As soon as the pilot is complete, we will do the film festival circuit showing it as a short film while we are busy working to complete the other episodes.

JAM: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Jambalaya readers?
Patrick: I would like to mention that the Lake Charles area has a very active indie film community that has been making films for decades. Among us are directors, writers, actors, camera operators, sound and lighting professionals, storyboard and concept artists, songwriters, makeup artists, and more. This isn’t something new to the area. These professionals take their projects very seriously. Each year, there are more than a dozen of these films (shorts and features) produced here. Some even get distribution on DVD or platforms like Netflix. Others can be viewed on Youtube or Vimeo.

One project that I am going to take on is to catalog and share the info of all these local indie projects on the popninja website. Did you know that we have a local film commission? Did you know we have a local film group that makes films and helps others on their film projects by providing crew and equipment? Did you know that we have local groups that screen films on a regular basis at different venues around town? Did you know there are local acting classes taught by professional actors? Did you know that there is a local annual film festival (www.LakeCharlesFilmFestival.com) that screens local and international films and holds workshops on subjects like filmmaking, acting and animation? Filmmaking is very much alive and well in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Get involved.

The Space Between

As Patrick said, there are multiple filmmakers in town, all with unique visions. While Stretch is in the shooting and editing stages, Anthony Phillips has recently completed his own 30 minute short film, The Space Between. Here’s what he says about his inspiration for the film and his plans for the future.

JAM: What triggered the idea to do a Twilight Zone-style story?
Anthony: The idea for The Space Between came from a dream I had one night. When I woke up and wrote some of it down I started thinking, ‘well what happens next?’ It was then I realized the story had a similar feel to a Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, or Outer Limits episode.

JAM: Was there anything that surprised you as a first-time director?
Anthony: Yes, how many angles it takes to get even the simplest of shots. I knew it was a lot but it was more than I thought.

JAM: Is there anything you would do differently the next time around?
Anthony: I would love to have more crew and even more preparation.

JAM: What are your plans for the film? It’s longer than a YouTube short but shorter than a feature.
Anthony: This first film will hopefully be part of a larger anthology set in the same “universe” but different characters and stories. Also The Space Between is being submitted to film festivals. With the first film we really just wanted to show people what we could do on a very small budget.

JAM: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Jambalaya fans?
Patrick: The Space Between is a SAG-AFTRA production, which means we followed all the guidelines to become a union film including having a SAG actor in the film. As we build on this film and make more we hope to continue this trend while increasing production value.

So in the future, if you catch a glimpse of a film crew with folks chasing superheroes or something surreal framed in the lens, you’ll know it’s our local film directors getting creative. Until next time, save me some popcorn!