Pulse: Local filmmakers in production

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

We're in the midst of a movie revolution. Industry kingpins are having a hard time keeping up with all the innovations in the ways films are made and shared with audiences, but so far, the turmoil has been pretty good for viewers and independent filmmakers who work on a micro scale.

Our watching options have expanded dramatically, from YouTube and cable operators to local theaters and arts collectives. And the climate is favorable for risks like the one that Paramount took on Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity, the thriller made for $11,000 that's now grossed over $80 million.

While that kind of success story is still more rare than a lightning strike, the filmmaker's personal drive to create unique and entertaining moving images is shared by a growing number of locals. Production companies are sprouting up around the area, and original shorts presentations have become a mainstay on the calendar of Columbus film events.

We spoke to four local filmmakers currently in various stages of production on new work, for a peek at what's next from the local scene.

Mike Olenick


Mike Olenick, a studio editor in the Wexner Center's Art and Technology Department, brings fresh eyes and ideas to movies most of us have seen before.

As a viewer, his democratic love of film extends from the French New Wave to the latest Saw movie. As a filmmaker, he's distilled the career of Kirsten Dunst down to her on-screen kisses, and remade a scene from Hitchcock's Vertigo into a karaoke routine.

The inspiration for his just-completed film Spaceboy, however, is a bit more obscure. The original Space Boy is a 1973 experimental short by artist and filmmaker Renate Druks. Olenick was first exposed in 2001 through Wex projectionist and local movie marathon maven Bruce Bartoo, who found it on eBay and added it to a marathon program.

"Half the audience was laughing at it, and it is funny for sure, but it's really genuine in its use of low-budget special effects," he explained. "It just stuck in the back of my mind, and about five or six years ago I started thinking, I should remake this."

The delightfully hypnotic, totally out-there version made by Olenick (assisted by local artist Jamie Boyle) is a virtual shot-for-shot redo on hi-def video. The director also stars as Space Boy, an interstellar traveler in a sweet pastel space suit constructed by fellow CCAD grad (now a professional costumer) Andy Jordan.

Foolishly disregarding the warnings of the movie's siren song narration (re-recorded by Jenny Lute of the Wet Darlings and Jeremy Boyle), Space Boy falls under the lethal spell of Valana, a cosmic sexual predator played by CCAD administration staffer Nanette Hayakawa.

As Olenick prepares to unleash Spaceboy on audiences (his previous work has appeared in U.S. and international film fests as well as locally), he's also wrapping up extensive work on All the Memory in the World, a feature-length collage of photography and portraiture in film that includes images from Annie Hall, Blade Runner and Do the Right Thing. Check out the trailer at allthememoryintheworld.com.

Steven Anderson


During his downtime from a job with a software company, Steven Anderson makes absurd comedic mini-odysseys on equipment you can find at any home electronics store.

The result has been called "John Waters-esque," Anderson explained, but he isn't really aiming for homage. "I just embrace our lo-fi capabilities and have fun with it."

Previous work includes Ozhio, a variation on The Wizard of Oz with a cast and soundtrack full of local musicians (it's available on DVD at Lost Weekend Records).

Anderson's latest, currently titled Taco Odyssey, takes its initial cue from the real 2006 incident in which a fugitive couple from Kentucky was apprehended by authorities in Columbus - but not before getting a large delivery order from former Cafe Bourbon Street food establishment Taco Ninja.

As a frequent Taco Ninja customer, Anderson was receptive when a friend suggested the story as a launching point for his next movie. "We all loved that place," he said.

Aside from the delivery order and the fugitives, however, the filmmaker took a lot of creative liberties. "The rest is total fiction," he said, adding that the actual incident was "rather boring."

Among the additions, "The taco delivery guy has a kind of strange friend that hangs out at the shop, kind of a Don Bovey character," Anderson said. "He doesn't talk but he has an innate ability to request songs on the radio while [the delivery guy's] out, and the song's always something he really needs to hear. On his way to deliver the food, there's a song about getting a flat, and he gets a flat."

Anderson's got one more day to shoot on a schedule that started in August, with a cast that features friends and acquaintances such as burlesque trouper Krista Williams and Donovan Roth from the Sick Thrills as the deliveryman ("Donovan is freaking amazing," Anderson enthused). He's aiming to have a final cut ready to show locals by early next year. For updates, check out stupidcentral.org.

Matt Meindl


As the filmmaking world continues its wholehearted embrace of digital technology, Matt Meindl sticks with the traditional tools of Super 8 and 16mm film. It sets him apart from most of his peers in Columbus, but regardless of medium, Meindl's work would stand out.

Short films like Digital Underpants and T-Shirt of Me, which will show this weekend at the MadLab Video Film Fest, spotlight not just rigorous labor intensity and attention to detail but also an enviable talent for evoking mood in a way that leaves viewers wanting more.

A slew of film festivals, such as the Underground Film Festivals in Chicago, Atlanta and Boston, have responded by showcasing Meindl's work. He's won awards at a handful of these, including the Columbus International Film and Video Festival.

Meindl just put the finishing touches on his latest, Inside Out/Side One, last week. "It's my first totally non-narrative film, a collage that explores the texture and tangled nature of memory," he explained. "I've been calling it a four-and-a-half-minute nostalgia chunk."

Shot locally and around Meindl's childhood stomping grounds in Colorado, the short is a lovely, lighthearted view of the past, in which memory comes alive in a shifting landscape of shadows, trees, tattered strips of children's wallpaper and an antique heating grate. When opened, it reveals a young lifetime's worth of family photos, keys and buttons, which continue to amass through smooth, stop-motion animation.

"I almost feel like my subconscious tricked me into making it," Meindl said of the film. "It's the kind of movie I'd always think about making but then think, that'd be boring."

Nevertheless, for about five years he randomly collected images with nostalgic meaning, like the sunset skyline view from his grandparents' house. "I shot any object or corner of the house that might have some emotional attachment," the filmmaker explained.

Off and on, in the spare time from his job as a videographer for OSU Medical Center, Meindl's spent the past two years completing the project, including composing and recording its banjo score himself (a version of an old spiritual is also included, performed by local performer Za Unitt). Now that it's finished, he's a little nervous.

"I don't know how people are going to react," he said, adding that unlike his earlier films, "There are no jokes or silly moments."

Perhaps with that in mind, the filmmaker has decided to let the professional community get a first look. "Right now I'm just putting my energy and money into festival submissions," he said. He's also currently working on a documentary about the Independents' Day street festival.

And until his latest projects are unveiled to the public, you can always check out Meindl's earlier films online. Watch them at myspace.com/optyprinty.

John Whitney


Through the end of the month, anyone with Time Warner Cable can check out two completed shorts by John Whitney on the Local On Demand channel: the strangely comedic The Fixer and the dark sci-fi morality tale Measured Sacrifice. His next work, Eroded, starts shooting later this month.

"It's hard to describe because it's not quite like anything I've seen before," Whitney said, but he gave it a try. The proposed 30-minute short follows the relationship between a brother and sister after tragedy - and the life loss and head injury that results - has irrevocably changed the dynamic between them.

"It's a tragic revenge story - that's the best way to look at it," he added. Without giving too much away, Eroded also involves conversations with the buried, which is where the whole thing began.

"I have friend who's an animator," Whitney explained. "I was at his house six years ago and he had a picture on his desk, his sketch of a guy sitting on park bench talking to a face buried in the ground. I said, 'Can I use that as the basis for a story?' And that's where it started."

Though separate in tone and genre, Whitney's films are consistently fine-looking works, with a level of production value you don't expect from someone making movies for the love of it in Central Ohio (he works days in visual communications for Value City Furniture).

The filmmaker credited producer Phil Garrett for help securing state-of-the-art equipment for Eroded, including the pro-quality Red camera, which Steven Soderbergh used to shoot his recent feature The Girlfriend Experience.

"If I can show I have some technical grasp of visual language that speaks to people, that's different enough but has a quality of professionalism, that's how I get noticed," Whitney said.

His approach also rewards experienced volunteer crewmembers with an opportunity to play with the newest toys, and maybe try out some different on-set responsibilities.

As Whitney said, "If they're a best boy but want to do more gaffer work, I want to be able to give people a chance to spread their wings a bit."