By Jason Black
By my last count, there were five comic book movies released nationwide in movie theaters in 2014. Throw in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Big Hero Six,” and that number goes to seven. Comic book movies dominate the box office, and are filled with fantastic effects and big budget stars, so it’s rare that you find an independent movie that would be able to take on the genre.
Kyle Roberts did just that. He tackled a superhero movie on an independent budget, and he pulled it off in his new movie, “The Posthuman Project,” an original story centered mainly on Denny Burke, who is about to graduate from high school. His senior year hasn’t gone quite so well so far. He injured his leg; things look pretty bleak with the ladies, but are even worse at home. Denny and his four best friends go on a rock climbing adventure to prove he is a real man. While on the trip, the five friends are given superhuman powers. So what’s Denny to do? Give up his powers and be a normal guy, or keep them and become more powerful than any human?
The film has received raves at film festivals. It has been an official selection for the Florida Supercon Super Geek Film Festival, the San Diego Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival, and won Best Oklahoma Film at Oklahoma’s deadCENTER Film Festival.
What’s the origin story for this movie? When Roberts was 16, he was obsessed with John Hughes movies.
“Which is one reason for this first one – I wanted to create something sort of as an homage to Mr. Hughes,” Roberts said. This is evident in the film’s poster, which looks similar to the famous “Breakfast Club” movie poster.
He also sites “X-Men” as a big influence, in a sense merging both Hughes and X-Men into one movie.
Roberts had started getting quite a bit of attention on stop-motion and music video postings to YouTube, even getting mentioned by thousands of blogs all over the world.
The recurring question he always got was, "When are you going to direct your first feature?"
Eventually, he was contacted by the SyFy network to be on their first season of “Viral Video Showdown.” The show pits two teams against each other; they are given four days and a very small budget to create a video that follows the week’s theme. The teams have to do everything including writing, directing, acting and editing. The goal is to create something that could go viral online. They present their final video to a panel of experts, and the winners receive $5,000.
After the appearance on the show, Roberts felt it was time to make his first feature.
“So why not start with a superhero film, right?” Roberts said. “We swung for the fences, and I’m glad we did.”
In order to get the movie made, Roberts put together his own team of heroes. He approached Matthew Price, who is pretty well known among the comic book crowd in Oklahoma.
Price is a longtime writer for The Oklahoman, but also owns Speeding Bullet Books and Comics in Norman. Price had been working on a story about teenagers getting powers while on a camping trip. When Roberts approached him about a movie project, Price took the project and developed it into a screenplay.
“It was exciting and intimidating to craft a story for the screen,” Price said. “I pulled a lot of inspiration and emotions from my own teen years to create the various challenges the teens faced.”
After the first draft was completed, Sterling Gates came in to take a pass at the script to help develop the drama.
Gates is a Tulsa native who has written for such titles at DC Comics as Green Lantern Corps, World’s Finest, Justice League and Supergirl.
“For me, superhero stories are about portraying actions and emotions in ways that are larger than our regular daily lives,” Gates said. “We worked to tell a dramatic story about the lives of Denny Burke and his friends, but take the emotional drama to extreme levels by introducing elements of the superhero genre. Each character’s powers reflect either their desires or their fears, so the powers help them deal with what they want most in life.”
As noted earlier, comic book movies are pretty big right now, but they are all big-budget movies, not indie films. That could either make it easier to make, or harder.
“Nothing about this film was ‘easy,’” Roberts said. “One year of constant fundraising, scriptwriting and pre-production. Thirty days of filming. Ten months of editing, with 530 shots that needed visual effects. That being said, from the very beginning we tried to carefully handcraft this project into being a ‘cool indie film’ and not feel like a major blockbuster.”
Every detail of the film was calculated to keeping the feeling that they wanted. One example of keeping that indie cool feeling was the score.
“We thought that if we used an orchestral score for the film, it would feel much bigger than it is,” Roberts said. “Instead, we carried our score with synths. So we are still carrying the same emotions, but bringing the viewer on a ride that feels much more organic than a super-epic orchestral score would.”
This was completely an Oklahoma production, including the actors and all the people behind the scenes.
“It's been a long two and a half year process, and everyone in Oklahoma has been extremely supportive.” Roberts said. “With our budget for doing a superhero film, I can honestly say we could not make this film anywhere else.”
“This project felt like a family,” said actor Rett Terrell, who plays Finch in the movie. “This project is a testament to the fact that you can make something great on a small budget. From the ground up, our director created a grassroots, all-local project. And I hope for all its ups and downs, this film makes someone say ‘I can do this, I can make a film,’ and then does.”
“What Kyle and his producing team were able to execute with their locally-based cast and crew still blows me away,” said writer Gates. “This is a home-grown Oklahoma production through and through.”
Getting a movie made is hard enough; but getting it seen isn’t easy, either. Since this was an Oklahoma production, the natural place to debut the film was at Oklahoma’s own deadCENTER film festival.
“The whole weekend at deadCENTER was surreal for us,” Roberts said. “It was our world premiere, we had a line wrapping around the theatre, sold out both showings, and of course won Best Oklahoma Film. I'll never forget showing up, seeing the line and thinking, ‘All of these people came out to see our film!?’”
The movie didn’t stop there. It has gone on to other film festivals, including the biggest of them all: Sand Diego Comic-Con International.
“San Diego was great. We just came off a big win for Best Editing, and yet another sold-out show at Florida Supercon in Miami,” Roberts said. “Myself, four of our actors – Lindsay Sawyer, Collin Place, Alex Harris and Rett Terrell – one of our writers, Sterling Gates, and producers Wendy Parker and Sha'ree Green were able to attend. We met several people in the film industry, had a fantastic response at our show, and just enjoyed the convention!”
There is currently talk with a few distribution companies to get the movie on a wider release, but for now the film is seen at film festivals. There were two more showings in December in Altus and Elk City.
The film recently debuted in Europe at a Horror/Sci-Fi festival. For information about where to see the movie, the best place to go is the movie’s official website: www.posthumanmovie.com.
Assembling a team of people with specific talents to get something made on a small budget, but somehow gets made and wins awards … sounds pretty super!