By Linda Lane
A sci-fi action-adventure film, “Atrophy” will premiere locally on Saturday, April 27, at 7 p.m. at the Vicksburg High School’s Performing Arts Center. The film was produced by Troy Smith, Vicksburg High film teacher, and Jason Slingerland, a Western Michigan University graduate. It boasts a cast and crew mostly from Kalamazoo and others from Grand Rapids and Detroit.
Cost for the tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the door or online at: http://www.vicksburgcommunityschools.org/pac.
The movie’s plot centers on a young father, Matt, who is mysteriously transported into a wasteland world, and the challenges he faces to find a portal to return home. Matt discovers he has a bounty on his head as a “newcomer” and must survive assassins, armies and a seven-foot killing robot before he loses memories of his previous life. If he fails, he will be trapped forever as others have been. There is a suggested rating of PG-13 for violence.
Atrophy was written and directed by Slingerland and produced, filmed and edited by Smith. The film premiered at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Unreeled Film series in the fall of 2017 and also was shown at the GenCon Film Festival in Indianapolis in August, 2018. The two partners have also worked together on short films, a web series and two feature films.
When people write an independent movie script, they typically steer away from difficult scenes such as filming in a desert or expensive props such as a seven-foot robot.
Not Slingerland. Instead he called Smith with a proposition.
“Let’s write a movie that’s beyond what we think we can do and do it anyways. Let’s make a blockbuster for under $10,000,” Slingerland said to Smith. “We were daring in writing something that we knew was going to be hard to do, like trying to film the desert scenes in Michigan. But we did it anyway, and we managed to pull it off.”
“There are very few things that we cut out of the script because we could not do it. The only example I can think of was a desert motorcycle, which we did end up cutting.” Robert Couch, the production designer and one of the executive producers, built the robot out of spare parts with platform shoes for the movie.
“We wrote things without typical constraints, like ‘let’s have a car buried in the sand.’ And then we used movie magic to make it work in the movie,” Slingerland said. There’s a scene in the movie which looks like a car really is buried in the sand. “We had an old Chrysler Reliant car, so we took the door and attached it to a box and buried it. We managed to make it look like the car was buried. But the interior shots of the car were actually filmed in a driveway in Portage,” he said. They also took advantage of access to a pilot, Slingerland’s dad, who took Smith up in his airplane and allowed them to get aerial shots of the Lake Michigan shoreline, with Smith holding the camera outside the plane’s window.
A typical action-adventure film takes a full-time crew three to five months to shoot, and one to two years to edit. The group started filming in June of 2010 and finished filming in the fall of that year. But the film took almost seven years to complete, including adding the special effects, sound effects and sound mixing. And while big-screen budgets can range from $250,000-$5 million, they made their movie for $9,000 – under their goal. In fact, the film had less crew in filming and producing it than many YouTube videos.
The most expensive prop in the movie was a donkey, which they rented for four hours in a scene with a carpetbagger to lend authenticity to a scene. They managed to film the desert scenes by getting permission from a sand mining company in Grand Haven. Other scenes were filmed in a rock quarry in Rockford, in some private woods in Vicksburg, the house of one of the executive producers, and in the television studio in VHS.
“My favorite location was filming in the USS Silversides, a WWII submarine located in Muskegon,” Smith said. “One happy accident with the sub was that it worked really well as a transition from an outside shot in the desert sand. It had a circular entrance the cast entered to the inside space of the round submarine,” Slingerland said.
A DVD of Atrophy can be ordered online for $20 at: atrophythemovie.com, which includes their first full-length feature movie, Coffee Shop Kings. That came out in 2008.