By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD For Marty Langford, producing a credible film and seeing it distributed on DVD was something for which he had long worked.
The experience, though, of creating “Magdalena’s Brain” with Warren Amerman, taught Langford some valuable lessons about the business end of show business.
The Bing Arts Center, at 716 Sumner Ave., will screen the film at 7 p.m. Sept. 17. After the presentation there will be a discussion with the filmmakers. This will be the first in the Bing Arts Center’s monthly Independent Filmmakers Series.
Langford spoke to Reminder Publications last week and said he is excited to see the film again. He last watched it about five years ago when he and Amerman recorded the commentary soundtrack for the DVD release.
Langford is no stranger to film production. He has written screenplays, produced and worked on the crew of a number of projects, but “Magdalena’s Brain” was different.
“Magdalena’s Brain” is the story of Magdalena Welling (Amy Shelton-White), a brain surgeon, and her husband Arthur (Sanjiban Sellew), a quadriplegic scientist. For the past four years they have been working on artificial intelligence research in the shadowy corners of an old retrofitted factory. Joined by a former patient and Magdalena’s mysterious brother, their research leads to discoveries that will change all of their lives forever.
The film garnered a variety of good reviews when Heretic Films released it on DVD in 2006. On DVD Addict, Bill Gibron wrote, “More dread-driven than straight ahead scary, this oddly effective film features strong performances and an equally powerful narrative drive.”
Critic Glenn Erickson, writing for DVD Savant, said, “It’s a surprise to find a low-budget direct to video horror film with more ambition than the hundred or so slasher/zombie/satanic epics that come out every year. It’s even more surprising to come across a horror/Sci-Fi fantasy with a truly imaginative concept. ‘Magdalena’s Brain’ has both.”
Langford described the production, which was shot locally, as “an 18-month chunk of my life devoted to making this film that came at the expense of many things, including my family and work.”
Making a low-budget film is physically difficult. He recalled that during the shoot he would get no more than four hours of sleep at night.
Unlike many new filmmakers, Langford and Amerman crafted a script that could be shot for their budget this one being about $30,000. They elected to spend key amounts of their funds on employing an experienced actress, Shelton-White, and using a high-end digital camera system. The result, for this viewer, was a film with a very strong central performance and a look that few films in this budget range have.
Despite their careful efforts, Langford said he and Amerman made “many mistakes.”
Once the film was completed, the two men started shopping it around for DVD distribution. Heretic Films made them an offer that Langford described as fairly typical.
They handed over the film to the San Francisco, Calif.-based company on a hard drive. The company then crafted the box art and the marketing of the film as well as the contents of the DVD. Langford and Amerman would only receive payments once Heretic had started making a profit on the film.
“Distribution is kind of racket,” Langford said. “We never made a nickel.”
Heretic Films, which specialized in horror films, placed the film in Blockbuster Video and on Netflix, among other rental outlets and for sale in major retailers such as Best Buy and f.y.e., Langford said. He noted with pride that “Magdalena’s Brain” was the first film from the company to make it into the once mighty Blockbuster chain.
The film was also among the “video on demand” offerings on many cable systems, Langford added.
Despite its exposure, the film’s success was tied into the success of the distributor and when Heretic went bankrupt three years after it acquired “Magdalena’s Brain,” the film entered a cinematic limbo.
At the time, it was $6,000 away from the break-even point for the company.
Langford said he and Amerman, as well as the film’s backers, didn’t expect to make a lot of money from the film. What they had hoped was to produce a showcase that could lead to another film.
He admitted being “deeply disappointed” that a sophomore effort has not yet come about. Langford has written several scripts and has met with officials from the SyFy Channel, but nothing has jelled at this point.
He certainly hasn’t abandoned film and video production though as he is the co-owner of Viz-Bang, which produces online video and social media content.
All of the rights of the film have reverted back to Langford and Amerman and Langford said he is considering seeking new distribution of the film.
Right now, he said the only way to see the film, other than the showing at the Bing Arts Center, is by buying a used copy on eBay.
“I’m proud of this movie. For its budget and resources, it’s a pretty good little movie,” he said.
For more information on the presentation, log onto http://bingartscenter.org.
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