Plato’s Reality Machine – which screens in New York tomorrow, July 1st as part of the Manhattan Film Festival – solves the problem of delivering high-production value on a tight budget by tossing in a combat-style video strategy game to the more tame on-camera confessionals and standard dramatic setups, all of which try to make sense of a group of six young New Yorkers who hookup, argue, love, find another hookup, get tossed out of bars, and so on. Heading up the cast of relative unknowns is Trieste Kelly Dunn, with a number of Indie credits as well as a part in the new Cinemax series Banshee.
(Interested in tickets to the one and only screening in Manhattan on Tuesday, July 1st? Click here!)
Written and directed by Myles Sorensen, the film is a first feature from this experienced, New York-based editor, whose credits include The First 48 and Celebrity Ghost Stories.
With a budget that Sorensen estimates at around $60,000, you don’t script too many live action sequences that could quickly move your budget out of reach. But what if you created a lead actor who obsessed over a first person shooter video game, and show it full screen throughout the movie? Suddenly, you have more options.
“I was actually inspired by the early, text-based games, which can have a spooky feeling about them,” says Sorensen. “But I realized that the audience wouldn’t be interested in reading all of that on the screen, so I needed a more proper-looking, animated game.”
Making an animated, 3D game can be done with Autodesk’s Maya or Side Effects’ Houdini, of course, but not if you want to work fast and stay inexpensive. That’s where apps that deliver real-time, Machinima-style animation excel, such as Moviestorm (by Moviestorm Ltd.) and Reallusion’s iClone. While the results are much rougher looking than what you’ll see in the latest Transformer epic, such software finds regular use for previz or wherever that funkier, 8-bit look can work.
iClone, now in version 5, has been gaining adherents quickly. Like Smith Micro’s Poser, the app has gained a worldwide following, which in turn creates digital models, props and even mo cap sequences, all for sale.
The resulting film looks good. DP Dagmar Weaver-Madsen employed the Arri D21 (the Alexa wasn’t available when production began), with a Canon 7D brought in to handle the low-light scenes. While it might be a micro-budgeted Indie project, Sorensen may be part of a trend as he went wide, pulling in help from a distance: the composer is London, animator in Kentucky, color correction comes out of Oregon, with the final audio mix done in LA.
Still in talks with distributors, Sorensen plans a VOD release, even if standard distribution doesn’t pan out. Plato’s Reality Machine, after all, already has a lot of do-it-yourself cred. It originally began as a Kickstarter campaign, one of the first films to go this route, said the director. “Or we might (distribute) it on our own,” says Sorensen. “I like the idea of building our fan base along with our social media presence.”
Spoken like a true independent.