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Friday
Feb262016

Shooting Flames with 'Tex Montana' Film Director Christian Stella: Survival Kits, Hurricanes and Piracy

A man enters the wilderness alone and plans to stay there for 30 days but soon faces the reality that he highly overestimated his survival skills. It's the gist of the plot for Tex Montana Will Survive, a forthcoming comedy film being released digitally in March 2016, after several hundred supporters (including myself) basically bought the worldwide rights to the movie.

Orchestrated by O. Hannah Films through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, this five-figure deal makes way for a future of independent film distribution where audiences can watch a movie without encountering territory restrictions nor the slow pace with which the entertainment industry moves when making titles available. It also looks to a future where visual media artists can be rightfully compensated for their work.

'Tex Montana Will Survive' Co-Director and Cinematographer Christian StellaHaving never heard of the filmmakers behind this movie until last weekend, I challenged Christian Stella - Co-Director and Cinematographer for Tex Montana Will Survive - to address some real-life disaster scenarios.

Stella also works as a food photographer, authors cookbooks and is behind a computer every other day, piecing together what he shot. Thus, he doesn't get out much and considers himself to be least likely to survive anything. Thankfully, he was still up for taking a stab at the following questions.

Madlab Post: You were just evacutated following a major collapse and are only allowed to save two things and one movie. What would you keep?

Christian Stella: First, I'm pretty sure I have to save my wife. For the second thing, I should probably save ONE of my two cats. Now that's a tough call, because one cat is very old, but the younger cat is a jerk...So I think I've gotta save the older cat, Sedna. I know that's a cheat because the question is most likely asking for inanimate objects. In that case, my camera and computer are the obvious ones. The movie would most definitely be PT Anderson's Magnolia. I have a Magnolia tattoo even.

MP: What disaster do you fear most?

CS: I'm fearing tornadoes right now. I've grown up with hurricanes in Florida my whole life, but those are so slow and come with so much warning. It's a little more rural where I am in FL right now and the wind gets crazy. I'm always listening for tornadoes now.

MP: What lifesaving skills do you have?

CS: I can cook. That's a good survival skill, I suppose, but I'm not saving anyone's life. It would be best if everyone on the island just let me explain how to cook me before they ate me. That would be as useful as I could get.

MP: Name a large-scale disaster that had a major impact on your views about humanity.

CS: I lived right outside Miami during Hurricane Andrew. That had a huge impact on my life because it destroyed a mall that my family owned a store in.

Christian Stella on location filming 'Tex Montana Will Survive' with Co-Director and lead actor Jeremy Gardner.MP: What would you do if you lost everything you owned and became displaced by a disaster?

CS: As long as it happens after this Kickstarter, I'd be fine. It's funny...This kind of thing freaks me out a lot because of the work on my hard drives. With piracy now, you've got to be so protective of your movie before release. But because of being so protective, if I lost my hard drives before the final release, we could lose years of work. There are versions online, but they are lower quality.

MP: Can you swim well enough to save someone else from drowning?

CS: I can swim well enough to save myself, but like a fully dead-weight unconscious person? They're doomed.

MP: What items would be in your 3-week survival kit?

CS: One of my rules while making this movie was that I wouldn't think too long and hard about actually trying to survive... Because Tex Montana is entirely impractical and completely inept... I didn't want to accidentally influence the movie by knowing any actual skills or thinking logically in any way. If I had to spend 3 weeks in the same 9 degrees we filmed in, I'd want to pack a flare gun and a GUN gun... Just in case no one responds to the flares.

Much thanks to filmmaker Christian Stella for taking the time to brief me on how he responds in the face of disaster!

How well can YOU cook?

Are YOU looking forward to watching 'Tex Montana Will Survive?' when the film is released?

There's still a few hours left to grab some of the merchandise that will ONLY be available until the O. Hannah Films' Tex Montana Will Survive campaign ends. This merchandise includes one of 400 limited edition DVD/Blu-Ray combo packages -- hand numbered and signed by both directors -- as well as Tex's Fat Survival Sacks, filled with surprise props used in the film and other random goodies.

Thursday
Feb252016

Hey Academy, how about an Oscar for 'Earned It' by The Weeknd?

Dear voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

Knowing the 88th annual Academy Awards are a few days away, I'm writing to encourage your recognition of one of the most acclaimed musical compositions on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack -- "Earned It," performed by Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) -- as Best Original Song.

The tune excels at seducing listeners into believing our needs and desires will be met in ways that can only be fully understood through the experience of surrendering to an outside force. It is spellbinding in the same way that Fifty Shades of Grey portrays it's protagonist Anastasia Steele as innocent and unsuspecting prey that gets wrapped up in Christian Grey's web of mind games, control and eroticism. "Earned It" is a force that pulls at us like the ropes that bind actress Dakota Johnson's body in the music video, also helmed by Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson.

Tom Mackay, Executive Vice President of A&R at Republic Records describes working with The Weeknd as an unbelievable experience; in a collaboration with Universal Pictures that resulted in the singer's first Top 5 single of his career, on the Billboard music charts. Written by Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Quenneville and Stephan Moccio, "Earned It" is also the only song that appears in the Fifty Shades of Grey twice. In addition to the singer winning his first Grammy award for this tune, in the category of Best R&B Performance, The Weekend also scored a Best Song Written for Visual Media nomination for "Earned It."

Universial Pictures, music buyers that crowned Fifty Shades of Grey with the highest selling multi-act compilation soundtrack since Get Rich or Die Tryin (2005) and the largest debut for a soundtrack since Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009), and The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences recognize that this is more than a hot tune.

It just works....on all levels, and for the right reasons. Period.

The track's arrangement, led by Abel Tesfaye's performance, lends itself to the hynotizing nature of the film it was made for and is as magical as any Best Original Song can get.

Wouldn't YOU agree that 'Earned It' by The Weeknd deserves an Oscar?

Wednesday
Feb242016

8 Reasons Why I backed the Man vs. Wild Film 'Tex Montana Will Survive' on Kickstarter

Tired of asking for permission to make a movie, Florida natives Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella traveled to the woods of Connecticut where they co-directed the comedy Tex Montana Will Survive, armed with little more than a tiny crew, ski gloves, musical instruments and the Canon C100 cinema camera. The film is about a famous adventure TV show host who goes on a self-imposed 30-day challenge of surviving the wilderness alone, after his reputation is tarnished by allegations that his show is staged. When a snowstorm hit during production, Tex Montana Will Survive also became an endurance test for the O. Hannah Films duo and their crew members, who were sick and freezing while shooting this movie for 14 hours a day in nine-degree weather.

Director Christian Stella is also the cinematographer on location for 'Tex Montana Will Survive.' Photo courtesy of O. Hannah Films. Used with permission.Gardner, who also stars as the lead character, got a nasty case of frostbite while Stella was so high on over-the-counter cold medicine that he told me his on-location experience is a blur. "I was shooting Afrin, or whatever the sinus medicine that you spray up your nose is, then at night I'd wake up in a pool of blood," says Stella who consumed a combination of cold medicines to manage his coughing in between takes and was so exhausted upon going to sleep that he didn't notice getting nose bleeds in the middle of the night.

"When I eventually did wake up, the motel sheets were a horror scene. I had NO idea what to do. I just wanted to find a dumpster and throw them away, then replace them with the cheapest Wal-Mart sheets and hope they never noticed," he adds.

Now that production has wrapped and the film is finished, these directors are embarking on a crowdfunded form of DIY distribution that aims to address the complex issue of movie piracy and afford them some stability; after the conventional release of their debut zombie horror film The Battery (2011/12) left them with rave reviews, yet, empty bank accounts, credit card debt and a quest to find out if making a living as an independent filmmaker is possible in the current and fast-changing landscape of media consumption. So, I joined a growing number (662 and counting) of people who backed the Tex Montana Will Survive campaign on Kickstarter.

While I believe filmmakers deserve to be compensated properly for their work and filmmakers deserve opportunities to build a career in this industry without having to worry about keeping a roof over their heads or where their next meal is coming from, there are several main reasons why I donated a few dollars to this Kickstarter project:

1. The movie Tex Montana Will Survive is already finished, which shows us that the team behind this campaign can bring a film from concept into a full-fledged, concrete product. It is a clever way to use pre-sales but what sets the film apart from ebooks, gadgets, video games and other items that artists and writers market online is the fact that the product is already done and "ready to ship," so to speak.

2. Gardner and Stella are still putting in the work to make this fundraising campaign a success. Some of the crowdfunding campaigns that I've considered supporting -- many of which were run by popular YouTubers with relatively large audiences, but that's another story for a different day -- were not tended to with any vigor or indication that the person (or persons) behind it really wanted or needed the funds. It seemed like the set-it-and-forget-it type of campaigns where people posted a link to the donation page on social media and maybe....maybe.....mentioned it in a video, and then didn't do or say anything else about it.

Jeremy Gardner stars in 'Tex Montana Will Survive.'Unlike those folks, Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella are involved in a lot of activities, such as Tex's Bean Bucket Challenge (Their own version of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge), producing a funny online video series called Tex Montana's Survival Tips and hosting a live pledge-a-thon using (what appears to be) Google Hangouts in addition to making interview appearances and writing guest posts, to reach their funding goal. These activities show me that they care about reaching their goal.

3. Making a living as an independent filmmaker is nearly impossible (for many people who pursue a career in this industry). Not counting the funds given to the American Red Cross, as part of my partnership with them, I've made more money -- in terms of overall profit -- as a crew member working on other people's films than I have on my own. Still, that money was only enough to cover maybe one bill or finance a frugal grocery shopping trip. But not both. So, I understand the need to want to prove to yourself that one can make filmmaking his or her day job or sole source of income and since I have not found the answer to this problem, I want the Tex Montana Will Survive campaign to be a success, just so that someone can say they did it. To be a part of that makes me feel good, like all of the work they put into this was not in vein.

4. The cast and crew endured unpleasant conditions and made many sacrifices to make this movie. Put yourself in Stella's shoes (That is, unless you prefer Gardner's frostbitten cowboy boots). The nose bleeds he experienced were recurring night after night -- an embarrassing situation to be in after you already went to the office of the motel you're staying in and explained why there is blood EVERYWHERE on the bed you're renting.

5. Gardner and his team are asking for a reasonable amount of money. $50k split among a small group of working professionals doesn't make any one of them rich by today's standards. It does, however, put them in a position where they can make another film while not having to worry about keeping the lights on -- if only for one month or two. One thing is for sure, they're not retiring off of this Kickstarter campaign. I contributed the equivalent of the price of a matinee movie theater ticket to this O. Hannah Films project. If this post inspires some movie fans to match that, it would be great.

Help 'Tex Montana Will Survive' Change the Game of Film Distribution6. They found a solution to a common problem with film distribution, in terms of accessibility, piracy and earning revenue. The first film Gardner and Stella worked on, The Battery, won awards at film festivals, received positive reviews and landed distribution deals in various territories, making it available on iTunes, the shelves at Barnes and Noble stores and Netflix. Yet even today, the movie still isn't available in some parts of the world where people want to see it and these filmmakers have no control over when or where The Battery will be made available in certain territories.

If you've ever tried to stream a movie on Netflix, only to find out that the same film is only available in an outlet you don't have access to such as Hulu or Amazon or iTunes, then you can understand how fragmented the movie business is when it comes to getting films in front of all audiences. Meanwhile, Gardner and Stella still had a fan base of people in countries such as Spain who saw the movie because they downloaded it on a torrent site. Imagine how that feels to Gardner who had to return to waiting tables after ot took two years to pay the $6,000 budget back to investors of The Battery as residual funds from the varied deals trickled in every four months or so. Stella ended up selling his camera equipment and family heirlooms on eBay, to make ends meet.

If successfully funded by this Friday (February 26th), the Kickstarter campaign for Tex Montana Will Survive makes it possible for Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella to release it to the world via a Creative Commons license while retaining revenue for their work. That means it will be available to anyone, anywhere in the world. You can watch it, share it or re-edit the film. They will also supply printable artwork and files for anyone who wants to burn it onto DVD & Blu-Ray.

7. They're more interested in making more films and bringing those projects into the marketplace than they are in running a gift shop on the side. Dipping their toes into the world of t-shirt fulfillment and other "perks" that are known to be offered in crowdfunding campaigns sucks up money, time and resources that can be better used as investments in the very endeavors that are being promoted. On that note, I like how some of Gardner's and Stella's Kickstarter perks include props and wardrobe items from the film.

So, they're offering OOAK items they already have on hand, which is a win-win in the sense that backers at some levels get to have a piece of the film that is available to no one else and the O. Hannah Films team get to part ways with materials from the production that might be cluttering up their offices or living rooms. Oh, the sweet smell of minimalism. Gotta love it!

8. I'm curious to see the results of Tex Montana Will Survive because it was shot without a script and 100% improvised, save for the broad outline of events they had in mind for this movie. Based on what I've watched in the trailer and short clips they've posted to their YouTube channel so far, it looks pretty and sounds good, which gives me the impression that they took the film seriously. Overall, this project doesn't appear to be thrown together, so I can respect that.

There are filmmakers who work day jobs and make their movies on the weekends and during any spare time There are also filmmakers who aim to turn the craft into their day job, making a living making movies. The team behind Tex Montana Will Survive are in the latter camp and I applaud their efforts of trying to turn this goal into a sustainable reality.

Go HERE to see what the Tex Montana Kickstarter campaign is all about 

Do YOU want to watch the adventure comedy Tex Montana Will Survive?

What kind of outdoor activities to YOU enjoy?

Will You SHARE the link to this campaign with movie fans you know who would like this project?

*PLUS: Tex Montana Will Survive Co-Director Christian Stella completed a mini-version of my Disaster Challenge. Stay tuned to read the results!

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