Project hinges on ‘metal Muppet’
When Victoria director Jeremy Lutter delivered a winning film pitch for his short film, he hadn’t yet considered some of the finer details of the project.
Like just how exactly was he planned to build an animatronic robot?
Regardless, Lutter landed a $115,000 prize ($10,000 cash plus in-kind services) for best short film pitch from the Motion Picture Production Industry Association at the Whistler Film Festival in December.
With the initial prize money already earmarked for insurance, permits, special effects and crew wages, he has launched a campaign to raise $6,000 more to create a three- or four-foot robot. The robot will star alongside lead actors Kevin McDonald, of Kids in the Hall fame, and Dalila Bela in Lutter’s 10-minute film, Joanna Makes a Friend.
The film follows young loner Joanna (Bela) as she builds herself a companion and christens him Edgar Allen Poe-Bot (EAP). Since Lutter wanted Bela to act with a robot – instead of computer-generating a robot in post-production – he has taken on building EAP himself.
He started the process with a visit to a robotics club he found through B.C. Institute of Technology. There he found a mentor to consult on programming EAP – something he envisions looking like a Betamax VCR with arms and legs.
“Apparently, I’m not the only filmmaker to come in and talk about robots, but apparently I was the most serious,” Lutter said of his initial visit with the club.
EAP needs to be able to move his arms, swivel his head – likely be fashioned from a reel to reel tape recorder – and bat at a piñata during a birthday party sequence.
“Not only does he need to be functional, he needs to be really cute, the perfect mix of cuteness and electronics.”
To achieve this, Lutter hired props master Paxton Downard, who was drawn to the unique challenge.
“I liked Jeremy’s script and I thought ‘what a fun build,’ so here I am making a robot,” said Downard, who likened EAP to a metal Muppet. “It’s a lot of screws and glue, basically.”
Joanna producer Broken Mirror Films; a team including Lutter, script-writer Ben Rollo, and producer Talitha Cummins; recently launched a fundraising campaign through website indiegogo.com to cover the cost of design and assembly of EAP. In exchange for donating through the site, supporters may request perks, including DVDs, t-shirts, original conception art, props and photo-ops with the robot.
This marks the first time Lutter has asked for public funds for a project. Already, support has come in from as far away as England.
“It’s been a really interesting process for me because normally, a filmmaker makes a film and then tries to find an audience,” he said. “What intrigued me the most about IndieGoGo is it really makes you think about who your audience is for the film before you make it.”
With shooting scheduled to start in August in Vancouver, Lutter has until mid-July to complete his fundraising campaign. For filmmaker updates, or to donate, visit www.helpjoannamakeafriend.com.