Imagine the year 2307. The Earth is frozen solid. The surface is uninhabitable. Life has moved underground. There, humanoid robots, originally built as slaves, are organizing a rebellion, and life hangs in the balance for a young kidnapped girl. Can a drugged-out, washed-up cop save her?
Welcome to 2307: Winter’s Dream, a new science fiction movie from Maui filmmaker Kenneth K. Martinez Burgmaier, who’s already well known for many of his jazz and blues festivals and films like KiHo Alu Keola Beamer, Massacre at Kaupoa Beach and the short Ho`omau. There will be a special premiere of 2307: Winter’s Dream at the Queen Ka`ahumanu Center this Wednesday, May 24 as part of the MauiFEST Hawaii Hana Film Festival series.
I recently spoke with Burgmaier about how the film project got started.
“Joey Curtis is the writer and the director,” says Martinez Burgmaier. “He’s a great writer. He did the writing for our film Blue Valentine that got nominated for an Academy award. We also did a film called The Pimp and the Rose that starred Lorraine Nicholson, Jack Nicholson’s daughter. Derek Cianfrance, the director for Blue Valentine, and Joey Curtis used to work for my film production company for years. Derek started writing Blue Valentine in Jamaica on a shoot with me at the Jamaica Reggae fest. We did our first movie in 1997 that went to Sundance called Brother Tied. We have all been working together for a long time.”
The team, with the addition of the other producer, Robert Beaumont, met in film school. Though 2307:Winter’s Dream was their first sci-fi, director Joey Curtis says it’s one of his favorite genres and he was really inspired by the project, the idea of which came from the lead actor, Paul Sidhu.
“Winter’s Dream started as a work-for-hire writing assignment,” says Curtis. “Eventually after a year writing the script, I earned my spot as director. The star of the film, Paul Sidhu, gave me a half-page treatment about his ideas for the film. His concept was very much like the original Blade Runner, which is one of my favorite films. I knew that we were going to shoot Winter’s Dream on a budget that would be lower than the cost of catering food for a $100 million superhero movie, so instead of trying to compete with Hollywood, I set out to tell a heartfelt story about a future policeman, Bishop, who is down and out after the death of his wife at the hands of a rogue humanoid. Fortunately, our financier warmed to this idea and eventually gave me a lot of freedom to explore a future Earth that’s somewhat of an abysmal, hopeless place that has lost touch with nature and God.”
But writing the story is just step one. The plot takes a number of twists and turns exploring this world, and developing the characters that Curtis presents. How they accomplish the filming with a small budget is itself an incredible story.
“Pre-production was an arduous affair lasting another year,” says Curtis. “Producer Robert Beaumont and I had to find the crew to build the props, design and create the costumes, find the locations, cast the actors, etc. Once we were ready for production, the shoot was split up into three phases. In Phase 1, we shot all of the ‘underground’ interiors here in Los Angeles. I started editing and cut together a powerful teaser with full VFX and sound which my other producer, Ken Martinez Burgmaier, used to raise more money, for Phase 2.”
Phase 2 was the part where it got icy cold. The team needed a very winter white location, and decided on Buffalo, New York.
“We all flew out to Buffalo during one of the worst winters in decades,” says Curtis. “All the exteriors on the ice really were on the ice–Lake Erie to be exact, where it was -20 without the wind! Being a SoCal desert rat, this was cold for me, but you wouldn’t believe how tough the Buffalonian people are. We had real men come out and lay on the ice shirtless for $50 without one complaint! That would never happen in LA. Folks out there were so excited to make a movie, the police force became part of our crew and I will always love them.”
Cut to Curtis’s SoCal garage, for the movie magic of Phase 3.
“Then came Phase 3, in which we actually used my garage to shoot all the green screen special effects shots for the film,” says Curtis. “Post-production was a hardcore year of editing tons of footage here in LA and at Ken’s house in Makawao, while working remotely with our VFX company Platinum Platypus way out in Long Island.”
Ironically, Curtis wasn’t one of those kids who knew from the get-go that he would go into filmmaking.
“I came from a broken home and found most of my heroes on screen watching old TV westerns like The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, For A Few Dollars More, Shane, The Searchers and so on,” he says. “I also remember discovering amazing art films like The Swimmer starring Burt Lancaster, American Graffiti And Thx-1138. I saw Star Wars at the theater at least 20 times. Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Superman and Time Bandits which were some of my favorites. I used to listen to the 8-track tape of Star Wars while driving in my mom’s Volkswagen Super Beetle, then put on the record at home [while] gazing at the fold-out pictures and dreaming of a galaxy far, far away. I knew almost every line of dialogue, sound effect and music in Star Wars and my divorced parents always had fun having me “do the bar scene” or “do the run on the Death Star” for their stoner friends.”
Even though he was a movie buff, he almost went for a medical profession.
“I was paying for my own college,” says Curtis. “I decided to go Pre-Med classes for the first two years in junior college, while I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life. I asked myself the question, What did you like to do as a kid, thinking the answer would most likely be the thing that could fulfill me or sustain me throughout a lifetime. But the answer kept circling in my mind was ‘The only thing you really liked doing was playing with your Star Wars men and creating imaginary worlds.’ I knew I couldn’t make a living doing that. So I went to the library to check out a bunch of books on how to invest in real estate. I had like 20 of those books but along the way I stumbled on the biography of George Lucas, Skywalking. When I got home you can guess that the only book I ended up reading was Skywalking. That’s when I first learned that there was something called film school. The moment I finished that book, I put the horse blinders on and began to study cinema for the next 22 years of my life, all the way up to the present day.”
Writing and directing independent films in LA sounds glamorous, but for Curtis, the reality is somewhat different.
“My feature length directorial debut was an epic Westside story tale set in Southern California called Quattro Noza,” says Curtis. “I spent two years living on the road and couch surfing for that film researching in the streets of LA at night while editing Hollywood movie trailers by day. Ken would fly me around the world to shoot and edit his jazz TV shows and concerts. I worked my fingers to the bone in order to save the money needed to shoot the early stages of that film using Ken’s little Sony PD-100, the original three-chip digital camera. Once I gathered enough footage, I went to New York and found my producer, Fredric King who financed principal photography, post-production and basically my life so that I could focus on the film. Ken came through with finishing funds and we were blessed to be chosen for competition at Sundance in 2003, winning the best cinematography award and beating all the multi-million dollar star studded films shot on 35MM, which was quite a feat on those early three-chip digital cameras. We were also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and in 2004 we were nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature and Best Cinematography. The film premiered theatrically at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, distributed by Lionsgate under the title Streets Of Legend.”
But the ability to make a good film is only part of the work. There’s also the complicated matter of distribution.
“Distribution, that’s the hard part with it,” says Martinez Burgmaier. “With our movie Quattro Noza, that was picked up by Lionsgate. We learned some things with that. With Winter’s Dream, we went to the Cannes Film Festival market and we sold to 12 countries, which is pretty huge. Right now it’s going to Japan, UK and it just got translated into German. Now the distribution company is changing the name–they can do that. It’s called Winter’s Soldier in UK and it’s called Humanoid in Germany. Our American deal is with Vertical. We’re showing our Maui premiere as a special viewing with Hana Film Festival.”
Still, it’s painfully clear that making independent films in Hollywood can be a life-threatening career choice.
“The life challenge is poverty,” says Curtis. “The only people who make a living in Independent cinema are the distributors. They take everything, and I mean everything. The creative challenge is the daunting task of trying to make something outside of the corporate system. Saying something truthful and honest that’s not beholden to shareholders or executives. All that said, independent filmmaking is a vocation that’s not for the faint of heart.”
But if so, why do they do it?
“I think the most important reason to make independent films is self-evident within the definition of ‘independent,’” says Curtis. “It’s free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority. Every single one of my hyper-talented friends who’s making a decent living in the film/TV/commercial industry is in some way working for a corporate entity who is selling products, ideas, values, lifestyles and culture. And the vast majority of what they’re selling is detrimental to humans and the planet. Making films independently gives filmmakers the opportunity to get closer to the truth, unbridled by the corporate machine. However, the second definition of ‘independent’ is where our dilemma begins–it’s not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence. Unless you’re independently wealthy enough to finance your own films and media, then as a filmmaker you’re completely reliant on other people to invest in you, your talent and story. There’s just no way around it. So as an independent filmmaker you not only have to master your craft but you have to manifest and attract other like-minded individuals who have money and a desire to invest in something that they feel has meaning and/or the chance to make their money back with profit potential. At least, that’s the goal for conscious filmmakers.”
Of course, there’s one more goal for filmmakers. That is where Maui’s premiere of 2307: Winter’s Dream comes in. Curtis wants people here to enjoy this film, as much as he did creating it.
“I really hope that folks of all ages will have an experience while watching this film,” says Curtis. “When I go to the movies, I want to feel something, I want to go somewhere and be immersed in a world. So when I make films I try to conjure emotion, action, adventure, sexuality and of course comedy–all the elements that make a cinematic fantasy that reflects reality. Most of all, I hope the film holds up a mirror to the audience and inspires people to seek out transformation and growth in their own lives. To become aware of what is happening in our world today and want to make it a better place.”
2307: Winter’s Dream
Wednesday, May 24
5:30pm and 8:00pm
Queen Ka`ahumanu Center
Get tickets at Eventbrite: Wintersdreammaui.eventbrite.com
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