DeadCenter Film Festival and Oklahoma go together better than butter on popcorn.
The successful festival blossomed from the minds of two brothers and a small crew of volunteers into a downtown-wide celebration that attracts nearly two sold-out Thunder games worth of people during its weekend run. Last year, attendees to the film screenings generated more than $4 million in economic impact for the metro area. It returns Wednesday, in theaters and screenings throughout downtown Oklahoma City, and ends Sunday.
DeadCenter screenings pair Oklahoma-based productions with films created around the world. More than 100 independent films will be shown this weekend, 22 are feature-length and 84 are short films. Nearly a quarter of this year's selections were created in Oklahoma.
You won't find a more devoted group of filmmakers and enthusiasts all sharing the same space and there's a number of free screenings if you're strapped for cash. You can find a full schedule at www.deadcenterfilm.org.
Here's one filmmaker's story as he readies the world premiere of his Okie production, “Electric Nostalgia.”
Back to school
“Remember me when you're famous.”
More than 20 years ago, Jacob Leighton Burns heard those words as he sat in a rural Missouri classroom. A guidance counselor took inventory of the pint-size kids' career paths, and most students answered with the obvious.
Doctor. Teacher. Lawyer.
Burns, 30, replied with filmmaker, and he's continued that premonition after more than two decades of crafting short films and countless videos.
His latest project is a full-length feature called “Electric Nostalgia.” The film's title almost implies Burns' deeply rooted love for movies.
“I was pretty much like any other kid. I would watch the same movies over and over again,” Burns said in an interview.
Except Burns' taste skewed toward classic monster movies like the “The Wolf Man” and “Phantom of the Opera.” He would also balance out those flicks with a healthy mix of popcorn movies such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Back to the Future,” but he started appreciating film at a young age.
“I started noticing how some movies felt the same,” Burns said. “I realized there was this guy named Steven Spielberg, and that's when it slowly started to click that, ‘Oh, that guy is the director. He made the movies that I like.' ”
DeadCenter of attention
Burns will premiere “Electric Nostalgia” at Oklahoma City's 16th annual deadCenter Film Festival. The film is a creepy ode to classic monster movies, with a modern horror twist. The science-fiction thriller was written and directed by Burns and features a young woman who battles creepy dreams and a faceless creature after she returns from the dead inside a new body. Lauren Analla, Stephen Goodman and Page Tudyk lead the cast in Burns' first full-length creation which was shot primarily in Oklahoma.
Whether you have a taste for horror or not, the film remains a labor of love for Burns and his filmmaking crew, which always seems to involve his friends and family, including Burns' brother/co-producer Zach Burns and co-producer Vinnie Hogan.
Filmmaking really clicked for Burns at Oklahoma City University after he crafted a “Where's Waldo” mockumentary, but as far back as the sixth grade, the Burns brothers were borrowing bulky VHS camcorders, toy monsters and tiny green army men to make shorts such as a nonsensical “Godzilla” homage called “FIFI.”
“I rewatched it a few weeks ago,” Burns said. “It's three cringe-worthy minutes. I kept reminding myself I was in the sixth grade and it's supposed to suck.”
“FIFI” at least scored Burns a new camera and kick-started a career path that would lead to more shorts, including “The Adventures of Captain Thunder: Intergalactic Enforcer.” For that short, Burns' mom let him turn the family living room into a spaceship for a couple of months. She even let him move out all the furniture and made props. Fun fact: Burns' mom also created the creepy “Electric Nostalgia” goo you see on the cover of LOOKatOKC.
Keeping it local
Growing up around Oklahoma has never stopped Burns from making films his way. He said the state has been a fit from the start.
“We couldn't have made ‘Electric Nostalgia' anywhere else with its budget and limitations,” Burns said. “It happened because of the community we have here. It's small but loyal. We're at a point where if we want it to grow in Oklahoma, then we need to make it happen.”
Burns added that he doesn't see an overwhelming amount of filmmaking limitations in Oklahoma. Having an abundance of support paves the way for a finished project.
The Paramount OKC co-owner Melodie Garneau gave Burns' crew free rein to shoot on the third and second floors of her venue. “Electric Nostalgia” features office, lab, restaurant and funeral scenes filmed inside the downtown Oklahoma City building. The Paramount OKC was not only flexible with shooting schedules but also added a lot of atmosphere to “Electric Nostalgia.”
“We took a short film mentality and applied it to a feature film in regards to crew size,” Burns said. “We had about eight actors, and the biggest crew day was about 15 people. ... It was an intimate set, and it felt like a summer camp, because the same group of people crowded together trying to make this thing.”
Burns credited the tight-knit crew and a lot of planning for a mostly positive creative experience. Now, he's looking forward to getting “Electric Nostalgia” in front of an audience.
“I can't think of a better reward than being able to show the film, after all this work, to a crowd of Oklahomans, with the people who've supported us for a long time,” Burns said. “I hope they like it.”
This won't be Burns' first deadCenter visit though. He's entered and attended the festival for nearly a decade, and it's a constant source of inspiration.
The quality of his filmmaking has grown alongside the festival. He said a lot of the shorts that got him into the festival 10 years ago wouldn't make it into deadCenter today.
“The quality of entries has increased, and that's great,” Burns said. “I think deadCenter is on the verge of being something big. ... Even films I don't like can be inspiring. I love the festival environment and meeting like-minded people.”