Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Local filmmaker to screen at Motor City Comic Con

Michael Petersen has had a thing for zombies ever since he saw his first George A. Romero film when he was 7 years old.
Petersen at his booth during the 2012 Motor City Comic Con.

Petersen, originally from Melvindale, went on to see more and more zombie flicks. Eventually,  Romero’s “Dead Anthology,” which consists of several movies written and directed by the filmmaker, inspired Petersen, 28, to write his own series of short films. Those shorts have gone on to bring him more than a dozen awards on the independent film circuit, and now another honor.
The first two shorts, aptly titled chapter one and chapter two of “The Last Broadcast,” will be screened during this weekend’s Motor City Comic Con in Novi.
“The idea originally started when I first got into the genre,” Petersen said. “I became extremely fascinated with the concept of these extremely simple antagonists populating our society and slowly starting to literally devour us and transform our society. That’s where my main obsession with zombies came from.”
It wasn’t until television network AMC released “The Walking Dead” in 2010 that Petersen decided to go into production with an idea that had been fermenting for several years.
“I always told everyone that if I was going to do something zombie-related that I wasn’t going to go conventional,” he said. “I wanted to find something that hadn’t been thought of. It’s been six years now that I’ve been developing the idea for ‘TLB.’ It was a long process of trying to get the ideas and characters together.”
The series was first brought from the page to an audience when Petersen was working on finishing an associate’s degree at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn. As part of his audio editing class, he had to produce a short segment to demonstrate several audio editing techniques. Rather than just do a class project, his group decided to produce a portion of the screenplay for “The Last Broadcast.”
“The instructor, and everyone in the class really loved it,” he said. “That’s when we decided to make the short rather than wait around for funding.”
Each chapter is paid for as it goes, with very little budget involved in the process.
“I pay for everything,” Petersen said. “Whatever money I’m able to toss in for the budget is all we have. A few supporters give us a couple of dollars every so often, maybe $20, but mostly it’s just what I can pay.”
Shortly after making the decision to self-fund the project, he founded Dark Forces Pictures LLC, the company that officially produces the films.
Dark Forces had a display at the 2012 convention, but after some thought, Petersen said,  he just couldn’t spend the money to buy a table again this year.
“It was really cool being there last year,” he said. “We met a lot of people and found out that some already knew about us and were fans, but for what a table goes for there, I can film an entire chapter of ‘TLB.’
“Instead of getting the table, we decided to apply to screen the film, and we were accepted.”
Petersen said that while “The Last Broadcast” has a few similarities to other films of the genre, it still is decidedly different.
“It has the drama that most zombie films have,” he said. “The typical gore and action sequences to get the blood pumping. What makes it different is that it’s not a chemical spill or a rabid animal with a disease; the origin of the infection is linked to what’s going on in society. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s linked to al-Qaida.
“I’ve never seen this before. If you’re a huge fan of the genre, you can usually tell what’s going to happen next. I’ve never seen a more believable concept.”
Finding actors who will work for free or close to it is another challenge the writer-director has to tackle during production.
“Most of us in the independent film circle help each other out,” he said. “If I’m not in production and someone needs it, I’ll go work on their project. It’s the only way we can pay each other.”
“The Last Broadcast”  originally was planned as a 10-part saga, but due to expanding some of the script, Petersen is expecting to go closer to 12 episodes.
Production already has wrapped on the third chapter of the series and Petersen plans to start filming the next three chapters at the same time in the fall.
“Chapters 4, 5 and 6 all have the same cast, so we’re hoping to shoot them all at once,” he said.
After finishing at Henry Ford with a degree in film, Petersen has moved on to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, where he is working on a bachelor’s degree in film studies.
The convention is the largest show of its type in the state, bringing in comic book writers, artists, filmmakers and other pop-culture icons to the Suburban Collection Showcase, 46100 Grand River Road. Nestled among the rows of dealers selling comics and people seeking autographs will be a screening room where several movies will be shown multiple times during the event.
The other movies to be screened include “The Sheik,” about the career of the former professional wrestler of the same name; “Battles, Bouts and Brawls — The Story of Pro Wrestling in Detroit and the Surrounding Area”;  and “Detroit Television Memories.”
The convention also is bringing in comic book legend Stan Lee and Norman Reedus of “The Walking Dead” this year. Helping to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the British science fiction TV show will be former “Doctor Who” star Colin Baker. More than two dozen other film and television stars, along with dozens of comic book creators, will be on hand.
The convention runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday and tickets are $25 per day or $60 for a three-day pass. Children ages 6 to 12 get in for $10 per day or $20 for the weekend. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.
Visit Facebook.com/dfpictures for more information about Dark Forces Pictures.

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