“Those wooden bats” – An essay by Marcello Trigo

Here in Brazil, we have a game similar to baseball, called Taco (bat, like baseball bat). It’s a bit simpler than baseball because it has only four players. But hit the ball is also one of the goals. While one group of children plays, the other group waits in turn to face the winners.

I remember being bored when I had to wait. My grandfather was a carpenter and had shaped for me two beautiful bats, with a sanded handle, so as not to injure my hand. It took just two seconds for me to decide they were lightsabers.

While waiting for my turn in the Taco game, I was fighting with Darth Vader. With my best vocal imitation of “whooomm”, when the saber ripped through the air, and “tchhh” when the sabers clash. I used the Force, and defended the Universe against a tyrannical Empire, taking with me the legacy of the Jedi.

Great! But my friends did not seem to see it. Waiting anxiously for their precious little game, they would look at me with disdain and comment variations of “what a nerd.” I believe that there is a moment, just before the advent of adolescence, that the child begins to realize the differences between objective reality and the fantasy world. That´s why certain children are very proud to demonstrate a proof of objectivity.

Be objective and realistic is a way of showing that you are no longer a child. That makes those boys who come to the ear of their five-year-old brother to say, “Duuuh, your idiot. There is no Santa Claus!”. But when I was a child, in the Eighties, I was afraid of becoming such people. I was afraid to lose the spark. I enjoyed watching the reruns of the TV series “Voyage to the bottom of the sea” and mainly “Time Tunnel”, dubbed in Portuguese. Then I met Star Trek.

The existence of aliens from deep space and beings from another dimension; starships capable of accelerating at the speed of light,  were much more real to me than soccer, or than the different models of cars. Ghosts and adventure stories were more exhilarating than talking about how much the value of vegetables was dearer compared to the other supermarket in the neighborhood.

The Sense of Wonder itself, and the ways to tell stories with these elements, that was what motivated me. I study theater, movies and literature, I play video games or RPG, becouse first I want to participate in these worlds, and then, create my own.

When I shot Zornit, my short film inspired by a Stephen King tale, I was sure I could realize two dreams at once:

  • adapt a story from Mr. King and…
  • make an alien movie.

So I ask the Dollar Babies Project for the rights for “The Ballad of The Flexible Bullet”. A story of a writer who is visited by an elf called Fornit, who lives on his typewriter machine. The elf ends up helping him. But the consequences are paranoia and madness. The name of the story was also intriguing: what did King means by a “flexible bullet”?

During the development process I turned the elf into an alien slug and gave him the name Zornit. The original Fornit, here in Brazil, sounds like “fornication”, so it was better to switch for something more alien, anyway.

The name of the writer in King’s tale was Reg Thorpe. To make him a Brazilian character, I called him Régis Porto, by suggestion of my wife. And that’s how I made Mr. King’s tale turn into a sci-fi short film that followed in the footsteps of The Twilight Zone. Crazy?

When I presented the project in the classroom, many disbelieving eyes. The majority of the classmates did not want to work with me, because they thought Zornit was all hopeless nonsense. Also, the sci-fi genre scares or makes laugh, or both, depending on the degree of skepticism. We have limited resources in independent Brazilian cinema (and in the university cinema, which is an aggravating factor). So making more “real” movies about “real” people and feelings in their “real” dramas is an easier, if not final, solution.

Suddenly, those boring boys in the Taco game became my classmates. People who believe in a more academic cinema or are simply unbelieving and ready to laugh at any attempt to make a fantasy movie. In some cases, any movies.

Well, all the scenes in the Zornit´s script had been created based on old special effects, like those in The Twilight Zone series. That was one of my solutions. It gave me freedom to create possibilities with our limitations.

For example, José Vitor, my visual effects technician, one of the very few that I was able to recruit in my classroom, told me that we could use an After Effects plugin to covers Régis Porto’s eyes in white. We tested. It Works! So I included that simple (but spooky) effect on the film.

There is a disguised android in the story, which enters the house furtively, to kill the alien. The script read as follows:

The woman sneaks into the house, carrying a gun, and finds the office where the alien is. She opens the door, a few seconds after Zornit camouflages himself and became invisible. When she goes to shoot, Regis appears through the door, at the last moment, and hits her with a pan in the face. The woman goes to the floor, the face is a mass of sparks and circuits on display. Régis kneels and hits the robot several times until he kills her.

My art director was tense, suggesting various ways of performing. The cast was tense. Without using heavy CGI resources, how would that be possible? But by watching Rod Serling I learned that sometimes leave it to the audience’s imagination is better than doing for real.

In a game of quick cuts we see Régis and the pan, then a loud noise suggests the blow on the villain’s face, and then she falls to the floor. We see the actress’s feet, shaking. Cut, then her hands, holding the gun and also shaking. Cut, and then the face of an open mannequin, with integrated circuit boards on display.

The Zornit getting camouflaged was a simple trick by José Vitor, involving overlapping layers of video, and he also added smoke and an eye leaking into the mannequin’s face.  But the sparks were real. Inside the plastic head, we light up two birthday party sticks, the kind that burns sparking like an Mission:Impossible fuse.

As the face of the mannequin vibrates very fast, the viewer can only see a broken robot, with a black wig pretending to be the hair of the actress, that seconds before wielded a weapon against the Zornit. All very simple and straightforward.

People do not ask me how it was done, when they watch the movie, because the general idea holds their attention. This spirit I learned by reading the biography of those three guys from Detroit. Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell. The Evil Dead has always been an inspiration in my methods of solving the problems that arise in creating a low budget fantasy film. Or any film.

Now Zornit exists and is on its festival circuit around the world. All possible categories I try. Student, Independent Film, Sci-fi and Horror. I also sent it to festival organizers specifically dedicated to Dollar Babies movies.

It was impossible, but it was made, and today I am a real film director. Thanks for those wooden bats, Grandpa…!

Marcello Trigo – Brazil – 01/2018

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