"Head Trauma," the new film from producer, director and writer Lance Weiler, was released on DVD on Sept. 26 and Weiler has avoided the sophomore curse.
Weiler and Stefan Avalos made history in 1998 when the pair produced "The Last Broadcast," the first motion picture that was shot digitally and then transmitted by satellite to theaters which used a digital projector to present the film.
What made the pair's accomplishment all so much more impressive is they did it as independents working far outside of the studio system.
While other filmmakers have tried to obscure this milestone, Weiler and Stefan made movie history. They also made a good movie, the premise of which was stolen by the producers of "The Blair Witch Project."
"The Last Broadcast" is being re-released on DVD in a new edition packed with extras on Sept. 26 as well.
Weiler is now back with his second film, which is a taut psychological thriller. Undoubtedly one of the savviest independents making films today, Weiler has been touring the nation with a theatrical release of "Head Trauma" prior to the home video release to build up a buzz among critics and fans.
He recently appeared at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro, Vermont, with the film.
"Head Trauma" tells the story of George Walker, a homeless man who returns to his grandmother's house after a lengthy absence. Walker hopes to fix up the now condemned house - his grandmother has been dead for five years - and turn his life around.
It's not easy as there is a neighbor who wants the house demolished and Walker has no real resources to do the work that needs to be done.
What's worse though are the dreams he is having about a figure in a parka who clearly wants him out of the house. Walker increasingly is having problems distinguishing whether or not the hooded figure is actually real.
Anyone who has waken from a sound sleep wondering if what they experienced was just a dream will identify with Walker's situation.
The film is well directed and keeps viewers off-balance, as any good thriller should. Josh Cramer's editing and Sam Levy's photography matches the tone of the story perfectly.
Shot in an actual condemned house in Scranton, Penn., the film transcends many other current horror and thriller films by actually being about something - a man's redemption. Vince Mola as Walker is quite good in conveying the desperation of a man who yearns to be "normal" but has problems that prevent him from doing so.
Although Weiler could have added the elements that have become standard in the horror and thriller genres - sex and explicit violence - he avoids them. He opts for a clever story and a solid lead performance instead to carry the film.
"Head Trauma" shows what the potential is for independent films. In an era when bloated Hollywood films can fail to deliver the story-telling goods, Weiler proves again you don't need $50 million to make an enjoyable film.
Weiler shot "Head Trauma" on a 90-day schedule that was stretched over much of 2004. The complete production budget for the film was $126,000 - peanuts by Hollywood standards.
The film's story was inspired by a very bad car accident that Weiler had 12 years ago. His car was struck head-on by a garbage truck and Weiler spent five days in intensive care. He had very lucid dreams that he couldn't tell if they were real or not.
After spending two and half years and $1 million developing a television show for FOX only to have a new executive regime kill it, Weiler said he wanted to work on something over which he had complete control.
Based in Pennsylvania, Weiler asked city officials in Scranton if they could help him find an abandoned house that would be the centerpiece of the film. Since the city has lost 75,000 people with the closing of nearby coalmines, Weiler had many houses from which to choose.
"They were incredibly disturbing and disgusting," he said. He noted that the house he chose made the crew uncomfortable and few wanted to work in the house by themselves.
Weiler joked that working on the film "felt like head trauma."
True independent film makers - unlike those whose projects are backed by major studio boutique labels - have to "wear 15 hats," he said.
"Film making is problem solving. You're always trying to find creative ways to solve problems," he said.
For more information, log onto www.hereticfilms.com.
© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. These are my words alone.