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My filmmaking career: Not exactly Sundance material, but what Cannes you do

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APRIL 03, 2017

We open with a black screen, because in the words of “The LEGO Batman Movie,” all serious movies have black screens. This is a serious movie — a rare gem overlooked by the Academy and awaiting archival by the Criterion Collection — and if you nonchalantly name-dropped it in a conversation, your film buff cred would transcend the human boundaries of the general popcorn-munching proletariat. Mention it to Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese, and they’d probably nod their heads cooly and say “Respect” while compartmentalizing it in a mental list of movies to watch.

The serious black screen gives way to a serious title card. “Earth’s Requiem,” it reads, before fading away like wisps of smoke rising from the charred ashes of Something Important. Narration, delivered in a thundering bass accomplished by the vocal cords of a Human Subwoofer, begins: “My world is dust. Decay. Death.” The camera lingers on a scene of post-apocalyptic desolation — a ghostly husk of a gas station with a withered “unleaded” sign barely hanging to its roof and a corpse of a boat left to bake nearby.

We cut to a wide shot of a lone figure approaching, unsure of where he’s going or why, before a flashback to a grisly, planet-wide war over the last drops of Earth’s water. A suburban idyll is erased by a barrage of missiles and apocalyptic hellfire. “If only we tried harder to save our water,” the wanderer laments as a montage of water-saving practices plays out onscreen. It’s the “what-if” ending from “La La Land,” but cooler. The final scene jars us back into the harsh reality of the wasteland, and the screen fades to black.

On the off-chance this short film I made with my friends in high school sounds cool, just know that it wasn’t. We were all stoked for the upcoming “Mad Max: Fury Road,” so our entry for a water conservation competition was a budgetless knockoff of George Miller’s vision of a post-apocalyptic crazy-scape.

Ours was a film that was aware of its pretension and melodrama, but remained convinced of its greatness. Nevertheless, we gave it our all. One friend, the Human Subwoofer, provided convincingly weary narration, despite his character being dressed in an anachronistic button-up that Furiosa’s Dry Goods probably wouldn’t have carried at that point in the post-apocalypse. Another friend filled Hans Zimmer’s shoes — that is, if Hans Zimmer wore PF Flyers and lifted music from YouTube (we’re sorry). As for me, a Siri-dictated text of Aaron Sorkin’s sneezes would have been better than the narration I wrote. It’s safe to say that my cinematography wouldn’t have won any Oscars, but at least Roger Deakins and I could commiserate together about that.

The three of us scoured Vallejo and Benicia for the perfect locale for our wasteland, and the drive gave us plenty of time to gripe about calculus, talk about movies and pretend that graduation, and the parting of ways that follows, weren’t on the horizon. We found an abandoned gas station on Mare Island that was fortuitously ready with an abandoned boat (production value, check). We shot “Earth’s Requiem” in an afternoon, added CGI explosions with a free app I found called “Action Movie FX” and edited the film with iMovie. It was the type of project that makes you think, “Good God, that was awful,” but nevertheless fills you with a warm nostalgia.

When we graduated, I knew that things between Hans Zimmer, the Human Subwoofer and I wouldn’t be the same — that the best I could hope for was the occasional dinner or movie trip when our breaks aligned. Still, I held out hope that things could stay the same. We saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” together, and I was sure that nothing would change.

Surprise! Things changed. I don’t think it’s because we grew up though, because honestly, who does? We just became more of who we already were — recognizable, but different. It didn’t help that Hans Zimmer went pretty far right while I went left. By no means do we resent each other though. I’m grateful for the times we had and for the person I am because of my old friends. I guess what gets me is that our relationships changed at all, that we’ll never be close enough to make another dumb movie together. I guess everyone goes through this process, but damn, it sucks.

So what does one do when something sucks? Watch a movie, of course. We all have movies that mean something special to us. I have my own, far better ones than “Earth’s Requiem,” but the movie I made with my friends is how I’ll choose to remember them. The good times we had are worth more than our differences, and “Earth’s Requiem” is proof of it.

Harrison Tunggal covers film. Contact him at [email protected].

APRIL 03, 2017

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