With his arms flailing and his gray suit jacket flapping, a bespectacled man sprints down an Oklahoma City alley late one spring night.
His eyes search wildly for a way around a dead end, his attempts to climb a flimsy chain link fence fail miserably, and he suddenly finds himself face to face with an implacable, shadowy figure known as “The Assassin.”
“Honestly, the further I go, the better. The less I can make people like this guy, the better,” said black-clad actor Rett Terrell, 29, of Oklahoma City.
Except for the persistent blaring of train horns, Automobile Alley is typically a pretty quiet place around 11:30 p.m. Sunday. Fortunately, the commotion in what's known as Graffiti Alley on this particular night is accompanied by the sharp clack of a clapperboard and Oklahoma filmmaker Kyle William Roberts' shout of “action!”
“Since I was probably 16 and really started doing broadcast journalism and video stuff, I wanted to direct a movie,” the director/producer said during a middle-of-the-night lunch break on the set of his feature film debut, “The Posthuman Project.” “Even though I don't know if I necessarily want to do features the rest of my life ... I really love this.”
Along with working as a NewsOK videographer, Roberts, 29, owns Reckless Abandonment Pictures and under that shingle has earned national acclaim and an Emmy nomination for his innovative short films, commercials and music videos, often incorporating stop-motion animation.
His first feature is based on a story by The Oklahoman Features Editor Matthew Price that DC Comics writer and Tulsa native Sterling Gates developed into a screenplay.
“The Posthuman Project” combines two of Roberts' favorites: superhero movies and John Hughes films. The coming-of-age adventure follows five high school seniors who suddenly gain super powers during a rock-climbing trip.
“There's a few people that have some pretty nefarious intentions for the kids,” Terrell explains while prepping for the Graffiti Alley scene. “I'm definitely the physical threat. ... If a punch is thrown, a gun's being shot, I'm definitely on the end of those.”
He gets to do some of both during the nighttime shoot. Under Roberts direction, Terrell and fellow Oklahoma City actor Lucas Ross, playing the ill-fated man in the gray suit, practice the fight choreography and then run through the scene a few times with the camera rolling.
Since they're making an indie movie with a budget in the thousands rather than millions, Roberts and his crew have to worry about more than just Ross' inflection on a key line or the best angle to capture the tense face-off.
How to simulate Ross' character being dragged along the ground without injuring the actor, how to keep a plastic prop that doubles as a high-tech scanner from breaking during the scuffle, and how to prevent fake blood from getting all over that gray designer suit are all problems that have to be solved.
“This whole scene is basically a setup of how much of a badass he is. We're setting up our baddie. This is the very first scene of Chapter 1,” Roberts said.
It may be the first chapter, but the nighttime shoot was hardly the beginning of “The Posthuman Project” for Roberts, who spent a year and a half in preproduction.
As with any indie project, he has put a lot of energy into assembling what Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Office of Film & Music, calls “a patchwork of funding.” Roberts organized a fundraising banquet, benefit concerts and a crowdsourcing campaign on indiegogo.com. He also applied last year for the state's 35 percent Film Enhancement Rebate, but didn't get it because the program hit its annual $5 million cap 10 minutes into the first day applications were open, Simpson said.
Despite the demand, the state House of Representatives voted down a proposed extension of the program, which expires next year. For young filmmakers like Roberts, the rebate is an investment not just in a project, but a person, Simpson said.
“A lot of people would like to stay in Oklahoma and pursue their careers here,” she said. “Sometimes when people leave here they just don't come back.”
Principal photography on “The Posthuman Project” wrapped June 10 and Roberts is now in postproduction. He doesn't have distribution lined up yet, but he's encouraged by some of the interest he's received, especially because he shot it to work as a feature or as a series of chapters or episodes.
Although he almost quit a few times during filming, he's happy he saw it through.
“People have no idea when they see any kind of movie. They watch and they're like, ‘Oh, that was entertaining,'” he said. “But I can't even put it in words, like, how tough everything is.”