Respect the board

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Filmmaker Israel Luna gambles with his supernatural indie thriller ‘The Ouija Experiment,’ a remake of his own earlier film ‘Is Anybody There?’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Israel Luna learned quickly when he was in junior high this lesson: There are three rules when it comes to playing with a Ouija board. Luna’s phase — or rather, his creepy curiosity— lasted long enough for him to turn his own paranormal activities into the basis for his new movie, The Ouija Experiment.

Rule No. 1: Never ask the spirit how it died.

“Ouija is actually a remake,” Luna, formerly based in Dallas but now making his home in San Francisco, says. “It was originally shot in 2001 as Is Anybody There?, which had low production quality. [Then we realized] we had access to all this cool equipment, so we remade one of our own movies!”

Not that he spent a fortune on the remake. Luna and his crew worked on the movie for nine days and with a budget of just $1,000, but he knew the story could be shot on the cheap and still look good. Without the need of a special effects monster, Luna felt the tone created a scarier environment by suggesting more than showing.

Four friends, gathered to play on a Ouija, encounter three spirits who instill a sense of suspicion in the gamers. The “found footage” of them playing gives it a Blair Witch feel, but Luna says the film is based on his own actual experiences with the board. And those were kinda scary.

“When I had the rules, I knew this would be easy to write basing it on the real things I experienced,” he says. “My own scariest moment is in the movie. We were playing with a friend who didn’t believe in it and asked it to prove itself. The board spelled out BDRM, and later we saw a picture of his wife and girl face down in his bedroom. He got really upset by that.”

Rule No. 2: Never ask a spirit how
you are going to die.

With the success of his film Ticked Off Trannies With Knives, Luna felt some pressure to come up with a big follow-up. He knew this would be the movie that gets compared to TOTWK, though he is working on a companion piece for that. With Ouija, he’s managing expectations.

“This is not at the scale of Ticked, but I hope people see it as a different kind of movie,” he says. “This was just an experience in shooting a quickie project.”

That was the plan, at least. But after seeing the finished product, he became dubious about Ouija. At first.

“I was nervous before the Dallas screening [this month] so I called my producer, Toni Miller,” he says. “We agreed that we didn’t think the movie was very scary. And we weren’t thrilled at all by that.”

But the audience reaction contradicted Luna and Miller’s fears. Then he took the film to screen in his home town.

“I screened it in Wellington when I went home for Thanksgiving and there were so many screams! It wasn’t until then I realized I might have something,” Luna says.

Rule No. 3: Most importantly, do not stop
playing without saying goodbye.

Despite the success of TOTWK on the festival circuit, it didn’t help Luna’s bottom line all that much. More money was going out than coming in, so taking a note from Kevin Smith’s model for Red State, Luna decided to show the film himself. He says his plan poses the $64,000 question.

“You’ve caught me at a big change in my career,” he admits. “I am going to experiment with this and I think I’m going to be four-walling the movie. We’ll book the theater, screen the film and come out ahead.”

The only trick at this point is marketing and getting exposure. Luna wants to take the movie to smaller towns without indie art houses. If all goes according to plan, the movie goes into release in February — just as he wants it.

“We got a small chunk of money the last time around, but this is the fight for indie filmmakers,” he says. “I’m kind of excited but I’m kind of scared. I don’t know what I’m doing!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

We Were Here, AIDS documentary at 14 Pews

We Were HereWe Were Here, the award winning documentary of the early days of the AIDS crisis, premiers at 14 Pews theater (800 Aurora) Saturday, November 20, at 4:30 pm. The film, from director David Weissman, will be proceeded by a panel discussion on the state of the AIDS crisis today.

I came out in 1998, right at the tail end of the worst days of the AIDS crisis. I remember, with vivid clarity, the days of the walking wounded: when every other gay man I met would tell how their doctor said they should have died five years ago, when the community told time by recalling if an event took place before or after a certain person’s funeral.

Fortunately those days are largely behind us, but as new HIV infections continue to rise and we struggle to maintain funding for medications that are keeping people alive (at a cost of thousands of dollars a month), it’s important that we never forget the early days of the pandemic. For people of my generation and younger the mysterious “Gay Plague” that threatened our community in the early eighties can seem more like a fairy tale monster than the horrifying crisis it was, and is.

We Were Here tells the real life stories of five people who survived. Their mundane and profound recollections highlight, not only their personal experiences, but the broad political and social upheavals unleashed by the crisis. From their different vantage points as caregivers, activists, researchers, as friends and lovers of the afflicted, and as people with AIDS themselves, the interviewees share stories which are not only intensely personal, but which also illuminate the much larger themes of that era: the political and sexual complexities, and the terrible emotional toll. The film highlights the role of women – particularly lesbians – in caring for and fighting for their gay brothers.

Tickets for We Were Here are $10 and can be purchased at 14pews.org.

After the jump watch the trailer for We Were Here.

—  admin

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ plays tonight at WaterTower

Green thumbs beware

When a good idea turns into a blood-craving monster plant — well, lives get turned around. WaterTower Theatre premieres the fun and frantic Little Shop of Horrors, where Seymour, a lowly florist, tries to turn his fortune around and ends up with a big mess. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs only add to the wacky flair of it all.

DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Through July 31. $30. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Rich Lopez

REVIEW: Lady Gaga and Scissor Sisters on Monday night at the American Airlines Center

Scissor Sisters’ Del Marquis, left, and Jake Shears in a photo posted on Twitter around the time of their performance in Dallas on Monday night.

If you haven’t heard, Lady Gaga was in town Monday night. After two packed houses at the American Airlines Center last year, she came back for thirds and continued to fill up the arena. And the Dallas audience was all over it — whether they were seeing the Monster Ball again or for the very first time.

Not much had changed from last year’s show and I didn’t expect it to, save for the addition of “Born This Way.” She got rid of the fairy tale princess getup and skipped out on “Eh Eh,” which I didn’t realize until someone pointed it out. Despite this being a repeat, Gaga still showed up with maximum intensity. She danced hard, she sang loud and she pretty much killed that piano of hers whether banging it with her fingers or her heels after singing a slower rendition of “BTW” and “You and I,” a song slated for her next album.

All the hits were there, but at times, Gaga would disturb her own groove to preach about “being yourself, be a star, equal rights, yadda-yadda,” just a little too much. The crowd would be worked into a frenzy after a song, and then came another sermon. We were, after all, in “church,” as she put it. I’m all for the positive message, but there came a point when the show was borderline Oprah. Perhaps having already seen it took away from the initial joy of the message. Am I a bad person?

Fortunately, she quickly got back on track with her crazy spectacles of a bleeding, fiery statue during “Alejandro” – and the bigger-than-life Fame Monster puppet during “Paparazzi.” I did appreciate her free-flowing chat with the audience. She pulled up someone’s poster and read it out loud with sincere appreciation. She joked about the random prop tossed onstage: “Did someone throw a hand up here?” Those were clever moments.

As if she needed more comparisons, Gaga’s piano version of “BTW” recalled John Lennon’s “Imagine” both in sound and in meaning. But she finished the night with the song in its original form along with an energetic performance people saw on the Grammys. With a paw raised in the air, the encore offering didn’t seem so much the end of the show, but more like a preview of what’s to come. Ending with the song on a future album made me wonder what her plans are. The date of her last show is May 7 and Born This Way is scheduled to drop May 23. Methinks she plans to maintain a high blip on the radar for the near future.

Opening Act Scissor Sisters flattened the place, if only the crowd knew it. Jake Shears, with his drop-dead perfect physique, worked his body out running all over the stage building up a bigger fan base for the band. The seated crowd was into it, but sadly never got on their feet. I appreciated Semi-Precious Weapons as her opener the first time around only because it was kind of their big break, but SS is, by far, an even better choice. They fit in perfectly with the edgier pop stylings and totally gay environment.

Ana Matronic has never impressed me much but she changed all that with her snappy messages to the audience (“when all you little monsters grow up, you too can be scissor sisters!”) and keeping right up with Shears in leading the band’s jam. She spoke the truest statement of the night informing the audience, “We are Scissor Sisters. If you don’t know us, well then you’re either not gay or not British.”

They only performed for a half hour, but with songs from all three albums, they made the most of it. And the sound was dead on, capturing the dancey thump of BabyDaddy’s bass and the sharpness of Del Marquis‘ guitar work.

With a slew of more party atmosphere songs like “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing,” “Night Work” and “Take Your Mama,” they knew their place as openers, but I could have easily watched them for another hour as they just delivered a fine performance. And Shears’ final reveal of him stripping down to his thong wasn’t a bad thing, either.

So, yeah, it was a good night.

—  Rich Lopez

WATCH: Dallas singer Brandon Hilton releases ‘Glamour Zombie’

We’re waiting to see if Brandon Hilton can become the new Jeffree Star. Taking fashion and gender bending looks to similar levels, Hilton is working to push his Internet presence into a fame monster.It worked for Star who was recently signed to Akon’s label which is major.

In his newest single, “Glamour Zombie,” Hilton sings against a lot of blue glow stick light thingies. It’s a little dark, but you can see the white blonde hair and know it’s Hilton all the way.

—  Rich Lopez