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

HRC releases statement on Asher Brown’s suicide; bullied gay teen in California dies

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement Wednesday morning on the suicide of Asher Brown, the 13-year-old from Houston who took his life after enduring months of anti-gay bullying at his middle school:

“We feel for Asher’s family during this sad time. This young man had a wonderful life ahead of him, but he was ‘bullied to death’ because he was gay. This tragedy was preventable. School officials must act when kids are tormented and bullied. All students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect which is why HRC urges school districts and state legislatures everywhere to implement enumerated anti-bullying policies and laws that that protect all students.”

Equality Texas has issued an action alert calling on people to contact their state legislators and urge them to pass safe schools legislation that protects LGBT youth. Also, Change.org has posted a petition addressed to officials in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

Also, a gay 13-year-old in California has died after nine days on life support, after attempting suicide in response to years of anti-gay bullying. Seth Walsh, 13, who hung himself from a tree in his back yard on Sept. 19, died Tuesday afternoon. No charges have been filed.

—  John Wright

Renee O’Connor film looks to add Facebook fans

Renee O'Connor in Beyond the Farthest Star
Actress Renee O’Connor and producer Benjamin Dane on location in Leonard, Texas, filming “Beyond the Farthest Star.”

Back in April, we published this interview with Renee O’Connor, the straight actor who earned herself an army of devoted lesbian fans with her role as the sweet and sexy Gabrielle on the TV series “Xena: Warrior Princess.”

O’Connor was, at the time of the interview, on location in Leonard, Texas — just northeast of Dallas — filming a movie called “Beyond the Farthest Star,” about a preacher, his wife, their daughter and the secrets they have been keeping. It’s not the kind of movie we would usually cover in Dallas Voice; there’s nothing LGBT-related in the storyline. But hey, I was a “Xena” fan, too, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to interview O’Connor. Plus, I know there are plenty of lesbians out there who still follow O’Connor’s career and would be interested in her latest venture.

This week, I got an e-mail from Benjamin Dane, a local actor who not only has a role in “Beyond the Farthest Star,” but is also one of the film’s producers. And he is once again reaching out to O’Connor’s lesbians fans to help get the word out about the movie:

“The new film, ‘Beyond the Farthest Star,’ starring Renee O’Connor is up to 3,400 fans on Facebook. In the last week, fan numbers have increased over 1,500. In an effort to spread the word about the film as it is in post production, we are setting a goal for 5,000 Facebook fans by Aug. 31. We need another 1,600 fans in nine days. I know Renee has a powerful fan base and I am hoping it can be rallied to help us reach our goal.”

He also noted that the movie’s website includes a “fan-driven demand/release” program called “Bring It,” where fans can, basically, vote to have the film screened in their area. He explained:

“This innovative system gives us more ammunition with our distributors. We have three distributors interested, but if we have numbers to prove interest from fans, it gives us more bargaining power. The fans literally can bring the film to a cinema near them if there are enough votes! As of right now, there are 202 American cities and 7 different countries that want ‘Beyond’ to screen in a theater in their community! And this is without a trailer! We are working on a trailer and it will be presented, however numbers are starting to grow on buzz alone!”

And, Dane said, the “Bring It” button is also on the film’s Facebook page. He also had a special message to O’Connor’s fans:

“I know Renee and Xena fans. I have spoken to a lot of you and understand your passion and love for Renee. I cannot wait for you to see her in this powerful performance. I have seen rough edits of the film and it is very dynamic. It is emotional, intense and compelling. I look forward to sharing with you all!”

The film also stars Todd Terry, Cheramie Leigh, Barry Corbin, Lou Beatty Jr. and more. It was written and is directed by Andrew Librizzi, and is co-produced by Dane and Sally Helppie.

And by the way, the Dallas Metro area is leading, by a big margin, in the “Bring It” vote count.

—  admin