Another day, another blog article.... and another apocalypse. However don't get me wrong, I'm not yet suffering from apocalypse-fatigue, at least not yet. It helps that the film that I'm going to be musing about in this article is perhaps one of the more unique approaches to film making and production that I've seen in quite some time.
Before I talk about the plot etc of Rotor DR1, let me tell you a little about the background to the project, because it's a doozy!
A few days ago I received an email from a Los Angeles based production studio, Cinema Libra studios, stating that they had acquired the rights to distribute this particular film. The email had started by them mentioning that they had read my blog and very much enjoyed it. Now, hopefully that is true, but quite frankly I don't really care - flattery will get anybody anywhere when it comes to finding my attention. The email then went on to say that they wanted to reach out in the hope that a story on their upcoming film release might be of interest to my blog, as it offers a unique perspective on modern film making. "Hmmm, an interesting perspective on filming', tell me more" I said to no one in particular..... well I suppose that my dog Jasper was in the room, but he doesn't count as he's made it abundantly clear in the past that he couldn't give a toss about my blog.
Anyhow, my interest had been well an truly peaked and so I read on. I was told that Rotor DR1, recently released to DVD & BLU & VOD on October 20th, was conceived and evolved out of the Flite Test (flitetest.com) community. I must admit that that I didn't have a scooby doo what the heck the Flite Test community was, thankfully I was soon to be enlightened. Apparently it is a 400,000 member strong online community for drone enthusiasts that director/producer Chad Kapper founded in 2010. After posting the idea of creating a community-collaborated web series to the forum, he soon had input from 7000 people. Using forums, GoogleDocs, Facebook and Youtube--and without a script--the group embarked on developing a ten episode series over twelve weeks in late 2014, with each episode shared with the Rotor DR1 community for feedback and further development of the story line.
Blimey, sounds like movie making anarchy to me! No studio control, no film studio focus groups deciding what the movie going audience wants by simply pandering to the lowest common creative denominator. No none of that, because here decisions on casting, wardrobe, props, dialogue, action scenes, the episodic arc and the back story of the virus that wipes out civilisation, were all made in collaboration. While this may not work for huge studio films, this 350K indie was able to engage the community they built and give them the exact product that they were asking for. Chad Kapper believes this could become a bigger part of the entertainment field in the future as companies grow wearier of risk taking. Do you know something? He may be right.
So it came to be that after partnering with Cinema Libre Studio, the episodes were edited together to produce a feature film.Here's a synopsis of the story....
After a viral epidemic eliminates 90% of the world’s population, the survivors struggle to rebuild and reconnect with the world they’ve lost. Autonomous drones, originally meant to deliver vaccinations for the deadly disease, now fly aimlessly through the sky and are hunted for their parts and power sources.
But when a 16-year-old boy named Kitch stumbles upon a peculiar drone named DR1, clues about his long-lost father begin to surface. As Kitch defends his new drone from a local crime syndicate, he befriends one of its members, a young woman named Maya. With Maya’s encouragement and DR1 leading the way, the three travelers set out on a journey to find Kitch’s father. Potential enemies lurk around every corner and Kitch, Maya and DR1 must work together to navigate the unknown and find the answers they seek.
On the one hand I am very well versed with post-apocalyptic films, on the other I'm not particularly au fait with drones or the passionate community behind them. In fact, my main exposure to hobby drones has been the result of some of the negative publicity that they have garnered in relation to the debate about public safety and privacy. Hopefully films such as this might begin to redress the balance.
I must admit that I hadn't seen the original web series from which the film has been edited from. This could be an advantage in parts as it means I have no frame of context that may influence my opinion of what has been produced here - because for the most part, Rotor DR1 is a thoroughly enjoyable example of intelligent post-apocalyptic movie making.
For a start the film looks great with the Ohio locations providing a nicely authentic look of a place ravaged by the effects of human disintegration. This is something which is perfectly personified with the regular aeriel scenes from the drone which serve to portray the vastness of the landscape which serves also to magnify the apparent hopelessness that the survivors face. It does have to be said that the film at times meanders slightly and occasionally seems to lose it's way, whether this is due to the editing adaptation from the web series is difficult to say. Nonetheless, some episodes in the plot could have been tightened up a little more in post-production.
If you are in the mood for an in-you-face adrenaline fuelled Mad Max-esque tale of apocalyptic woe - then do not look the way of this feature. This isn't though a criticism of the film in any way, because there's always a place for a slow and measured paced movie - not everything has to include mindless, pointless and endless high octane set pieces to be effective. Yes Transformers, I'm talking to you. The result here is instead a brooding and thoughtful atmospheric treatment that slowly enfolds you.
The two central performances from Christian Kapper and Natalie Welch are excellent in their natural and under emphasised way with Kapper's measured narration the constant backbone of the story. I must admit that before I watched it I had a nagging fear that, as result of the need to make it a central theme and character, the drone was going to be some sort Disney-esque personality with cutesy flashing mannerisms and being noises to help the hapless kids on their way. Thankfully this turned out to be nothing of the sort, and while one cannot help but anthropomorphise DR1, it's part isn't overly saccharine at all.
While the two main characters are well played, unfortunately some of the supporting roles are less effective. This is often the case it seems with independent productions and while one or two of the less convincing performances don't overly detract from the final production they are nonetheless noticeable.
Rotor DR1 provides a rather nice slice of post-apocalyptic adventure and in many ways does the hobby drone, and it's passionate community justice to give us an intelligent, considered and enjoyable film. Highly recommended if you like to think about what you are seeing. On the other hand, if you want mindless exploding pap that has the intelligence factor of a brick, then you could always stick to watching Transformers.
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ABOUT CINEMA LIBRE:
Cinema Libre Studio is a full-service mini-studio known for producing and distributing high concept feature films and social impact documentaries. Headquartered in the Los Angeles area, the team has released over 200 films including the Sundance Audience Award®‐Winning FUEL, THE END OF POVERTY?, Rachid Bouchareb’s LONDON RIVER and Oliver Stone’s SOUTH OF THE BORDER. This year, the company has released CAN’T STAND LOSING YOU, based on a memoir by Andy Summers, the guitarist of the band The Police, DAYS OF GRACE (DIAS DE GRACIA), an eight-time Ariel Award ®-winning film by Mexican director Everardo Gout and is gearing up for a Fall theatrical run for OLVIDADOS (FORGOTTEN), the Damian Alcazar-starring feature which was Bolivia’s Official Selection as Foreign Language Film at the 87thOscars ®.