Feel Free to Panic

A scene from John Carstarphen's Panic Time, which debuts tonight for free at the Inwood Theater

Old Friend of Unfair Park John Carstarphen, whose 1995 debut Stealin' Home was a fave of former DO'er Matt Zoller Seitz's way back when ("a funky, frenetic, upbeat piece of African-Americana!"), debuts his new film tonight at the Inwood Theater. And if you want to see Carstarphen's new Panic Time, a time-travelin' she-dunnit about a wife who offs her cheatin' husband and winds up caught in a loopy loop, all you gotta do is show up. The premiere's absolutely free: The way the filmmaker figures, it'll wind up on DVD in the near future, but he'd prefer to share it with the cast, with friends and with total strangers just this one time. "The movie's not going to change the film industry as we know it," Carstarphen says. "I shot it for straight-to-video, but I wanted to show it on the big screen so the actors can see themselves 20 feet tall."

Carstarphen, who teaches filmmaking and does a lot of commercial work, sort of made Panic Time as a demo reel, a way for him to show off the technical skills he picked up during the year it took to finish the movie. He shot in over three and a half weekends in a friend's for-sale house and spent the next 11 months finishing out the special effects that look as pro as anything airing on, say, the SciFi Channel. Not that the writer-director-editor-etc. planned on it taking that long; two hard-drive crashes and a missing sound mixer will complicate post-production, absolutely. But the delays were beneficial: As Carstarphen says, software he needed to complete the movie wasn't even available till January, so it was just as well it took longer than he expected.

Though he won't say how much it cost ("less than a million, let's put it that way," he says, laughing) or how he plans to self-distribute Panic Time ("at the moment it's proprietary"), the filmmaker does expect it to see life after tonight's screening. Like his previous outings, which also include 1999's FLMKR, it will likely take a small jaunt on the festival circuit, and it will certainly wind up getting overseas video distribution. As he says, "My wife and I went to Cannes in 2004, and we met a huge Japanese distributor. I told him all my films are digital, and these guys said, 'As long as it's in color and of a certain length, they will buy it.'" If that doesn't motivate wannabes to pick up cameras, nothing ever will.

"The film industry has really been decentralized," Carstarphen says. "Hollywood's in trouble. The only reason I feel like I have to go to Hollywood to do a certain amount of business is they have so much money out there. What prevents indies from making a nice living off films like this is marketing and distribution, but that's changing too, so who knows. A lot of people are interested in distributing the movie, but I haven't talked to them seriously. I want to see what the festival circuit does. I may do partial self-distribution. If I don't, I am not gonna make any money off this. Somebody could make six figures if they sold it right, but I won't make a nickel." He laughs. "Maybe I have to get photos of somebody in a compromising situation." Spoken like a man trying to sell his movie about a cheating husband and his killer wife.

Panic Time screens tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Inwood Theater, 5458 W. Lovers Lane. Admission is free, but as Carstarphen pleads, "No stragglers." --Robert Wilonsky


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