Local filmmakers huddle inside a downtown Medford studio to realize their movie-making dreams.
Director Randy Granstrom admits "First Men on Planet 9" is his most political film to date, a piece of cinematic mayhem he describes as a post-colonial critique of Manifest Destiny in which he takes Western culture to task for exploiting native cultures and the environment in its push to dominate the New World.
All he has to do now is get the damn firecrackers to blow up the miniature spaceship so he can wrap the opening scene.
Granstrom and his small but dedicated crew are at work Wednesday night inside Land Mind Productions, a studio on South Fir Street, toiling amidst thick smoke and strobe lights to bring the right amount of realism to the crash landing that kicks off their film.
The scene involves a spaceship smashing into a miniaturized landscape — built with Granstrom's last bit of potting soil, tiny plastic trees and plaster cloth — and erupting into flame.
John Foote, executive producer and owner of Land Mind Productions, fastens fishing line to the top of the ship and dangles it over the crash zone.
The crew busts up when they see the fishing line stand out on the initial takes.
"In my grand vision I had this awesome spaceship flying in — but no," Granstrom says.
Foote was reassuring.
"If you saw the last Bruce Campbell movie, you saw more fishing line than in 'Deadliest Catch,' " he says.
The Magnum 800 fog machine floods the set, as does smoke from Granstrom's leftover fireworks. Explosions. The original plan was to tape a road flare to the end of the ship to simulate rockets, but logistics proved daunting.
The ship nosedives onto the set and plows a trench past a plastic tree, which catches fire after the firecrackers do their job.
"Don't destroy the trees," Granstrom says. "I paid $8.99 for those."
Camera operator and "Planet 9" actor Levi Anderson, moving from one end of the set to the other via wheelchair, captures the chaos on a small digital camera.
Afterward, the crew gathers around the camera to review the footage. They love it.
(Warning: spoilers ahead)
"Planet 9" tells the tale of a squad of astronauts from the year 2045. The Earth has turned into an environmental hazard zone, so they are in search of a habitable planet to renew civilization.
Granstrom plays Capt. Stryker, an ultra-macho leader with a blond William Shatner haircut.
Foote fills the roll of Synphoid, a half-man, half-robot being who carries a computer chip from the '80s in his head.
Doug Hill, part owner of Mental Records, wears a mullet for his portrayal of Johnny Shred, a mechanic who should have been a high school janitor.
Michael Myers, of Southern Oregon Stage Works, plays the science officer, who has yet to be named.
Rounding out the cast is Anderson, who embodies Dick Steel, a hero modeled after '70s-era Hollywood tough guys.
After crashing on Planet 9, the crew immediately finds it to their liking. At some point they find an alien dinosaur creature which, they soon learn, is the last of its kind.
They waste no time gunning it down with a plasma rifle.
"I always like to have a moral to my films, even though they are Ed Wood-like in their cheesiness," Granstrom says.
"Anything they don't understand, they kill. They learn it's the last of its kind, they kill it anyway."
The actors are not required to learn dialogue, which will be dubbed in after primary filming wraps. Instead, they mouth meaningless words to make it look like a terrible dub job.
"I describe the movie as Godzilla meets Ed Wood meets Euro space movie meets Chinese kung-fu," Granstrom says.
There's a lot of "meeting" in the film. The costumes, tailored by Granstrom's mother-in-law, are described as " 'Planet of the Apes' meets 'Star Trek.' "
Granstrom, 40, possesses a boundless reserve of energy on set. He rarely stops moving or talking, though most of what he says is reassuring to his crew members.
He has long dreamed of making films. A marriage and a baby girl forced him to set the goal aside for a number of years. He bounced around from jobs such as a district manager of restaurants to a general manager of a computer company.
The gigs paid the bills. But the compulsion to make films would not be ignored.
"I realized I was going to be dead in 40 years and I wanted to do this before it was too late," Granstrom says the day after the crash shoot.
The digital revolution has leveled the playing field for young and broke filmmakers, who no longer have to go into hock buying expensive film. Affordable digital equipment allows almost anyone to shoot and cut movies in their bedroom.
Granstrom's love of digital, guerilla filmmaking prompted him to direct a documentary about Rogue Valley artists bent on making movies.
"It shows how a lot of us have dreams of being a big director but feel we can't because we don't live in Hollywood," Granstrom says. "I got each of these people's stories of how they wound up here. I want people to be inspired."
Granstrom's current day job is making local commercials for NBC Channel 5.
He has made two zombie shorts, "Gog Juice" and "Gog Bar," and plans a third later this spring.
Both were shown at the Killer Valley Film Festival, held every year at Land Mind Productions, 327 S. Fir St., in Medford.
Filmmakers such as Granstrom are benefitting from renting space at Land Mind Productions, one of the few studios in the area large enough to comfortably shoot an independent film.
For close to 14 years, Land Mind Productions has served as a private studio. Foote intends to change that by creating the Southern Oregon Creative Co-op, opening the space to artists across the valley.
The building is compete with offices, storage and a huge green screen for post-production special effects.
Foote hopes artists will use the space to make films, do photo shoots or create sculptures. The space can be rented for around $35 per hour for most projects.
"With the economy, many independents have a limited overhead," Foote says. "It gives people like Randy somewhere to make their film without breaking, doubling or tripling their budget."
Granstrom intends to make good use of the space in the coming year. In addition to the zombie sequel, he has written a dark thriller called "Don't Tell" and a drama about a young girl who moves in with her grandmother after her father leaves to serve in Iraq.
"I think that one will get me into the big film festivals," Granstrom predicts.
Visit Land Mind Productions online at www.landmind.net.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.