Last month we learned more about Ian Russell’s debut independent film The Killing Death, a micro budget horror comedy. This month we chatted with him about his b sci-fi flick Cybernetic Showdown!

When “mutants invade the last city left on earth. Only one man stands in their way, but he’s running out of bullets.”

Cybernetic Showdown was shot in 2007 over nine days at a cost of about $1000 (Canadian). The movie was in post-production hell for 12 years before finally being finished and released in October of 2019. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future Winnipeg under attack from flesh-eating mutants.

The movie was made the summer following my previous feature, The Killing Death, using much of the same cast but with a bigger scope and ambition. This ambition, combined with a whole bunch of factors kept the movie on various hard drives for so long that I sometimes wondered if it would ever come out. It took Zellco’s interest in The Killing Death to provide the final kick in the pants to complete the movie and get it out there. But before you think that it was just laziness or distraction that delayed Cybernetic Showdown, I’ll present to you the photo of my flame damaged iMac as backup.

Cybernetic Showdown was supposed to have Sega CD FMV game quality visual effects, so much of what was filmed was deliberately done with a “add it in post” mentality. We didn’t bother with a lot of fake blood, we put green screen everywhere, and used some shoddy props, all in the thought that it would look great when finished later. The only problem was that we had no understanding of how long those kind of effects would take. An actor volunteered to do some of the work, but quickly came up against the reality of the monumental task before him. He had a life and a job and could only do so much. So I found help. Things were plugging along fine until the great computer fire that (I thought) wiped out everything done up to that point.

Needless to say I was pretty dejected. I didn’t want to have to re-edit the movie, let alone re-do the few effects that I’d done, but luckily the hard drive was able to be salvaged and work could continue. But time marches on and these things take time. A bit of work would get done but then a major life change would get in the way. Moving out, having a kid, buying a house, changing jobs (multiple times), having another kid, getting married, etc. I couldn’t very well come down on volunteers when this was mostly my fault. So, as YouTube tutorials grew and visual effects work became more intuitive, I learned what I needed to do and started filling in the blanks myself. But the reality is that I never would have been able to get this thing done without local whizkid Ryan Hill, who was paid in expensive vodka and deserved way more.

The movie played in a local theatre to a big audience that shockingly seemed to enjoy it! So, now you can watch it on Amazon Prime and hopefully soon on DVD!

Cybernetic Showdown was a mishmash of inspirations, from the obvious (The Omega Man, Rocket Robin Hood, kung fu movies) to the less so (Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter). This was really my attempt at making a goofy 80’s action movie spoof a few years before 80’s nostalgia really kicked in. Some of what we did, like using the Nintendo Power Glove as a substitute for a robotic hand, having a video game themed animation sequence, would be used in other movies while this one was lost in the ether. I’d like to think that we were ahead of the curve, but the reality is that this movie is so tiny that most people would have never seen it had it actually come out when it was supposed to.

Taking what I’d learned from making The Killing Death, I figured I’d expand my vision for a follow up and threw everything I could into this one, all while keeping the cheapness factor foremost in my mind. That meant places I could use for free but looked like they might exist in a post-apocalyptic world.

The story is really meant to be a comedic version of the tough guy action hero trope, so much so that Jimmy is supposed to be knowingly portraying himself as that trope for what he believes is the benefit of the survivors and rookie cops. He’s a bit of a buffoon, but still competent. Every now and again, the armor comes down to show the person behind the eye patch, but not so much that the character isn’t still silly. I don’t know if that meta aspect of the story comes across or if people just look at this as a goofy parody, but as long as they’re laughing, I can’t complain.

The movie is supposed to take place in a post-apocalyptic Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It’s meant to be funny that the only city left on earth is Winnipeg, but we’re so isolated sometimes that it can feel like we already are. The film was shot in Winnipeg and the surrounding area, including an abandoned quarry, the ruins of a monastery, a dilapidated barn south of town, a local bar, an office, an artists studio, and a shockingly unsafe roof in the downtown.

This time I wanted to be more professional, so I secured a few permits, but that created new complications as it meant that we had much more pressure to get everything we needed on that specific day. It also meant that if something didn’t turn out, I had to roll with it. I’d like to think that considering the budget and what I had access to, I made the best of it, but a movie like this really needs a stronger setting established, and we just couldn’t do large scale crowd scenes or set dressing. You make do with what you have and hope the concept gets across anyway.

I [Ian Russell] wrote, directed, edited, produced, stunt choreographed, acted in, location scouted, etc., Cybernetic Showdown. Pick a job and I probably did it. This time around I wanted more of a “real” crew, and tried to keep people on specific jobs where possible, but things pop up that toss monkey wrenches into the best laid plans. I usually set up the camera and (when we used them) the lights, but a few others helped out as well. One interesting challenge came the day that nobody from the crew showed up! Whatever actor wasn’t on screen had to either hold the camera or the boom (or both!) That was a bit of a disaster, but we made it through. The scene was supposed to be much grander and more action filled but I didn’t have the manpower and had to drastically scale it down. What made it worse was that it was the opening of the movie! So much for the first impression.

Despite my intentions, when you’re relying on volunteers working for food, you have to accept that you’re going to get amateurs and people just looking to learn. Heck, we were learning too, so the whole project was much more laid back and lax than a “real” movie. Of course nothing turned out like I’d imagined. Some of it was actually better (the video game fight scene) but the whole thing was an incredible crash course and I learned so much from my mistakes that I hope I can correct on the next movie.

The visual effects were a hodgepodge of work from many different people. Tyhr Trubiak (the movie’s lead) did some, Ryan Hill did a lot, and I did a few as well. The ease of doing this stuff now versus in 2007 is night and day. There are so many more places to go for help today and the visual effects website Productioncrate was a life saver. I honestly don’t think the movie would have turned out half as well as it did had we been able to finish it in 2007, so maybe the delay was a boon in disguise.

The cast of this one once again rose above the material. The lead was played by Tyhr Trubiak who was just incredible. He was game for anything, from super detailed fight choreography that left him drenched in sweat (and maybe a few pounds lighter) to climbing sheer quarry walls, kissing scenes, getting splashed with water, endless Yop drinks, to even pounding back a Pepsi (which he hates). He was the face of the movie and without him, it falls apart. The rest of the cast were brought back from The Killing Death with Jeremy Dangerfield playing The Frank Computer, Darren Felbel playing the Keeper of the Lore, and Veronica Ternopolski playing the love interest. I loved working with so many great actors and great people and it made the whole thing more of a lark than a serious enterprise.

If you look closely, you’ll see me more than a few times in the movie. That’s because I was needed as a stunt performer. I’m a black belt in Hapkido (although I wasn’t then) and I used some fellow students to take break falls and try to give the fight scenes a bit more of a kick. Some turned out better than others and that was because I was still figuring out how to shoot and stage them as I went. In the years since, I’ve also taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so I’m pretty sure the next time I do something like this, I could really bring a few cool new tricks to the table!

Cybernetic Showdown was made because we wanted to make another movie after making The Killing Death! I learned so much on that project and made so many mistakes that I (naively) thought I could do much better the second time. I tried to avoid all that went wrong in the first movie with the second. In theory, that was sound, but in practice, it just meant that we made all new mistakes.

I had the camera and equipment already, I knew actors, and could get locations cheap, so why not make a movie? At the time, I saw no reason why I couldn’t be constantly pumping out features with that same group. I had more scripts written and ready to go and was all set to be my own little production unit of no-budget schlock. But then the delays happened and I told myself that I wasn’t going to start something new without finishing the previous project. If I’m being honest, that was just a way to avoid doing more. I thought that I wasn’t going to be like my hero Orson Welles and just leave an endless string of unfinished projects, I was going to be the guy who finishes what he starts, but instead I let that idea take over and didn’t make another feature in all the years that Cybernetic Showdown sat on the shelf. All those scripts are still sitting in my drawer and now that I have completed the long unfinished albatross, I hope to get back on track making more movies.

Unfortunately COVID hit and everything is on hold for now.

Cybernetic Showdown was supposed to be another step in my filmmaking journey. A bigger scope, a grander vision. It was supposed to be another learning opportunity for everyone involved. If things had gone the right way, it would have been a stepping stone to bigger and better things much faster. As it is, it’s a fun, if flawed bit of goofiness that I hope people enjoy without taking too seriously. There will be a novelization coming out in the future that is going to fix a lot of what went wrong, so stay tuned for that! Frank and Jimmy have lots more adventures in my books, so if you like the style of humor you see on screen, you may like those as well.

I was about to film another feature before the COVID-pocalype, but that’s been put on hold until the restrictions lighten up a little here. In the twelve years that Cybernetic Showdown sat on the shelf, I was keeping busy publishing books, making YouTube videos, and writing new screenplays. Everything I’ve been doing all connects, so The Killing Death and Cybernetic Showdown are a part of the same universe, using the same characters. Frank and Jimmy have loads more adventures on the page and will soon (if everything goes well) have even more on the screen.

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Coming soon we will be spotlighting a variety of Indie Books and we could not be more excited! Check out our recent Twitter Post for more details and for you to share your books/links with us.

Posted on May 3rd, 2021 by MHD | Leave a Comment
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Director Alex Goldberg described his movie Closure as a “Daytime Noir” and that has really peaked my interest. Learn more about the movie and how to watch it online!

Official Description: Her mother is dead. Her fiancé is now her ex. And the airline lost her luggage. This begins Nina’s first trip to Los Angeles.

As a deathbed promise to her mother, Nina vows to find her sister Carrie who moved to L.A. years ago and hasn’t communicated with her family in months. Nina’s only clue is an apartment address in The Valley, but Carrie’s spiritual and earthy roommate Yasmina is little help. However, Yasmina allows Nina to stay in her sister’s room where she begins to piece together what happened to Carrie.

Her journey as a novice detective is helped, but frequently hindered, by a variety of self-absorbed Angelenos. In addition to the not-quite zen Yasmina, Nina encounters the polyamorous writer couple Jack and Prudence, two detectives who aren’t on speaking terms with each other, a fastidious money man and his pug, and a surprising romance. Nina’s quest leads her to The Superior, the enigmatic leader of an organization who Nina believes holds the key to the whereabouts of Carrie.
(Official Website)

Nina continues digging deeper into a side of Los Angeles that outsiders rarely see in her quest to find her sister and get Closure.

The movie stars Catia Ojeda as “Nina”, along with Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Tom Choi, Milena Govich, and Dee Wallace. Closure is available to watch online for free on Tubi TV and with a prime membership on Amazon

The Pre-Drink is about friendship, growing up and growing apart. The comedy/drama “centers around four friends, two of which are fighting due to rumors that one slept with the other’s girlfriend, and one friend is in the middle trying to hash things out. ” You can learn more about the movie in our The 5Ws and How: The Pre-Drink post and you can rent/purchase the movie on GumRoad.

Posted on May 2nd, 2021 by MHD | Leave a Comment
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Later in the week we will have a full spotlight for Cybernetic Showdown, a micro budget B-Sci-Fi movie that lovingly goofs on 80s action movies, so now is a good time to check out the movie’s teaser trailer!

The movie is available for purchase or rental on Amazon & Gumroad.

I have a love for avatar/character creators. When I stumble on them, I can’t help but to try them out. Marvel Comics has a free “Create Your Own Web-Warrior”, aka Spider-Man, creator. Now you can design your own version of Spider-Man for the Spiderverse!

Presenting… MHD Spider-Man!

Create your own Web-Warrior here. In addition to Spider-Man, Marvel also has avatar creators for Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Posted on April 22nd, 2021 by MHD | Leave a Comment
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Writer & director Chris Baxter talks to us about his independent film Unlawful Justice. Learn more about the crime drama, who was involved with making it, and how it all came together.

The entire film had such a wonderful family feel. Our DP and producer were two of my roommates. Our editor/DIT and BTS photographer both crashed on our couch often and our lead actor was an acting friend from college. From there, everybody we had knew one or two people that were grips/gaffers/Ads, etc. We rounded off our crew with a couple of Facebook posts for some key positions. We held auditions at Cazt Studio in LA because it was free and it looked professional, but we all worked for far below minimum wage. It was a mix of finding people we have access to, feel comfortable working with, but also know what they’re doing. 

Indie Rights released our film. About a year before that, we applied for the Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship- which was way out of our league. We had a 35k budget for our film, yet the Fellowship’s winning films felt like they were twenty times that in budget. It was probably the equivalent of being one of the better basketball players at the local YMCA and saying one day “You know what, let me go try out for the Lakers.” We didn’t get it obviously. But, I stayed in touch with the director of the program and ended up joining her indie directors meet up. After a few months she connected me with Indie Rights who really enjoyed our film.

The story is about a LAPD officer who is financially struggling to support his family. Mainly his daughter whose medical expenses are piling up. When he asks his boss for a raise, he’s given the opportunity to meet an unspoken arrest quota, and if he does, he’ll get a bump in his salary. However, this goes against everything he stands for as a police officer and why he joined the force in the first place; to protect and serve the community.

Meanwhile, there’s a seventeen year old kid from inner city LA who has just been accepted to a prestigious college. However, he doesn’t have the financial means to attend. With the help of his friend, who is a local hustler, he starts selling dime bags of cocaine to raise enough money to make the tuition down payment. Despite never having even jaywalked, he makes significant progress but it’s not enough to cover the tuition expenses. He gets in way over his head and tries to make one final score that will pay for his full tuition. At the same time the Officer is looking for one huge bust that can get him his promotion. The two eventually collide, and only one comes out alive.

We filmed all throughout Los Angeles. Parks, back alleys, and random neighborhoods. We didn’t have much of a budget so we cheated a lot of locations. The morgue, jail, trap house, and two different apartments, were all just at our house. Our PD was incredible and was constantly reconfiguring everything in our living room to make it look like a whole new location. The best compliment I got were various people who said they had no idea that it was all shot at one house and it looked like the production budget was ten times higher than it actually was.

We filmed a lot around LA without a permit. We drove around in a rented fake cop car. For once scene, the driver, who was one of our main actors (she was an incredible actor and so nice), but not the best driver- hah. To her credit, it’s probably insanely difficult to act and drive at the same time in actual LA traffic with roads you’re not familiar with. The DP and myself were squeezed into the backseat, no seat belt because it was a cop car, on hard plastic. Somehow we didn’t crash.  It was the very first scene in the shooting schedule. I definitely said a few extra prayers that night and had a few ice packs on my back.

We also got kicked out of a few locations. Some we didn’t have permission to shoot at, some we did, some we talked our way back into. When making a movie on a limited budget like that you have to take what you can get and make the most of it. There’s constantly this balance between getting the best shots, but making sure you’re not endangering anybody… beside yourself, which you’ve already done because you choose the film industry as a career.

We shot the movie in late 2016. The editing process took about 6 months. Our editor was living on our couch and we were both working full time just to survive and we worked on the film in any free time we had. His computer kept crashing so half the time we spent just redoing what we had already edited but neither one of us had access to a better computer or even $20 to get one. From there, the coloring and audio process took about another 6 months. We had some heavy audio issues and we couldn’t seem to get the coloring down, but after about a year we decided to call it. They say a film is never done, you just decide to stop working on it. I had worked on the film for nearly two years for probably an average of 10 hours a day for over 500 days straight. I was just so burnt out and decided I was happy enough with what we had.

We had been submitting to festivals and got in nowhere. We were submitting with basically an assembly cut, which I thought would work because during the one film business class I took in college (it was the only one the school offered) the teacher explained how he got a movie into SXSW without a finished cut. However he forgot to mention that the director was a Sundance alum, the film had a major star in it, a budget that was 20x what ours was, and that an unfinished cut meant temp music and a small bit of coloring and audio polish needed to be done… not an assembly cut of a 35k film from a total nobody director.

I took a couple months off from the film because I was so exhausted, disappointed, and not happy with the final cut. I saved up all my money in that few months from working, then I went back with a new editor and came out with a cut I was really happy with and proud of. We applied to basically one festival, got in, won best picture, and then I said lets just go into distribution. The film was released in the spring of 2019. Right when Amazon slashed their pay rates to indie filmmakers. Another bump on our rollercoaster ride, but we’ve made the most of it and gotten a ton of positive reviews.

I have this fundamental belief that almost everybody is a good person, but we do bad things because society forces us to make difficult decisions. I don’t think anybody is evil but we all do evil things, although usually we do them for a good reason. In Unlawful Justice, the police officer steps outside the boundaries of what he can legally do, but he thinks he’s doing it to protect the community and also so that he can get a raise to take care of his sick infant daughter. One of the main characters is a drug dealer, but he’s doing it because the school system failed him and he has no other options to support his family. Society has failed us. Our systems of policing, education, economics, and government have all failed us and it forces everyday people to constantly have to consider making immoral or unlawful decisions just to survive. 

At the time, and still today, there were many stories of police brutality. There didn’t seem to be any answers and it seemed that people kept dying. There was this one unique case in the news where it felt that nobody did anything egregiously wrong, but it still led to this conflict between a police officer and a black individual. Thankfully nobody was killed, but it was still very problematic.  It seemed that every news outlet was trying to paint one side as the victim and one as the criminal, and every news station was different. However, it seemed like it wasn’t either’s fault- it was just a horrible situation that was exacerbated by these systems we have, especially our system of policing. 

So I thought about trying something extreme. Could we create a story where a black man kills a cop, but is in the right? Could we, in the same story, with that same cop, show him assault a black man, but the cop is also in the right? A story where everybody is breaking the law, but we not only fully understand why they are, we conclude that we would do the same thing if we were in their shoes. I hoped to accomplish in the movie that people would think about who their enemy really is a bit differently after they watched it. People aren’t our enemy. Our brother isn’t our enemy. The systems that plague us are. The system of policing. The system of systematic and institutionalized racism. The system of education that has failed us. Our political system which has led us astray. Our financial systems that have created poverty and marginalized communities. We’ve been pitted against each other, to keep our eyes off the real enemy.  

We’re on TubiTV, Amazon Prime and IMDBTV, Apple TV, and Goggle Play. Thanks for checking out the film!

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