Alumni Achievements: 48er's Sci-Fi Feature Wins Best Feature Film Award And Showtime Distribution DealWednesday, January 27, 2021
Houston 48HFP filmmaker Wayne Slaten's head is always in the clouds...or to be more precise, up in space.
We featured Slaten and his filmmaking partner Molly Vernon several years ago when their science fiction short film "Red Pearl" won a special Jury Award at the CineSpace competition, and was actually screened for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. His latest accolades include a recent Best Feature Film award win at the 2020 Ufology and Paranormal Phenomena International Film Festival in Argentina for his sci-fi feature film Dropa, which features a killer alien who has come to Earth.
Slaten is a long-time participant in the Houston 48HFP with his team Moonlite Filmwerks. Their 2011 film "Cold War" was awarded Best Film in the Houston 48HFP, and was later chosen to screen with the 48HFP's official selection for the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner. He will also be a featured speaker at our upcoming Filmapalooza and 48 Indie Film Summit.
Dropa is a sci-fi thriller set in an alternate future America. The hunt is on as a government assassin comes out of retirement to track down a killer extraterrestrial murdering the former members of his team. The film features a number of name actors, including Jason Douglas (The Walking Dead, Preacher), David Matranga (Starship Troopers: Invasion) and the prolific James Hong (Blade Runner, Big Trouble In Little China), who may be the actor with the most credits ever in the history of Hollywood, clocking in at over 600 films.
In addition to the recent festival win, Dropa also snagged an exclusive distribution deal on Showtime. We caught up with Slaten to talk about the film and it's recent successes.
48HFP: Where did the idea for Dropa originate?
Slaten: In 2009 I began outlining the story for Dropa. The world order seemed to be shifting. The Earth’s population was about to reach seven billion people. Vladimir Putin was planning on a return to the presidency when his run as the Russian Prime Minister was completed. China was closing factories and the United States was going through a financial meltdown. Add to that the world’s changing climate, record poverty levels along with immigration concerns and everything seemed to be heading for a dramatic change. These were the key elements in developing the alternate, dystopic America backdrop for the screenplay then titled Patriot Act.
As a kid, Rick Deckard and Snake Plissken were my anti-heroes. While I enjoyed fantasy sci-fi movies such as Star Wars, films like Blade Runner and Escape From New York dealt in future realities that felt more plausible to me. They were extensions of the problems we were facing or about to encounter in the years to come. Dropa is very much in the style of Blade Runner and was intended as such from the beginning.
Often, I find the most engaging stories are founded in truth or mythology. The aliens in the film are based on the myth of the Dropa whose spaceship crashed in the Bayan Kara Ula Mountains in Tibet over 12,000 years ago. The Dropa met their fate at the hands of angry locals that hunted the aliens down eventually killing them. In 1930, a Chinese archaeologist and his students discovered the Dropa graves in a cave along with over 700 stone discs that told their story. During my research I could not find any movies, which had utilized this myth or these aliens in their storylines. While none of this has ever been proven, I was amazed to discover how many UFO enthusiasts knew of the Dropa myth often referred to as the “Chinese Roswell”.
48HFP: Did production pose any special challenges?
Slaten: The amount of time and dedication to complete production was a major challenge. We shot some initial scenes for the movie as part of a pitch packet for investors in 2011. The idea was to show potential investors scenes from the actual movie as opposed to a mockup trailer or storyboards. We had financing fall through several times. Over the next few years, we would shoot some scenes as money allowed until we were able to finally secure funding for the bulk of production in 2016.
The storyline takes place over four days. We had footage from several years to assemble for the final movie. Continuity was crucial. Ensuring wardrobe, makeup, hair, etc. was the same was tricky. Due to the length of time between shoot days early on, the temperature extremes on production days ranged from 104 degrees to 30 degrees. Fortunately, or hopefully, the audience will never know that.
48HFP: You worked with some great acting talent, including the prolific Asian actor James Hong--can you talk at all about the casting process?
Slaten: I worked with Texas casting director Julie Oliver-Touchstone and casting producer AnnMarie Giaquinto early on back in 2011. We were also fortunate to have input from Australian casting director Faith Martin (Evil Dead, Peter Pan, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert). We narrowed the process down to roughly 50 actors for the lead and supporting roles and held auditions over a two-day period. I wanted to make a focus on this being a Texas production. We cast Dallas actor Jason Douglas (The Walking Dead, Preacher, Jack Reacher Never Go Back) and Houston actor David Matranga (My Hero Academia, Starship Troopers Invasion, Occupy Texas) as the leads. We filled out the rest of the cast with over 90% Texas talent.
Due to the storyline’s strong influence from Blade Runner, I wanted a recognizable actor from that movie in Dropa. I had always been a fan of James Hong’s appearances in films like Big Trouble in Little China. I wrote the scenes in Dropa for that character specifically for him. From the first email with Mr. Hong’s manager to the two days he spent filming with us - the whole process was a delight. An incredibly gifted actor, easy to communicate with and he shared the best stories of his work with directors like Ridley Scott and John Carpenter. He even shared a story about the time he was in the room with Charlton Heston and several other actors when SAG was formed.
48HFP: Can you talk a little bit about the festival win and distribution deal?
Slaten: We completed the movie in April of 2019 and closed the deal with our sales agent in July. Our producer Martin Delon was focused on getting the movie to market and the best route for us was to deal directly with sales agents and distributors. Shoreline Entertainment closed the Showtime deal in November, and we began airing in December of 2019. Martin’s family is from Argentina and he was actually working with a South American sci-fi movie to screen at the 2020 Ufology and Paranormal Phenomena International Film Festival. Dropa came up in the conversation and we were invited to have it screen there. I think it is great that it was in a foreign festival that was full of UFO and paranormal enthusiasts. Truly the best fans for our movie.
48HFP: How has the 48HFP helped your filmmaking career?
Slaten: I came to filmmaking later in my life. My first project was a seven-minute short titled "The Eraser" for the Houston 48 Hour Film Project. I produced, shot and edited that short. We took home four awards. I competed a few more times in the 48HFP and in 2011 we won Best Film for "Cold War", which later went on to screen as part of the 48HFP at The Short Film Corner in Cannes. I have had the opportunity since to judge locally and for the Filmapalooza films in 2016. Through all of this, the 48HFP was instrumental in enabling me to quickly get a grasp of the overall processes of making a movie. Like a micro, super condensed film school. In my experience, no matter how much preproduction you have done, something will inevitably go sideways during a production. The 48HFP taught me how to think and adapt quickly to those unexpected issues and in turn save our productions time and money. Also, there is the team building aspect of it on both sides of the camera. By competing each year and growing together I was fortunate to form some incredible work relationships with many people. Eighteen cast and crew members from my 48HFP teams over the years are credited in our movie Dropa.
48HFP: Can you offer any advice to 48HFP filmmakers who may be thinking about developing feature films of their own?
Slaten: The best advice I can give is once you find the right feature length project and commit to making it - finish your film. There are countless movies that never finish production or make it out of postproduction for countless reasons. The beauty of the 48HFP is it has taught you that you can complete your film under pressure. In essence, bigger projects are no different. Just the parameters have changed. The goal is the same. Keep moving forward.
48HFP: How can people watch Dropa?
Slaten: Showtime has an exclusive airing and streaming deal for two years in the United States. The DVD is available to purchase online and in stores. Internationally, we have sold territories in Europe, Asia, South America and Russia. Those platforms offer streaming through Google Play and Apple TV as well as airing on television.
48HFP: Where can people go to see more of your work?
Slaten: You can follow my projects at f64films.com and there you will find links to our social media and Vimeo pages.
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