Over the next few months, Missoula movie-maker Christian Ackerman's film, "Wisconsin Project X," will be seen by audiences around America and possibly even around the world. And nobody, but nobody, is more surprised by this development than Christian Ackerman.
Here are just a few things that Ackerman, a 30-year-old employee at Missoula Community Access Television and hobbyist horror filmmaker, has to say about his latest project:
"It's a really stupid, crappy film."
"We don't sit and try to show our amazing acting talents, because they're not amazing - like, at all."
"Overacting, bad digital fire, lots of people dying for reasons that don't make any sense - we've got it all."
"There was a script, believe it or not. I have it somewhere; but if you look at it, there's red ink all over it from where we had to change it because people wouldn't show up for filming or we got sidetracked or bored with something we were doing. It's a total mess, just like the movie."
If none of that sounds like a ringing self-endorsement of the project that Ackerman and a group of friends spent some three years putting together, there's this to consider:
"I'm always like that - I'm the dog with his tail between his legs. I just do movies because I have fun doing them, not because I think I'm good at them."
Actually, Ackerman is quite good at making movies. Exquisitely bad movies, that is.
Movies that make you wonder how, exactly, he and his friends could have made a perfectly decent $1.99 rubber zombie mask look even cheaper. (The answer? Hot glue and packaging tape.)
Movies that make you wonder, what does the title have to do with anything? The answer: Not much, really; Ackerman decided to name a film "Wisconsin Project X" long before this project began to take shape.
Movies that make you say, "huh, that blood looks like chocolate syrup mixed with jelly" (it is); or, "huh, that cop looks like he's hitting people with a cardboard axe" (he is); or, "huh, it kind of looks like a couple of passing drunks from the bar just got recruited into that scene" (they did).
Movies, in short, that are so ham-handedly, unflinchingly bad that they're actually kind of good, in their own peculiar way.
Ackerman knows this. Which is why he's altogether shocked that "Wisconsin Project X," made on zero budget with outmoded technology in the outlands of America by people with no connection to the film industry, has been picked up by Brain Damage Films. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based international film distributor released the film this week via video-on-demand services offered on cable services run by Verizon, AT&T and Bresnan, with a planned DVD release in the coming months.
There's even talk of translating the film into other languages - complete with bad overdubbing, of course.
Already, the film has gotten notice by Joblo.com, a popular horror film fan site, which called it "a no-budget horror flick with tremendous promise ... laced with a dry sense of humor, old-school horror movie motifs, and everyone's favorite: mutant zombies."
Even Fangora Magazine, the unholy bible of horror-film fans everywhere, has acknowledged the movie - which, as far as Ackerman is concerned, is just about the coolest thing ever.
"Being in Fangora Magazine is literally a childhood dream for me," he says, "and I've never grown up."
Indeed, Ackerman traces most of the impetus for his latest film to his early interests. As a child, while other kids played with Transformers and Matchbox cars, Ackerman was obsessed with the magic tricks and makeup kits available at the neighborhood party supply store.
"I know that doesn't sound good to a dad when his kid says he wants a makeup kit, but I loved that stuff," he says. "My grandma and my aunt Michelle, they were the ones who showed me (the horror film) ‘American Werewolf in London.' I loved that movie, and I was always interested in how they did it, so they'd show me things you could do with makeup to make fake blood or whatever."
Over the years, Ackerman channeled his interests into making no-budget science fiction and horror films. To date, he's completed three other full-length films, plus numerous smaller projects. His office at MCAT is cluttered with the remnants of those projects - posters for his own movies, hand-drawn sketches of characters and scenes, a life-sized zombie dummy missing its legs and arms. And, of course, the obligatory disembodied hand.
Ackerman was specifically inspired to create "Wisconsin Project X" after he saw the 2007 zombie film, "Planet Terror," by Robert Rodriguez. Ackerman had made his own zombie film way back in high school, but inspired by Rodriguez's ode to the grindhouse exploitation flicks of the 1970s, Ackerman figured he could do worse.
Much of the plot for his film was constructed around a single line that Ackerman's boss at MCAT, Joel Baird, told Ackerman he wanted to say in the film: "It all started with the snack cake industry."
"I thought, OK, that's weird, so of course I'll put it in there," recalls Ackerman.
From there, a plot developed about a mad scientist (Baird) who, in the course of trying to invent a new food preservative, accidentally creates new life forms, which he shapes (via a Jell-O mold) into the form of people.
When those humanoid creatures begin running amok, the townspeople of Wisconsinville, Mont., band together to fight them. Eventually, they discover that the creatures can be killed by squirting them with Raimi's-brand instant coffee.
"We had to figure out the dumbest thing to kill them, so we made it coffee," explains Ackerman. "When sprayed on them, the coffee shrivels them up like a slug. But then, after we did that, we realized that it's kind of boring for something to just shrivel up and disappear; so we made them explode at the end, which is a lot cooler."
If the whole thing seems roughly patched together, that might be due to Ackerman's secret special-effects weapon: duct tape. Ackerman loves the stuff, using it for everything from a makeshift lens adapter for his camera to zombie face makeup.
"You know, since we have no money, whenever I've got to figure something out it's like, hmmm, OK, duct tape," says Ackerman. "It's so cheap, so it's perfect."
So far, audiences and critics have been kind to the film - which, as should be predictable by this point, surprises Ackerman. Anyway, given the film's non-existent budget, it probably won't be hard for Ackerman to make back his investment on the film.
But that, of course, wasn't the point in the first place.
For him and his co-conspirators, the making of "Wisconsin Project X" was its own reward.
"I've met so many people and made so many friends by making these stupid movies," he says. "To me, the ‘making-of' part is more important than the finished product. I just love that I can do this and that anybody will pay attention."