We have been following Project Arbiter since the first teaser premiered in mid-2010. The filmmakers have been putting in the time to get the film done and let the world know about it. Knowing who their audience is, the crew went to Comic-Con this year and showcased the Arbiter suit for all to see. Director Michael Chance and Producer Vicki de Mey were also kind enough to sit down and talk about the movie with us, despite their busy schedule.
As the film nears completion, the crew hopes for an expansion in awareness, and Comic-Con was the perfect place to spread buzz - and having a brand new trailer, the marketing campaign for the movie is certainly picking up steam. The crew is now preparing a full-pitch package, which includes the potential for "legs beyond the movie."
If you are unfamiliar, Project Arbiter is a science fiction espionage short-film that explores a fascinating World War II story involving advanced battle suits and Nazi plots. The film made some noise at Comic-Con by setting up shop right outside the front door. Thousands were intrigued by the Arbiter suit and the film gained instant traction with those who fall squarely within the target market for this kind of movie. As an independent short film, the filmmakers are using viral marketing to get their Project Arbiter noticed.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="378" caption="'Project Arbiter' at Comic-Con 2011"][/caption]
Michael Chance: We would test people for Mixture 9, which is a secret chemical in the film that has interesting properties. So we were giving out [these stickers that said] M9 Contamination and if there were two people we would test and give one the M9 Contamination and the other one Cleared, so there would be a discussion between them and a reason to learn more about Project Arbiter, take a picture with the Arbiter and receive a poster.
Vicki de Mey: People were walking by going, “What is this?” We were on the blocked off street in the Gaslight District stopping traffic [with the suit].
The classic source of recognition for any movie is an effective trailer. While Project Arbiter got our interest with the initial teaser months ago, a full trailer has finally been released and it looks damn good. Watch it below and continue to read the director’s thoughts on it:
Chance: I wanted to try something just a bit slower, so you could see the characters and actually get a feeling for the film, as opposed to cutting everything really quick for a faux feeling like most trailers do… It’s funny because we watched The Amazing Spider-Man trailer and the second to last line of the trailer is “everyone has secrets” and that is the second to last line of ours. I was just like, “Oh man, at least we’re thinking what the big guys are thinking."
The new trailer also showcases the film’s invisibility cloaking effect. We’ve seen it done in a number of films, but the style continues to evolve. Project Arbiter tackles it with a more practical approach:
Chance: [Vicki] put her glass down on the table at lunch on one bright day and I saw this light play off of it, so we shot real elements with 12 different types of glasses with water to create a natural caustic effect. The goal was to strive for realism and honesty in the story, characters and imagery.
de Mey: It’s these kinds of discoveries that made the process exciting and rewarding.
World War II has been a major part of action movies lately, with a number of films offering alternate versions of how the war against the Nazi's was fought. Michael Chance tackled this issue, voicing concerns that even WWII movies like Captain America are too “clean.”
Chance: The difference for us is that we just wanted to make something that looks and feels honest. Like the District 9 folks, we had an emphasis on improvisation and we did much of that on set. I loved the laughs that were in [Captain America], but there were some things that went way too far within the comic-book comfort zone, like Tommy Lee Jones driving that big Hydra car at the end. Why would a General even be there? Or the thing that killed me was that the Germans always spoke in English. Even in the v-wing aircraft were bombs that had the target cities' names written in English. Again, Cap is by no means supposed to be a realistic depiction of WWII and it was fun; however, there is a level of realism that audiences, including myself, expect from films in this era of history. That realism is what pulls us in and makes us feel this did or could have happened.
Michael Chance does care about the people who really experienced World War II, like his grandfather who was a B-24 pilot, and he notes that Project Arbiter is not an alternative history or timeline, as it is firmly based around actual events and real accounts of WWII espionage. He spoke with veterans and did plenty of research with the film's historical consultant Florian Graf to accurately portray the Germans beyond just being Nazis.
Chance: One of the things that Star Wars did very well is that it featured a duality within its antagonist. If you don't build up that Darth Vader character beyond a one-note militant force, then your antagonist is going to be flat and not honest in my opinion. What I think Project Arbiter excels at is a moral ambiguity on both sides. With the main character Joseph Colburn, I want to explore what it means for him to lie. As an espionage soldier he is going to lie to protect himself and his country, but what is the trade off? That is explored in greater detail in the feature version of Project Arbiter.
Costumed heroes are a hot commodity in the film industry right now, since comic book characters are constantly getting blockbuster adaptations. We asked Michael Chance what he says to anybody that calls Arbiter a superhero:
Chance: Well, I would say thank you, but when I hear superhero I think it is more about trying to appeal to an audience as opposed to trying to speak about a specific time. We are trying to encapsulate a time and the flawed heroes that are in that era. I do see the crossover potential for audiences and feel they will receive something beyond the current superhero archetypes.
On the possibility of making the feature-length version in 3D:
Chance: I like what 3D can do if you actually shoot with 3D cameras, but for this style of film I don’t think I would want to shoot in 3D until the camera rigs become more mobile. My director of photography, Jason Beckwith, and I are focused at this time on developing ways to explore a battlefield and make it a personal experience for the audience.
Project Arbiter continues its push to completion on the concept short film with new trailers and images. If the filmmakers get what they wish for, we will be talking about this movie for years to come. There is no question that it has the ingredients for a studio-backed theatrical release.
Independent filmmaking is not something we shine a light on very often, but it is the heart and soul of the movie industry. Future legends are built in the indie market and Michael Chance has an opportunity to become a household name if Project Arbiter hits with the right crowd.