RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Behind "The Hidden Battle" are producer Isis Huntsman, left, director Jeff Katts, and writer Leanne Kang Ferrer, holding 9-month-old daughter Ka'iulani Ferrer. The film stars Chad Burch, back row, left, as Baglis and Tanner Henderson, as Akriel.
Filmmaker fights for his ‘Battle’
Jeff Katts uses a guerrilla mentality to produce the first installment in his trilogy pitting angels against demons
For the ambitious independent filmmaker Jeff Katts, it's one down and two to go. As he readies "The Hidden Battle" for a pair of screenings at the Dole Cannery multiplex next week, Katts is looking to complete a trilogy of films -- along the lines of "The Matrix" or "The Lord of the Rings."
"The Hidden Battle"
Screening: 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. Wednesday
Place: Dole Cannery Stadium Theater No. 8
Tickets: $7, at the box office
Online info: www.thehiddenbattle.com
That is, of course, on a budget that would last maybe, oh, a mere minute for one of those studio-financed films. But he's made sure that his debut feature will not be swallowed up in the competitive film fest mix by choosing to go the route of "four-walling" his digitally shot film.
"It's becoming a common practice with indies around the country nowadays," Katts said, sitting with his small and devoted group of cast and crew late Monday morning in the green room of the Pacific Focus production house in Kakaako. Four-walling involves renting out a theater in a filmmaker's community for special screenings of his or her film. "It was a little tougher when working things out with a multiplex like Regal Cinemas' Dole Cannery -- it took about a year -- but it is doable," he said.
That rental expense had to be figured into his overall filmmaking budget, small though it was. But through most of last year, he and his compatriots were able to, guerrilla-style fashion, write, shoot and edit this dialogue-driven battle between the forces of good and evil.
Here's what Katts, story conceptualist Leanne Kang Ferrer and co-writer Eric Nemoto came up with:
Unseen angels and demons live among humans, working at odds to save or possess souls. In one particular challenge, the demons Felucia and Trammel (Gretchen Nilsen and Kyra Poppler) devise a plan to deceive their usual angelic foes Akriel and Baglis (Chad Burch and Tanner Henderson) while attempting to possess a soul for Satan.
The angels, in turn, use their wits and persuasion to try to best the demons at their deceptive game, all the while trying to save the soul of a woman caught in the middle. She is Sarah Cullen (Julia Gainey), who has an abusive and tormented past but is trying to work out her problems with her current steady, Micah Fernandez (Alexander Jacob).
This is all part of Katts' universe of the Soul Saviour, which will be the title of the last film of the planned trilogy. "This is not really about religion," he said. "But like 'The Matrix' and 'Lord of the Rings,' there is and will be a religious undertone in my films."
COURTESY JEFF KATTS
Gretchen Nilsen, left and Kyra Poppler are demons in "The Hidden Battle."
THE GROUP assembled at Pacific Focus is an interesting mix. Katts is one of the people behind the annual 'Ohina Short Film Showcase. Producer Isis Huntsman is a dancer from Texas who's been a part of the independent film scene here for about seven years. Ferrer is an indie filmmaker, an award winner for her "i scream, floats & Sundays" and "Kava Kulture." Henderson has done some community theater work but is better known as a singer with the local group Chant. And Burch, besides doing local commercial work, could've had a recurring role on the show "Hawaii" as "the computer geek in the forensics lab," had not the NBC series been canceled.
The process of getting "The Hidden Battle" to the big screen was one of long hours and quick-witted decision-making -- a way of shooting that Katts jokingly said was like "being on film crack."
"The technical crew was made up mostly of me," he said, with help from Huntsman. "We'd just go out and do it guerilla style, always pressed for time. I took it upon myself to direct, shoot and do some lighting when needed. It was challenging, but we were able to pull off the problem-solving needed during the shoots.
"It doesn't have a polished look. It's more along the lines of a supernatural reality show."
Converting the color video into a starker palette of black and white gave the film a more generic and universal feel in terms of location, Katts says. "Most of the places we shot were in houses and property in Kaneohe and Kailua, with some done in Kunia."
Katts said he was fortunate to find actors who fell into an easy rapport.
"Even though we were all working off of a script," Henderson said, "there was still a lot of improv involved."
"What Jeff would do in any particular scene was to keep shooting through take after take until something would click," Burch said.
"I would say a good 40 percent of the acting in the film was improvised," Katts added. "I basically told the actors before the shooting started with each scene that this is how their characters should be."
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Filming has already begun for the next part of the trilogy. Executive producer is Jeff Katts.
SINCE THE fantasy of "The Hidden Battle" is reality-based, minimal makeup and post-production effects were done on the demon and angel characters. "Also, this universe that we're portraying is more black-and-white," Katts said, "so we were able to get away with a lot more."
Katts said the resulting 90-minute film, while not rated, would probably end up along the lines of a PG-13. "There are scenes of demonic images, some violence (including one intense scene of domestic abuse) and an occasional swear word."
"There's more talk than technical razzle-dazzle," Katts said, "but it's still a good film."
Shooting has started on the next part of the trilogy, "The Fatal Journey," with Katts as executive producer and directed by Mark Ganialongo. "It's a different battle with different characters," Katts said, "but it's like a continuation of 'The Hidden Battle.' We hope to get it out around the same time next year."