As his voice crackled over the cordless phone, interrupted intermittently by the cross-state static separating his Minnesota basement apartment from the Collegian newsroom, Andrew Gingerich painted a blood-bathed scene.
He sprinkled in images of a car trunk chalked full of severed heads, a life-threatening encounter with the mob and a man in a dog suit who might just be God.
These themes, while some seem to come straight from an episode of “Crime Scene Investigation,” flow straight from the big screen Indie film that is “16 Heads and Counting.”
Once rejected by the annual Fort Collins Tri-Media Film Festival for failing to meet “family-friendly” film standards, this hypothetically R-rated film was the committed undertaking of a crew of Poudre High School students on a mission to make a good movie worth watching.
From real script to real life
Gingerich, a 2006 PHS graduate, first met the film writer and co-producer, Ethan Holbrook at PHS, when Holbrook agreed to play a blind man who got thrown off a bridge in one of Gingerich’s feature films.
In Jan. 2007, Holbrook, a 2007 PHS graduate, slipped a 70-page rough movie manuscript to Gingerich while in a PHS writing group that the two self-acclaimed film junkies belonged to.
“When I first sat down with the script, it felt like Charlie Kaufman meets ‘Day of the Dead,'” said Sean Cummings, a performing arts and journalism and technical communication double major and actor in the movie. “It was violent but then somewhat meditative, aimed to be philosophical, and that’s what stood out … I was impressed with the ingenuity of the script.”
Gingerich said much of the script has to do with Holbrook’s own spiritual background.
“A lot of the rest,” Gingerich said, “comes from somewhere else that he has access to. That’s the thing about Ethan: I’ve never been able to nail down where his ideas for his scripts come from.”
After Holbrook’s final script page fluttered off the printer, Gingerich got down on his knees and begged Holbrook to let him direct the movie in the spring of 2007.
After some finagling, the project went from there.
$3,000 and one dog suit make the movie
Pre-production on “16 Heads and Counting” began in March 2007, and the then small, collegiate, motley crew started shooting on June 15 last year.
Following Gingerich’s strict, jam-packed filming schedule and average 10-hour days, the crew had one day off the entire summer of 2007 due to a scheduling error.
“We didn’t sleep during that entire time,” Gingerich said, laughing at the memory. “.The reason it went so smoothly, despite limited time and budget, and worked so well was because everyone was so committed to the movie — everything we did, we wanted it to be great.”
“I really respect Andrew immensely as far as his creative mind and his skill and his drive to finish things,” said Rick Neys, a videography and photography teacher at PHS and an actor in the movie. “I had no idea what to expect . It does take a certain passion; the most impressive thing that I could say about the whole project is that it actually got done.”
Holbrook, along with other family and crew members, funded much of the $3,000 film — from a $70 dog costume purchased on Ebay to professional sound mixing sessions.
In searching for a way to describe the overall plot, Gingerich laughed, took a deep breath and said, “I haven’t had to do this for a while, let me see if I can.”
“There is this guy named John Porter, an ordinary man, and he discovers that his girlfriend Fran has a collection of severed heads in the trunk, which she says are all vampires,” Gingerich said, chuckling at the sudden gasp at the other end of the line.
“Then, John’s best friend Richie is on the run from the mob, followed by an entanglement in the woods where a guy in a dog suit claims to be God — he could be a guy in a suit, but who knows?”
And acquiring the resources for the gore that characterize the movie, Cummings said, took some work.
“Ethan had to go to Beaver’s market to get chicken intestine to sprinkle over an extra for a scene,” Cummings said.
Because of objectionable language, the levels of violence and what critics labeled as gore, “16 Heads and Counting” was rejected entry into the Tri-Media Film Festival, which Gingerich said shows only “family-friendly” films.
“It’s absurd, pedantic and a potentially dangerous idea for the world of film,” Gingerich said about movie censorship. “I don’t believe in censoring myself or Ethan’s script and bristle at the accusation that gratuitous violence and motivated violence are the same thing.”
The movie was “completed” in early August of this year before its premiere screening. And by completed, Gingerich said he meant that the crew shot the last scene on Aug. 5 and made color-grade changes just two hours before the movie’s opening night on Aug. 11 at the Lyric Cinema Café.
The show sold out the first two nights and ran an additional four days the next week, receiving the same success.
“It was an incredible experience . to be able to see one of my movies on a big screen in a packed theater. I wouldn’t re-create the experience for the world,” Gingerich said.
To film or not to film?
Because CSU does not have a film studies program like CU-Boulder, many of the movie crew-members either went out-of-state to study film or settled for the closest alternative.
Cummings, who expressed a deep passion for film and, mostly, acting said he has to search out acting opportunities in Fort Collins and will take anything he can get.
“The opportunities to do film haven’t been huge, but I’ve been able to get sea legs,” Cummings said, explaining that he picked up a concentration in broadcast journalism because “it’s the closest thing (I) could get to film at CSU.”
Gingerich went to study film at Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2006, and Holbrook followed suit.
“MCAD is definitely the right place for me. That being said, it is unfortunate that there isn’t more of a film program at any university in Colorado,” Gingerich said, pointing out that while he looked, CU-Boulder did not impress him.
Gingerich said “.The conditions are right in Colorado for it to be a haven for independent film-makers,” and Neys agreed, noting the landscape and the presence of Indie film-makers as proof.
In the end, Gingerich put the filmmaker’s life calling into perspective.
“The goal was to make a good movie,” Gingerich said. “We believed, naively perhaps, that if you make a good movie, people will want to watch it.”
Assistant News Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.