When the auteur theory was popularized in the early 1960s, the film director was elevated to a sacrosanct position. Any interference to a director’s vision—be it studio notes or test audience cards—was treated by auteurists as a betrayal of a work’s artistic soul.
These days, though, with social media allowing filmgoers to voice opinions directly to filmmakers, and crowdfunding turning movie fans into micro-producers, the paradigm is already shifting. But never before to the degree of Rotor DR1, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film directed and executive produced by Ohio-based Kapper that premieres on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD on October 20 via Cinema Libre Studio.
The film, shot in and around Canton, Ohio, follows the adventures of a 16-year-old boy named Kitch (Christian Kapper, Chad’s son) and his autonomous drone, DR1, as they traverse the Rust Belt wasteland in search of the boy’s father. A deadly epidemic has extinguished most of the world’s population, and drones, originally programmed to provide medical aid, are now hunted for their parts and power sources.
Kapper first delved into the idea of community-collaborated entertainment in 2010 when he fused his two passions—moviemaking (he already ran a successful video production company) and radio-controlled aircraft—into a YouTube channel named Flite Test.
“I knew the type of content I wanted to see, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to be successful unless I made something other people wanted to see,” Kapper said. “On a forum called RC Groups, I said, ‘Hey guys, I have a production company and I want to make a show about our hobby. What would you guys like to see?’ Immediately, conversation started.”
Flite Test’s community has grown to nearly 370,000 YouTube subscribers, a legion that served as the backbone of Rotor DR1’s community collaboration.
Kapper and his team developed a beat sheet to structure the story, shot a concept trailer, and then presented them to the Flite Test community. The feedback was incorporated into everything from costumes and props to casting and dialogue.
“I was pretty militant about sticking to the story beats, but there was a lot of flexibility within that,” Kapper said. “For example, it was important that our protagonist show an ability we didn’t know he had by a certain point in the story, but what exactly that ability would be was very flexible.”
Community feedback resulted in the addition of entire scenes and characters to the project, which began as a 10-episode web series that rolled out over 12 weeks beginning in the summer of 2014.
The project’s budget of roughly $300,000 necessitated typical indie film thriftiness. One of the sets was built in Kapper’s basement. The titular drone was made in part with plastic fillable Christmas ornaments from a craft shop. Most scenes were shot with available light, much of the dialogue was improvised, and many of the supporting roles were filled out by crew members.
The production presented its share of atypical problems as well, such as getting DR1 to hit specific marks. That proved difficult despite the skill of Eric Monroe, whom Kapper says is among the best drone pilots he’s seen.
“That was probably the biggest hassle,” said cinematographer Tyler Clark, who shot the film with a Canon C300 and a collection of Zeiss and Canon DSLR stills lenses. “On the first day of shooting, we blocked off a street; there was a shot where Kitch was walking in the background of the frame and in the foreground DR1 was supposed to come up into frame and hover as if he was watching Kitch.” Clark laughs. “And that just didn’t happen.”
Adding new community feedback on a weekly basis between episodes also engendered a certain level of chaos, as new ideas were sometimes implemented literally right before action commenced.
“We were writing and re-writing up until the minute of shooting,” Kapper said. “[Co-writer] Megan Ryberg, whom I consider our social ambassador, would be on Facebook while we were shooting, asking for feedback.”
The shoot’s spontaneity meant that, at a moment’s notice, the team could find itself en route to an abandoned mall in Akron and in need of a new scene for the unplanned location. Or it might have to stage a logistically complicated drone race at the behest of the community, only to have a camera vehicle run over one of the hero drones. Collaboration on such a scale certainly won’t be for every moviemaker, but in Kapper’s case, it seems to have paid off eventually. MM
A longer article about the making of Rotor DR1 will appear in the Spring 2016 issue of MovieMaker. Rotor DR1 is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD starting October 20, 2015, courtesy of Cinema Libre Studios.