Time, effort and lots of fake blood: PIC loves the gore

Cache Magazine, The Herald Journal - 8.27.04

"More blood, we need more blood."

The sun had just risen above Providence Canyon on a Monday morning in early August, and Tyler Atkinson was feeling violent.

He and a few buddies had dug a shallow grave in the middle of a thin stand of trees just north of the road, where spent bullet casings and crushed beer cans littered a gravel parking lot. The grove of trees filtered the morning light, dust visible in the air in the sunbeams. They huddled near a maroon sedan, a pickax propped against a nearby cooler, and discussed the "point of view of a dead body." They laughed about the latest hack-em-up Quentin Tarantino flick, and Atkinson asked for more blood.

"Have you seen 'Kill Bill'?" a shaggy-haired kid with baggy jeans asked, and shook a soggy hand above a clear plastic tarp, spreading red specks grimly onto the ominous-looking translucent sheet as five other young men hovered nearby and smiled.

"It takes a lot of time and effort," said Atkinson, the ringleader of the Providence Canyon scene along with friend James Cawley, where the two burgeoning filmmakers were shooting the short-film "Workplace Violence" for entry in the Utah State University Film Festival this fall. "And fake blood."


It wasn't always so Tarantino for the two young filmmakers.

Following a intro-to-theater class at Utah State University two years ago, Cawley said it wasn't a fellow interest in gore he noticed in Atkinson. In fact, Atkinson almost doomed "Partners In Crime Productions," or P.I.C. Productions as the two are now known, with the enthusiasm he approached his classmate with that day.

"I remember going home and thinking about how big of a dork was in my class," said Cawley, 21.

But the two shared a goal more important than a first impression. As classes wore on, the only two students in the acting class that weren't theater majors -- Atkinson studies marketing; Cawley, Political Science -- bonded. They answered questions, volunteered to act at nearly every opportunity, stayed late after class -- and wore on the nerves of Associate Professor of Theater Kevin Doyle.

"He hated us, he absolutely hated us," said Cawley.

"He'd say, why are these guys here?" said Atkinson.

A semester later, Atkinson, now 22, and Cawley launched P.I.C. Productions to achieve the mutual goal of becoming filmmakers in Cache Valley. Five films later, they've even convinced Doyle to join them.

"They were a lot more ambitious than the others (in the acting class)," said Doyle, who plays "The Boss" in "Workplace Violence." "They were having fun but taking it seriously. I realized it wasn't just a lark."

They were serious enough to write, direct and produce four films before "Workplace Violence" was completed this summer. P.I.C. Productions were recognized as "promising young filmmakers" for their short "Mind Shadow" at the annual L.D.S. Film Festival, which also featured films like "Napoleon Dynamite," "Saints and Soldiers" and "The Home Teachers." The Utah State University Film Festival awarded them the Best Picture award for "Transfer of Aggression" last fall, and they hope "Workplace Violence," the longest film they have produced, can surpass that success.

"Our main goal is to prove you can make a movie without spending thousands of dollars," said Cawley, on a set where vehicles used as props belonged to the producers, cameras were bought at a fraction of the original cost, and blood was made of Karo Syrup and food coloring.

Though the goal may be Hollywood, or at least a budget that extends beyond buying Little Caesar's pizza for cast and crew, Atkinson and Cawley are focused on Cache Valley for the time being.

During an interview last week they continually stressed how successful films will encourage other locals to make movies. They said the "partners in crime" includes student actors looking to add to a resume, or crew members eager to learn the ins and outs of digital technology. And they said it can encourage participation in the fledging Logan Film Society and local filmmaking scene, which is growing despite the lack of a formal film department at USU.

"One short film can be worth more than four years of film school," said Atkinson, repeating advice he'd been given by a professional and consistently keeps in mind.


At the final on-location shoot for "Workplace Violence," the violence from Providence Canyon has been replaced by, appropriately, a workplace. A long row of cubicles in a USU office building is filled on a Saturday morning with the three-man cast, Cawley and Atkinson, the crew, around a dozen extras, and the digital equipment needed to produce the final scenes before the film hits the editing floor.

Atkinson called out action, and the disheveled "John Patterson" stumbles through the office to his cubicle as a camera follows him from a bird's-eye view perspective.

The unique camera angles, techniques like mixing black and white scenes with color scenes, and the dark content of "Workplace Violence" trademark the film as a typical P.I.C. Productions thriller. When an arrogant co-worker mysteriously disappears, John Patterson begins to unravel the cloudy office politics surrounding the incident and suddenly finds himself involved, perhaps too closely, in the situation.

Although the P.I.C. partners have focused on screenplays that emerge from Cawley's experiences as an intern with the Pocatello Police Department thus far, Atkinson said the duo has notebooks full of other ideas. They say a film like "Napoleon Dynamite," the coming-of-age story made by a Preston native, could be the route they go, or perhaps a romantic comedy that Atkinson has in mind.

The possibilities for the two are infinite. But one thing is for sure.

"We just want to make films, that's what we want to do," said Atkinson, and then let Cawley completes the thought: "For the rest of our lives."


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