Sometime ago I got the opportunity to interview Damon Wellner, the man behind the fan films Alien5 and it’s sequel Alien5 Squared. Both made using Kenner figures, proved to be entertaining and well done films.
Corporal Hicks – First off, what is your name and how long have you been an AVP fan and under what reasons?
Damon Wellner – My name is Damon Wellner, I’ve been an Alien fan since age 7.
Corporal Hicks – So what is your involvement in this project and how did you get involved?
Damon Wellner – I am the founder of Probot Productions, a small production company specializing in Toy-Cinema and cheap and innovative special effects. We’ve been making short films with action figures and dolls for about six years now. I am shooting, directing and editing ALIEN 5-SQUARED, as well as performing some of the puppetry.
Corporal Hicks – How are you making this movie?
Damon Wellner – We have a very small budget, about $1500, but that’s the biggest we’ve ever had. People often think we use stop-motion photography, but in fact we use live-action puppetry techniques and a 3chip digital video camera. I edit using Adobe Premiere on a PC. We have a crew of only 3 people including myself working on the visual production end.
My partner at Probot is Sebastian O’Brien. We made ALIEN 5 together and co-wrote the story outline for A5sq. Sebastian is writing the script and recording the sound, and also performing much of the puppetry and several of the voices. Our third partner is Carla Remy Norton, who contributed story ideas, performed puppetry, and worked as Art Director for the film. But I owe thanks to several people have contributed time and energy to the project. One such person is Aprile Lanza Boettcher, a talented Hollywood Model Painter, who painted custom graffiti to enhance our city sets.
Corporal Hicks – What are your reasons for starting this project?
Damon Wellner – ALIEN 5-SQUARED is the sequel to our first ever toy film, ALIEN 5, which we made back in 1998. ALIEN 5 was filmed and edited in-camera using an old VHS camcorder with a budget of $150. It’s a fun little movie, and still the favorite on our website, www.probotproductions.com , but we have come a long way in developing our filming and puppetry techniques and we thought it was time to continue Ripley’s story.
Of course, we were originally inspired by HASBRO’s line of ‘Aliens’ action-figures, which are some of the coolest toys ever made, but not 100% accurate to the films. For example, while many of the Marines have very close likenesses to the actors, Ripley’s action figure was not based on a likeness of Sigourney Weaver at all. They actually have a photo of someone else, probably a Hasbro employee, on the package. Other examples are the bionic arms on the marines, and the crazy hybrid aliens like the Arachnid Alien. Also, the toys included mini comic books telling stories of the further adventures of Ripley and the Space Marines, but we all know the Marines were all killed in the film, so what further adventures could they have? Clearly kids were encouraged to play out their own stories with these toys, unlike so many of today’s action figures that aren’t even meant to be opened, let alone played with. Anyway, we thought it would be fun to tell our own original story, and it was certain to make more sense than those comics.
Corporal Hicks – How long as the project been going?
Damon Wellner – I started filming it about a year ago, on weekends. But we’ve been building up to this project from the beginning.
Corporal Hicks – Tell us a bit about the story of this movie.
Damon Wellner – First of all, the film is a dark comedy, a parody/homage really. It’s a toy movie, so it can’t be all that serious. ALIEN 5 took place in Outer Space. At the end of A5,(as Alien fans could probably guess) Ripley barely escapes alive with Bishop, but little do they know… there is an infected stowaway aboard their ship! ALIEN 5-SQUARED brings Ripley’s worst fears to life… Aliens get loose on Earth! Ripley has to try to stop them with some help from some old friends and some new ones: Mork (yes, Mork from Ork), Mr. Chimpums (a genetically enhanced monkey), Bishop, and the Marines, some of whom just happen to be clones of the Marines she knew before. Sadly, Ripley seems to be losing her mind a little bit from all the years battling aliens and floating in hypersleep, and she’s acting a little bit strange. There is also a cameo of a certain Intergalactic Hunter we all know…
Corporal Hicks – Has this movie got certain influences outside canon?
Damon Wellner – This is a film for toy fans as much as Alien fans. All of our toy films follow the same general ‘rule’, like the rules on the playground. Basically any toy can be included in play as long as your imagination is big enough to fit it in. So we use all sorts of other toys and action figures to flesh out the universe we’ve created. I think people will enjoy seeing some old toys from their childhood, like Fisher Price, Star Wars Figures, & Kenner’s Glamour-Gals to name a few.
Corporal Hicks – Will you be adding anything to the Alien mythos such as more hybrids?
Damon Wellner – Hasbro made some really cool alien hybrids, and others that were somewhat less inspired. Anyone who owns a ‘Mantis Alien’ figure might wonder how a facehugger was able to impregnate a praying mantis? And the flying alien looks like it had burst from the chest of Ace Freeley or Gene Simmons of KISS! We find all of this to be hilarious, so we tried to include as many different aliens as possible with our limited budget. Hasbro expanded the universe, we just gave them the screen time they deserve.
Corporal Hicks – What sort of SFX are we taking about?
Damon Wellner – Lord o’ the Rings it ain’t! But it’s probably some of the best FX in any action-figure flick. Our main goal is to make the toys come to life and i think we achieved that. We specialize in cheap FX and making the most of what we have. A lot of our FX are simple, in-camera tricks: for example our in-camera hologram effect, achieved simply with a tv and a strategically angled piece of plexiglass. Ripley’s flamethrower effect is done live in-camera with ‘real pyrotechnics’ (hairspray and a lighter). But we have also enhanced some shots with digital effects for explosions and such. Other effects are achieved with chromakey (greenscreen) and old-school composite editing to enhance the puppetry. We have always tried to recreate the effects from different films as closely as possible for an extremely low budget. Our best example of this is the StarWars: A New Hope film we produced for Hasbro’s website. Anyone interested in learning more on how we make our films can visit the Behind the Scenes section of Probot’s website.
Corporal Hicks – Lots of destruction I hope?
Damon Wellner – We hope to give Alien fans what they have been waiting for and won’t get from Alien vs.Predator… A Ripley adventure on Earth and the fight to save the planet! Since we are such huge fans ourselves we think we know what fans want to see.
Corporal Hicks – Have you got a release date for the movie?
Damon Wellner – We aim to complete the film in early May and it could be up online anytime after that, but to be safe lets say June 1st.
Corporal Hicks – How long is the movie and how big is the file?
Damon Wellner – The running time is 30 minutes so the file should be about 15-20MB. We will offer VHS and DVDs with much higher fidelity audio and video quality that can be ordered through our website. We may also post a high res version online, but we would probably have to charge to download it. Right now we have over 2 hours of free movies online, and we’d hate to charge people, but bandwidth ain’t cheap.