Director Dwyer in the cockpit of the DragonPhoenix

31 years in making, locally-produced science fiction film includes local cast

Originally published 10/5/06 in The Times-Herald and reprinted with permission.

By Alex McRae
alex@newnan.com

Joe Dwyer knows better than most that some dreams take longer than others to come true.

Dwyer's dream was 31 years in the making. But on Saturday, decades of blood, sweat and unforeseen interruptions will come true when "Shubian's Rift," a full-length science fiction film written, produced and directed by Dwyer, will make its world debut at 7 p.m. at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts on Lower Fayetteville Road.

"People kid me about how long it took to make this happen," Dwyer says. "But all I can say is, in the end it worked out better than I hoped. This really is a dream come true for me, and I can't say thanks enough to everyone who helped make it happen."

Dwyer is a Delta Air Lines captain with more than 18 years of service. His dreams of flight began at age 6 when he stumbled across a TV show called "Thunderbirds," which featured some aircraft that took Dwyer's breath away.

"They had these incredible flying machines," he says. "As soon as I saw that show I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to fly."

Dwyer spent his early years in Brooklyn and Long Island, N.Y. His family moved to Maryland when Dwyer was in the eighth grade. Dwyer soon became close friends with Ellsworth Hall, who turned out to be much more than a childhood chum.

"Meeting him changed my life," Dwyer says.

Dwyer and Hall enjoyed the usual kids games, but what they enjoyed most of all was a passion for something Dwyer loves as much as flying: films and filmmaking. On a small 8mm camera, Dwyer and Hall made several original short films, and since both were huge "Star Trek" fans, they also created and produced three of their own episodes of the TV classic.

Dwyer's major high school theatrical accomplishment, however, was a film he didn't make. In 1975, while still in high school, Dwyer wrote the concept for a film he called "Shubian's Rift."

"I didn't know exactly what it would be," he says. "But I knew it would be a fun space adventure with lots of action, great character development and a background of an interstellar territorial fight."

After a seven-year hitch in the Air Force, Dwyer joined Delta in 1988. He kept flying and filmmaking and finally met the third and greatest love of his life his wife, Mo. The two were married in 1994, and Dwyer says it was his marriage that finally got his film off the ground.

Mo had heard all about "Shubian's Rift" during the couple's courtship. She continued to hear about it long after the vows were done. In 1998 Mo finally snapped. "She told me to stop talking about it and start writing the script," Dwyer says. "So I got busy."

Joe toiled at the script during 1999 and 2000. The characters evolved and the plot firmed up, but he still couldn't visualize his actors. Joe and Mo were regulars at the Newnan Community Theater Company. During one of the performances, Joe realized he and Mo had been watching potential cast members without realizing it.

"As I watched those people act it was obvious they were perfect for my movie," he says.

In time, Dwyer could picture Tom Grandpre at the helm of the spacecraft "Journeyman" and Dale Lyles as the sarcastic, short-tempered engineer Rudy Paine. Other NCTC players began to cast themselves in different "Shubian's Rift" parts without even knowing it.

Dwyer finally had a long list of potential actors. What he didn't have was any money to pay them. He approached the players, told them about "Shubian's Rift" and then said he wanted them to star in his first feature film. For free.

Dwyer said if the film hit it big he would make a sizeable donation to NCTC, but otherwise the acting would be a labor of love.

Turns out he was speaking to the right audience. The actors could see Dwyer's vision and feel his passion. They knew what they would want if they were in his position. They finally agreed to Dwyer's non-existent pay scale.

Once the cast was in place, the writing started to flow. "Once I knew who I was writing for, the script just came pouring out," Dwyer says.

In July 2002, after countless revisions, the script was ready.

When the first day of shooting dawned, Dwyer was beaming like a proud parent. When the day ended, he was ready to cry. The first day was the longest on the schedule and included more actors than any other scheduled day of shooting. When Dwyer saw the rough footage, he knew the scene he had spent all day filming wouldn't work.

"It was supposed to be the big payoff," he says. "But it just didn't work, and I knew I had to cut it."

After a quick rewrite, shooting started again. And stopped frequently. Since Dwyer's job took him out of town several days at a time, and since the actors couldn't ditch their day jobs, all shooting had to be coordinated around several schedules.

Through it all, both the actors and Dwyer kept their faith in the project. And their sense of humor.

"Joe's enthusiasm and commitment made the whole project enjoyable for all of us," says local theater veteran and NCTC founder Dale Lyles. "There was never a single tense moment on the set. It was fun working on a movie with all the members of NCTC, seeing what they could do in a film setting as opposed to a stage setting."

Most of the cast had extensive stage experience but little time in front of a camera. They were always careful about gauging their performances to make sure things weren't underplayed or over the top. Did they get it right?

"I guess we'll find out Saturday night," Lyles says with a smile. Lyles admits he has not yet seen the completed film.

Another NCTC veteran, Matthew Bailey, who plays Dr. Corduroy Ploo, says some of the action scenes were more than he bargained for. "It was the most fun working with Joe," Bailey says. "Running through woods was great until we stumbled over the remains of a dead cow or something... or somebody."

Although Dwyer wrote, directed and even built the sets and models for the film, there was one chore he couldn't do.

"Shubian's Rift" would rely heavily on digital special effects to create the spacecraft, alien worlds and other whiz-bang graphic images modern film audiences have come to expect.

Dwyer was editing raw footage on the fly as the shooting went along, but he soon realized he would not be able to master the complex animation software program that created the digital effects.

"I'm good at computers," he says. "But it would have taken me forever to get it done."

Dwyer went to five college graduate students with animation software experience. Each quoted a fee of $300 per second of finished animation, the same rate Hollywood animation pros earn after years of experience.

"I had hoped they'd charge a reasonable fee just to have something for their resume," Dwyer says. "But they weren't interested."

Dwyer's heart sank. Then he went to the Central Educational Center and was introduced to a young man named Casey Curtis, who was a whiz at computer animation trying to hone his career skills even further.

Curtis looked over Dwyer's sketches and models and said, "I'd like to give this a try." Three days later, Curtis returned with a perfectly-rendered computer-generated version of Dwyer's Dragon Phoenix spacecraft.

"Once I saw what Casey could do, I knew we'd get it done and it would be even better than I had hoped," Dwyer says.

Dwyer had already enlisted Ellsworth Hall to create the musical score and sound effects. Hall, who earned a Visual and Performing Arts degree from the University of Maryland, is now, in addition to being a filmmaker, an accomplished composer who has created original music scores for clients as diverse as Johns Hopkins Hospital and Princeton University.

Promotional material, graphics and movie title credits were supplied by another of Dwyer's childhood friends, illustrator and graphic artist Robert Brun.

When time came to promote the film, Dwyer told Brun he needed a movie poster featuring "a hot chick with a big gun." Brun delivered, with the help of Dwyer's wife, Mo, who was the model for Brun's "hot chick."

The editing was finished on Sept. 4. When the score and sound effects were added in late September, Dwyer had a chance to sit back and watch his production from end to end, complete with surround sound.

"When I saw it with all the special effects and the score, it brought tears to my eyes," he says. "I was just blown away."

Dwyer hopes local audiences will be impressed Saturday. He also hopes to impress some Hollywood types to distribute the film when he takes "Shubian's Rift" to the Slamdance Film Festival next winter in Park City, Utah. He also hopes to make some contacts with TV people who could turn "Shubian's Rift" into a regular series on the Sci-Fi channel.

"It's got all the elements for a hit series," Dwyer says. "I just hope we can get somebody to give us a look."

But those plans are still weeks away. Right now, Joe Dwyer's thoughts are days away when he sees his dream of 31 years become a reality in front of family, friends and hometown movie fans.

When you start something like this, you don't know how it's going to end up," he says. "I just hope people will like it. That's really what it's all about."

"Shubian's Rift" premieres Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts. Tickets are available at New Tech Photo, Sports Cards, Scott's Book Store, Kebco Toys and Allison Performance Hobbies.

For more information, go to the Web site: www.shubiansrift.com.


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