On a recent Thursday morning in the FlynnSpace, Burlington playwright James Lantz is talking about quail eggs.
“So, for just a moment,” he says, “I want you to imagine that this is one of the characters in our movie — just for now, this is a young woman who’s an artist.” He places the first speckled egg — purchased in a carton from Healthy Living — gently in a bird’s nest. “And this is another character — a homeless boy who aspires to be an artist.” Lantz stows the second egg and produces a third. “And maybe, if you’re an artist or have the soul of an artist — this is you.”
Hovering above Lantz in the mostly dark room is a Panasonic HD digital camera on a long jib. Director of photography Peter Kent, who’s holding it, says the take looks good. Sound man Dan Mazur asks to record a few seconds of the room’s ambient sound.
With a crew of five and cast members still to come, this looks like a small — that is, Vermont-sized — movie shoot. But Lantz is actually making a promo for a film that doesn’t yet exist: Hide Fox, a dramatic feature he’s scripted and hopes to direct later this year. The clip he and the crew are making today is designed to attract cash to the film project via Kickstarter.com.
Kickstarter is an online “funding platform” where people can pledge their dollars to support creative projects; money leaves the sponsors’ accounts only if and when the project meets its pledge goal on schedule. The company has already had one big success story: Diaspora, a social-networking system invented by “Four Nerds Against Facebook” — as the New York Times put it — quickly drew more than $10,000 in pledges.
Lantz plans to set a goal in that same ballpark, he says. But the Kickstarter dollars will be only a piece of the funding for Hide Fox, which he’s budgeted at about $200,000. The rest he hopes to get from investors. Mindful of the recent Mac Parker affair, in which the state determined that millions of dollars lent to the Addison filmmaker were unregistered securities, Lantz has set up an LLC and filled out the required paperwork warning potential investors that independent filmmaking is a “very risky” proposition, he says.
Of course, so is all art. The Hide Fox promo becomes a graphic allegory of those risks when the camera pulls back to reveal a sizeable rock dangling by a rope above the nest and its fragile occupants.
Continuing with his script, Lantz proposes we see the rock as representing the young artist’s husband, an economics professor. Or maybe it’s the “hard and cold reality” of economics itself. As a woman’s hand appears and starts sawing at the rope with a knife, he suggests we imagine that “This is Ayn Rand.”
That’s not a random allusion — the famous founder of Objectivism, who was known for championing the “hard and cold reality” of the marketplace, actually appears in Hide Fox. Played by local actress Ruth Wallman, long-dead Rand will pop up in the present-day story much as “theater takes historical figures ... and places them in current dramas,” says Lantz. He’s no fan of Rand’s ideas, he notes, but finds the Russian emigrée’s language and persona fascinating: “Every ounce of her being is severe.”
Most locals know Lantz, 48, for his own theater work: His plays American Machine and The Bus both premiered at the FlynnSpace. But before he moved to Burlington to raise a family and teach at the Community College of Vermont, Lantz worked in New York’s commercial film industry. “One dream I had never fulfilled was making a feature film,” he says. With his kids older, Lantz “felt the itch” to get back behind the camera.
In the afternoon, Vermont Symphony Orchestra cellist Peter Dunlop shows up at the FlynnSpace to record a solo for the promo; then cast members Wallman, Craig Maravich and Taryn Noelle join Lantz to make a collective plea for sponsorships. Most Kickstarter video pitches are nowhere near this elaborate, Lantz says, but he wanted to make “something polished and sharp.”
Will the Rand rock smash the artistic eggs? Lantz isn’t sure when the promo will be ready to go live, but watch this space for news about the film — whose odd title, by the way, comes from a call once used to start games of hide-and-seek.