In Maine filmmaker Nathan Oliver’s upcoming film “Absolution,” a desperate man learns some hard lessons after seeking out spiritual guidance at a church whose holy façade hides a dark secret. The feature – which will either shoot in December or April, depending upon the success of Oliver’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign – represents something of a shift in direction for a local director who’s already found not-insignificant out-of-state success.
Oliver’s last film, the bloody revenge horror flick “Lady Psycho Killer,” was picked up for international distribution (you can buy the DVD at your local Bull Moose or see it streaming on Showtime) and boasts name stars like Malcolm MacDowell and Michael Madsen among its heroine’s body count. The film also saw the Caribou native obtaining financial backing from professional investors, in the form of the Georgia-based private equity firm that not only provided the film’s (low, but significant) budget, but also dictated a lot of the production details. For Oliver, whose NO Productions (facebook.com/NOProductions) is based in South Portland’s SoPoCo.Works facility, the “Lady Psycho Killer” experience was a major learning experience – and something of a mixed one.
“I won’t do private equity again,” Oliver said. “I’m grateful, but, the next film I make, I want to be an experience for the people making it with me.” After his foray into film investment bureaucracy, Oliver says he’s looking to return to his filmmaking roots, pointing to his first film, an Aroostook County-based zombie movie. Not that you’re ever going to see that one. “Nobody watched it,” he said. “It’s not a good movie, but it was a fun movie to make because of the camaraderie among all of us who made it.”
Enter the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter, where Oliver’s $25,000 campaign looks to make up a portion of “Absolution’s” estimated $85,000 budget. It’s a figure that he arrived at as part of an ambitious and far-reaching plan to provide new opportunities for Maine film professionals – even if only to help them make rent. “It’s a moral imperative,” stressed Oliver, whose NO Productions will make up the rest of the film’s costs, in the form of money, experience and Oliver’s own professional equipment. “I don’t want to take advantage of people who I’m friendly with, who I look up to and respect, to have them work on the film for free. I want to be able to tell them, ‘Your time is valuable.’ ”
To that end, Oliver’s “Absolution” business plan includes not only fair pay (“at least Portland minimum wage”) for his cast and crew, but also workers’ comp insurance. For Oliver, the experience of being a filmmaker both in Maine and in other, more film business-friendly places has taught him a lot about the steps the Maine film community needs to take in order to grow and to be a sustainable career option for in-state movie professionals.
“Mostly, it’s about supporting something I honestly believe plays into the larger socioeconomic problems of the state,” said Oliver. “We’re losing young people left and right – in the recent governor’s race, that issue was one of the most talked about. And while they pointed to industries we already have, those aren’t going to attract a lot of youth to stay or come to the state. There’s a double-edged part to the idea of attracting artists – usually it’s seen as benefiting people who don’t really need it. But all the artists I know are eating Ramen and living in one-bedroom studios. It’s a question of retaining them, or losing them.”
For Oliver, who cites his work at South Portland’s community television station, SPC-TV as another vital outlet for young aspiring film professionals, “Absolution” represents not just his next creative endeavor, but a hands-on, career option for Maine’s often isolated filmmakers. “There’s a lone wolf or lone warrior mindset out there,” said Oliver. “People crank out what they can, sometimes set up a shop, but never look at it with eyes as to how we can make it sustainable.” He added, “I want to be in Maine, I bought a house in South Portland, and I want to stay. Now it’s about getting people out of their basements.”
“Absolution’s” fundraising page is filled with the usual dangling carrot perks for backers who, Oliver explains, aren’t going to get a financial return on their investment, but can definitely get some neat stuff. Even, in keeping with his film’s theme, some questionable promises of everlasting glory. At the $75 donation level, the production promises to “mail a letter of indulgence to your local parish for a communal prayer,” among other perks. Says Oliver, “It’s all in good fun,” although his film delves deeply into some very ambivalent feelings the filmmaker has about the “mob mentality” side of organized religion, with the film’s protagonist running up against a minister and a congregation whose claims of piety have turned into something much more sinister – and familiar.
“I grew up in a family of ministers,” explained Oliver, who relates the time when he and his father attended a megachurch service in Caribou when he was around 10 or 11. Looking at the crutches on the walls, the young Oliver took his turn at the presiding faith-healer’s altar, where his unenthusiastic response to the “snake oil salesman’s” routine earned him a more forceful – and painful – lesson about the lengths to which people will go to “willfully ignore their intelligence.” “He smacked me really hard in the head,” Oliver said. “My dad dragged me out, and we never went back. Some people might think, ‘Oh, that’s the County,’ but it’s not – it’s America.”
For Oliver, his journey into professional filmmaking has been an occasionally painful one, too. “I hit the wall a thousand times,” Oliver said, “and that’s where my experience is. I gained a lot of traction, and learned a lot, and now I’m telling people, hit me up.”
To learn more about Nathan Oliver’s upcoming film “Absolution,” to donate to his film and his mission for a more sustainable Maine film community, and to hit him up, check out kickstarter.com. (As of this writing the campaign has raised just over $2,000 of its $25,000 goal, with a deadline of Dec. 23).
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday to Sunday: “Burning.” “The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yuen co-stars in this acclaimed indie drama about a young introvert whose professional and romantic plans are disrupted by a charismatic outsider.
Monday, Dec. 10: “Narcissister Organ Player.” The be-masked, enigmatic, impossible-to-categorize performance artist/dancer/provocateur Narcissister will be on hand for a live video chat after this striking documentary about her life and work.