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Cover Story: Filming Process that created 'The Weapon' can be done in your dining room

Friday, April 28, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Coming soon to a theater near you: days of future past for low-budget filmmaking, a display of a cutting-edge process using trailing-edge media, a melding of new technology and a down-home spirit.


Graphic artist Matt Kambic has realized his dream of making a science-fiction movie by turning fantasy into fact. He shot an 82-minute feature on Super VHS video, using mostly friends and family as cast and crew, then edited the movie and created most of its special effects on a computer located "in the middle of my dining room."

Pittsburgh Filmmakers will screen the finished product, entitled "The Weapon," at tomorrow and Sunday at the Melwood Screening Room in Oakland.

Even Kambic will tell you the rough edges of "The Weapon" are plain to see. But the promise of his technique makes it interesting. Combine low-cost digital cameras, sophisticated software programs and increasingly powerful computers and you're looking at the potential for the real democratization of filmmaking.

'The Weapon'

WHERE: Melwood Screening Room, Oakland.

WHEN: Tomorrow and Sunday at 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $5; 412-682-4111.


The effects also will be felt among those who can afford the very best. George Lucas will shoot the next "Star Wars" installment digitally, and computers are already becoming the standard for film editing as well as video media.

"It's not the wave of the future. It's the wave of now," says Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

Kambic's project isn't really all that unique, Humphrey says, except for its scope.

"I've heard of people doing it, but I don't know anyone else who is doing this on a feature-length level. It's really a perfect example of how to do it in a guerrilla fashion. He's a real trouper. I admire his tenacity. Imagine what somebody who is an experienced filmmaker could do.

"You don't have to spend a lot of money. [The technology] just keeps getting cheaper and easier to use and more powerful every day.

"We had a 3/4-inch online video editing system that was worth $250,000. Now, it can be done on a computer for less than $20,000."

How much less? Kambic estimates the entire cost of making "The Weapon" at about $2,000.

The story is set on the planet Feldspar, laid waste by an ancient weapon that has left the world with a single water source that is closely rationed by the government. A scientist develops a means of destroying the weapon, which has been hidden in a buried vault, but a military man has other ideas. But activities in the desolate interior may change all their plans.

Several of the special effects stand out, including shots of manned airsleds flying over the landscape. The closeups were shot in the traditional bluescreen process, where the men in their sleds are superimposed over the background. The long shots, however, were created in the computer with wireframe replicas of the sleds. Shots of a beam firing from a weapon were literally drawn into the shot, using a different software program.

Kambic shot the film in Super VHS because, at the time, he couldn't afford digital video. The feature filled 30 videocassettes, which he logged in order to select the takes he wanted to use. He then entered those scenes into the computer for editing.

"My main goal was to do it as a learning experience for no money and with no investors. My budget went for catering in the strip mines [where most of the outdoor scenes were shot] and for props, costumes and computer materials."

The "actors" -- in fact, his family, neighbors and friends -- worked for nothing and he didn't have to pay for the locations. He shot interiors on the grounds of Word of God parish in Swissvale and in the garage of his co-producer, Dave Kerin, who served as principal cinematographer and also designed and built the sleds and most of the other props used in the shoot.

Kambic wrote the script and began shooting in 1997, mostly on holidays and weekends. It took him a year to shoot what was essentially three weeks worth of production.

Then came post-production -- editing the film and adding effects on his PowerMac 8100. "I worked three to four evenings a week after getting home from my real job," says Kambic, 46, a resident of Regent Square who was art director at a Swissvale media firm. He is now starting a new job at an Internet startup company,, where he will be involved in creating children's educational entertainment.

Because he was camped out in the middle of his house, he was not cut off from his family as much as he would have been otherwise. "The kids were trooping in and out. My son, Lucas, was my best critic. He'd say, 'Dad, don't change that!' He was very valuable with his insights. He helped me with the explosions, too."

His wife, Louetta, served as a stand-in, and daughter Rebecca appears in some of the crowd scenes. His father supplied tools and helpful criticism about constructing some of the props, and his mother was "my No. 1 backer," he says.

Next, Kambic will teach a filmmaking workshop at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. His theme?

"Why should Lucas and Spielberg have all the fun? With home computers, you can have a fun stab at it."

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