In an age of $100 million Hollywood blockbusters, a dedicated group of East Valley students is proving that getting a movie to the big screen doesn’t necessarily require a big budget.
Ballistic Entertainment, staffed entirely by volunteers ranging in age from 15 to 24, has made 11 movies and several music videos since 1998. Its average cost per movie? About $2,000.
‘‘We milk the resources we have,’’ says Zachary Yoshioka, an ASU communications major who founded Ballistic. ‘‘The computers are what makes everything happen in the editing. If you can just have a camera that can capture a moving image, you can manipulate it in the editing. You can do all kinds of tricks to make it look like film and make it look a lot better than it actually is.
‘‘A lot of people ask us if we do shoot film and what kind of cameras we use. We’re not ashamed to say that we use a handy cam or a Packard Bell for recording. Milking the equipment is what defi nes low-budget. It’s not necessarily the budget, it’s what you do with limited means.’’
Yoshioka, Ballistic’s director, editor, co-producer, co-writer and videographer, became interested in fi lm at an early age.
‘‘When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I was experimenting with a lot of stopmotion — just animating G.I. Joes and that sort of thing — and doing stuff with Gumby and animating all of the action figures,’’ he says. ‘‘When I got to (Tempe’s Corona del Sol) high school, I switched to live-action, and eventually we shot a seven-minute short film called ‘The Party’ and it went on to win an award.
‘‘From that point on, we started Ballistic Entertainment and have been doing short films and feature films and premiering them in film festivals and at Tempe Cinemas ever since.’’
Valley film aficionados have taken note. ASU professor Jon Simpson has invited Yoshioka to speak to his independent film class on several occasions.
‘‘I was blown away by Zach’s drive,’’ he says. ‘‘Anyone who has written, shot and edited a film will tell you it is a lot of work. Most so-called filmmakers are really ‘film thinkers’ because they never are able to get their projects off the ground. Zach has impressed me with his ability to get his small army of production and cast members motivated enough to pull off production after production.’’
Other members of Ballistic Entertainment include Efrain Beceria (music composer), Kyle Brundage and Andy Gendron (writers), Ryan Liss (actor, producer, screenwriter and street team leader), Chris McHerron (producer and Web designer), Christi Wilson (actress, producer, publicist and writer) and Tom Wilson (actor and boom operator).
All work on a volunteer basis, hoping for a payoff down the road.
‘‘I started off as a fan,’’ Gendron says. ‘‘I saw three of (Yoshioka’s) movies, and he brought me on the crew. I’m just going along with it. Whatever happens, happens.’’
Adds Liss: ‘‘I would love to be a screenwriter and work on scripts and maybe get behind the scenes and edit it — just to see my work come into play and see how my thoughts work out and if people like it.’’
To raise the $2,000 or so for each film, the members of Ballistic secure funds through investors (read: their parents). They also make money by filming weddings and shooting videos for local bands.
‘‘Music videos are not challenging,’’ Yoshioka says. ‘‘They’re fun because you get to work with a band and they have a lot of energy and they blast an audience within three minutes. But it’s just a band lip-syncing to the music in the background.
‘‘When you’re working on a movie, you’re working with actors. You’re working with lighting. There’s 5,000 other elements that go into making a movie as opposed to just making a video.’’
Ballistic has shot videos for local bands such as Halfgain, Haffo, Mainstay and the Wiggums. Yoshioka says the company may soon shoot a video for Headfirst, another local band whose music has appeared in some of Ballistic’s films.
The exposure is very beneficial, says Headfirst bassist Dave Campbell.
‘‘Whoever goes to those movies are exposed to those songs,’’ he says. ‘‘It allows us to get our music out to a different audience that probably wouldn’t have heard us. It’s cool that (Yoshioka) can incorporate some of the different stuff that his friends do into his films. I think it’s great that he uses a lot of local bands in his soundtracks.’’
Music videos and weddings aside, it’s clear that films are the priority for Ballistic, which is working on its 12 th movie, currently untitled.
‘‘It’s about fake people and the way we treat each other,’’ Yoshioka says of the film, which he hopes to release in August. ‘‘It’s a very epic piece, and everything just kind of intersects with each other.’’
Yoshioka says the press has criticized Ballistic for having underdeveloped scripts, something he’s working to improve.
‘‘Usually, in the past, we were more concerned with special effects and editing and blowing stuff up,’’ Yoshioka admits. ‘‘Sure, that sells tickets, but we’re never going to be able to make a living off of something like that. Our goal with this next one is to make a really, really good film.’’
According to Yoshioka, Ballistic’s film screenings — which are held at Tempe Cinemas — draw approximately 400 people. The filmmakers’ most popular movie, last August’s ‘‘Premonition,’’ actually turned a small profit.
‘‘All our movies have made back the money that we spent on them,’’ Yoshioka says. ‘‘Obviously, there’s no money in this. We’re not losing any money, which is great because we used to lose money.
‘‘The most rewarding thing to me is having people see you on the street and come up and talk to you about your movie.’’
Headfirst’s Campbell says it’s great to see his friend making a name for himself.
‘‘Zach is doing his own thing and trying to make his dream happen,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s good for him that he has the guts to go out and do that.’’
For Yoshioka, though, the dream isn’t to become famous.
‘‘The dream is to just make movies and show as many people,’’ he says. ‘‘My overall goal would be to have some overall impact. Every single house in Arizona, I’m sure, has heard of Eminem. It would be nice if everyone here could hear of Ballistic Entertainment.’’
The Party (1998) — Seven-minute short film about three guys who go to a party, get drunk and, despite having a designated driver, die in a car crash. One of 10 runners-up in a contest sponsored by Teen People magazine.
Grounded (1999) — 30-minute short fi lm about a kid grounded over the weekend and his crazy day that follows.
The Assignment (2000) — 40-minute short film about an orphan, a drunk and two assassins. Sold 100 copies of this movie locally.
Supply and Demand (2000) — 70-minute feature film that weaves together stories about runaway convicts, orphaned kids and bounty hunters.
Mental Deceptions (2000) — 40-minute short film about witches. Premiered at the Cine-Nites film festival in Los Angeles and in Arizona at the Southwest Film and Video festival at Scottsdale Community College.
Delinquents (2001)— 70-minute feature film following a single day in the lives of five troubled teenagers. Premiered at Southwest Film and Video festival. Made it to final cut before being rejected by Sundance Film Festival.
The Next Assignment (2001) — 40-minute short film about a troubled girl, a loan shark and four hit men. Premiered at The Vine restaurant in Ahwatukee Foothills to an audience of 400 people.
Turn (2001) — 40-minute short fi lm about people realizing amazing things about themselves and having those things eventually destroy them.
Urban Pressure (2002) — 70-minute feature film about a teenager who has cancer, but none of his friends know. Premiered to a sold-out audience of 400 people at Tempe Cinemas. Sold more than 100 copies. Made it to final cut at Sundance.
Premonition (2002) — 70-minute feature film about a murdered girl whose ghost comes back to haunt people one year later. Premiered to a sold-out audience of 400 people at Tempe Cinemas. Sold more than 150 copies.
Rebound (2003) — 60-minute fi lm exploring relationships from multiple points of view. Premiered to 350 people at Tempe Cinemas. Sold more than 100 copies.