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I’ve been on a lot of crazy sets, but never have I seen anything quite like the set I step into on Mentryville (formerly Spores), a low-budget indie virus-run-amok flick lensing just outside of Los Angeles. The cast and crew seem every bit as shocked as I am and for good reason: They’re shooting in a working government laboratory. Millions – possibly billions – of dollars worth of scientific equipment stretch on through miles of twisty hallways and corridors throughout this massive complex and it’s here that all the chaos goes down.
“This place has never been shot in before, so this is the first time a working lab has been shot in. All the stuff in there, that’s not set dressing,” says Mentryville’s writer/director Jason Dudek. “When we were looking for vaccine labs we definitely wanted to go with something that was realistic and authentic… We got lucky and found this actual working cancer vaccine lab. Two months ago all the employees left and shut it down. We don’t know why.”
That’s pretty damn ominous.
It’s the perfect place for a movie filled with conspiracies and end-of-the-world doomsday panic straight out of a Michel Crichton book. Mentryville’s plot, which Dudek describes as “Frank Capra meets 28 Days Later” surrounds a group of youngsters who run afoul of an evil pharmaceutical company and it’s megalomaniacal villain Dr. Locke (Danny Glover). “We’re going for a doomsday scenario of what if there were corporate entities that had certain agendas and what if they were to have really talented hired guns working for them that were able to manipulate nature’s biggest viruses?”
Dudek continues: “All of our main characters are suffering some sort of loss. Dean, our protagonist [played by lead Taylor Handley], has post-traumatic stress disorder and just came back from war.”
Decked out in a hospital smock that reads “Patient 0,” Handley elaborates: “My grandmother is an extreme hoarder and her house is about to be condemned. So [me and my friends] go to help her out and we find this diabolic plan that this pharmaceutical company has been using my grandmother as a testing subject for an anti-serum.” And if there’s anything mad doctors love, it’s more test subjects…
And while Dudek insists that they’re going for a lighter, subtler approach with the blood and viral effects, the make-up department still insists that there are plenty of gruesome surprises in store. “Our infections become a character of their own,” says make-up FX artist Roxanne Pike. “Each character ends up getting a separate symptom because their immune system reacts differently. Everyone displays a rash, but beyond that, each person has different effects after.”
Going up against a large corporation and a deadly virus is tough enough, but it’s even tougher when you have to face down a giant badass like Vinnie Jones, who co-stars as the company’s top enforcer. “I’m right hand man to Danny’s character,” says Jones, “He’s trying to make a lot of money with what he does and I’m the enforcer for him. We’re setting everything up so he can get the vaccine and make the money of that.”
Rounding out the antagonist portion of the cast is “Dexter”’s C.S. Lee, who is taking a break from cracking wise-ass forensic jokes to cause a little mayhem of his own. “I play a scientist and I’m in charge of harvesting the spores that we’re dealing with,” says Lee, “So I ride the fine line of keeping everything to protocol and Danny Glover’s character is pushing me to make it better, faster, stronger.” A self-admitted sci-fi geek, Lee says the ripped-from-the-headlines script and indie approach is what drew him to the material “Hollywood has sort of gone astray when it comes to the definition of a sci-fi flick. They just explore the CGI route and it takes away from the story.”
No stranger to smaller films, Jones also insists he feels more comfortable doing indies than the big-budget Hollywood stuff: “The big stuff is all signed sealed and delivered, really. I started off in indies. Lock, Stock was a million dollar movie that’s well known worldwide known. You do the indies and you never know when they’re gonna hit. It’s a bit like roulette really…. I like doing both. The trouble with the big ones is that you’ve got several big stars and you sort of get washed away with the tide a little bit. Your character gets diluted and you’re a glorified extra, really. I haven’t got that big ego where I’m not gonna do straight-to-DVD movies. You’re still giving your fans something to watch…. Working is a nice privilege to have right now, the way everything is.”
Jones laments that the only difficult thing with the indies is knowing when and how they’ll hit, and insists that timing is everything: “Can you imagine Midnight Meat Train coming out after The Hangover?” he says about the Clive Barker film he played opposite now mega-star Bradley Cooper. “I’m sure the people at Lionsgate are like “Fuuuuck, we should’ve held out!” Nevertheless, he loves the cult audiences that devour genre films and hopes that Mentryville will appeal to the same crowd. “I love the fact that there’s a big fanbase out there that likes looking for the stuff that’s not so obvious, like this. It’s a unique film.”
As the shoot comes to an end, C.S. Lee seems primed and ready to go back to “Dexter”, which is currently halfway through filming it’s 6th Season. “Blade Runner is one of my favorite films, and as you know, we have Edward James Olmos this year,” he says. “He’s awesome! He really brings a lot to our show, to the same caliber that John Lithgow did in Season 4. His character starts to unravel, gets crazier, gets nuttier.”
As for Vinnie Jones, he’s pumped and ready for his next project, which sees him stepping behind the camera as well: “My plan now is I’m just producing my own movie, I’ve got the financing, $20 million to do an action movie, a road trip film….kind of going back to Lock, Stock in a way where my assignment is to go and find this lad whose seventeen in L.A. and bring him back to New York, and there’s another family trying to assassinate the kid. It’s an action-comedy, which is what I like.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any actual scenes take place inside the building (restrictions keep a limited amount of cast/crew in each room) but everyone on the cast and crew look excited to spread some cinematic paranoia onto audiences soon.
Look for Mentryille to spread in 2012.
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