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Reporting on the Attack: An Interview with Brian Lonano, Director of Attackazoids!

Attackazoids! is a short SF film that offers a 7-minute, impressionistic glimpse into a world invaded by an army of giant war machines. Its clear, well-imagined visuals and tight direction go a long way toward suggesting much more than the running time can directly depict on screen.

For example, an atmosphere of fascist domination that director Lonano creates through the use of noir, 1984-like imagery and slogans -- along with such parallel advertising material as that on the left -- seems to suggest that there is an undercurrent to the scenario that takes it beyond straight scifi adventure into a sort of metaphorical nightmare state.

And the colossal Attackazoids themselves are very impressive indeed.

I asked Brian Lonano about his spectacular glimpse into robot domination.

RH: "Attackazoids!" is a rather neat little film with a unique approach to telling its story. What was your impetus behind making it and why in this form?

Brian Lonano: Well, I always loved science fiction. As a kid, I watched Star Wars, Star Trek -- you name it. When I got older, I started getting into the sci-fi films of the 1950s. But the real motivation behind "Attackazoids!" was Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. I loved the concept of a series of short stories strung together and, well "chronicling" the colonization of Mars by Earth. I always dreamt of remaking the book into a movie but I decided that instead of remaking someone else's work, I would create my own universe to run around in. My story is also about colonization but done in a more imperialistic way. I watched films like War Of The Worlds and Invaders From Mars while coming up with the look and style of "Attackazoids!" -- but another film that helped inspire me was The Battle Of Algiers. "Attackazoids!" is only a piece of the story I hope to tell. I kept the short film open-ended to leave room to answer questions and explore other aspects in future short films. The goal is to make a series of shorts that could be strung together and become a feature.

RH: "Attackazoids!"'s lack of traditional narrative structure -- in a genre that emphasises narrative -- certainly makes it different. Impressionistic and image-driven rather than character or event driven. Do you think this will limit its appeal?

I love this question! One thing I hear when people see the film is that they say the story is simple. I am actually ok with the story being simple so I take it as a compliment. A short film I really enjoy is called "Fifty Percent Grey." It's a real simple story about a soldier who dies and finds himself in a white void with a TV informing him he is in heaven. It's just under four minutes and it really showed me that I could tell a story in that amount of time without having to go into too much detail. On a side note, the film got an Oscar Nomination in 2002 for best animated short, so that really inspired me to try and make a simple but memorable film. I definately wanted "Attackazoids!" to be very experimental with its imagery, special effects and story structure. I don't think this will limit its appeal because science fiction is very impressionistic and image-driven to begin with. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a great film that is image-driven and its story is simple (in a good way, of course). Blade Runner is another great example. Not that I can compare myself with the greats .. hehe. But no, I don't think that the appeal of "Attackazoids!" will be limited. You just can't say "boo!" to giant killer robots.

the robot attaxks

RH: The SFX range from simple impressionistic silhouette effects to those rather spectacular robots. How was it all done?

Two words: Jeff Jenkins. He is my effects guru and always exceeds my expectations. When I wrote the script, I really wasn't sure what the attackazoids would look like. I just knew they had to have claws, a giant laser cannon and megaphones to recite their message. Jeff came up with the design on his own based on whatever spare parts and scrap metal he had available. He told me he had parts that could look like a giant laser cannon so he told me that it would be basically a giant gun with arms and legs. It was all done using stopmotion animation in his garage back home with a green screen.

I recently visited his home in North Carolina and saw the attackazoid in person for the first time. It was no bigger than a G.I. Joe doll. Looking at it up close, he'd put so much detail and thought into the design. I'm extremely grateful for all his hard work and incredible talent. Check out his art at

Attackazoids! pic

RH: Tell us about the production and how it went? How long did it take to make the film?

The script was written in March of 2008 by my brother Kevin, my cousin Jeremy O'Mara and myself. It was three pages long and went through about 10 drafts. In those 10 drafts the one big change was converting the lead character from a man to a woman. The rest of the changes were about what song to use and what exposition to show. I began buying pieces for the miniature set in August/September and started storyboarding. I always had a clear idea about the first few shots of the film and knew I wanted to utilize certain techniques in the film (running/walking in place, use of black void, frantic hand-held camera work, miniatures, and a "fake-set" look) when we were writing it.

We had preproduction meetings from September to the end of October. Our first shoot was the miniature set. It was done in an afternoon on my dining room table. In November we recorded the songs in the film and had our first live action shoot. It was a night shoot on a cold night and took 15 hours! All that footage was the massacre portion of the film so afterwards I was able to start stringing together shots with my editor and I was able to start designing the sound for the attackazoids. The animation shots were trickling in until our next shoot in December. This shoot was done indoors on a theater stage. It was another 10-12 hour shooting day but we started in the morning this time. More effects shots were coming in and the film was finally complete in the middle of January. From script to final cut it took about 11 months.

Don Singalewitch as "The Preacher"

RH: How did you come by the cast and crew? And what were they like to work with? Any amusing stories?

The crew were all my friends from college. We all worked together on our first Robot Hand Film "Electrical Skeletal." I met Don Singalewitch when I was casting my thesis film and from then on, I decided I wanted him in everything I make. Don is such a trooper and gives every take his all. Don always has new ideas to share about his character and his enthusiasm really inspires me to make the best film I can. Erin and Sandra posted on and Craiglist for a casting call for a lead actress, a voice actor and extras to run from giant killer rorobts. We held auditions on weekend in September and were very fortunate to find Jeff Christel (Mel T. Face), Jeff Douglas (The Attackazoid Voice) and our stellar leading lady Holly Lynn Ellis. Each of these actors contributed so much to what the film is today and I can't thank them enough for their great work.

Holly Lynn Ellis

Holly has an amusing story about the audition. Here's what happened from her perspective:

When I read the casting notice for "Attackazoids!", I didn't know anything about Robot Hand or Brian Lonano. Honestly, I don't even remember submitting my headshot and resume for it. This isn't uncommon for actors: we submit to every project and then usually forget about each of them so that we can remain peacefully ignorant of exactly how often we get rejected.

When Sandra (Tuerk, Associate Producer) called me for the audition, I was half-way into my second beer on a Friday night and had no idea what film she was talking about, why I had to travel to New Jersey (which might as well be Idaho to a New Yorker) or why I should be prepared to sing a hymn at an audition for a horror film about robots. Still I figured, "Eh, what the hell! I've got nothing to do that weekend anyway."

I entered a room full of your run-of-the-mill, post-college film geeks: post-goth t-shirts, in-need-of-a-trim hair styles, thick-rimmed glasses, etc. In the center of the table, in a plaid, pressed, button-up shirt and oatmeal-colored, Grandpa cardigan, sat a terrified young man working so hard to disappear you couldn't help but notice him. Clearly the director.

I was first asked to sing with Don [Singalewitch, The Preacher], who was at the audition in full costume, down to the sunglasses, the hat, and the Bible. That part went well enough, and we moved on to the non-verbal portion of the film in which I was asked to respond to horror erupting all around me while Brian clapped intermittently to indicate another horror in another direction. I was instructed by Brian to "imagine the most heinous things happening all around me until the terror builds to a point where my only response options are to scream or to puke." I was to chose to scream.

After, say, 45 seconds of this, I was physically and emotionally desperate to vomit. I opted instead, as directed, to scream. I screamed. I screamed with all the rage and terror of a woman who has seen too much, who knows that her chances of survival are next to nil but who cannot resist the impulse to help, to protect, to comfort, to mourn all the souls perishing around her. With all of my might I screamed.

"Thank you," said the director.

I could have killed him. Instead I laughed: "How 'bout those Mets?" Subtext: "Asshole."

After the audition, I called my buddy: "Hey, Hol, what's the plan for tonight?"

"A handful of beernuts and a fifth of Cuervo."

"Ouch. I take it your audition didn't go so well?"

"No, it went fucking fantastic. If I don't get this part, I'm quitting forever."

RH: Your "packaging" for "Attackazoids!" -- a seven-minute film -- is certainly impressive. What drove that?

Thank you so much! I just love making short films. The budgets are smaller and I have a lot of fun making them. When I attend film festivals or watch DVDs, I prefer to see short films over features because you can see more of them and there's always a variety. If I try and make a feature length film of "Attackazoids!" I would probably pay homage to Martian Chronicles and do it as a series of short stories and string them together. That way I can make them all different and unique. With short films I feel like you have more freedom to make the kind of film you are passionate about. A feature length project is a serious committment and you have to be in love with it for possibly a few years. As much as I enjoy [Lynch's] Eraserhead, I don't know if I could invest five years of my life making it.

RH: Has "Attackazoids!" fulfilled your aims for it? What do you hope for the film's future?

If people are saying the word "Attackazoids!" and hearing about it, I am quite happy. We premiered at the Maryland Film Festival, which was such a great time, and we were a finalist at the USA Film Festival's National Film & Video Competition. Winners from this festival get recognized by the Academy and could be put in the running for the Best Short Film Oscars. So for us to be a finalist in that competition is a big step for us. I hope to get into some more big festivals where people will begin to notice us. "Attackazoids!" has been sent to about 30 festivals across the world and I plan to continue submitting next year while we start working on the next film.

RH: What is the history of Robot Hand Films? Who are its regular personnel and what are its aims?

Throughout college, I made my student films with my friends. We never officially had a company so after college, I wanted to have a name that people would remember. After 2005 when we all graduated we went our separate ways and I had made a film by myself called "Casket Climber Insect God." That prospered pretty well but I missed working with my friends. So in 2006, Robot Hand Films was born and we began working on "Electrical Skeletal", which was a music video film for the band Casket Architects. Some of my other friends from school were brought in to help, namely Erin Horsey, who is now Robot Hand's Producer, Gary Powell, our wonderful Director of Photography, and Sandra Tuerk, who is our Costume Designer and Associate Producer.

For "Attackazoids!" we brought in even more people like Amanda Roberts for the make-up effects, Matt Cenicola for the set design, Joseph Paris to compose the music and Adam Hark to edit the film. We all love low-tech special effects, campy humor and gore, so the goal of Robot Hand Films is to make short films and music videos that are fun to make and fun to watch. These are truly the most talented people I have ever met and I am so lucky that they want to make movies with me.

RH: What about your own influences? How did you get into this business?

When I was a kid, I always wanted to be doing something creative. At first I wanted to be a puppeteer so Jim Henson was a big influence. Then I wanted to be an animator and do sound effects and voice acting, but when I was 10 years old, I realized that I wanted to be a film director. I grew up watching Star Wars, so my love of giant robots, lasers and monsters came from that. But probably one of the biggest influences on the kinds of films I wanted to make was Tim Burton. As I grew older I discovered directors like David Lynch, Sam Raimi and Ed Wood and watched films like Forbidden Planet and Them! Basically anything that is absurd, stylish and has some low-tech quality to it, I love, and it inspires me to make something.

I wish I could say I was in the business. I work in TV as an assistant editor but I went to college for film. When I was making my student films, I realized that only my friends and family see these movies. My goal as a senior was to start sending my work to festivals and get myself out there because investors and famous filmmakers aren't going to be knocking on my door if I don't get my work into festivals. So while I have my day job, I make my films on the side and send them to websites for review, festivals for possible screenings and anyone in the industry who is interested in seeing them.

RH: So, is there anything upcoming that you can tell us about? Something even more ambitious perhaps?

After reading all the reviews for "Attackazoids!" that ask to see more, I want to make another chapter. I have yet to write it but it will be called "Attackazoids, Deploy!" I want to make it like a newsreel film from the 1940s-50s and sort of explain a little more about the Attackazoids and why they invaded. The goal is to answer some questions but leave the audience with more questions. In the short term, though, I want to see how "Attackazoids!" prospers on the festival circuit this year.

[Note: Lonano's early films can been viewed on the Robot Hand Films website.]

Check out the Robot Hand Films website

copyright©Robert Hood 2008

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