KC filmmakers imagine their last days on Earth in ‘Withered World’

05/28/2014 7:20 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The band R.E.M. famously sang, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

That’s essentially the plot of “Withered World,” a project that asks a dozen Kansas City filmmakers to answer the question of what they might do on the last day of Earth.

“No hope. No tomorrow. No consequences,” as the tagline states.

“The stories are very simple,” says creator Bryce Young, who launched this as a Web series. “My No. 1 goal was to make it about the people.”

Young is certainly feeling fine about his decision, considering the awards earned at last month’s Kansas City FilmFest. “Withered World” took home honors for Best Web Series and its segment “Pop Tarts” received Best Heartland Short Film.

It might even make a run at Best Feature in next year’s fest because the series has been edited into an anthology film. This new version premieres today at Screenland Crown Center and runs through Saturday. A Q&A with cast and crew follows each showing.

Young’s preliminary concept for the series was more self-contained.

“I was setting out to do a ‘Crash’-type of thing but with intersecting stories set on the last day. Then I started wondering what other filmmakers would do with this premise,” he says.

The 28-year-old Young converted his final-day idea into “Return to Sender” (which he wrote and Chris Bylsma directed), about a young man (Tosin Morohunfola) who finally locates his dad (Vince Brown).

“I decided that’s how I would spend my last day since I don’t know my biological father,” Young says.

The KC native sought help from the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to expand his vision, eventually raising $12,187. One of the incentives for those contributing was input in naming the enterprise, which was simply referred to as End of the World Web Series. At a fundraiser the proposed names were put to a vote and the enigmatic “Withered World” won. (“I couldn’t have come up with that title on my own,” he admits.)

The money raised was divided among directors Young hand-picked for the series. Their efforts — which each run between 5 and 10 minutes — present a cross-section of approaches.

Anthony Ladesich delivers the fantasy “The Icarus 1,” about a boy (Ian Todt) who builds a patchwork rocket ship in his garage as a means of escaping the crumbling Earth. Katie Mooney’s drama “New Life” concerns an expectant couple (Davis DeRock and Meagan Flynn) whose first baby is due on the last day. Patrick Rea’s thriller “Vindicate” follows a grieving father (Michael Joiner) who confronts the culprit (Aaron Laue) responsible for his tragedy.

The website’s most-viewed segment, “Pop Tarts” by Kendal Sinn, involves a widower (Kip Niven) who shares breakfast with a mysterious visitor (Allen Lowman) on the last day.

“It’s a movie about hope,” writer-director Sinn says. “There’s really no way of discussing my segment without spoilers, so ... in my mind — and millions of people, I guess — this is the day that Jesus would come back. This is the end of our world. Most of my movies have a simple one-phrase description. When Bryce asked me what my episode was about, I said: ‘It’s about Jesus Christ eating Pop Tarts.’”

Sinn (best known for producing the online horror series “Shadow Falls” and for co-writing the feature “Nailbiter”) says the “amazing actors” and talented cinematographer Jeremy Osbern made the production one of his easiest to orchestrate.

“The hardest thing about filming was the dog,” he confesses. “My dog is usually a good movie dog, but he was petrified of the fog machine. It froze him up.”

Overall, the subject matter itself eventually proved the trickiest element. Sinn believes delving into a religious theme of this sort can go one of two ways.

“It can be good, emotional and inspirational, or it can be heavy-handed and preachy. Bryce trusted me to walk that line, and in the end it has ended up probably becoming my most successful short film,” Sinn says.

Young adds, “Kendal and I both get messages about entire church congregations watching it. I also get messages from people telling me how glad they are that a Christian-based Web series is finally coming together. ‘Sorry, but it’s clear you haven’t watched any of the other episodes.’”

Other filmmakers contributing to “Withered World” include Turner Baietto, Jon Davis, Justin Gardner, Tucker Keatley, Amber Rapp and Brian Reece.

Young is still contemplating where to take the ambitious film after this weekend’s screenings. Netflix and various On Demand video services remain options.

“I’m really happy with the attention we got in Kansas City,” Young says. “If it doesn’t do anything nationally, then I’m still very OK with the outcome. I’m thrilled with what it was: a true collaboration on so many levels.”

Today through Saturday

A screening of all episodes of “Withered World” begins at 8:30 p.m. today through Saturday at Screenland Crown Center, 2450 Grand. A mixer in the lounge begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Cost: $6-$8. More info at Screenland.com.

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