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Interview: The Founding Fathers of Zenisphere Films

Interview: The Founding Fathers of Zenisphere Films

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In 2010, two co-workers at Blockbuster noticed early on that they shared a passion for films of all sorts. JG Barnes and Matt Morey realized they enjoyed similar movies and appreciated the same subtle details that were involved in the process of making motion pictures.

“So, naturally, the talk of putting a film together started squirming its way into our daily conversations,” Barnes said in an exclusive interview with FanBolt. “[Morey] expressed an interest in making something more challenging than he had experienced with, and personally, I end up making all my creative avenues far harder to traverse than they initially should be on an alarmingly regular basis.”

Barnes calls it “a stigma” of his creative process in which he cannot escape. He says he often leaves many ideas “on the cutting room floor and a lot of it never sees the light of day.”

He agreed to Morey’s challenge and started to develop ideas into what would become Zenisphere Films’ “Patrick.”

“The next day at work, I presented these basic ideas to [Morey] and from there, a routine was formulated,” Barnes said. “We would do the bare minimum of our job requirements while jotting down ideas and writing, while we were supposed to be customer service representatives. Somewhere in the middle of our writing process, Neil Willoughby got hired at our store.”

The Zenisphere Films initiators say it may have been an act of fate, or simply the fact video stores attract film geeks. Regardless, Barnes asked Willoughby if he would be interested in playing the main role in “Patrick,” which he accepted.

While the creativity process of “Patrick” was under construction, the three guys were toying with the idea forming a serious film crew. Barnes decided to involve Ryan Burtney, a friend of his who was also heavily interested in film. Thus, forming the Michigan-based film company, Zenisphere Films.

Each member of the company is said to excel at a particular set of skills that make them very valuable.

“I’ve been in tons of bands from electronia to heavy metal,” Barnes said. “So, I’m the designated sound and music guy. I’ve also tried and failed at making a living as a graphic designer, so I do a lot of the post work and animated a lot of our special effects even though my background is in sound, music and strictly two- dimensional non-moving art.

As for the other guys, Neil Willoughby is a fantastic producer and has a lot of real experience on real films from production to acting. Neil possesses a strong grasp of the film industry having been the Production Secretary for “Hostel 3” and even getting an extra role on the Michael Cera movie, “Youth in Revolt.” His eye, his angle and his ability to find just about anything, is irreplaceable.

Matt Morey is a phenomenal cinematographer and could charm the pants off of the saltiest, most toothless, and wooden legged pirate. [He] is an imaginative and fun, loving guy that always wants to keep people smiling. Being a fan of Hitchcock and David Fincher’s films, Matt has not only a high standard for composition, but an eclectic cocktail of inspiration to draw from that’s always brewing behind his eyes.

Ryan Burtney has some of the most fascinating ideas I’ve heard and [as] a long-time martial artist and a black belt in Karate, could break my neck in thirty-four places just by saying ‘kee- ya!’ He is also an avid writer and film maker who has written and directed many short films. There are few people I have met that meet his level of passion and dedication.

And we all have extensive experience writing, directing, and cutting. As part of Zenisphere Films, we each will have our showcase as sole writer/director of a project we believe very deeply in.”

Filmed later in 2010, “Patrick” is now considered as Zenisphere Films’ first official production; though it was not planned to be so.

“‘Patrick’ was never meant to be a Zenisphere Film,” Barnes said. “Just a project a couple of film geeks put together.”

Unfortunately, the production of their debut film was paused due to the production of a pop-punk band’s music video shoot.

“Complications with the record label had put the video in a state of indefinite limbo,” Barnes said. “The few people [who] have seen the video were awed and impressed. The wound from having to “let it go” has never healed. I wish I could say, ‘Hey, go check out our awesome music video we did for this awesome band,’ but we are all very deeply frustrated and hurt to say that we can’t.”

While the guys of Zenisphere Films were cutting the video, the band was signed to a label, as were the rights to their music.

“Now, we can’t release the video,” Barnes said. “We’re not even sure if we can say the name of the band or their label for fear that they could wave their magical corporate iron finger and have us all black bagged. We poured an immense amount of effort into that video that tore a hole in our love and social lives, and even our inspiration to carry on after the heartbreaking news that we couldn’t release it.”

Just like its hometown of Detroit, the film company experienced many hardships throughout their short existence. Some of it was in the Zenisphere Team’s personal lives. As Barnes describes their “hellish period,” they faced many difficulties including “dark break-ups, car accidents and social circles becoming nearly fatal.” But like the Motor City, they keep persevering and recovering together as a film company.

Though not discouraged the unfavorable event of the music video’s retention, the Founding Fathers continued the post-production of “Patrick.” Barnes said he finalized the cutting and scoring and released it a year after it was filmed on their YouTube channel.

“For a short that was well outside of our comfort zone, we were definitely aware that this experiment could prove unsatisfactory to the general public,” Barnes said. “To our surprise [Zenisphere Films received] nothing but a positive reaction.”

“[Zenisphere Films is] coming out of the ashes, covered in blood and carry very big guns,” Barnes said. “Seeing a lot of time lost to unfortunate circumstances, I was burning to shoot a short thriller than could be shot quickly, on a meager budget, one location and one single scene.”

Barnes explains that the short film needs to be driven by smart and thought provoking dialogue between two characters who share a severe conflict of interest.

“A complex and energizing script was produced that injected immediate inspiration in the other members of Zenisphere who were all stricken with the urgency to get this shot and get it shot now,” Barnes said.

The details of their upcoming thriller, “Theives” remains scarce to maintain its mystery and surprise. Though Barnes was able to spare a few features about the film for those eagerly waiting its release.

“‘Theives’ is a short dialogue driven cyperpunk thriller,” Barnes said. “All taking places in one scene that was conceived as an excerpt from a potentially much larger story.”

Barnes feels that Zenisphere Films has grown immensely since its foundation in 2010.

“We started so simply only a year ago as a couple of dorks who made a silly short film,” Barnes said. “Now we have people we never met, contacting us and asking to be a part of our cast or crew. It’s a blessing and a curse, because the more people you have, the bigger we want to make the production. The bigger the production, the harder it is to balance and maintain. Now we’re a whole bunch of dorks making a little bit less silly short films.

I don’t know if all the other fresh filmmakers out there nowadays have gone through what we have in just a short year. It’s been pretty hellish and I’ll admit that a lot of it is of our own doing. We don’t know when to stop.”

Barnes believes the members of the film company always want to make everything they produce better, and not necessarily make “easy” films. He says they got what they wished for and though it may have been difficult and demanding, they are much stronger and focused in their field.

“We dig very deep holes,” Barnes said. “But those holes end up as foundations for skyscrapers and we’re standing on top forgetting what it was like when we were covered in clay…then we jump all the way back down, break our legs and start digging another hole. When you take on a mentality like this you have to learn to appreciate art for art’s sake and not for any other rewards or pretenses, otherwise you get sick, tired, and burnt out very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong, this is how we want to make a living. The purpose of Zenisphere Films is to make films, starting with “Theives,” that promost an interest in those with big pockets to get use the funding we need to turn our work into feature length films. That has always been our goal.

The only thing that has changed is that our desire to maintain that philosophy and the rewards it will hopefully bring is even more keen than when we started. We will still jump through rings of fire to get to the top, but we won’t bend. So, nothing has changed, really. We’ve just gotten meaner and have more scars to show.”

In looking to their bright future, Barnes believes that in five years, the members of Zenisphere Films will be famous. In 10 years, they will be regularly providing fun, challenging, and rewarding jobs for talented people that deserve it. They want to ensure that the threats to the Michigan Film Community and any other film communities are extinguished.

“So, if you want to stay employed and be able to feed your loved ones, please show us all the support you can,” Barnes said. “We’re looking to make some significant waves and hopefully be part of the effort that spins the awful state of our country around.

I can’t thank FanBolt enough for your time. It means a great deal to us, not just to Zenisphere Films, but to amateur film makers everywhere in Michigan. We need anything we can get to help resuscitate our dying community. So, to all the readers, thank you dearly for your time and keep an eye out for “Thieves!” We’re filming in October with post-production wrapping late November or December with our release following very shortly after.

Like us on Facebook to stay up to date on everything that’s happening and contact us if you want to get involved with Zenisphere Films!”

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/zenispherefilms

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/zenispherefilms

Article By: Kimberly Gallagher

Emma Loggins Emma Loggins is the Editor in Chief of FanBolt. She updates daily on the latest entertainment news, her opinions on current happenings in the media, screening/filming opportunities, inside scoops and more.  She’s been writing on the world of geekdom and pop culture since 2002!

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