Silver Screen, Gold Disc

Silver Screen, Gold Disc
X-Striking a Blow for the Fans

Susan Arendt | 23 Jan 2007 07:02
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The cops were a bit unexpected.

After several years of guerilla filmmaking, Tim Ekkebus and the rest of the X-Strike crew were used to a certain amount of police involvement, but they weren't anticipating any difficulties here on the University of Buffalo campus. The shoot this day was for X-Strike's production based on the Metal Gear Solid franchise, and the scene being filmed was a relatively simple one featuring the movie's villain and a pair of genome soldiers capturing our hero, Snake. The crew was running through yet another take when they were suddenly surrounded by several UoB police cruisers, complete with shotgun-toting, Kevlar-wearing officers.

Looking back on the situation, Ekkebus realizes that perhaps some prior warning to law enforcement might have been a good idea. "A genome soldier to us is just a part of the movie, but a guy in a black ski mask holding a fake machine gun looks like a terrorist to the rest of the world. Albeit a terrorist who has a camera guy with him and keeps doing the same thing over and over again, but a vile terrorist nonetheless," he sagely observes.

My first encounter with X-Strike Studios was at a videogame convention last October. Although most of the other booths had piles of games and systems for sale, all that X-Strike seemed to be offering was two young men sitting quietly behind a folding table, the typical underfed, sleep-deprived 20-somethings you expect to see roaming a videogame convention. The men were rapt in conversation and paid me no mind as I lingered around the booth. When neither of them made an introduction, I began to walk away, but a stack of obnoxiously orange T-shirts caught my eye and raised my eyebrow. Proudly declaring "I Hate Uwe Boll," they lured me back to X-Strike's booth, where I finally noticed the tiny portable DVD player perched somewhat precariously on the edge of the table.

That they had a movie playing wasn't a huge surprise; many booths at gaming conventions use them as a gimmick to attract passersby. What was surprising was that it wasn't the typical gamer bait of Street Fighter or Resident Evil or some hacked to ribbons anime, but rather a homebrew homage to Metal Gear Solid. More surprising still was that it was actually quite good; well acted and sharply written, it suffered from none of the self-indulgence and in-jokes that typically plague fan-made films. When I looked up from the DVD, the man who I would later learn was X-Strike's founder was grinning broadly at me. Though he looked exhausted, Tim Ekkebus' enthusiasm for X-Strike's movies radiated out of him in waves that, if properly harnessed, could end our country's dependence on foreign oil.

Ekkebus started X-Strike with Juese Cutler, Ben Lathan and Chad Williams a few years ago, after he parted ways with another company called Low Budget Pictures. "Deciding to go into videogame movies was a pretty natural decision for me," he explains. "I like making movies. I like videogames. Hollywood videogame movies sucked. It just made sense." Since then, much like a rolling Katamari, X-Strike has collected more and more people who just sort of end up sticking around, including Darrin DeMarco, who joined after penning a script of his own, and Rich Durham, who signed on after Ekkebus asked him to play a role in X-Strike's first feature. Rory O'Boyle, who was helping Ekkebus man the booth that day in October ostensibly handles the art department and costuming needs, though everyone on staff typically ends up doing a little bit of everything.

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