Thursday, April 10, 2014

Latham Conger and Kickstarter

I met Latham Conger in fourth grade. We were plucked out of our respective classes to attend a two year program in another school called Special Opportunities. 

And no, it wasn't because we were disfunctional. It was a gifted program for supposedly smart kids, and we were taught by two teachers for two years in the same classroom. No grades, just written report cards. We were encouraged to explore our minds, both academically and creatively. Sort of a Montessori set-up, within the public school system.

Being with the same group of kids for two years was interesting. I made two lifelong friends during that time (Latham and my friend Jim), and have stronger memories of 5th and 6th grade than I do of any other school year.

Both Latham and I wound up going to the same junior high, high school, and college. We both wanted to be filmmakers.

I went to Hollywood after graduation with a few terrible spec scripts and tried to find an agent. I couldn't. When I came back home, I was pretty disheartened, and turned my attention to fiction writing. Over the next ten years I wrote ten novels, got hundreds of rejections, and finally sold my Jack Daniels series. 

Latham did some video projects on the side while working in fields he didn't like, same as I did while trying to get published.

Life marched on with all its spoils and tragedies. Births and marriages, firings and hirings, children and buying houses. We stayed friends, saw each other when we could, he shot my wedding on video, I shot his, and two years ago when I had the ridiculous idea to go on a beer diet, I hired Latham to film me for 30 days around the clock. 

One day we'll cut that movie together, and it'll be entertaining. Some YouTube vids are in the sidebar of this blog.

After the beer diet ended, Latham decided it was time to make the movie he always wanted to make. He wrote a damn good script, got the talent together, and for the past two years has been neck-deep in fulfilling his potential. Now he's in the final stage, doing the edit and sound mix, and he needs a few more hundred dollars to be able to finish.

So he began a Kickstarter campaign. You can hear Latham talk about his movie, and donate some money to support his cause, here.

Joe: Hi, Latham. Good to finally talk to you about your film project. How's it going?

Lay: Thanks, Joe. It's a lot of work, but going well. I never dreamed this would expand into the project it has, but it's going to end up being really unique when it's finished.

Joe: Tell us about your film, The Gordian Knot. How did the project get started?

Lay: The Gordian Knot is my first independent film. I began writing the screenplay in March of 2012, finishing it that summer. We cast the film in August of 2012, and began shooting it in and around the Palatine area in September. What was supposed to be a two and a half month shoot ended up taking much longer. Since the movie takes place primarily in the fall, we needed to finish the outdoor shots before the snow came. That didn't happen! We waitied until spring of 2013 to continue, and then finished primary shooting in June of that year. Or so we thought! Reshoots were necessary in the fall of 2013 again, and then we finally finished principal photography in October.

Joe: And now you are in post-production?

Lay: Yes. I began editing in November and have been at it ever since. We just finished the visual rough cut a few weeks ago, and are now getting ready to mix in all the sound and music. My co-editor is fantastic, and has really upped the ante with the film, as he is able to do things I never would have figured out. Aside from that, there's all kind of promotional things we are preparing, as our Kickstarter campaign attests to.

Joe: I've always wanted to make an independent movie, but watching you for the past two years, it seems like a great deal of work.

Lay: It is. The reason it is taking longer than expected is because of my three producers. They're very easy to work with... because they all quit over a year ago. I've had to handle nearly every aspect of the production myself, and it has been exhausting. Rewarding, but exhausting.

Joe: Tell us about the story. I know there's some unique aspects I haven't seen portrayed in any recent films, including a popular hobby that I know a lot of others are interested in.

Lay: The Gordian Knot is about "The Game". The Game is a contest that moves around the United States, popping up in a different location every few months, offering a ten thousand dollar prize to the winner each time. The Game's popularity has grown on the internet, but it's still hasn't reached a high level of popularity.

Fifteen people are picked to play in "The Game" by the powers that run it. You can apply online, but it's a mystery what criteria they use to pick anyone to be in it.

Joe: How does one play "The Game" ?

Lay: The game involves two aspects: The first is the hobby known as geocaching, where you use a global positioning unit to find hidden objects on planet Earth. During the time the game is played, each participant is required to search for these "caches" after solving certain puzzles provided by the game masters. The more geocache points you find, the further you can move along in the game. That's just the first part of what you do to play, though.

The second part of the game involves stalking and "eliminating" other players you are competing against. When the game begins, everyone receives a device that signifies they are playing the game, a bracelet which attaches to the wrist. If the bracelet ever comes off once the game has begun, you are eliminated from the competition. Of course, there are certain "factors" that must be in place for you to eliminate anybody, and you learn about those early in the film.

Joe: It sounds like The Hunger Games, but without the death.

Lay: It definitely owes a lot to the "Ten Little Indians" suspense device, where you are introduced to a bunch of different characters and are left to figure out which one is going to remain in the end, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Game itself is the framework for the story, but it goes much deeper than that.

Joe: Can you tell us more without revealing too many spoilers?

Lay: Just a little! Our main character, one of the players in this particular game in Palatine, has come to town for a completely different reason. He's looking for something, and he has a very good reason why he won't quit until he finds it. While the game unfolds, we learn about what he is trying to do, and why. It's a slow reveal, and creates the main suspense arc of the film. From there things get...strange.

Joe: When you say strange...

Lay: The movie moves in a unique direction once the game approaches its climax. Something else that needs to be resolved becomes as important as who's going to win the game. And then there's the ending, which will make you think and wonder like very few films have done before.

Joe: When you first told me about it, we had a discussion about films needing to be complete and have all of the story elements and characxter arcs wrapped up by the ending, but you disagreed.

Lay: Yeah, I didn't agree. The Empire Strikes Back is universally accepted as the best Star Wars movie, but it literally has no ending. Slice-of-life films sometimes end with the main character just continuing on, perhaps changing, but not finding a particular resolution that the audience was hoping for. Some other movies never make sense, even when the director's is asked to explain them later!

The Gordian Knot is unique in that it has a challenging ending, but there are clues left throughout the film for astute film watchers to figure out what exactly happened. There is a real solution, and a true explanation.

Joe: You make it sound like the movie is a game itself? Is that what you're going for here?

Lay: That's exactly what I'm going for. I wanted to make the ultimate "puzzle movie". I wanted to make a film that needed to be "solved", and to be explored multiple times. There are many things hidden in the movie itself, in lots of different and unique ways, and it's up to the viewer to find them and piece them together. I don't want to reveal any of them yet, but plenty of these secrets are visually right in front of you as you watch The Gordian Knot.

Joe: What made you want to make a film like this? Did something inspire you?

Lay: David Lynch is one of my favorite directors. His influence is a healthy part of The Gordian Knot, but I've always had one beef with him. He makes these strange movies whose stories are hard to follow. They draw me and really interest me. In the end, though, there's no payoff. Film discussion groups will try and figure out what he was trying to say, but no one can fully agree. A lot of filmmakers like it that way: they want their vision to be interpreted in multiple ways, and some of the greatest films of all time work better that way.
I wanted to make a film like that, but I wanted it to have a real solution. An answer. Something that you can read about later and check to make sure it follows with the story on screen. I wanted to make people think and wonder what the hell happened, and then reward them later by explaining exactly what did.

As far as other influences, I'd list two: Lars Von Trier is another director whose work I admire, and I like the way he splits his movies between gorgeous cinematic vistas and personal handheld characters. The Gordian Knot plays like one of his films, especially visually. The other unique influence for this film is GAMES magazine, which I've been reading since the late seventies. I'm a big fan of puzzles in general, and some of the things hidden in the movie are inspired by ones I've solved in that magazine.

Joe: What's going on with your Kickstarter campaign?

Lay: The movie is almost finished, and we are trying to raise funds to pay for the final editing, colorizing, recording of music and dialogue, and resources to distribute the film. We are really close to our goal, but only have a few days left to hit it. If things go well and we attain the goal on Kickstarter, we're looking at finishing the movie by late May or sometime in June.

Joe: Do you have a link we can put up if people are interested in donating to the film?

We also have a Facebook page for the film:

Joe: Anything else you want to add?

Lay: Only that I'm so excited to finish this project and let everyone see it. It's grown in length and scope since we started, and I'm really proud of the complicated story and how it all fits together.

There's a science-fiction film called Primer that came out in 2004. It's one of my favorite films of all-time, and one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. It's 75 minutes long. It's utterly minimalistic in its approach, but it tells a whopper of a story. When it ends, you immediately want to watch it again and "figure it out".

The Gordian Knot is similar to Primer, but longer and more involved. When it ends, if I've reeled you in correctly, you're going to want to go back and search for a lot of things to solve the puzzle. Or should I say...puzzles.

Joe: This sounds, if I may say so, like a breath of fresh air in a time where movies are all about superheroes and teen vampires.

Lay: Get ready to inhale!

Joe sez: Help support a fellow artist and donate a few bucks to the campaign. I did. You should too. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Latham,

I watched your video and it's quite captivating. I'm intrigued and will donate on pay day (tomorrow).

Joe, it was nice to read about a friendship that goes so far back. It would be interesting to track the other kids in that program.

Best wishes for this film.


Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the lead. I supported the Veronica Mars Kickstarter - and had great fun.

I just got the level that includes the solution book and the script - can't wait to see the whole thing finished.


Alan Spade said...

Joe, it's fun how worlds can meet. Like you just did, I have pimped on my blog a film on crowdfunding, Extreme Pinocchio.

It is a short film, but I was glad the producer and director, Pascal Chind, succeeded in raising the funds. Contrary to you and Latham, I just met Pascal Chind on the Internet.

He invited me to the avant-première at the Gaumont Opera cinema in Paris on April 15th, and I will be there.

Best luck to Latham!

Kriley said...

I'm definitely intrigued. I really hope to see the completed film. Now off to checkout the kickstarter campaign.

kathie said...

A movie that's a puzzle about a game!! I love it. Thanks for sharing, Latham and I will take a look at your kickstarter! Good luck and congratulations for taking control of your dream.

William said...

Jo, this is great. I'm about to give now!

I check out your blog everyday, and it's cool to see that your friendship goes back so many years. It does make me wonder if Jack's first boyfriend was named after your good friend Latham.

Alan Tucker said...


I was struck by so many parallels to my own life in this I had to go support it.

I was in a Gifted and Talented program, like the one you describe, for a few months when I was in fourth grade in Arizona. We moved to Colorado that summer where I later met my lifelong friend, who also now works in the film industry doing 3D modeling and special effects. I was also a big fan of GAMES magazine and, before that, devoured all of the Encyclopedia Brown stories when I was in grade school and every Choose Your Own Adventure book I could get my hands on. This movie sounds like an amalgam of all of these.

While I've not been as wildly successful as Joe in my writing career, I have sold over a thousand books so far this year thanks to a BookBub ad an evidently halfway decent story. Most of that money is going to replacing an ailing furnace in my house, but I'm happy to pledge a small amount to helping Latham get his project to the finish line. I wish him the best of luck and I look forward to getting my DVD of this fascinating project in the future!

JA Konrath said...

Yep, I named Jack's boyfriend after Latham.

Meb Bryant said...

Joe, a friend of yours is a friend of mine. I'm tickled to be part of The Gordian Knot as evidenced by the Amazon message:

You are now an official backer of The Gordian Knot. Time to tell the world about it!"

Best of success to Latham and his dream.

Catherine said...

I absolutely love movies and shows that make me think and don't tell everything. This sounds intriguing!

William J. Thomas said...

Hmmm...between this movie and the Pines series I think Latham and Blake Crouch should hook up on a project soon.

Shel Delisle said...

My son studied digital arts in college and I know the painstaking work that goes into getting everything just right in the final edits.

Congratulations, Latham on realizing your dream! And, I'm excited to see the finished film.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I'm always trying to find a couple of decent Kickstarters to drop a few bucks on, and after I recently self-published my first couple of pieces, I really started to understand just how tough it can be to be an independent creative type.

This movie looks really interesting!

Vincent C. Martinez

Ishrat Fati said...

very interesting site u touch very Hot Topics

Unknown said...

Great post! I'm probably too late in the game to launch a Kickstarter campaign for my current book. I'm seriously considering it for the next project to keep the self-pub expenditures down.