There are low-budget films and there are low-low-budget films. And then there are low-low-low-budget films.
And then there's Octopoid Productions' Pickman's Song.
"We clocked the budget in at around a hundred dollars," says Octopoid co-founder Joshua Bentley of his East Moline company's 31-minute homage to a 1926 H.P. Lovecraft story. "A hundred dollars with plenty of guerrilla-film locations. You know, basically storming an old abandoned school in the middle of the night ... .
"The outside of the school," he quickly amends. "Not the inside. Nobody was inside any place they weren't supposed to be."
Inspired by the famed horror writer's macabre short-fiction "Pickman's Model," which concerns a tortured painter and the monstrosities that serve as his subjects, Pickman's Song will make its area debut at Rock Island's The Green Room on October 18 - two weeks after its screening at the annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, and a full four years after its local production. "I knew that it would resurface," says the 34-year-old Bentley of Octopoid's first, and thus far only, short film. "It was just a question of when."
Formed in 2002, Bentley describes the video-production company as "an artists' collective" that has focused on promotion for such area-based rock outfits as Human Aftertaste, Wisteria Losenge, and Spider Translator. Pickman's Song was originally intended as a six-minute music video for the Human Aftertaste recording of the same name - also based on "Pickman's Model" - but Bentley and Octopoid Productions collaborators Sam McFarland (Bentley's wife) and Lyle Zaehringer were so drawn to Lovecraft's creepy tale that they envisioned expanding it to a much longer format.
"I thought it was a great, malleable story," says Bentley. "We had a music-video idea already planned out for it, so we came up with a script, and all of a sudden all of these shooting locations came together, and we were ready to go."
Employing local talent, including Bentley's former high school teacher Bob Hanske - a Genesius Guild veteran who provides Pickman's Song voice-over and, says Bentley, "channels Lovecraft like nobody's business" - filming was completed in "four or five weekends of shooting, lasting anywhere from 4, 5 o'clock in the afternoon to 4, 5 o'clock in the morning."
Beyond the long days, Pickman's Song - for which Bentley says he performed "the lion's share of directing and editing" duties - wasn't the simplest of undertakings. "We were crawling through overgrown trees," he recalls, "and every other manner of foliage just to get some of these shots, and Lyle had to be in creature makeup for six to seven hours. Our bathtub was covered in an unnameable filth once he removed himself from the tub."
Yet as its filmmakers were simultaneously involved in numerous other promotional and video-production projects, the completed Pickman's Song footage wound up on an Octopoid Productions shelf. "Real life gets in the way of things," says Bentley. "That's the way it is. And we were spinning our wheels with too much going on at once. So we really had to focus our attentions on things that were manageable."
The idea for resuscitating the film, Bentley says, came earlier this year when an e-mail informed him of October's H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, an event Bentley was already aware of. "I learned about it a few years back," he says, "and I was like, 'Boy, that would be a great thing to be involved in. But there's so much goin' on right now.'"
Bentley, however, took the correspondence as a sign. "It just felt like the right time," he says. "We didn't obsess about it in the four years since [filming], but I was like, 'Well, we've got this project on the back burner - let's take it out, get it cleaned up, get it ready to go, and ship it out. And see what they say, you know?'
"It was very unplanned," he adds. "It just kind of crept up and tapped us on the shoulder and said, 'Come on. Get me done.'"
Octopoid's filmmakers took a look at their 2004 footage. "When we cast new eyes on it," says Bentley, "we were like, 'This scene has got to be revised, this whole sequence is too long, this one has too much exposition, this one is ridiculous ... ."
He laughs. "But there were some dead-on shots that we got exactly as we had planned, and some great surprises in the footage, so we took out the scissors and cut out the bad parts and really tightened it up," and submitted it to the festival. "I really just figured they'd look at it and say, 'Quad Cities? Where the hell is this?' But that didn't happen."
Instead, their short-film entry was accepted - the congratulatory telegram (and the Pickman's Song trailer) can be found at Octopoid.com - and with their work shown alongside those of directors from Hollywood and New Zealand, Bentley says, "We felt really privileged and honored to be part of this." (With McFarland expecting twins in December, however, Bentley himself was unable to attend the festival.)
Now, says Bentley, the plan is to "get this to a wider audience" through the Green Room presentation and a forthcoming DVD release. "We don't know if we're gonna make a bundle off of it, but it didn't cost that much to make in the first place."
And how does Bentley think Lovecraft himself would respond to Pickman's Song? "Well, I wouldn't want to say that he'd necessarily love this work, or want to shake my hand," he says with a laugh. "Of course, he might be too afraid to shake my hand, because of the germs or something. He was a bit of a strange guy, but we hope he's not rolling over in his grave on this one."
October 18's screenings of Pickman's Song - at 7 and 9:15 p.m. - will also feature showings of six Human Aftertaste videos and artwork by McFarland and "Richard Upton Pickman." Admission is $5, and more information on the evening is available at TheGreenRoomTheatre.com.