Notes from FanX 2014: Larpers behold! Ex Machina Films has a story for you

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A community college student eagerly aspires to be a writer despite a limited talent but he also fumbles in the real world because of his social awkwardness. He sees his tutor, a gifted graduate student whom he respects deeply, as the chosen hero of the prophecy from a game he plays as a member of a larping guild.

Storyboard for 'LARP: The Movie.'
Storyboard for ‘LARP: The Movie.’

In a journey that limns the real and fantasy worlds, both individuals enter the realm of live action role playing that leads them to discover the true empowering gifts of adventure story-telling.

Larpers, indeed, have converged in great numbers upon Salt Lake Comic Con FanX at the downtown Salt Palace. Some might be at least bemused at this expansive celebration of nerd culture but there also is more than a serious hint of the passion and respect for how fantasy is liberating, empowering, and assuring.

Already many larpers throughout the country are eagerly spreading word of mouth about a feature-length independent film in the works that pays justified homage to their games and activities. And, as buzz starts to build around ‘LARP The Movie,’ which is being produced by Ex Machina Films based in Salt Lake City, many skilled crafts artists also have come forth to build the swords and other weaponry out of foam and steel for the movie.

Gordon Dunn wears one of the character costumes for 'LARP: The Movie.'
Gordon Dunn wears one of the character costumes for ‘LARP: The Movie.’

The film, produced by Connor Rickman and directed and written by Nicholas Dunn along with Ehren Remal, is billed as a comedy fantasy. “It’s really a story about story-telling,” says Dunn, a writer and playwright who has had works presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has worked with the University of Utah Youth Theatre. The hero is Preston, a writer with strong early promise but who is now barely making it as a graduate student and tutor. He worries about his sole remaining student, Leon, being suicidal and searches for him in the nearby woods. There he encounters a varied cast of characters including The Phantom Lord, Rebels, and The Great Seer. Although Preston, as Dunn explains, believes the story to be cliché if not even ridiculous, it becomes evident that the world of foam swords and homemade costumes is the gateway to resolving the paralysis of his creativity and imagination.

Concept art: Cindel, "LARP: The Movie'
Concept art: Cindel, “LARP: The Movie’
Concept Art: Leon, 'LARP: The Movie.'
Concept art: Leon, ‘LARP: The Movie.’
Concept art: Preston: The Chosen One, 'LARP: The Movie.'
Concept art: Preston: The Chosen One, ‘LARP: The Movie.’

Rickman, Dunn, and their colleagues at Ex Machina Films already have cleared several critical early hurdles for the project, which began three years ago when Dunn started outlining the story. In addition to the many larpers and craftspeople who have come forward, Rickman and Dunn have leveraged their experience and contacts in the film industry. The company’s offices are in the Redman Movies headquarters in the city.

The company produced the winning reel for the I Am Downtown competition last year sponsored by the Salt Lake Downtown Alliance as well as the winning 48-Hour Film Project entries the last two years, which is sponsored in part by the Utah Film Commission and the Salt Lake Film Society. Another film ‘Sign Heist,’ screened recently at the Salt Lake Comedy Film Festival.

Rickman recently worked on several major releases including the forthcoming film ‘The Giver,’ which is adapted from the children’s book by Lois Lowry, and stars Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift. The sledding scene was shot incidentally at Brighton and Solitude Ski Resorts. He also worked on ‘Need for Speed.’

In addition to its appearance at FanX, the crew for ‘LARP: The Movie’ has recently launched a Kickstarter project which can be seen here.

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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

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