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Raleigh Film Underground Is Working to Enrich Raleigh’s Counter-Culture. 

Raleigh Agenda | Nov. 14, 2016

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The distant sound of distorted guitars drew me toward a glowing light, shining from the opening of a giant steel door. Cordially welcomed by a group of strangers, smoking cigarettes and dressed in black, I entered the warehouse. 

I walked slowly through a haze, and my pulse began to match the tempo of electronic thumps and scratches, all echoing through the cavernous space. My eyes wandered between the cement floor and aliens painted on tinfoil-insulated walls. 

 

No, this wasn’t an herb-induced dream. It was a traveling art show anchored by the film Wastedland 2, curated by Raleigh Film Underground and co-hosted at Oak City Hustle’s headquarters on Maywood Avenue. Run by Emily Alexander, Raleigh Film Underground hosts monthly screenings of indie and cult films made during the second half of the twentieth century. 

“I like fringe, and I want to provide fringe entertainment,” Alexander told me. She went to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and lived in New York City and Los Angeles before returning to Raleigh more than a decade ago.

“I’m creating events that I want to attend, knowing full well that they are in the fringe category,” she told me. “We will benefit from the variety in Raleigh to nurture a counter-culture art scene.” 

As the fog dissipated, the audience drifted into a collection of plastic chairs and wooden benches in front of a portable movie screen for Andrew H. Shirley’s Wastedland 2. It is a wild, deep graffiti dream that follows three nomadic “humanimals” in search of meaning. The film was “inspired by the need to have an autobiographical expression of my contemporary thoughts and designs on filmmaking,” Shirley said. He wanted the film to resonate with modern existential dilemmas, and it worked. 

The crowd refueled on canned beer pulled from a cooler and waited for Gull, the masked one-man band. He beat a drum with one hand and toggled between electric guitar and a sound mixer with the other, thrashing his head back and forth as the sound riveted audience members. Alexander called it a night of “fearless creativity,” adding that she feels passionate about being part of an art scene where “people are thinking and questioning.” 

 

“It reflects in a powerful way of how people are feeling viscerally,” she said. “It’s therapeutic to experience it with others.” I can testify to that, and I hope to keep testifying to Raleigh Film Underground’s intrigue.

Raleigh Agenda | Oct. 21, 2016

The Clash rocked in the background, and the smell of popcorn stirred my senses as I took my seat at ComedyWorx. A scoreboard helped light the tight, low-ceilinged room, accentuating the red-and-white checkered floor. 

While we waited for the show to begin, the audience—families, first dates, and me—were trying to think of jokes of our own. Suddenly, the lights dimmed, and “Can’t Turn You Loose”, the famous Blue Brothers opening, boomed from the speakers. Nine performers sprang from a side door and ran through the crowd, yelling gibberish. This scene won’t last much longer, at least not here.  After Sixteen Years on Peace Street, ComedyWorx will Move—And Become a Nonprofit—Early Next Year After sixteen years of providing laughs at the edge of downtown Raleigh, ComedyWorx will close its nondescript brick building at the crest of a little hill at the intersection of West and Peace streets in December. They’ll reopen in a new space in February. 

Imminent work planned to update the area around Capital Boulevard and Peace Street to make it more pedestrian-friendly compelled owner Richard Gardner to sell the building to take advantage of this city-driven overhaul. “We would have had to pump a lot of money into the upkeep of the building,” says Ashley Myers, the associate producer at ComedyWorx. “Because of all the development, we were going to lose a lot of our parking space.” 

“It was either get money for the building, or [pay] a lot of money for upkeep,” performer Michael Bacigalupo agrees. 

Earlier this year, ComedyWorx launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the move, generating nearly $44,000. Though the Kickstarter campaign is closed, you can donate to the cause simply by showing up in the next two months to laugh.  “All funds raised from this campaign will be used to acquire and renovate a new space to meet local building codes and create a suitable performance venue,” says Bacigalupo. They are in the final negotiations for the new venue and expect to announce the new location within the next month; both Bacigalupo and Myers are ecstatic about the new locale. 

Location isn’t the only update at ComedyWorx: The business model is changing, too. ComedyWorx will be transitioning to nonprofit status and building a board of directors. This means ComedyWorx will increase community outreach, especially by including soldiers, high school students, and seniors in its programming. They will boost training and classes, and they are already in touch with Apex’s Halle Cultural Art Center to start collaborating on future sessions. They hope that’s only the first such site.  

 

ComedyWorx produces five shows every weekend using an all-volunteer staff. For many of its members, the mission is bigger than laughs.  “You’re up there having fun with all your friends, and other people are watching it,” says Myers. “I first started ComedyWorx to get out of my shell. Seven years later, I’m in shows every weekend.” “You wouldn’t believe the mix of introverts and extroverts here,” confirms Bacigalupo. “Before this, I would be sitting at home playing video games.” 

Raleigh Agenda | Sept. 7, 2016

How would the conversation between a professional assassin and a bargain shopper go? A Dungeon Master and his pupils? What does a John Malkovich-like hypnotist find out by probing old friends? And how might a pal react when a couple asks if she would drive their getaway car?

 

These questions aren’t the start of jokes but rather conversations that happened, in the style of vintage Hollywood screen tests, on a local film set for the new series Establishing Shot: Raleigh. 

Last May, twenty-nine performers, nine camera operators, two make-up artists, two sound engineers, and four production crew members gathered in a downtown church for dual ten-hour shoots. After three days, they left with forty-nine minimal-direction, improvisational “scenes,” each lasting a minute or so. The vibe for this montage? Saturday Night Live meets The Twilight Zone. The goal? To show that, in spite of problems with tax incentives, Raleigh still has an ambitious film community ready to go to work. 

 

“It was low stakes,” says director Andrew Martin, active in Raleigh’s film community for nearly twenty years. “We didn’t have to make money, and we’re helping a community.”  A trio of actors, producers, and directors—Martin, Olivia Griego, and Paul Kilpatrick, all veterans of the award-winning short Harbinger —launched Establishing Shot: Raleigh to “give local talent a chance to get in front of the camera.” They wanted, they say, to “provide an opportunity to do something that wasn’t a corporate video or commercial, to stretch a little and have fun.” 

In 2014, the state’s film productions spent nearly $300 million. But in 2015, the state’s legislature allowed the film tax incentive to expire. The local film community took a direct hit when the industry started taking its business to states such as Georgia. Establishing Shot: Raleigh intends, though, to show that talent still exists in Raleigh and, to whatever extent possible, serve as a lure. Martin hopes events like Hopscotch Music Festival and SPARKcon will help Raleigh become a film destination by bringing industry professionals to the city. And when productions do opt to come to Raleigh, Martin hopes that the reels Establishing Shot have built can serve as a working talent pool.  

 

To that end, Establishing Shot: Raleigh isn’t quite finished, especially with the positive feedback the project has earned from the collective The Triangle Film Community. The final videos from their first phase are being edited now, and they’re always looking for more editors to hop onboard with the non-profits project that, in some ways, functions as a skill share. And there is already talk, too, of a second round of filming with more improv-style vignettes. The signal, 

after all, can never be boosted too much. “People in the film industry here in the Triangle are not in it for the money. They are doing it because they love it,” Martin says. “I hope someday it gets celebrated.”