‘Cause’ and effect

NAME: David March Douglas

DESCRIPTION: Guerrilla high-tech director.

Over the ’94 Labor Day weekend, David March Douglas and his band of computer graphics cronies marched onto the Sony Pictures Entertainment lot and without permission started shooting a movie – a 20-minute sci-fi techno thriller called “… For the Cause.”

They had $7,500 – which he ironically picked up from Sony as a workman’s compensation settlement – borrowed cameras and a quartet of actors lured by an ad in Dramalogue. Sony executives were less than pleased by the brazen crew. “Sony was upset. Let’s face it. We had basically gone in unannounced and shot without their approval,” remembers Douglas, who had been a Sony digital artist until he suffered a serious arm injury in February 1994.

But the James Cameron wannabe convinced the irate studio to look at his 1,600 feet of film from that first weekend. Sony Imageworks senior VP Bill Birrell was so impressed he OK’d the guerrilla filmmakers’ further use of the lot and even approved lighting equipment on weekends – after everyone else went home. The project took seven exhausting weekends and 10 more months of post-production.

A year later, the result has got Hollywood heads spinning. Douglas’ mini pic is making the rounds of studios and producers. He’s already got an agent, International Creative Management’s Nick Reed. DreamWorks, Columbia Pictures, Gramercy Pictures and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment are all begging to see the film. New Line Cinema’s president of production Michael De Luca immediately set a meeting with Douglas after a screening last week. And Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, where the pic’s producer Kia Jam has a day job, is eager to see how this guy can cut so many costs.

Sony, meanwhile, lauds the 29-year-old Douglas like a treasured protege.

“David Douglas has achieved the impossible,” says Birrell. “He and his crew have created a futuristic techno-thriller on a nonexistent budget. Sony Pictures Imageworks is only too happy to have had the opportunity to support this fantastic project.” The studio has no deal with Douglas, but TriStar or Columbia may well bid for his services. At a recent screening, one Columbia executive was heard to say: “Good news travels fast.”

Douglas already has big-money offers to turn the film into a CD-ROM game, but his dream is features. Having penned three full-length action and sci-fi scripts with his cinematographer Chris Holt – including a feature version of “… For the Cause” – he wants the studios to hire him and his band to bring them to the bigscreen.

“We can make these pictures for $8 million to $10 million and make them look like they’re $30 million films,” he boasts.

Douglas had worked on the Sony lot as a digital artist until he developed a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome, which finished his computer art career.

“My arm swelled up while I was doing a matte painting for one of the bus jump sequences in ‘Speed,’ ” says Douglas. “I finally realized I wasn’t going to paint again. So I decided to make a film.”

He hooked up with Holt, exec producer Jam and Tim Douglas, a younger brother who is a special effects supervisor on the Sony lot.

The futuristic “… For the Cause” has no real plot to speak of. It’s about four mercenary soldiers sent to blow up the vault of a building. But the film is chock-full of explosions, laser beams, special effects and computer graphics. Douglas says these are achievable on the cheap because he and his crew understand computers and film, which eases the need for “three layers of people to define the look of your effects.”

Douglas and Jam are convinced that can be translated into a feature budget, pointing for example to a director who has to shoot a scene 20 times to achieve a look that jibes with the computer graphic. “We would have story-boarded the crap out of it and understood what we needed going in,” he says.

Hollywood, however, may be interested in a simpler concept known as the bottom line. Says one studio exec who saw the film: “Who knows? He may be the answer to all those cost overruns in Hollywood.”

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