SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Auspicious Phoenix Productions announced today that principal photography has begun on the sci-fi short CRANIAC!, directed by Paul Villanova (OCTOPUS, GRUDGE MATCH). The film is shooting on sets built at the company’s Space Studio headquarters in Somerville, with additional location filming in Boston scheduled for later this month.
The film stars Harry Aspinwall (BLOODYBACK, DUNGEON BROS) and Anna Rizzo (SUNDOWN, LONG NIGHT IN A DEAD CITY), and is about a young filmmaker, played by Aspinwall, who discovers that he has a Martian living inside of his brain influencing all of his creative decisions. The script was a collaboration between Villanova and producer/DP Jim DanDee (BLOOD HIGHWAY, OCULAR). DanDee also previously produced BLOODYBACK and SCOUNDREL, both starring Aspinwall in the lead.
Villanova explained that the inspiration for the film sprang from a brain tumor diagnosis he received a few years ago, and the subsequent gallows humor he and his wife used to deal with the situation. “We basically anthropomorphized it,” he said during a break on set. “We made it a character — we would actually make fun of it — we would call it my ‘unexpected guest.’”
Villanova is healthy now, but the idea of a cerebral interloper has stuck with him. “I’ve always thought that it was a really interesting idea to have a character who’s living inside of your brain, so I was looking for the right project to fit that in to,” he said. He cited the low-budget, camp style of cult filmmaker Ed Wood as the driving force behind the film’s tone and visuals. “I’ve always been a big lover of sci-fi, especially camp sci-fi. TWILIGHT ZONE was a huge influence on me growing up.”
Referring to the stop-motion animation and stylishly inventive creatures — a giant octopus, a man-eating hamburger, and a literal boxing kangaroo, to name a few — that are visual hallmarks of his past work, Villanova said audiences will “definitely see more creatures in this film like in my previous films.”
He is collaborating with Rhode Island-based Pazuzu Studios to fabricate a wearable Martian head and life-sized animated Martian puppet for the film’s special effects shots. “We went a little different this time with actual puppetry,” Villanova said. “The big thing for me as a filmmaker is I love to put things in front of the viewer that they couldn't see in every day life.”
CRANIAC! is the sixth film made by Auspicious Phoenix Productions, and is the first production of 2017 for the company. It joins a slate of four other original short films that will all debut in August as part of the 2017 Auspicious Phoenix Productions Rolling Revue, a coast-to-coast roadshow exhibition of the company’s work. Tour stops are being planned for Boston, New York City, Houston, Denver, and Los Angeles. An e-list signup is currently available on the company website to be notified when tickets go on sale Spring 2017.