‘Devolve Babylon’: Local DIY filmmaking

CorrespondentJune 19, 2014 

As a storytelling medium, filmmaking has always been a little complicated. A necessarily technical and collaborative form, making movies requires a lot of time, planning, people and money.

Or does it? A new locally produced feature film will make its world premiere Sunday at The Colony theater in Raleigh after a rather whirlwind production. Written in three weeks and filmed in a total of 16 days, director Michael D. Acosta’s “Devolve Babylon” is an intriguing example of how readily-available consumer technology – and a little old-fashioned moxie – can power guerrilla-style, DIY filmmaking.

“Devolve Babylon” tells the story of David Babylon, a middle-aged office drone who silently endures abuse from his boss, his wife – pretty much everyone. When David reaches his breaking point, he finds himself on a hallucinatory journey into psychedelic bohemia featuring sex, drugs and some rather menacing giant rabbits.

Director Acosta – a Hillsborough musician, writer and teacher – also wrote the screenplay and plays the lead role of David. Sitting at Hillsborough’s Cup-A-Joe coffee shop, directly across from the King Street location where several scenes were filmed, Acosta said the entire production was an exercise in collaboration.

“I found a bunch of people that were hungry to do something,” Acosta said. “I looked for people I know from here that are talented and won’t flake out, and I said, ‘Let’s do a film. Let’s go into this as a very collaborative thing.’”

Acosta, who had already written the script, said he made his initial pitch last December, on a Thursday evening. The crew began filming that Sunday.

Haunted house

Around 35 to 40 cast and crew, mostly from the Hillsborough artistic community, ended up working on the project, Acosta said. The crew used relatively inexpensive Blackmagic digital cameras and other equipment that Acosta either borrowed or had on hand.

Co-producer Adam Hulin and director of photography Justin Wallace were Acosta’s chief collaborators, although everyone involved contributed to the final product in some degree, Acosta said.

Much of the film takes place at a kind of endlessly rolling hipster house party, filmed in an unoccupied rural home on the outskirts of Hillsborough. That location, it turns out, presented a whole other set of complications.

“It’s a really spooky house,” Acosta said. “A dentist owned it, and he killed himself in the attic. We saw the blood spots on the floor. There were a couple weird things that happened – people saw things or felt temperature changes. One time our D.P. (Wallace, director of photography) was just standing there when his pants ripped, like, two feet. He was just standing there.”

‘We have a movie’

After the shoot, Acosta and Wallace began the process of editing and mixing the film. Again they used relatively inexpensive consumer technology – in this case, Adobe Premiere – to manage the filmmaking process.

The result is that the filmmakers were able to assemble a professional product for a fairly small amount of money. “A full master kit for Premiere is about $3,500,” said Acosta, who already owned much of the equipment. “A tricked-out Blackmagic camera is about four grand. With the new LED and lights and sound … for twenty grand, you can have a kit. A real kit.”

Almost all of the cast and crew will be in attendance at Sunday night’s premiere, and Acosta said he hopes to arrange more local screenings in the future. Meanwhile, he’s submitting the movie to various film festivals in the U.S. and Europe.

Acosta said that he’s proud and a little amazed to have made the film so quickly and efficiently. “It just took some forethought and some work and some cooperation,” Acosta said. “And we have a movie.”

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