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A white, two-inch-tall teddy bear lies next to an M4 assault rifle. Behind them on a blue wall are T-shirts of Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty. One reads: "Fuck You Binn [sic] Laden."
"And welcome to yet another Ted-E Adventure," a voice narrates. "This week's adventure is more like a reality TV show. We've got our contestant Ted-E, and we're providing him with an automatic rifle -- with no bullets -- a first-aid kit, combat boots, and a canteen. And an all-expenses-paid vacation to sunnnnnyIraq."
The camera then pans across the patriotic T-shirts. "Plus," the narrator continues, "this fabulous wardrobe, which I'm sure will make him real popular with the locals. All he has to do is follow this map from start to finish. If he does this within 30 minutes without standing up, he'll win this fabulous, brand-new scooter."
A light-blue Vespa comes into view, and the camera pans down to a sign that reads "DANGER MINEFIELD" as the narrator continues: "Here's our finish line. Good luck, Ted-E. And by the way, just to make things interesting, we told the locals you're coming -- and gave them a copy of the map. Crawl your little ass off, you bastard, because if you stand up, I'm sure you'll be disqualified instantaneously by the locals. Good luck, you little asshole."
The camera then cuts to Ted-E crawling across the desert, bombs going off near him, sending sand over his tiny body. Bullets pierce the ground he crawls on, making high-pitched sounds as they zing past. The camera cuts again and shows a close-up of Ted-E's brown boot, pushing sand back and creating a perfect trail on the windswept desert. Another cut, and yet another bomb explodes, sending up a wave of sand.
Undaunted, Ted-E doggedly crawls. Finally, as he reaches the finish line, he turns to the right, edging toward the viewer. Behind him, arid mountains can be seen in the distance.
Ted-E appears to have won the reality TV show. But just as he is about to claim victory, it happens. An explosion rocks the scene. The cute little bear's body parts are strewn about, his head intact but covered in blood, thanks to a mine. Finally, his assault rifle falls from the sky and sticks, barrel down, in the blood-speckled sand. Ted-E dies. He always dies.
So ends another episode of Ted-E Adventures, a series of short, special-effects-laden films produced by Fort Lauderdale resident Liza Trainer, a stout 41-year-old with short black hair and a masculine build, and her group of student filmmakers. Nearly every night, Trainer and her young partners gather in a South Middle River studio to film and edit short films that star the cuddly and lovable yet oh-so-doomed Ted-E. The final products are later posted on the group's website, www.tedeadventures.com.
In a rapidly changing motion picture industry, Trainer's group represents both a rebellion and the possible future. They are the actors, cinematographers, animators, directors, and producers of their own films, empowered by readily available computers and software. Their subject matter is radical, their humor, well, unorthodox. When Trainer and her partners aren't producing violence, they're using sex to sell it to club kids.
It's guerrilla filmmaking, and it's catching on in the $30 billion movie industry. Last month, for example, one of the most talked-about movies at the Sundance Film Festival was Tarnation, a homemade personal documentary created by untrained 31-year-old New York filmmaker Jonathan Caouette. Using VHS home movies and more than 200 photographs spliced together and edited on an iMac, Caouette made a film that details his rough childhood, which was spent in and out of foster homes. It cost him $218 and change. Since the no-budget movie's premiere, filmmakers John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Elephant) have signed on to support the movie's distribution.
It's this type of all-talent, no-money success that Trainer and her Ted-E Adventures group hope to achieve. Using word of mouth and guerrilla marketing stunts that double as street theater, the group of filmmakers hopes to build an online audience for the violent Ted-E Adventures. So far, they've finished about 12 shorts, ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes long. In them, Ted-E is electrocuted, microwaved, and boiled and even takes a bullet to the head, his blood spattered on a wall behind him.
Becoming a filmmaker isn't something Liza Trainer's grade-school classmates would have predicted for her. The daughter of a Fort Lauderdale psychic, Trainer suffers from dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder. In school, she was a miserable failure, and she became a class clown to compensate for her academic woes. "My teachers hated me," she explains. "They'd punish me in the cruelest ways. Imagine being forced to go up in front of the class and read from a book. The teachers knew I couldn't do it. Not only was it hard enough that I would be nervous and my palms would be all sweaty; the fucking words were backwards."
Trainer was nevertheless promoted through school and finally, at age 16, ended her educational experience by dropping out after junior high school. She has never become fully literate; to this day, she asks how to spell such simple words as our and sure. But that isn't to say Trainer is dumb. She has an uncanny ability to build anything from, well, anything.