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Getting off the Couch

In the opening scene of the film Can't Get Away, the camera pans across a desolate stretch of tree-lined highway. Shot in black and white, and accompanied by a haunting musical score, the message is pretty clear: Something bad is about to happen.

Cut to a weed-covered field and a gravel road, where a bullet-riddled Ford Fiesta squeaks to a stop. Two scowling characters step out, and the camera zooms in on the goateed face of the driver, who finishes off a banana with a snarl. A tighter close-up focuses on the discarded peel, then pulls back to follow the thugs into the woods, where a rival is tied to a tree.

So what's with the banana peel?
"It had the guns, it had the violence," Michael Sellers says of the seven-and-a-half-minute movie, which he wrote, directed, shot, and edited. "It was a sarcastic, satirical take on Pulp Fiction."

Can't Get Away was a class project for the 23-year-old film student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He got an A for the film, then entered it in a few festivals, including the second annual West Palm Beach Independent Film Festival last May, where it won first place in the "Best Short Under $1000" category. His prize was some filmmaking equipment, which is likewise awarded to winners in the experimental, documentary, animation, and music-video categories. Each film is no more than fifteen minutes in length.

"If you have the budget where you can shoot a 90-minute film, you aren't going to be looking at entering our festival," says James Moores, the festival's president. "Our goal is very simple, and that is to show young and up-and-coming filmmakers. There's something about watching movies where these guys have worked their fannies off and spent their last dime, and it's true art."

Can't Get Away was made for $700 in two days. The "actors," three of Sellers' friends, wore their own clothes as costumes. The props came from the UCF film department, and the forest where the action takes place is actually a wooded lot behind an apartment complex.

"There was a Burger King [nearby], but I shot the angles so it looked like we were surrounded by a forest," say Sellers, who was shooting movies before he even knew what film school was.

"I found my Dad's video camera in the closet at [age] twelve," he recalls. "I was imitating the movies that I was renting or watching on TV. I wanted to do something like that when I grew up, but I didn't know what it was called in college."

Formal education isn't a prerequisite for making a movie, according to Moores. "Being a filmmaker who is just basically a couch potato happens," he claims. "I've watched movies and taken notes on them to learn. [Steven] Spielberg had made movies and won awards before he ever went to film school. At [age] eight he went around with his father's camera."

While it's too early to tell whether Sellers is another Spielberg, last year he offered exactly what festivals such as the West Palm Beach Independent are looking for: a smart piece of cinema made with very little cash.

Cost-cutting is definitely one of Sellers' talents. In casting the banana peel, he not only helped feed the crew, but he kept the plot rolling to the slippery end.

Cut back to the car. The prisoner -- who has left his rivals for dead after a shootout -- is running toward the car when one of the thugs stumbles out of the woods, gun in hand. Suddenly Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" is heard, and the escaped prisoner starts to dance. He's so caught up in the dance, in fact, that he doesn't notice, until it's too late, the banana peel.

-- John Ferri

Submissions for the West Palm Beach Independent Film Festival, which must be in VHS format, will be accepted through May 1. The entry fee is $15. The festival will run May 29 through 31 at Respectable Street Cafe, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Admission is $5 per night. Call 561-802-3029.

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John Ferri

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