Three Feature Films Produced at Mizzou

During the ten-year period from 2004-2014, a series of three films were shot on campus at the University of Missouri-Columbia. This activity was intiated in late 2000 by computer science professor Jeffrey Uhlmann, who also served as writer-producer for the three films. One goal was to establish an emphasis area in "Entertainment Engineering" (see here and here), but the most important goal was to create ambitious projects that would promote interdisciplinary collaborations among students and faculty from across campus.

All three films feature the most famous star of the Lucha film genre, Mil Mascaras. They have screened to enthusiastic audiences around the world and garnered equally enthusiastic reviews from critics. Unlike most independent films (and even most Hollywood films) these Mizzou-produced films have continued to attract fans and to enjoy high-profile press coverage (including magazine cover articles) years after their original release. This website is dedicated to the hundreds of students, faculty, and members of the local community who applied their multidisciplinary skills, experience, and creativity to make this success possible.

Below is information about each of the three films, including hundreds of behind-the-scenes pictures. For people who participated in these projects, it was the experience and memories obtained working together behind the scenes that really made these activities special.


Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy

This is the film that started it all. Jeffrey Uhlmann wrote the script in the late 1990s and brought the project to the university in 2000. Jeff and one of his students, Mike Sullivan, began preliminary work in 2002 to identify filming locations and to create and secure props. Mike had an undergraduate degree in art and was working on a Master's degree in computer science at the time. He was also a huge fan of lucha films. Mike recruited colleagues from the Art Department to create props and set and Jeff recruited from Theatre and other departments. However, it wasn't until they were joined by Uhlmann's colleague in the computer science department, Prof. Kannappan Palaniappan (affectionately known as "Pal"), that the project really took form.

In late 2004 producers Jeff and Pal set a date for the first of two planned shoots. Shortly before the scheduled start of filming, they hired a group of experienced production people from Los Angeles and flew them in to assist in making sure that everything went smoothly. This proved to be a good decision in many respects, but it also led to serious problems that caused the project to all but collapse during the second shoot. Fortunately, two years of effort, including a third shoot with a new director, eventually resulted in a finished film.

The completed film had a closed screening in Hollywood in August of 2007 followed by a string of festival screenings around the world in 2008. The film was briefly re-titled "Mil Mascaras: Resurrection" after a theater owner expressed concerns about the length of the original title, but the title was changed back before the film's 300-screen US theatrical release in 2009. The following year the film enjoyed a pair of celebratory screenings, first in Montreal at the Fantasia International Film Festival and then at the Roxie in San Francisco, which coincided with the announcement of the film's official release on DVD.

The co-star of the film, Kurt Mirtsching, was a prominent local theater actor and was also ran Shakespeare's Pizza, which is an iconic landmark near campus. His wife, Karen Stix, was an artist for community theater productions and applied her talents to create many of the distinctive set decorations and props (e.g., the Mummy's scepter) that appear in this film and the subsequent ones. Together they became the heart and soul of production activities for all three films and contributed in more ways than can possibly be enumerated. Everyone associated with the films has fond memories of them and of the wrap parties they so generously hosted.

Chip Gubera was another constant who contributed in a wide variety of ways to all three films -- not least of which as director of the first two! Most importantly, he taught the classes that trained many of the students who participated on set and during post-production, and he and his students created most of the digital and visual effects seen in the three films.

Kathy Murray was the Mizzou Assistant Director of Campus Activies, so she was the go-to person to get the word out to students about opportunities to participate in the films. If 50-100 students were needed for a crowd shot, Kathy would put the word out and excited students would arrive. For the first shoot of the first film she arranged to have herself or a member of her staff on set at all times to be sure that everything was safe for students. While on set she demonstrated that she could also help with just about any kind of challenge that would arise and was credited as an associate producer for the film. For the third film she served as a full producer and made sure everything ran smoothly from the beginning of pre-production to the end of filming.

Marty Walker was a former Marine who managed all facilities for the College of Engineering, so he was instrumental in arranging for space to construct sets and for providing many other kinds of support. He also appeared as an actor in all three films: First as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then as a security guard who was felled by the poison dart of a mini-assassin, and briefly again as a security guard in the third film.

Another constant was Avery Danziger, who was a respected artistic photographer and documentary filmmaker. He was responsible for production audio and served as the official stills photographer for all three films.


TRAILER ~ ABOUT-THE-FILM ~ GALLERY ~ BEHIND-THE-SCENES ~ CREDITS


Academy of Doom

This film was funded by the College of Engineering, and one of its goals was to bring attention to the new Information Technology (IT) degree program offered in the Computer Science department. The idea was that a class would be taught in which students would oversee pre-production and filming during one semester and then have an opportunity to take classes the following semester to work on post-production for the film. Jeff had hired Chip as an IT instructor after the two worked together on post-production for Chip's zombie-musical film, Song of the Dead, so Chip was the clear choice to teach these film-related IT classes and to direct the film.

The script for Academy of Doom (AoD) had many more characters and locations than the first film but had to be shot in much less time with a much smaller budget. This meant that filming would have to be planned to maximize efficiency at the expense of cinematic artistry, which was ideal for IT students who were primarily interested in learning the mechanics of filmmaking. Even with this plan, however, it appeared that some of the more logistically complex scenes, e.g., involving flamethrowers, might have to be cut. This is when a "Grand Plan" was devised.

Jeff and Pal had been planning the final shoot for the Mummy film and intended to fly in an experienced director to manage on-set operations, much like they had done for the first shoot. But when that director became unavailable it created an opportunity to reschedule so that the final shoot of the Mummy film and filming for AoD could be coordinated for the benefit of both. Specifically, the Mummy production would provide capital and resources to allow AoD to film for an extra week and then would hire Chip and the AoD crew to stay on to complete the final Mummy shoot.

Although the proposal seemed reasonable in theory, there were many concerns because it relied on everything for the Mummy shoot being planned so meticulously that Chip and the AoD crew could transition seamlessly from one film to the other. Chip was particularly concerned because the Mummy shoot required so many setups at locations spread out over thirty miles. These included many of what would become the most memorable scenes from the film such as the the seduction of the Magister, Mil diving through the windshield of a speeding van, the demise of the vampire twins, and the final battle between Mil and the Mummy. In the end, though, everything went smoothly for both shoots.

Fittingly, AoD had its world premiere as part of a double-feature screening with the Mummy film at a festival in Rio de Janeiro in 2008. It wrapped up a long run on the international festival circuit in 2012 with a special screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada, and was released on DVD shortly afterward.


TRAILER ~ ABOUT-THE-FILM ~ GALLERY ~ BEHIND-THE-SCENES ~ CREDITS


Aztec Revenge

Funding for this film was provided by the Provost's Interdisciplinary Innovation Fund based on a proposal from Jeff and the Director of Film Studies, Roger Cook. Like the production model established in the making of Academy of Doom, students would undertake pre-production and filming as part of a one-semester class. This time, however, the production class was offered through the newly-established Film Studies program but with Chip's post-production classes still offered through the IT program.

Although not really a sequel, Aztec Revenge is a continuation of events from the first film when the Aztec Chief (the Mummy's sidekick) had his head knocked off by the IDAKTOR robot. The Aztec Chief was originally played by Jeff's friend and colleague from Oxford University, Marco Lanzagorta, who flew to Missouri to play the part. Unfortunately, Marco was unavailable for this film so Jeff (or more specifically Jeff's head) was used in his place.

The production ran relatively smoothly, but there were a few challenges. These included an injury to a stuntman which required stitches, a constricted leg artery which led to an IDAKTOR malfunction as Jeff blacked out, and several days of continuous rain. The stuntman injury and inclement weather resulted in the loss of almost two days of filming at the cost of an extended action sequence and at least one key scene. Fortunately the final film turned out very well with only one noticable discontinuity.

The film had its world premiere screening at the CutreCon International Film Festival in Madrid, Spain, in February of 2015. The cinema was packed with fans of the first film who erupted with applause and chanted "Professor! Professor!" when Kurt's character made his first appearance. The festival organizer reported that audience enthusiasm continued throughout the film and ended with a standing ovation and shouts of "Bravo!". He said it reminded him of the reception for Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy seven years earlier when he saw it at a festival in Estepona.

On November 7th of that year, the film had its North American premiere at the prestigious St. Louis International Film Festival.


ABOUT-THE-FILM ~ GALLERY ~ BEHIND-THE-SCENES ~ CREDITS