Tag Archives: comedy

What Fight the Panda Syndicate Means to Me.

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By Christopher Pickhardt

Just about ten years ago, in 2006, my best friends and I embarked on a grand creative journey. Out of the blue, we decided to form a production company (Crazy Elk Productions) and produce an independent film called ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate,’ an ambitious dark comic adventure film that consumed the better part of six years of our lives. It was  an amazing creative experience for us that I can look back on with a great sense of accomplishment (as I was heavily involved in its making in the form of co-writer, co-producer, actor and co-editor, among many other hats alongside director Jason J. Dale).

It was a monumental task producing an ambitious project like this on such a shoestring budget, but with that challenge came tremendous rewards. Now that the film is in the can and we are past the film festival submission wormhole, we are actively looking to get the film out into the world; which is a whole other challenge in itself, but one that has greater chances of success than it did just a few short years ago, when you consider the advent of the digital distribution age we find ourselves in. I feel good about the future of this film and look forward to the world feasting their eyes on it.

I felt it was apropos to share an essay that I wrote back in 2009 as we were knee-deep into production on this film, for it really provides a window into the world of independent filmmaking and into the soul of the grassroots artist. Additionally, make sure to check out the film’s trailer below the essay, which I have included for your joyous perusal…

  What Fight the Panda Syndicate Means to ME

We have had a motto that has somewhat guided us since we began this journey on ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’: what we lack in budget, we make up for in creativity. Given our meager resources I am very proud of what we have produced thus far. Lacking a large nest egg to cushion us, we have been forced to really get imaginative with how we have been making this film. Whether it is stretching the dollar to limits unseen by fund raising and bargain hunting or throwing away all conventional ways of storytelling and production, we have slaved since day one to achieve our filmmaking dreams. And as we watch the film come together in the editing process, like pieces of a puzzle, we stand behind another motto, one we adopted around the same time as the prior: ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ is the greatest independent film ever made. A bold statement to be sure, and one ‘El Mariachi’ fans may dispute, but never the less, one I will stand behind until the day I die.

It is hard to put into words what ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ means to me. How do you express a love this strong in words? I can honestly say I have never loved anything as much as this film. IT is my baby, my passion and the single most important thing in my life. My best friends and I have been working on this film for over two years now, going on three this summer. We have spent countless hours producing this project: discussing, planning, shooting, sweating, problem solving, bleeding and pressing on, as obstacle after obstacle, problem after problem, and antagonist after fucking antagonist has attempted to get in our way. We will not be deterred, not by the naysayers, the worrywarts, the assorted Riff-Raff, the inevitable financial woes or any other unforeseen force that is always working against this film. But, that is the life of the filmmaker and even on big budget films; there are nothing but obstacles and problems to address. So one must just keep their chin up and soldier on.

‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ will be finished this year and then everyone can finally see the fruits of our labor, which is an independent film like no other. It is a film that transcends genres, is rich with character, ripe with humor, filled with action and danger and is truly a passion-filled ‘labor of love’ that started with four friends sitting around a kitchen table one night discussing ‘what if?’ This grand experiment, for lack of a better word, has grown into a family of creative artists over 400 strong from all over the north east. We are building a creative revolution, a collaboration of not only artists, but friends, who together are helping each other achieve their personal goals while striving for greater heights creatively and personally. This film is just the beginning of something truly remarkable, for it signifies that anything can be done no matter how impossible the odds against its success are and that if you work TOGETHER, ANYTHING can be achieved. ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ is just the first of many creative endeavors we will be working on together in all artistic realms in and out of film.

I sometimes find myself in disbelief at all we have accomplished. It is truly daunting to think of all we have been through since we started this film back in 2006. I pinch myself at times just to make sure this surreal dream is indeed a reality and not a sick Matrix-type joke I have been sleeping through. My dreams are unfolding before my eyes, almost too fast, and I find myself struggling to keep my mind on anything else. I can honestly say that ninety percent of the time I am not here; I am lost in my dream world physically present, but mentally on another plain going a hundred miles a minute in the idea super-highway. It is a place I don’t ever want to leave. Why would I want to?

This has been one HELL of a ride, filled with DRAMA the likes of which I have never experienced in my life. It is as if a door was opened into another world once production began on this film, bringing forth both great and terrible experiences; leaving our lives behind the scenes resembling a movie in itself. We have been through SO much these last couple years, both creatively and personally. Almost everyone involved with this project has had to deal with some pretty heavy shit, but we are still going strong, still fighting the good fight to get this thing finished. I am happy to say we are closer to the end than ever before with a rough cut actually in sight. The excitement is starting to brew, for nobody really has any idea what is in store for them! I am so excited for everyone I know and love to see this film that I feel high all the time, like I am floating along on a current of intense positive energy.

I am very thankful to God for the amazing family and close-knit circle I have been blessed with; I could not have asked for anything better. Without my belief in God and the strength that gives me and us each day, we would not have gotten through half the madness we have overcome. It is through faith and hope and the memory of my Mom that guided us through some of the hardest and darkest days and into the bright clearing we are at today. We have learned a lot and also gained much more wisdom these last couple of years; I know I am a better person because of it all.

In the end, experience builds strength, which in turn creates wisdom, which finally influences our character and makes us the enlightened people we are meant to be. I look forward to all the wonderful experiences the future has in store for us as we embark on a continuing quest for creative Zen – a place we can truly reach if we continue to work hard and to BELIEVE. And we will, I know it…right here in northern New Jersey, right under our noses; who knew?

Below, is the link to the film’s trailer:

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Review:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

*** ½ stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, as usual, Wes Anderson has made a quirky and enchanting film that immerses us in a world that is unmistakably his. With the usage of vibrant colors, clever camera movements, off-beat if not outlandish characters and elaborate set designs, Anderson leaves his unique signature all over his films that add a nuance and style which serve to further envelope the viewer in the story.

Wes Anderson is in a small club of film-makers whom have cultivated their storytelling style to such a recognizable degree that if one was to flip through the channels without knowing who a film’s director was, could almost immediately deduct the maestro just by the visuals, or the script and by the accompanying elements. Regardless of whether or not this particular film may be said director’s finest work, their fingerprints would be evident all over the place. Visionaries like Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, David Lynch, Steven Spielberg, Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, David Fincher and more recently Christopher Nolan and Alfonso Cuaron (I may have missed a few) have crafted works that are unlike their contemporaries, simply by employing techniques in such a carefully-crafted and deliberate manner that we recognize their brushstrokes with ease.

In other words, you know you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie and with The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is no different. At the core, this is a murder mystery/who done it story with layers of vast eccentricity and rich comedy – which is both subtle and slapstick, depending on the moment. The characters all have clear agendas and motivations, which when blended together create a crazy troupe of people all running either away from or after each other. Mad-cap would be one way to describe this film or “this is SO a Wes Anderson film” would be another. You know what you’re getting and it is usually highly inventive and ultra creative. Anderson just doesn’t tell the usual stories; he spins yarns that are unlike most films out there – stories that have a lot of heart and look at the world through an off-center point of view that is very playful and free of cynicism. In a way, Wes’ films have a very childlike innocence to them and I mean that as a high complement. It takes a very intelligent and clever artist to craft stories that can so vividly show us human behavior in both a cartoonish and deeply realistic fashion. Not an easy tightrope to walk, but Anderson finds a way. That is what makes him special.

The cast here is superb (as always), which is led by Ralph Fiennes as the Grand Hotel’s omnipresent concierge who takes Zero – an ambitious lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under his wing and on the adventure of his life (and for his life). The supporting cast includes Anderson regulars and newcomers such as: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, F. Murray Abraham (in his nicest work in years), Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman and many more (mostly in cameos).

The eclectic casting, which has become the norm in Anderson’s films, is a wonderful and exciting element that further grasps our attention and draws us into the story. I am so happy that the trend of piling a huge assortment of name talent in a single film; which was ubiquitous in 40’s, 50’s and 60’s cinema, has made a comeback of late – probably picking up steam in the mid – late 90’s (with films such as Heat, The Thin Red Line, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, Pulp Fiction and HBO’s And the Band Played On) and gaining real momentum with Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films in the early 2000’s.

Today large casts are in full stream – with actors lining up to work with pedigree directors, often in small parts because they believe in the film’s story or just want to be a part of a unique collaborative experience and sometimes, just want that paycheck. Regardless, it is to the film’s benefit and us the viewers get to reap all the benefits. Even when a film isn’t that great it is still fun to see tons of actors working together – sometimes much like a crazy recipe (Expendables for example). Who would have believed back in the 80’s that we’d actually get a film with Stallone and Schwarzenegger together?! It seemed like a dream that would never come true, but now we’re heading for our 4th collaboration of these two icons with this year’s Expendables 3.

I recommend The Grand Budapest Hotel for those seeking to see a nice, entertaining clever little movie that is original and fun which is not a sequel, a prequel or a TV/video game adaptation or based on a teenage book series. This is a film for real cinema lovers but one that is not pretentious or too avant-garde to follow. It’s almost a throwback to classic Hollywood – which given a lot of today’s films, is a welcomed surprise.