Tag Archives: NJ

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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From Student to Speaker – Inspiring the Artists of Tomorrow

From Student to Speaker

By Christopher Pickhardt

I was invited to speak at my Alma mater, William Paterson University, as part of a panel discussion with other alumni, where we would share our achievements since graduation with students and elaborate on how we incorporated all we learned at the University into our careers. This enlightening event took place yesterday in the shadow of New York City in Wayne, New Jersey – just a short ride over the George Washington Bridge.

This engaging conversation between my fellow alumni and I and the crowded room of students (of varied majors) and faculty, was immensely enjoyable. There were three of us seated at the front of the Martini room (William Paterson’s cozy multi-media theater) in Hobart Hall aka the Communications building and we couldn’t have been more diverse in our chosen professions, yet as similar in our stories. We took turns telling our tales, reviewing our days at the University and each imparted tidbits of useful information and wisdom to these young studious minds.

The students were privy to the “war stories” of a career broadcast journalist who had most notably reported from the Wall Street trading floor on 9/11 and from the front lines of 2005’s Indonesian and Indian Tsunami disaster, where she stayed for seven weeks. The kids also heard from a career salesman and marketing guru who moonlighted as a children’s author – all after serving in the Marines when he was young. And they heard my story, as an actor, a writer, filmmaker and freelance videographer.

It was truly a privilege to be able to go back in time for a moment and recount my days in William Paterson’s Hobart Hall and praise the professors whom inspired me – like Chriss Williams, my film-making professor or John Rhodes, my adviser and journalism professor who helped me secure my internship at Late Night with Conan O’Brien when he was still at NBC in new York. These two pros, among others, showed me that you can make a difference in the world and provoke a spark within the artist that will eventually produce the grand flames of creativity within.

I was able to share my experiences as a struggling actor, filmmaker and freelance videographer and how important it is to remain focused on your career path. I answered many questions on craft, technique and especially how I market myself in the fast-paced world of social media we are currently in right now, where self-promotion is absolutely vital because nobody will work as hard for you as YOU.
Additionally I broke down my daily, weekly and monthly routines and how they related to my overall BIG PICTURE goals. How it is so easy to fall into the time-wasting traps that the internet offers and how fast we can slip into procrastination.

And lastly I explained how vital it was to ensure that an artist not only considers oneself a business person but that the artist dutifully maintains his creative endeavors in a manner that works AS a BUSINESS, and not merely as a hobby. This is of paramount importance if one wants to not only be successful, but desires to be seen as a creative professional and hence, taken seriously within the industry.

If there was one piece of advice I was able to relay to the students that for me, held real value was simply how important it was to believe in yourself. If you do not believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your dreams, nobody will. My belief in my talents, my dedication and passion are what have guided me on my journey through the failures and successes and kept me afloat during the hard times when it seemed my career aspirations were out of reach.

I also said to them how special it is to be an artist and how audacious it is to pursue a career in the arts, where the odds of success are often spewed onto the budding artist with the grimmest of patinas, yet it is the inherent rebellious nature of the artist to face the obstacles and naysayers with a stiff upper lip and proceed forward regardless – for the artistic hunger will surely override the roadblocks that the real world enjoys throwing at the creative soul.

In all, it was a great feeling, being up there with my peers in front of all those students during our afternoon panel discussion and later on during an evening panel as well, where I was the sole speaker. It is my hope, that together, the three of us left these kids with a sense that it IS possible to achieve success if you are willing to put in the work, to take the time to hone whatever craft is relevant to your chosen profession and how necessary it was to find a strong work ethic; which they must develop in school because it is the discipline that will follow them throughout their life in all their various endeavors. If they could take away even a morsel of these themes from our discussions and apply them to their lives, there is no reason that one day they could not end up sitting in the very seats we were sitting in, speaking to a future generation of William Paterson students about THEIR success. That would make me very happy.