Video Mutants: Prince of theme parkness

Damon Packard strikes back
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cheryl@sfbg.com

Try explaining a Damon Packard film to someone who hasn't seen one and you will fail. The best you can achieve is a description: "It's a sequel to Logan's Run, kind of, but with a lot of 1984, clips from Dateline NBC's To Catch a Predator, and roller skaters jamming to 'Never Knew Love like This Before.'<0x2009>"

Seriously, can you even imagine what that's like? Step inside 2007's SpaceDisco One and enter the world of a filmmaker who makes movies unlike anything you've seen before — except for the parts you have seen before. Every time he uses nonoriginal footage, it's worth paying extraclose attention; though Packard would rather use only his own material, his choices of appropriated footage are never random. Why else would he include a clip of Dirk Benedict (Starbuck on the original Battlestar Galactica) padding dejectedly around the British Celebrity Big Brother house in a film that pays homage to — and mourns the lost aesthetic of — 1970s sci-fi movies?

"I'm not really into mashup-type stuff," the Los Angeles–based Packard explained to me. It was New Year's Eve eve, and we were sitting in the basement at Artists' Television Access — a dark, chilly space crammed with TV monitors and other electronic odds and ends. "In SpaceDisco, I didn't plan on using any [nonoriginal] footage. It's just a case of not having the money. It takes money to go out and shoot original footage. You need actors, props, costumes, and locations. That's the short answer to it. [The nonoriginal footage] was just replacing things that I needed — I needed some shots of spaceships and things like that. For the most part the film is all original."

SpaceDisco One, in which Hollywood's Universal City Walk stands in for the Ministry of Truth during the film's 1984-inspired scenes, works real news footage into its narrative. At one point, a giant screen beaming the face of radio host Alex Jones attracts the attention of SpaceDisco's Winston Smith character — himself a result of Packard's interest in recontextualizing familiar or favorite characters.

"I love the idea of taking characters from other films and utilizing them in some way — taking Arthur Frayn from Zardoz [and using him in] SpaceDisco," he said. In keeping with SpaceDisco's positioning as a Logan's Run sequel, several of Packard's leads are written as the daughters of characters from that film. "And of course Smith and O'Brien from 1984 — all sort of meeting up in the same universe. I like that idea, taking characters and settings from other films and coming up with a new adventure."

Anticipating my next question, he added, "I don't know how that will ever translate into something in the [mainstream film] world professionally, because of copyright issues."

So far Packard hasn't run into any cinema-related problems with the law, aside from being booted from a theme park while grabbing shots for 2002's Reflections of Evil, an epically surreal study of LA paranoia. "[My films have all been] independent films made for no money and no distribution, or very minor distribution," he said. "Once it gets to a point where I have a budget and there's real distribution, [using copyrighted material] would be a whole different situation."

He's also never heard a peep from his celebrity targets, specifically Steven Spielberg (his childhood idol, who might frown on Reflections' depiction of Schindler's List: The Ride) or George Lucas, who's showered with ire in 2003's The Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary.

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