It's Judgment Day. Mankind has been nearly wiped out. Ruthless creatures roam the land to prey on the survivors, their small numbers dwindling. All of God's chosen people have been beamed up to heaven.
For four nonbelievers who've been left behind, the world they've awakened to isn't much different than the one where the Good Book says they'll ultimately end up, that is if they don't change their heathen ways. And in the days after the Rapture, that's hard to do. After all, the survivors are more likely to be forced to summon the head-cracking power of a Louisville Slugger than the power of the Lord.
This is the world of The Man Who Shot God, written and directed by Mt. Pleasant filmmaker John Barnhardt. With five short films under his belt, he's spent 2007 shooting and editing his first full-length movie with a dedicated group of local actors and filmmakers. Many of the crew members are from Trident Technical College, where he teaches in the film department.
"I want this to be the El Mariachi of Charleston," he says, referring to celebrated director Robert Rodriguez's first indie hit, which was shot for less than $7,000. "We're making the equivalent for half the money. I want to carve a path for independent film here and get people saying, 'Hey! Look at these guys. Look at what they're doing!'"
While God is being filmed on the cheap, it aims for a Hollywood level of action. For our left-behind protagonists, there is a fervent amount of running and fighting, particularly in the film's central act.
The four main characters aren't the only folks struggling against a seemingly impossible set of obstacles. Barnhardt himself has been beset with problems of his own. In addition to the bargain basement budget, his actors are film newbies — and unpaid. And the shooting pace is breakneck.
"I've been pushing people's limits, and everyone's risen to the occasion," Barnhardt says. "And being the director, the leader of this bunch, it's important for me to keep going no matter what."
That has included working through some long, hot summer days and dealing with the challenges that shooting outside of the quiet confines of a studio soundstage unfortunately offers. "It's been tough," Barnhardt says. "There was one day in particular when every airplane was flying overhead." This made recording clean dialogue extremely difficult.
"It was also the hottest day, and the sun was frying everyone," he adds. "Our biggest fight has definitely been against the heat."
Aside from the risk of severe dehydration, sunstroke, and the like, the action scenes have taken their toll on the actors. Two of Barnhardt's stars, unwilling to fake their fights, were injured during the shoot. But being hard-core thesps, they went on to do three or four more takes with their fresh fractures.
In order to help spur his cast onward despite broken bones and the relentless heat, Barnhardt has posted snippets of the film on Myspace and YouTube. He also scheduled a sneak peek of the first act at the American Theater in April.
"The one thing that keeps them motivated," he says, "is my editing a little of what we shoot along the way." That also means that he won't have a huge editing task on his hands when filming's complete — he's already assembled two-thirds of the movie. The use of MySpace and YouTube, the filmmaker hopes, will also help build a buzz for the film.
The Lowcountry filmmaker didn't just wake up one morning and decide to be a feature film director. He worked his way up from bottom-rung production jobs at a local news channel to a similarly lowly post as a lab assistant at a video company to a gig as a producer of the nationally syndicated television show, Exploration with Richard Wiese. But it's his locally-shot shorts that have really set the groundwork for his latest project.
After taking September off to edit what he had shot so far, the filmmaker is now returning to the fray to finish filming. The first 30-minute chunk of the hi-def project has already been submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah; he's also looking at festivals in Toronto and Austin, as well as Utah's other indie film fest, Slamdance.
Ultimately, Barnhardt wants to earn a living making movies. He also hopes that others will follow his lead. He says. "I'd like to see more people making movies, getting off their ass, and shooting their shorts."
A low budget production may be grueling, but he finds it rewarding too. Even with his previous TV and short film credits, he's sure that this is the most important thing he's done in his life.
The director still needs help as he makes his last big push to get the film ready for an American Theater premiere at the end of November. Anyone interested in catching sneak previews of the film or lending a hand can reach Barnhardt at his Myspace page, www.myspace.com/barnfly.