Filmmaking grad creates award-winning parable
“I believe sci-fi at its best is more of a drama,” said sci-fi enthusiast and UIC alumnus Tom Etlinger of his new film, “The Brute Killer.”
Etlinger’s sci-fi drama, a 20-minute short, has won nine independent film festival awards, including the Silver Ace Award for a student film at the Las Vegas Film Festival and Best Costume Design for a student film at the Los Angeles New Wave International Film Festival.
The film, available on YouTube, depicts a young man who sets off on a mission to hunt and kill a “brute,” a 10-foot alien resembling the one who killed his mother. During the hunt, the youth is injured and nursed to health by the same creature he meant to kill. The encounter forces him to re-evaluate a hatred that had defined him.
“It’s trying to tell a secret story that’s focused on characters and relationships instead of focusing too much on special effects,” said Etlinger, who graduated from UIC in 2004 with a BA from the School of Art and Design and now lives in Los Angeles.
Etlinger says he realized he could make films when he was a student at Stagg High School in Palos Hills.
At UIC, two mentors in the department of theatre and music — associate professor emeritus William Raffeld and technical director Carl Ulaszek — had a great impact.
“Filmmaking, like any art, is difficult,” Etlinger said. “You really have to do it because you want to, not to be successful. If you stick long enough, the success will come.”
He completed his first film as a UIC student in 2003. Titled “Remembrance,” it was the story of a man doomed to relive the moment of his wife’s suicide. Made with his friend Edward Baronia, who owned and operated the camera, it featured two classmates as actors.
After graduation, Etlinger said, he decided he needed to be in California if he wanted to make movies. He moved to Los Angeles, where he had family, and started a master’s in fine arts at the New York Film Academy.
Making “Brute Killer” wasn’t the only challenge — financing the film was another. Friends, family and the film academy helped.
The brute — which Etlinger considers the centerpiece of the film — was constructed using a series of molds that produced a statue of the actor. A foam suit was placed over the statue and a mold of the head, sculpted by hand in clay, was the final piece, overlaying the actor’s face.
Getting the actor into the suit and through makeup was a four- to five-hour daily process. Getting him out took two more hours. Etlinger used the visual technique of forced perspective to stretch the 6-foot-3 inch actor to a menacing 10 feet in height.
The film’s cave scenes were shot on location in Bronson Cave in Griffith Park, just below the famous Hollywood sign overlooking Los Angeles. The cave has been the location for numerous films since 1919, including the 1966 “Batman: The Movie.”
“We had a great cast and crew,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Etlinger is busy working odd jobs — including stage setup for a Rolling Stones concert— as he plans future projects.
He is writing a “Lord of the Rings”-type script he described as a “big undertaking.” He’s also interested in a documentary on the growth and changes in copyright law.
His advice for others trying to get into the business?
“Watch as many movies as you can, and go out and make movies.”