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Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008 10:09 pm

The Pain of Art

Springfield filmmaker gathers awards and tries to get noticed

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Matt Brookens on location in Chicago
Leena Kurishingal with Lloyd Kaufman in The Art of Pain

"Great art comes from great pain," utters cult film legend Lloyd Kaufman halfway through The Art of Pain, which won Best Comedy in last month's Route 66 Film Festival. The feature-length, low-budget comedy was produced in Illinois by local filmmaker Matt Brookens. Ten years ago, Brookens, was running around Springfield shooting scenes with his brother, Greg.

Growing up in Springfield provided many opportunities for Matt and Greg to hone their acting and directing skills at places like Sacred Heart-Griffin, The Muni, and The Springfield Theater Center. Although Matt now lives in California while Greg has stayed in Chicago, the two remain a team. Greg, one of the movie's co-stars, is studying visual effects at DePaul while Matt works the phones in an effort to sell their first feature film.

"I know there's an audience for this movie out there, a place for it," says Brookens, who made the movie last year in Chicago during weekend and evening hours away from his day job as a graphic designer.Now on the west coast, he's still paying the bills as a designer while hoping for that first big break. In Hollywood, it seems everyone has a script and a movie to sell. Brookens believes The Art of Pain has some advantages.

First, a stamp of approval from Troma Entertainment (The Toxic Adventure) legend Lloyd Kaufman, who agreed to appear in a cameo after Brookens' short film, Skunk Ape!?, debuted at Tromadance in 2004. Kaufman's appearance does many things for Brookens' film. It not only lends credibility, but also gives the audience an instant frame of reference. Suddenly, The Art of Pain, a zany mash-up of ninjas, zombies, marijuana, and art, makes perfect sense. It's a cult film. Complete with what Brookens calls a "rad zombie dream sequence."

The film was made in part, Brookens says, as an alternative to the stale formulas Hollywood is recycling. The dream sequences and the zombie makeup were part of the fun, but Brookens also hopes the underlying message about following dreams and overcoming obstacles comes through.

In today's world of independent filmmaking, a young director must take risks. "It's hard to get noticed unless you win or at least show at Sundance," he laments, but Brookens' film is enjoying some success. He's won Best Comedy at The Route 66 Fest (which Matt calls Springfield's "cultural gem"), the Audience Choice award at Florida's Sunscreen Film Festival, and enjoyed a sold-out premiere in Chicago last May. These milestones are nice, but have done little to recoup the film's expenses. And in Hollywood, you've got to make money in order to keep making art. Brookens says that the struggles are worthwhile; he's completed a feature film that's ready to hit the marketplace, he's worked with one of his heroes (Kaufman), and he's made some good friends in the process.

Like his protagonist, Matt Brookens just wants to create art and have fun doing it, which is the advice he offers to other aspiring directors: to make movies without striving for total perfection at first. "Just have fun doing it," he says, "and without realizing it, you will have trained yourself to do everything you need to do in the film world."

John LaFlamboy with zombies

Life is fun for the Brookens brothers, and Matt is dreaming of his next movie. He won't say much about it, only that there will be animation, machine guns, unicorns, and a powerful female lead. Eat your heart out, Hollywood. Or have zombies do it for you.

Check out the movie at www.artofpainmovie.com (DVDs available).

Zach Baliva left Warner Brothers after four years to produce the feature film My Name Is Jerry, and return to central Illinois. He now lives in Springfield.

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