text and photos by Jon Elliston
Chris Bower is sitting in a low-rent apartment space in downtown Asheville’s Chicken Alley, surrounded by other people’s trash. And he loves it.
In fact, he’s spent the past year-and-a-half laboriously gathering what most folks would consider refuse, scraps or outright junk, and piecing it all together like a life-sized Lego set. Bower isn’t crazy, or even crazy about garbage, per se. Instead, he’s crafting all this detritus into a cinematic trip to the moon.
Moon Europa, that is. That’s the name of both the sci-fi movie Bower wrote and is now directing and the moniker of the flick’s flagship — the spacecraft on which the lead character spends much of her time.
“We’ve got stuff from all over the place here,” Bower says as he tours the ground-floor studio that many moons ago housed a postcard-manufacturing company. The walls, the ceiling and all of the furniture are barnacled with quasi-familiar objects — parts of old appliances, computer-packing materials, metal grills, giant mirrors and plastic racks. Even a pair of salad-bar sneeze guards has found a use.
In this April 2005 photo, Bower spray-paints a batch of old bulk bins donated by the French Broad Food Co-op. “I’ve hit every trash night,” he explained in the middle of the spaceship’s long construction. “Drive around town for a couple of hours, and you’ll find some cool stuff. … A lot of this was found on Carolina Lane [next to Chicken Alley], which has always been sort of a magnet for local trash dumping. So I decided to turn that to my favor, and rescue some of the interesting garbage for the spaceship.”
Taking the low-budget route to set-making wasn’t enough, though. Bower, who’s making the film on what might justly be called “no budget,” has also come to rely on a crew of unpaid volunteers. By now, he estimates, some 150 locals have pitched in in some fashion. “It’s a project that demands a high degree of collaboration and community support,” he notes. “We’ve got media-arts specialists, people from the theater. We’ve also got busboys and bartenders.”
If all goes as planned, Moon Europa will be completed by the end of this year. For now, Bower can reveal that the movie, set in the year 2066, follows the fate of a cloned astronaut, Bria Living, who’s been dispatched to a distant world by NEVCO, an all-powerful corporation that’s trying to colonize the universe with clones. Meanwhile, back on Earth (which appears in the film looking suspiciously like kudzu-covered corners of Western North Carolina), a band of humans is staging a rebellion.
While it’s a solely local production, naturally Bower hopes the film will find audiences all over this country and beyond. “I’ve always wanted to make a project that’s based in Asheville and made by Asheville people,” he says, “then take it out and let the rest of the world see what we’re up to.”
In this May 2005 photo, volunteer set-maker Clarkie Kabler paints various Styrofoam blocks a uniform shade of white. Meanwhile, the spaceship’s “kitchen” wall, behind her, is starting to fill out. “Styrofoam panels were one of the main inspirations for me to do a sci-fi movie,” Bower explains. “A couple Christmases ago, after Christmas I was walking down the street and I noticed all these really amazing Styrofoam pieces [in the trash], and I was like, ‘Wow, look at this stuff!’ It struck me that this was how much of the set design was achieved in Kubrick’s 2001, Lucas’ early Star Wars and ’70s sci-fi knock-offs.”
While many parts of the spaceship are composed of run-of-the-mill objects, others are decidedly unique pieces. In this photo from February 2006, associate producer/set dresser/actor David Kabler (who happens to be Clarkie’s father) polishes part of an airplane wing that will serve as a retro/futuro — and somehow quite fitting — fixture on the wall of Bria Living’s spaceship.
The aeronautical artifact wasn’t plucked out of some junk heap. Instead, Bower and his girlfriend found the wing in the eastern Tennessee mountains by hiking to a remote, decades-old old crash site. In Moon Europa, the wing will finally fly again.
Last week found the Moon Europa crew in the final stages of shooting the film. Here Bower and Craig Hobbs (at right), the film’s producer and technical director, calibrate their gear for some remaining shots in the spaceship.
As the project winds its way into the post-production stage, Hobbs says he’s already satisfied that all the time and resources that have gone into the film were worth it. “This film has already paid off,” he insists. “Even if the film never makes any money, our experience with it will be complete. This is about building community and having the artists control the means of production.”
Moon Europa‘s lead character, Bria Living, is played by first-time actress Arielle Cartee, a metal artist, waitress and student in A-B Tech’s culinary program. Here she acts in a scene in the recently completed spaceship. Her uniform, like many garments in the movie, was created by Asheville fashion designer R. Brooke Priddy.
The hardest part so far, Cartee says, was filming a masturbation scene (apparently even clones do it). “It took five or six shots,” she remembers, with the camera dolly moving back and forth above her body. (Soon, she’ll also have to film a scene wherein she bathes in a tub shared with 200 minnows.)
More mundane parts of the filming have posed their own challenges. “There’s a lot of standing around and stiff positionings, and ‘do it again, do it again, do it again,'” she says. But she adds that all the slower moments and repetition have served her character well. “It’s a person who’s trapped in a spaceship for years, and I’m having to take on that mode.”
To the moon: Moon Europa‘s crew will host a fund-raiser this Friday, May 19, from 6 to 9 p.m. For a $20 donation, visitors can tour the spaceship set, view a new trailer for the film and meet the cast. The spaceship is at 31B Chicken Alley, between Broadway and Lexington (enter from Carolina Lane). For more on the film, visit www.mooneuropa.com.