The Hits Just Keep on Coming

UAB Alumnus Is Viral Video Star

By Caperton Gillett

The cast of Beyond Black Mesa
Brian Curtin (center) parlayed sink faucets, a UAB parking deck, and hundreds of hours of editing time into a smash hit YouTube film called Concrete Hustle. Now the UAB graduate and a cast and crew of fellow alums are back with a new viral phenomenon: Beyond Black Mesa. Click photo above to see a larger version.

A few million people have seen Brian Curtin get his comeuppance in a UAB parking deck. He hopes that even more will tune in online to watch him get attacked by alien robots outside a Birmingham warehouse.

Bad things have been happening to this UAB graphic design graduate ever since he began making “stupid little short films” (his words) in high school using the video function on his still camera. He kept on making those films—with progressively advancing equipment and techniques—while he was at UAB, but it wasn’t until after he graduated in 2007 that Curtin found his cinematic calling.

Laser Blazer

As an art director at the Birmingham ad agency Big Communications, Curtin got plenty of experience using film-editing software—experience that spilled over into his own personal projects after work and on the weekends. Inspired by a raft of Star Wars-themed fan videos on YouTube, Curtin and some friends (including fellow UAB alumni Matt Hall and Mat Powell) decided they could make their own sci-fi movie, and make it better.

Following three months of elaborate choreography (it helped that he and another actor were “moderate breakdancers back in the day,” Curtin says), a month of shooting at a parking deck on UAB’s campus (first surreptitiously, later with an official permit), and six to eight months of post-production work on his computer, Curtin unleashed Concrete Hustle on the world.

The nearly four-and-a-half-minute film—a raging lightsaber battle involving three combatants, backflips, flying leaps, several stab wounds, and an apparent high-altitude fall off the parking deck—is a monument to non-stop action. And even though Concrete Hustle has no dialogue, it certainly spoke to its audience: As of November 1, it has been viewed more than 2.7 million times.

Brian Curtin returns to the parking deck to talk about his first million views, the enduring power of lightsabers, and the prospects of a Concrete Hustle 2 in this video. Story continues below video.

 

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Making sci-fi epics is a sideline for Curtin: By day, he's an art director at Birmingham ad agency Big Communications.

Blowing Up Online

Buoyed by the success of Concrete Hustle, Curtin went looking for a new project—and found it in the mythology surrounding the Half-Life video game series. A fan of the games growing up, Curtin was inspired by the decade-long period between the end of the original Half-Life and the beginning of Half-Life 2. “I thought, ‘How cool would it be if there was an actual Half-Life movie?’” he says. “Then I said, ‘Let’s try to make one.’”

That was two years ago. Now, produced and polished, Beyond Black Mesa was ready in time for Birmingham’s highly regarded Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in September. The film was shot over the course of four months and edited throughout the following year, with a cast and crew of friends—including Matt Hall and Mat Powell from Hustle, along with Joy Gravel and Andrew Gothard, who are also UAB alums—working around full-time jobs and personal lives and funding it from their own pockets. The result is 12 minutes of gritty, post-apocalyptic zombie action, densely packed with action sequences and special effects.

Curtin and crew filmed Beyond Black Mesa in and around an abandoned factory off of Arkadelphia Road, a site that also offered plenty of pre-production inspiration. “We’d concept ideas based on what we could use at the location,” Curtin says. “We’d say, ‘We have this dark room here that looks like it’s been bombed. Maybe we could have zombies chase us into the room … ’ It looks phenomenal. It’s a perfect location for a post-apocalyptic movie.” And a perfect location to run around with gas masks and guns while setting off explosions, all without getting hassled, he says.

Several minutes of preview footage posted on YouTube earned Curtin another half-million or so views. The final product had its first screening—and won a Best Science Fiction award—at the international Action on Film festival in Pasadena, California. After some more tweaking from its never-really-satisfied filmmaker, Beyond Black Mesa made its Birmingham debut to a cheering audience at the Alabama Theater during Sidewalk—and Curtin finally had a chance to rest.

Sweat Equity

“The past few months I have been struggling to get it finished and do everything else,” he says. “I designed the Web site, I designed posters—it didn’t seem like it would ever end. But at Sidewalk, I was able to just relax and hang out with friends.”

Curtin doesn’t have any current or future projects in the pipeline. “I just need to recover from this one,” he says. But he says film, whether lightsabers after dark or zombie invasions at dusk, will always appeal to him—as a hobby.

“As an art director at an ad agency, I get to do lots of cool work, but there’s always a client. [Making films] gives me complete artistic freedom to do whatever I want, stuff that I enjoy, without somebody telling me, ‘No, change this,’” Curtin says. “If somebody starts paying me, that means they’re the client and I’m making their movie. But this, even if I lose money and sleep, it’s mine. And I enjoy it.”

Concrete Hustle
Click the image above to watch the Beyond Black Mesa trailer.

 

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