(This article, reprinted with permission, featuring Travis Irvine and Colin Scianamblo, class of 2002, appeared in The Columbus Dispatch on January 26, 2006)  1/29/06

Students land multiple showings of zombie raccoons

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tim Feran


Friends and students — from left: Nick Maier, Colin Scianamblo, Zach Reidmaier, Brian Kamerer and Dan Velez — prepare to shoot a scene.


Shake a digital camera on a college campus — and note the many students with the dream of becoming a film director.

Travis Irvine, a senior at Ohio University, is one who might just reach his goal.

The graduate of Bexley High School wrote and directed a low budget movie, Coons! Night of the Bandits of the Night, that will premiere this weekend at the Drexel Gateway in Columbus — and also at the 2006 TromaDance Film Festival in Salt Lake City.

Shot in August mainly in Columbus and Athens, Coons! is a musical comedy horror satire made for $5,000 and with the help of several dozen friends.

Irvine, an intern with Today in New York, spent two years making his 82-minute movie.

Inspiration struck during a Florida camping trip in 2004: Having just seen a zombie movie, he discovered three raccoons conspiring to get the camp food.

‘‘That’s when I said, ‘Killer raccoons attack kids camping out!’ " the 22-year-old said. ‘‘So I started telling the guys I would write the movie. Of course, no one believed me.

‘‘But I started researching man-vs.-nature movies. Then I started researching raccoons — how raccoons with rabies drown cats and attack kids; and, the most unusual thing, how . . . raccoons that have this bacteria in their stomachs, years later, . . . infest the brains of humans who eat them."

Most of the cast and crew members have Ohio connections: Colin Scianamblo, producer, grew up with Irvine in Bexley and goes to Santa Monica (Calif.) College.

"They’re both Bexley High School kids who interned for me about five or six years ago," said Tom Lyons, who works for the OhioHealth media center.

One of the few older people in the movie, he plays a town mayor — "a nervous character exuding weaselliness."

The lineup includes members of the Wrong Man group, an Ohio University comedy troupe.

"They’re pretty experienced kids," Lyons said. "There’s some inventive stuff, some funny stuff, in there; a singing-and-dancing number — and the raccoons were actual raccoons kept frozen somehow."

Many students shoot movies, but few get them screened anywhere but in the classroom, said Wayne Miller, assistant vice president for academic services at Franklin University and vice chairman of the Film Council of Greater Columbus, which presents the annual Columbus International Film and Video Festival.

"But if student filmmakers can find somebody to screen their movie and get a little word-of-mouth, they can be built up," Miller said. "That’s what made The Blair Witch Project a success. After it screened at Sundance, it got such huge word-of-mouth, particularly through the Internet."

The Blair Witch Project, released in 1999 and made for an estimated $35,000, has grossed more than $140 million to date in U.S. theaters alone.

So the screenings of Coons! at the TromaDance B-movie festival and the Drexel Gateway mark important steps.

"It’s our way of supporting more local and Ohio filmmakers," said Jeff Frank, president of the Drexel Theatres Group.

"We thought it fit into the mold of midnight movies since it’s a comedy-horror musical" — like midnight favorite The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

"So we thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ "

Based on the response, the Drexel Gateway might book Coons! for an extended run.

"We’re hoping to sell out the first two nights and create an underground buzz," said Scianamblo, 21. "And we’ll keep submitting it to festivals all over the country."

"These are pretty creative kids," Frank said. "The fact that they made this movie for this amount is hard to believe."

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