Swords and Sorcery: Meet ‘Alpha Rift’ Director Dan Lantz
Alpha Rift, Philadelphia, USA-based writer/director Dan Lantz’s sword and sorcery story of an average man fated to hold a secret demon at bay, will have its world premiere at the prestigious Dances with Films festival (DWF 24), Tuesday, August 31 in Los Angeles, USA. Lantz’ film is a project twenty-years in the making that explores a legend of modern-day knights fighting supernatural evil.
As the first chapter in the Alpha Rift universe, Lantz intends to expand the Alpha Rift mythology into a franchise that examines origin stories and traces various characters and archetypes through the lore—an amazing feat considering the film’s modest budget.
Dan sat down with Film Daily to talk about the movie, his background and passion for creating the Alpha Rift universe.
Tell us about how you first became interested in filmmaking. What has your journey in filmmaking looked like?
When I was 15, I read a magazine article about Industrial Light and Magic and was blown away by the special effects. At first I wanted to become a vfx artist, but over time, I found the story driving the effects more interesting. Eventually, I started making my own short films. My parents were not fans of the idea me making movies. I believe my dad’s exact words were, “Prepare to starve”. However in high school, one of my short films was featured on Dick Clark’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes. That national TV attention got me student of the month at my high school, Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA. After that, my parents were very supportive.
You wrote and directed your current feature length project Alpha Rift. Where did the concept for the film come from?
Back in 1995, long before superhero movies were a thing, I had a thought “what if” a superhero really existed. The person would have to be delusional, almost like Don Quixote. I wrote a screenplay called, “The Nobleman” about a quixotic comic book fan who has molded his existence around his favorite super hero called “The Nobleman”. Since then, this theme has appeared in dozens of movies, like Kick Ass and the padded vigilantes in The Dark Knight. Over time, my “original idea”, became a cliche’ and the project somewhat languished on the shelf.
However, in 2017, I went with my boys to a PAX gaming convention. While there were mostly video games, I noticed a whole section for tabletop gaming and an incredibly dedicated group of fans painting miniatures. Being the model maker myself, I joined in the fun and quickly realized how gaming is awesome and most importantly I finally had my hook to turn The Nobleman into Alpha Rift. Comics were out, Gaming was in, and suddenly my story was fresh and my hero Nolan Parthmore became relevant.
In addition, unlike in 1995 when superhero films were considered a bad investment, today, superhero movies are the hottest thing, so my executive producer, James L. Becket gave me the green light and I could finally make my 22-year quest happen. Side note, the license plate of my car is QU1X0TE an homage to that original idea.
How does directing your own screenplay compare to directing someone else’s?
The difference is night and day. When directing another person’s script, it is about what I can add to the existing story. When I direct my own screenplay, it is a singular quest to bring my vision to life. Alpha Rift has been the most creatively fulfilling experience of my life.
What was your biggest challenge while working on the film?
Maintaining an even tone throughout the movie has been the biggest challenge. My goal is to make an entertaining, fun move, but we have lots of intense action and have a villain who is an apostle of the devil himself. It was important to maintain a fun and entertaining tone throughout without getting mired in the heavier aspects of the film. I definitely left the darker moments on the cutting room floor.
Do you have any favorite moments from working on set that you can tell us about?
I would have to say the scenes in the control room were a blast. Lance Henriksen has mostly played heavy, serious characters, but I was blown away as to how funny he can be. His little moments with Rachel Nielsen slay me every time. His deadpan humor on camera, over delivered what I was trying to achieve and off camera he was the greatest guy you could ever have on set.
I also really enjoyed working in the abandoned prison. The conflict between Nolan (Aaron Dalla Villa) and Vicars (Graham Wolfe) really played out perfectly in those scenes. I really enjoy when actor’s bring it and all the subtle nuance of character is seen on their faces.
What did you learn from working on the film?
I learned to follow my gut. In the past, I would rely too much on other people’s opinions and not trust my own. I still ask for feedback, but am a much better at filtering it.
What do you want audiences to take away from Alpha Rift?
I want them to smile, be like, “heck yeah, let’s do this!” You gotta watch it to understand.
What are some of your favorite sword and sorcery films?
My brother and I must have watched Disney’s The Sword in the Stone a hundred times. Excalibur and the musical Camelot are favorites. I am also a big fan of the whole Don Quixote complex.
Do you play any fantasy role-playing games?
We have a weekly D&D game with some of the Alpha Rift cast. I also play Diablo III.
Talk us through your creative process when developing a story.
I am a big brainstormer. I toss hundreds of ideas about until the best ones rise to the top. I will then write a quick draft of a screenplay and put it on the shelf. Over time, it will percolate in my subconscious, then out of the blue, I will have an epiphany and vigorously jump back into writing.
What part of filmmaking do you geek out about the most?
Props. I love making custom props. I am hands-on in the design and making of props from all my movies. It is not a surprise Alpha Rift is about a “Magic Helmet that transforms a fan-boy into a superhero”.
What has been the biggest success of your career?
I certainly hope it will be Alpha Rift.
Who are some of your current influences?
Jerry Bruckheimer and Kevin Feige are my two biggest influences. They really know how to entertain an audience. A running joke on set would be, “What would Jerry Bruckheimer do?” I literally asked that to the cast & crew while on set and we would pow wow to come up with the most entertaining approach to a scene.
What are five movies you think every aspiring filmmaker should see?
The Stuntman by Richard Rush, E.T. by Steven Spielberg, Back to the Future by Robert Zemekis, Big Fish by Tim Burton, Pirates of the Caribbean by Gore Verbinski. Each one of these is a master class in combining art & entertainment.
What’s your next project?
I am making a horror comedy called “Hayride to Hell” about a small farmer getting even with unscrupulous land grabbers.
Do you have any advice for new filmmakers?
Make very, very short films. You are better off making ten 3-minute shorts than just one 30-minute film. You will learn so much in the process, that you will look back at your first few films and hate them, but then have a new 3-minute short that is getting watched by everyone. I still make shorts – just shot one 2 months ago.
Have you ever worked with a mentor and do you think that mentorship is important for a developing filmmaker?
Mentors are a double-edged sword. If your mentor is in exactly the same career as what you want, then great, it’s perfect. However, if you want to do romantic comedies and your mentor is into horror, they will hold you back.
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That is an impossible question to answer, but Inception seems to reveal something new every time I watch it.