“The joke’s over,” admits San Francisco independent filmmaker Mark Decena.
Yet “Unflinching Triumph: The Philip Rockhammer Story,” his spot-on mockumentary about the competitive sport of staredown, is getting a boost with, appropriately, an April Fool’s Day DVD release.
The 80-minute movie, which was filmed in 2006 and released only on the Internet that year, generated more than half a million hits on YouTube and 68,000 hits on its dedicated site www.unflinchingtriumph.com. It also earned a 2007 Webby Award nomination and was named “most amusing parody” by Sports Illustrated.
Decena, who co-wrote the script with Robert Lambrechts, the film’s star, calls the movie and its accompanying Internet activity examples of “immersive storytelling.”
He and a team of creative people at AKQA, a digital marketing agency, clearly met their goal of creating an alternate reality. When people wondered if Philip Rockhammer or professional staredown were real, quick Internet searches made them think yes.
Not only did Decena and his colleagues at Kontent Films make a movie about staredown competition, they set up a host of fake Web sites promoting it. The National Association of Staredown Professionals had one; Philip Rockhammer, the movie’s protagonist, had a MySpace profile; as did his rival Tony Patterson. There was a site with a petition calling for the sport to be accepted into the Olympics, and even staredown professional merchandise for sale on eBay.
As director, Decena didn’t get credit; that went to an alter ego, J.R. McCord, which was set up as part of the hoax.
Decena, in a recent phone interview, called the Internet traffic in 2006 “pretty crazy.” He admits that it was hard not to take recognition for making the film at the time.
But with the virtual joke having run its course, Decena, having made a few changes including the ending, is now taking the opportunity to give the movie a more traditional release and explore new methods of distributing it.
Decena hasn’t specifically planned on making a career of directing fake movies; he did a love story in 2003 and is now working on a project about his father’s Vietnam-era experiences.
Always facing the “formidable” challenges that being an independent moviemaker entails, he says that if things don’t work out, he can become a staredown professional because “staredown is the current metaphor of the social and political state of the world.”