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Ravine: Indie Music Meets Indie Filmmaking

By Tim McMahan


Ravine 101:
For the ultra Ravine fans, here's a profile of the band written way back in 1997, outlining their origins. Take a step back in time...












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It felt like a world premiere, in an Omaha kinda way.

The event was Omaha punk band Ravine's CD release party at the 18th Amendment Saloon. Why the hub-bub? Because this wasn't merely any CD, it was the motion picture soundtrack to the yet-to-be-released film, Killing Diva, and marked the completion of a portion of Director Allen Hatfield's dream project.

There was Hatfield, looking trendy with his long gray-streaked hair, black horn-rimmed glasses and the grin of a proud father, strolling quickly among the crowd, chatting up patrons who had paid as much as $10 to get in. Also on hand were many of the film's actors, each dressed head-to-toe in tasteful, gothic black, furiously taking photographs of the crowd, the stage, each other. Next to the mixing board, a video camera stood ready to shoot footage of the night's activities.

The audience of drunk, boisterously happy, T-shirt-wearing guys in their early 20s had just received a loud dose of Silicon Bomb and Twitch, two tight local original bands, and were now ready to have their heads blown clean off by the night's headliner.

The whole thing felt like a private party. Unlike a typical Friday night at the 18th, there were no ball games staring down from the dozen or so television monitors that circle the bar's ceiling. Hatfield had taken over control of the televisions, warming up the crowd with videos by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and R.E.M., among others.

After the traditional on-stage tuning and soundcheck, the screens went blank, and from the ceiling in front of the stage dropped two large video projection screens, rolling the credits: Ravine… Killing Diva. The crowd roared. No, this certainly wasn't the film's world premiere, but it was the first showing of Hatfield's digital dream, which so far has cost him more than $15,000 and a couple years of his life.

Among the first projected onscreen words: a quote by Jesus Lizard's David Yow: "…Ravine beats the hell out of Ritual Device…" The hostile platitude was met with no a smattering of applause by a crowd that probably had no idea who David Yow is or, more importantly, who Ritual Device was.


The fact that bassist Randy Cotton, guitarist Mike Saklar and former Ravine drummer Eric Ebers were three-quarters of Ritual Device is ancient history that predates most of the crowd. Yet, five years after Ritual Device broke up, Ravine continues to compare themselves to a former incarnation. They needn't bother. With the soundtrack to Killing Diva, Ravine may have finally crawled from under Tim Moss' long shadow.

Hatfield, who also is credited as the film's writer, producer and editor, wouldn't speak on the record about the film's plot. "One of the keys is to keep people intrigued," he said. On the record, he described Killing Diva as "a macabre thriller, shot in black-and-white and letterbox. My objective was to adapt the 1940s film noir style. It's all digital audio and video, completely ready for cross-platform distribution. It'll be 80 minutes long and one of the first all-digital motion pictures ever made."

Pretty cryptic, huh? After some prodding, Hatfield spilled the beans, but the only thing I can tell you about the film is that it involves sex, violence and lots of drama. In fact, most of the 20 minutes of scenes Hatfield showed at the CD release party resembled stylish, black-and-white porn movie footage, with depictions of S&M and bondage. One of the longer sequences showed an attractive woman dripping hot wax on a man tied standing to a pole; another showed a woman whipping a shackled Hatfield with a cat o' nine tails. An indie-version of "Eyes Wide Shut"? We'll have to wait and see.

Hatfield said 40 percent of the film was shot in Omaha, the rest in Los Angeles. The cast consists of Hatfield's acquaintances; none have acted in a movie prior to Killing Diva.

One of the longer sequences showed an attractive woman dripping hot wax on a man tied standing to a pole; another showed a woman whipping a shackled Hatfield with a cat o' nine tails.

"Some people accused me of making the world's longest music video. It's not that at all, but you can't separate the music from the movie."


"The movie started with an $800 budget," Hatfield said, "but when we began shooting, we realized that it wasn't an $800 script. We began to reshoot and figured it would cost between $5,000 and $15,000 to complete. It was Ravine exceeding expectations at every point that pushed us. They pushed the whole project with their music."

Hatfield first met the band through Eclipse Studio's Tim Rayer, a mutual friend, when Ravine was recording their first album a couple years ago. He gave the band a copy of the movie's script and asked if they could write some soundtrack material.

"The traditional Ravine sound is much more structured," Saklar said. "We normally don't have this much room to improvise on our ideas. We read through some early rough draft scripts that gave us a general vibe. Subconsciously, all the ideas matched the story line."

"They originally sent me some cassette tapes of their ideas and improvisations," Hatfield said. "We selected the best ones and recorded them at Eclipse. "

For the soundtrack, Hatfield also used tracks from Ravine's first album and their follow-up, Transmute, an enhanced CD released last May on Saklar's Ant Records.

The result is a soundtrack that's a departure for a band whose music traditionally borders on hardcore punk. The sound is much more atmospheric and varied. Though both Cotton and Saklar growl their way through vocals on some of the tracks, it’s the instrumentals that stand out, such as CD closer, "lockdown," that Hatfield said coincides with the movie's last act. The song starts with Ebers' tribal-like drums and a simple minor-key bass line, and over the course of seven minutes builds to a blood-red crescendo. Saklar's guitar, at first chiming and pretty, turns into a grinding effects-driven wall of sound.

The forced dynamics add a whole new dimension to a band that made its mark playing loud and fast. Tracks like the moody "False Memory Syndrome" and the poppish "Sick Friend" aren’t their loudest songs, but they're among their most interesting and varied. We'll have to wait until the real world premiere to see how well they mesh with the movie's imagery.

"Most films use about 30 seconds of a song in a scene, then begin talking over the song before the music stops," Hatfield said. "In our movie, the music starts when the scene starts and moves at peaks and valleys with the dialogue or scene. Some people accused me of making the world's longest music video. It's not that at all, but you can't separate the music from the movie."


With only a few post-production touches left, Hatfield has big plans for promoting Killing Diva. "We've got 75 target festivals worldwide we'll submit to, including some in Russia, Germany and Spain," he said. "20th Century Fox has a first-look deal on the picture. They were just signing onto DVD at the time. I think we're going to call 1999 our building phase. It will take two months in the press to get some steam going. The first critical festivals start at the beginning of the year."

The plan calls for the band to follow the film as it tours the country, playing at venues in conjunction with film festivals. Ravine also will conduct a traditional tour with their new drummer, Oliver Morgan, who replaced Eric Ebers when he left the band shortly after the soundtrack was completed.

"I think he kind of got tired of fighting the lost cause," Cotton said of the departure.

Morgan, who also drums for Omaha emo-punk band Reset, said he's followed Ravine since the band's inception. "When Eric left, I felt like there was no reason why such a wonderful band should stop what they're doing."

Hatfield said throughout the project, he's gained a new respect for Ravine and their independent, DIY lifestyle. "I've become more hardcore about indie since hanging out with the band," he said. "I've seen the benefits of doing it yourself. You can do what you want and can keep all the money. What do I need a studio for? With the Internet, I can make the film available to anyone who wants to download it from the Killing Diva website."

Hatfield said that technology and the success of films such as the Blair Witch Project, have forever changed how movies will be made. "Filmmaking can now be done by anyone with the guts to do it," he said. "You don't need a studio anymore. It's a whole new ball game."

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Printed in The Reader August 26, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

"Filmmaking can now be done by anyone with the guts to do it."