An ambitious new science-fiction film shot entirely on the Central Coast will debut next week in Atascadero.
“MindScans” will be shown Monday and Feb. 28 at the Galaxy Colony Square Theatre in downtown Atascadero. Each screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session and meet-and-greet reception at the Galaxy’s VIP Lounge, reserved for event-goers ages 21 and older.
“MindScans” is the brainchild of writer-director Ben Chiu, founder of Alliance Digital Studios in San Luis Obispo.
Born and raised in New York City, Chiu studied filmmaking at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, later attending the American Film Institute in Los Angeles while working at Paramount Pictures.
“I had grown fed up with the motion picture business,” he said, so he launched a career as a flight instructor, journalist and author of nine books including the “Microsoft Flight Simulator” series.
Chiu, 49, moved to the Central about 20 years ago. He credits Morro Bay screenwriter Tony Peckham (“Invictus,” “Sherlock Holmes”) with convincing him to start his own small-scale studio.
Chiu’s first feature-length film is “MindScans,” which he described as a futuristic drama that’s a “compelling cross between ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Matrix.’ ”
Based on the short story “The Last Days of White Magic” by science-fiction writer Steven L. Kent, “MindScans” takes its title from MindScans Inc., the company behind the Prometheus Bionetic Interface. The interface lets users mentally access a virtual reality supercomputer, allowing them to share memories and reimagine the past.
As company co-founder Tom Sobel (Larry Barnes) tells television news anchor Peter Edwards (John Summer), Prometheus offers access to a “virtual world where people can be what they want, do what they want … a world of unlimited power.”
When a series of lawsuits filed by former MindScans customers and their families threatens the future of MindScans, Sobel enlists investigative reporter Sara Lincoln (Shanda Green) to reassure the public that Prometheus is perfectly safe.
“Once people find out what MindScans is, they’ll drop these silly lawsuits,” Sobel explains, although his chief legal counsel, Lorena Castilione (Gisella Kaplan), is less certain. Meanwhile, Sobel’s troubled partner, Dr. David Talmidge (Terry Morgan), hints that there’s a darker side to Prometheus.
Supported by her spunky Aunt Marie (D. Rosh Wright), who is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, Lincoln delves into the social and moral implications of this troubling technology.
Shot digitally on a nano-budget of less than $1,500, “MindScans” was filmed at locations throughout San Luis Obispo County — including Avila La Fonda Hotel in Avila Beach, the Grover Beach Amtrak station, and Cuesta College’s San Luis Obispo campus — with a local crew and cast. The movie took nearly three years to complete.
To keep costs low, Chiu shot nearly half of the production by himself in his garage. He also used his homemade studio for post-production editing and sound recording.
“There was no way I was going to get millions of dollars (for this movie),” Chiu said, so he went the thrifty route — employing mostly students and cobbling together equipment from parts purchased at Walmart and Home Depot.
In addition to writing, directing, producing and editing “MindScans,” Chiu also served as the film’s cinematographer, visual effects director and sound and music director, among other things. Todd Henschell served as executive producer.
In the absence of a skilled labor force, Chiu said he was forced to fill many of the roles himself.
“Although we are so close to Hollywood, we are light years away in some aspects,” he said. “When you make a movie, it’s a snapshot of the best you could do at the time with the resources you have at the time.”
Chiu’s next project is a drama about a New York City medical researcher who embarks on a Central Coast road trip set to the music of Monte Mills and Donny Straus. Along the way, she visits the Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach, Chateau Margene in Paso Robles, and Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
“It’s essentially my version of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” Chiu explained, with the lead character whizzing around Oz in a red Corvette instead of ruby slippers.
IF YOU GO
6 p.m. Monday and 7 p.m. Feb. 28
Galaxy Colony Square Theatre, 6917 El Camino Real, Atascadero
$10, $12 at door