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Back at the dawn of time – FXhome Time, that is – there were a couple of young kids called Sam Gorski and Niko Pueringer. Through a series of increasingly ambitious and accomplished short films they ascended to almost legendary status here at FXhome.com, where they were known as their alter egos Mechaforce and Sidewinder and produced films under the Twisted Studios banner.
Then, after releasing their magnum opus DXM, an elaborate, clone-filled CG extravaganza, Sam and Niko vanished from the scene.
This all took place between 2001 and 2004. To put that in context, EffectsLab and YouTube didn’t yet exist – online video was very, very different to how it is today.
Nothing was heard from Sam and Niko until late last year when they resurfaced on FXhome.com under a new production name, Corridor Digital, having set up shop in Los Angeles. The intervening period had clearly not been wasted, with their new showreel and a feature film trailer demonstrating impressively advanced skills. Earlier this year they released Modern Warfare: Frozen Crossing, a Call of Duty fanfilm which attracted over a million viewers on YouTube in the space of a week. The second part has just been released and is creating a similar splash.
We decided it was time to catch up with Sam and Niko and ask a few questions about their missing years and where they’re going next.
1. Many newer FXhomers won’t have heard of you guys, even though you were here from the very start in 2001. Do you remember how you first discovered us, back when we were still called AlamDV.com?
Niko: It's hard to say. I remember asking Sam to try painting muzzle flashes in Photoshop after seeing AlamDV, and then promptly deciding that it was worth buying. I was probably searching for lightsaber fx, and came across a posting on theforce.net or something. Either way, I remember that I was at my Grandma's house. That's one detail that I remember for some reason.
2. The last time we caught up with you guys was in July 2004, with the release of the ‘Twisted Studios’ compilation DVD. Shortly after that you both went off in different directions to college. What did you study, and how did it go?
Sam: Like most kids, we went off to college to earn degrees. I had considered going to a school in Canada for a bit, but I ended up going to NMU in Marquette for two years. I took a couple cinema courses at NMU which were interesting, but they were focusing too much on stuff I had already learned in high school... the basics of digital cameras and editing. I was very eager to shoot more projects, so I ended up joining Niko in Madison, WI for my final two years. There I simply focused on getting a BA in art, allowing me to have more time to shoot outside of classes, which was definitely a much better learning experience in my opinion!
Niko: I majored in Art, and had a second major in film from the UW-Madison. Like most of my filmmaking career, most of my actual learning happened outside of school. The UW was a great place regardless. I had many opportunities there for a huge variety of things, not just those related to film. It really helped me grow as a person.
3. You both disappeared from the FXhome.com website around 2005. What took you away?
Sam: I was out and about doing typical college things: classes, partying, girls, lots of jamming with guitars.
Niko: At that time, I felt that it was time to focus less on an online community and more on my college community. I was also feeling that I had contributed most of what I could to FXhome, and that there were many users now capable of helping people with tutorials on many different things. I've never been as involved with a forum as I was with FXhome, however.
4. What prompted you to return to FXhome.com?
Sam: It finally hit me how long we had been out of contact, and how much work we had been doing that you guys would want to hear about! Also, I think I had forgotten my old password... so it definitely helped getting that reset... but don't tell anyone. But most of all, I was curious how things had changed, who the new community was made of, and what plans you guys had for the future.
Niko: I always stop by once in a while to see what's new. It's good to return to your roots.
5. In 2009 you reappeared with a new studio name, a new showreel and several impressive new projects. How and when did you both get back together and form Corridor?
Sam: After graduating from college in 2008, a company who saw Greenside, a film we worked on, contacted us to direct a script they had, called Dark Island. It was a feature film that brought us to Vancouver, BC, and was an amazing experience! But after an untimely eviction we decided to move to Los Angeles to continue post production - we formed Corridor to keep jobs going on the side while we finished the movie.
The eviction was a hilarious event though... we had been renting a house to stay in while we shot the film, and the lease said only four people were staying there. Our crew was a little bigger than that, but it wasn't a big deal, we weren't on each other's toes. But during shoots, we needed to have a couple day players occasionally, and they'd come back and relax with us when we wrapped. The day the landlord happened to stop by, we coincidentally had just wrapped the shoot with the most cast members we had for the whole movie. Basically she came in and saw about sixteen people hanging out in this tiny bungalow, and subsequently gave us a 30 day notice to leave. Oh well!
6. Dark Island looks like an action b-movie of unusually high quality. How did that come about, and how did you go about making it look so good?
Sam: Thank you! I think we'll share that credit with British Columbia, a place where I think it's impossible to shoot a bad shot. Armed with only an HVX and a Red Rock adapter, our crew was small and mobile, allowing us to get to otherwise difficult to shoot locations. As a test to ourselves, we went on a 1½ hour uphill hike with about 100lbs of equipment to see what our limits were. Luckily few of our shoots required anything like that, but over half of our locations were only accessible by foot, so being able to climb with cameras on our backs was very handy in filming that movie.
Niko: Spending lots of time with digital cameras has really given us a good feel for how to get the best picture out of them. Dark Island is really an application of everything we had learned up to that point in terms of filmmaking.
7. Did you deliberately set out to show the creators of Lost what their smoke monster SHOULD look like?
Sam: When going through the first revisions on the script, there were a lot of Lost comparisons, but even to this date none of us have seen an episode of it... I suppose we just wanted to make sure that the movie was 'untainted'.
Niko: I am proud that many people think our smoke monster looks better than Lost's. Technically, it's actually a swarm of germs, but that's just a detail.
8. Is Dark Island available to watch anywhere?
Sam: Soon. We'll have details on that in the near future.
9. You recently released Frozen Crossing, a tribute to the Call of Duty games. What attracted you to making a fanfilm after all these years?
Sam: After slaving away for months working on a movie that we had little control over, we really just wanted to shoot some awesome stuff with the knowledge we had gained. We picked Modern Warfare because we knew that with what we're capable of, we could make something that many, many people would want to see. Plus, with our access to some great locations in MN like the airport, high bridge, and nearby parks, we couldn't resist. I did play my share of the game, but once the bugs starting coming out after its release we moved on to other games. Like Bad Company 2, which is even a little better in my opinion!
Niko: We still shoot things for fun, and Frozen Crossing is a good example of that. We capitalized on Modern Warfare, as our style matches closely, and it's good to get the extra attention that a fanfilm gets you.
10. How many of the locations actually look like that, and how much of it was matte paintings?
Sam: Rule of thumb: Mountains on the horizon or anything costing over $500,000 like jets, armored vehicles are VFX. Everything else is real!
11. You hit over a million views in one week. Did you work hard to get those, or did the gaming press and social networks do it for you?
Sam: A large part of the viral success is due to our friend and housemate Freddie W, whose channel we've hosted it on. After wrapping up the video, he prepped a selection of sites that we'd simultaneously release it on, and having a coordinated release like that helped greatly. Within 24 hours it was on the top of Digg, Reddit, and was being posted on gaming blogs all over the world. Ensuring that everyone sees it at the same time helped it greatly, simply because each view compounds the previous. Also, the combination of high enough production quality and a small personable team helped as well, since we don't appear so big that we can't be approached with questions. People get turned off on the internet if the production looks TOO big because then it looks like a bad attempt at a corporate viral video... examples of this are the viral ads for the new 5870 video card, and "The Raven" for Converse.
12. Were you concerned at all about hearing from Activision’s lawyers after the video did so well?
Sam: Yes we were, but we took great care to make sure that no copyrighted material was in the short, so we were clean. The only thing I was truly worried about was having "Modern Warfare" in the title, but they couldn't nab us on that since it's only the YouTube title.
13. Has Frozen Crossing’s success changed your situation much by raising your profile? Has the phone been ringing off the hook?
Sam: Since releasing it, yes, we've been pretty busy. More than anything else, the MW short has been our most high profile project, so it's nice to finally get a little attention after working on so many projects for so long. Lots of questions, comments, etc!
14. What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Sam: Yes, a few actually. We're working on a web series right now, something to degree of Mad Max vs Starship Troopers. And also another project that may be released on this very site...
15. It’s almost ten years since you first appeared on AlamDV.com. We’ve come a long way and you guys have come a long way. How was it for you?
Sam: Pretty good. Finally being self employed is great!
16. Does Niko still have long hair?
Niko: No, I learned my lesson! It does get shaggy sometimes though.
Sam: I got into Vikings pretty bad during college, and had long hair for a while. Live and learn, right?
A big thanks to Sam and Niko for taking time out from their busy schedule to answer our questions. Until next time...