One hot day during the summer of 1992, David Rains wondered exactly what the hell he was doing driving back and forth every weekend from his home in Corpus Christi to the set of a low-budget science fiction film being shot in Houston, especially considering how he was dressed. Rains was starring in No Resistance, a cyberpunk adventure about a nomadic information-age mercenary who performs feats of computer magic for the highest bidder, and he looked the part. He had dyed his hair bright pink. He was wearing a ratty Army jacket. In one of his pockets was a vial of powdered substance intended to pass for cocaine.
"I was scared to death some cop was gonna pull me over," says Rains. "It's a good thing that didn't happen," adds Tim Thomson, the film's director and Rains' best friend since high school. "Bail money probably would have added another thousand dollars to our budget."
Thomson's comment could be placed in the dictionary beside the phrase "independent filmmaking." Over the course of five years, Thomson and Rains managed to get No Resistance finished despite crushing budgetary restrictions, scheduling snafus, endless delays and other mishaps.
That they persevered at all is remarkable enough. But last month, when the film was unveiled at the 1994 Dallas Video Festival, it played to overflow crowds. "So many people showed up that they had to get another tape and show it simultaneously in another auditorium," says Rains incredulously. "That was pretty great." The filmmakers aren't kidding themselves, though: there's really not much of a market for a Super-VHS, star-free cyberpunk movie shot with a single camera, especially with promotional costs being what they are. (It is, though, available for rent at Sound Exchange.) And despite the success in Dallas, the film has had trouble getting accepted by film and video festivals; it's generally been considered too rough and amateurish for the former and not experimental enough for the latter.
But despite its amateurish format, its anybody-we-could-get-on-short-notice performances -- the cast includes a cameo by KTRK/Channel 13 anchor Dave Ward as a heat-packing bartender -- and its general aura of seedy low-budget desperation, the movie is surprisingly entertaining. It's a cyberpunk tall tale told with enough confidence, conviction and stylistic panache to overcome its low budget woes.
Set in Houston in the near future, No Resistance is yet another tale of skullduggery in a dystopian future. But it's tightly written and directed with unselfconscious precision. Thomson, who cowrote the screenplay with Rains and Houston producer Irving Cutter IV, eschews film-school showoffishness, preferring instead to place his camera in exactly the right position to enhance the mood or advance the plot or pump up the suspense.
And there's suspense to spare. Rains' cynical, chain-smoking, liquor-swilling, coke-addled antihero, a hacker named Dij, finds himself caught between warring businessmen and street gangs who want to get their hands on a top secret viral weapon developed for military use. Dij is the man who can get it for them, but like the heroes of Yojimbo and Miller's Crossing, he refuses to be tied to any particular person or cause. To survive the onslaught of countless foes, he has to use his trusty laptop computer and his animalistic wits. He tells whopping lies to people holding guns to his lice-ridden head, withholds crucial information from decent folks who might be harmed by it, and kills when his back is to the wall. As the narrative unreels toward its inevitably explosive conclusion, you realize that Dij isn't amoral, it's just that his code of ethics is primitive and spare and tough, and buried so deep inside his bitter soul that most people can't quite see it.
In a strange way, Dij is rather like the film he inhabits: he's compelling and unique and entertaining, if you can look past the grimy surface and see the poetry beneath.
No Resistance was a long time coming, and its fruition represents a reunion and vindication for a bunch of friends who met in high school in Corpus Christi and stayed in touch ever since. Rains, Thomson, Cutter and several other of the film's actors and technicians drove from all over Texas -- from Corpus Christi, Austin, Dallas and elsewhere -- to Houston to help pull the film together.
Rains originated the idea in 1990, mulled it over for a few months, then showed Thomson and Cutter a first draft in early 1991. They submitted it for a grant to the Houston-based nonprofit group Southwest Alternate Media Project, but were rejected and eventually decided to make the picture on their own, using pocket change, favors and ingenuity to build a fictional world from scratch. Shooting took four months in mid-1992. Editing took another two years. Thomson and Rains, who now work together at Houston's Contemporary Productions, eventually put the film together in-house with help from veteran local editor Chris Hogan.
"I think the trick of low-budget science fiction is making half-references to things, and letting one prop stand in for a whole idea so that people don't wonder why the film looks so cheap," says Thomson. "David was instrumental in that respect. Throughout the scriptwriting process, he kept telling me and Irving, 'No one would say this much! No one would say this much!' He believed less could be more, and he was right."
Thomson says the screenplay was inspired by the fiction of cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson, the hard-boiled detective tales of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and the music of veteran New York noise-rockers Sonic Youth. That, and the punk culture of Houston, which made a strong impression on Thomson when he moved here from Corpus Christi five years ago. "In Corpus, the punk culture was really nonexistent," he says. "Except for Dave, of course, who was kind of the city's designated punk. But here it's pretty prevalent, if you know the right people."
The film's soundtrack, by Houston-based punkers Pain Teens, beefs up the picture's subcultural credentials. The filmmakers were introduced to them by No Resistance's producer, Mike Schnieder, an employee at a Houston law firm. The band members liked the script so much that they contributed an album's worth of original music for nothing.
One problem that plagued the shoot was the logistics of low-budget casting: convincing a bunch of mostly nonprofessional actors who had agreed to work for free to show up in a designated location at the same time for several long hours of filming. When a group of actors who had agreed to play one of the film's violent street gangs, The Freemasons, didn't show up for shooting one day, producer Schnieder trotted down the block, walked into a local bar and asked if any of the tough-looking gentlemen inside would like to be in a movie. There were several takers, and they enjoyed themselves so much that they stayed on to appear in additional scenes shot weeks later.
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And, of course, there were the sort of unexpected events that seemed terrifying at the time, but made for amusing anecdotes later -- like shooting a close-quarters gun battle in and around a parking garage and an apartment complex within walking distance of the 1992 Republican convention. "Somebody saw a bunch of young guys with guns and called the police and told them there was a gang fight in progress," recalls Rains, chuckling. "Four armed squad cars showed up to stop us. But when they realized we were shooting a movie, they asked if they could be in it."
"I guess that just goes to show that you can get away with pretty much any kind of nonsense if you have a camera in your hand," notes Thomson.
But once you move beyond fond memory, don't ask the filmmakers what they'll do next. They've been living with No Resistance for so long, and they're so busy being glad it's finally finished, that they haven't had time to plot their next step. "I think we're ready to move on to something different," says Thomson. "Something shot on film, I want to add. But you know, of course, if somebody were to offer us the chance to make this movie again with the proper funding, we might feel differently. For now, though, I'm so tired of looking at it that I'm just glad it's over."
Rains feels differently. "I had a great time, man," he says, sounding suspiciously like his cinematic alter-ego, Dij. "Shit, you know? I'd do it all over again for beer.