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Pen & Banjo Films & Nonchalance present, "In Bright Axiom"

Pen & Banjo Films & Nonchalance present, "In Bright Axiom"

In Bright Axiom takes you on a journey with the Latitude Society. This journey has a beginning, but it has no end….or so we thought. The rise and the fall of the San Francisco chapter of Latitude Society happened very quickly. Requiring absolute discretion from all members the society was growing at a rate that the creators couldn’t quite keep up with leading to the dissolution. There are many unanswered questions surrounding the Latitude Society such as what is it really? A cult? A secret society? A religion? A community? Experiential art? We’ll let you decide. In Bright Axiom.

Cast of Characters

Spencer McCall..........Director

Jeff Hull......................Creator

Geordie Aitken............The Professor

Quas............................The Great and Powerful

In Bright Axiom is distributed by Gravitas Ventures (gravitasventures.com)

You can watch the movie on iTunes and Amazon

Watch the trailer here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9Sw0yRcxBI

In this episode, we are interviewing Spencer McCall. Spencer is the producer, director, and editor of “In Bright Axiom.” He also made “The Institute” and is one of the creators of “Dispatches from Elsewhere.” As you’ll hear in this episode one of his first jobs was working as a videographer for a dog-cloning company.

Follow Spencer on twitter @pervasiveplay and @institutemovie and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theinstitutemovie


Keep up with some of the Latitude Alumni:

http://www.elsewherenumismatic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/fomalabs/

http://stampsfromelsewhere.com/

https://semperexplorandum.com/

https://rathskeller.club/

https://www.theradiantsociety.org/

And for the curious ones https://nonchalance.com/AXIOM

Follow our hosts!

Heather on Twitter @ @broadwhowrites and Instagram @that_broad_who_writes

B.C. on Twitter and LinkedIn @bcwehman



Heather Grayson:
We have a secret to tell you, but it requires absolute discretion. Shh.

Heather Grayson:
It all started with an invitation, a small white keycard with an address.

B.C. Wehman:
Heather and I looked at each other. It's as if we were compelled to see where the key would take us.

Heather Grayson:
As we approached the address on the card, there was a large warehouse door, and the building had no markings on it.

B.C. Wehman:
We swiped our key and entered a disorienting room with a slide that seemed to go nowhere.

Heather Grayson:
We asked ourselves, do we continue down the rabbit hole? Or do we turn back now?

B.C. Wehman:
Without trepidation, we went down the slide, landing in a room with three doors.

Heather Grayson:
Each door would lead to a different destiny. We chose the first door, and entered a room with a telephone.

B.C. Wehman:
We picked it up.

Movie Clips:
You have reached the concierge desk. You are now present in the lounge of the San Francisco House of the Latitude. There is a challenge ahead that will rely upon your skills, gut intuition, and savoir faire. You have been selected out of many, and were chosen for a reason. One of our members has great faith in you. In bright axiom, my friend.

Heather Grayson:
Hi, I'm Heather Grayson, writer, producer, and director, who craves passion in filmmaking, and documentarians are just that. I write fiction, but I love to watch the truth.

B.C. Wehman:
My name is B.C. Wehman. I'm an actor, a writer, and entertainer, all sorts of creative endeavors. But what I love most? Being a storyteller. It's why I love documentaries. They're extraordinary stories from everyday, extraordinary people. This is Behind the Doc. And today, we are behind the scenes with In Bright Axiom.

Movie Clips:
I knew that now, there existed this tribe, whom I now had access to.

Movie Clips:
We sort of thought of it as ours, and we started to think of it as real.

Movie Clips:
And it was awesome, and it was utopian, and it was sort of ideal, in many ways.

B.C. Wehman:
Welcome, everyone, to Behind the Doc, the podcast where we take a deep dive into documentary films and the people that make them. Heather and I watch... God, we watch a lot of documentary films to try and bring you some great guests on our show. And sometimes, sometimes you watch a film and you're like, "Man, that's hard to watch." Sometimes you watch a film and you're like, "God, it really touched my heartstrings." Sometimes, you watch a film and you are like, "What the heck did I just watch?" And I feel like that's where I'm sitting right now, so I'm very excited to have our guest on today, the director of In Bright Axiom, Spencer McCall. Spencer, how are you doing today?

Spencer McCall:
I'm doing very well. Thanks for taking me on.

B.C. Wehman:
We're excited to have you because we have questions. We have a lot of questions that I-

Heather Grayson:
Lots of questions, Spencer.

B.C. Wehman:
They do. So, let's start with this way. How do you describe it to people? And then we'll dig into it a little bit.

Spencer McCall:
With this kind of film, I often say, "I could explain to you what it's about, but it would take 92 minutes to do so." And that's kind of like the idea. What this was, was a social experiment that was put on by a group of artists in the Bay Area to really move people outside their comfort zone, and to show them that there is a world lurking, literally beneath the streets of the cities that they live in. And there is a home for them. There's a tribe. And there is a whole civilization and society and ancient history that you know nothing about. And this is an exploration of what happens when you give people keys to a society or a temple and basically, give people a religion and then take it away from them.

Movie Clips:
It is with great satisfaction that I write to you today. After a comprehensive screening process, you've been accepted for membership in the Latitude. The Latitude is a private membership society, with absolute discretion as its guiding principle. To be clear, an individual who reports content publicly is not invited to return. Included in this letter are directions and an auditory recording, hereby known as a mantis track. In axiom.

Heather Grayson:
Okay. So, for me, it really felt like, after rewinding and rewatching, I was like, this is D and D. This is Pennsic. This is the ultimate in, when people begin and find fellowship and love and connection. And it was sad to see it kind of end at the end. For me, I just definitely love this side of art. I appreciated it a lot. What was it for you that started this whole creative story and stories and getting together with Jeff Hull?

Spencer McCall:
Yeah, I mean, it's actually kind of a long story and a long history. I can take you back a little bit. This is actually kind of one-third of a sort of indie-shared cinematic universe of films. The first one being The Institute, which we did a number of years ago.

Spencer McCall:
The story of how I met Jeff Hull and how I got involved with this was kind of interesting. I was... Sometimes, people don't believe this, but my first job out of college, I was working for a dog cloning company. I was kind of the videographer there. And we were trying to launch a dog cloning enterprise where each dog costs about $150,000, right as the recession hit. So, that company went out of business. And at the time, I don't know if people use it as much these days, but I did what I had to do to try to find a gig, and went on Craigslist and found this very cryptic post asking for a video editor to put together these strange kind of videos. And it was all very cryptic and not a lot of information was given, but these videos became part of these installation pieces for something called the Jejune Institute.

Spencer McCall:
And after about three years of making these videos and accumulating a lot of footage, I decided to kind of just go off on my own and make a film. And Jeff said, "Knock yourself out." I didn't really see him again for about six months. I came back with the film and he said, "Great." As this was happening, essentially, Jeff decided to create this new collective and create the Latitude Society, and asked if I would help make more of these video pieces along with it. And I said, "Sure, but I'd like to really document this whole process from the beginning." So, with the Latitude, it was, I'm going to start making this and I expected the whole thing to go on for a decade.

Spencer McCall:
After about two years, it kind of imploded on itself. There are quite a number of interesting reasons why that happens. And the beauty of the format of documentary is, you don't know where it's going to go. I mean, obviously, sometimes there are docs that are done retroactively, but I think the benefit of working on a doc on a subject that's going through their own journey is that, when that pivot happens, it can create some really fascinating moments and things that are stranger than fiction. And this doc is definitely an attempt to be stranger than fiction, or stranger than nonfiction.

B.C. Wehman:
It definitely falls in those categories. And I want to get to definitely a lot of this in a little bit here about how it ends, but I want to go back to the beginning. You mentioned, so you found this post on Craigslist, right? That required a lot of trust for you to go on. And I feel like, all of these members who took part in the Latitude Society, there's an inherent form of trust that, I got to be honest, Spencer, I don't know if I have. I don't know if someone handed me a card and said, "Trust me, go see this," if I would have that kind of vibe to explore. So, there's definitely a type of person who's willing to take a chance, see something cryptic, follow it down the literal, in this case, rabbit hole, so to speak. How did you figure out, I guess, the initial people to get involved in the Latitude Society? How did it... Because I know it grew as people joined, but how do they start to determine who are our first humans that we're going to get involved in this social experiment?

Spencer McCall:
Yeah. The interesting thing about the Latitude and the way that it existed was, it was kind of always a pay-it-forward model. So, the creators and co-contributors of what I would consider I suppose myself to be, we started off with a handful of these cards. The idea was, find people of like mind and heart who would be willing to take these chances, and who you think their life could be improved in some way by going through a journey like this. And you'd sit them down, generally just one-on-one, and the first thing you would say is, "Can you keep a secret?" I'd say that for every five cards that I would hand out, one would follow through on it. For the people who did follow through with this, they were people who were curious and intrepid, and looking for something. We are giving you a community, a congregation, a tradition, a ritual. And that filled, I know for myself and for many other people who got involved, that filled something that had been missing for a while.

Movie Clips:
I feel like I had, in some ways, dreamed of things like this. Everything is designed to make you feel like you don't understand how the world works anymore.

Movie Clips:
I feel like I've been woken up. And the first thing I thought was, how do I help make sure this stays? How do I help make sure that something like this gets to as many people as possible?

B.C. Wehman:
So, in that same regard, on a technical aspect, I have to tell you, Spencer, it's a beautiful-looking film. Your rooms, even your interview subjects are extremely well-lit. You have some wonderful animations that really add to it, and maybe just the small signals that come on during the screen, that kind of vibe. But then, just some cartoonish, almost, aspects of animation that really add to it though. It makes it more whole. Was that this conscious effort that "I'm going to go a little bit beyond the documentary," the talking heads, and then showing some stock photos, and add these type of what they're described, what they're talking about, or even filming of the professor scenes, which once again, beautiful-looking scenes, the way you filmed them. I mean, that's feature-film stuff there though, his journey with Cecelia and whatnot.

B.C. Wehman:
Was that this conscious effort that the parts that aren't the talking heads, that are talking and filling it in, we want to really give them a lot more exposition, give them some visuals to help tell the tale? Was that a conscious effort first started to come after looking at all the footage of your subjects, and then saying, "I need to fill this in more"?

Spencer McCall:
Well, so... Thanks. So, yeah, I mean, a big part of the professor's journey is, when people participated in the actual Latitude, and to explain the Latitude, I mean, it is a piece of art, that it was always intended to be ambient and beautiful and just art. It had so many different artists come together to contribute to this, whether it's the murals in the arcade, or the designs of the creatures and the puppets that are in it. And the animations like these were, this was a collaborative group effort under the artistic direction, at least as far as the Latitude goes, of Jeff Hull.

Movie Clips:
As you embark on your journey, I'm heading off on my own.

Spencer McCall:
When it came to the professor's journey, which was stuff that I helped shoot, as we were going along, people would go through these different phases of the Latitude and at the end, they would get a passphrase. It would be, I think the first one was the signal, or the second one was high seas. And you'd go home and you'd return to your glowing box, or your computer, and you'd input this signal and you'd get, kind of like in a video game, you'd get these cut scenes, these cinematics, where in between the gameplay, you get to know a little bit more about what the story is.

Spencer McCall:
And so, the thing with the professor's journey is before the Latitude closed, we had only shot maybe like two of those sequences. We shot him giving the explanation of what the Latitude is and then, getting on his boat, the boat, Freedom, and then heading out to sea. And then, that was an unlock scene for one. Then you would get the unlock scene of him on the boat, but when the Latitude closed, there had still intended to be another nine or so chapters of this, nine more sequences of the professor's journey. And so, as I was interviewing people and I started realizing what the relationship was between the professor and Jeff, or Jordy and Jeff, and the professor and [Quas 00:00:13:32]...

Movie Clips:
The professor was the voice of empathy and connection and welcome. And Quas was the voice and face of caution and impersonal, cynical self-criticism.

Movie Clips:
The professor became more and more strongly identified with this society member, and her, or his experience. Whereas, Quas very much was the creator figure, the kind of cold godhead. And in that sense, reflected Jeff.

Spencer McCall:
I did decide that we needed to finish off the professor's journey in some way. To do that, I continued with his journey through the redwoods and through the desert. And we wanted to do snow-capped mountains, but the timing never really worked out. What we did at the end, there were a lot of people who I wanted to speak with, I wanted to interview, who were either kind of upset at how it ended, or upset that the documentary even existed, because a big part of what this was, was absolute discretion. It was the idea that this is a secret. Can you keep a secret? And if you're making a documentary about it, you're going to be exposing it. So, I don't want to talk to you on camera. At the end of the day, you got to just, as a documentary filmmaker, you just got to respect that. You can try to facilitate relationships, but you got to respect that.

Spencer McCall:
But that said, there were a number of people who said, "I don't want to talk on camera, but I will tell you what my thoughts are." So, how do I get those thoughts into the film without having these people in the film? And so, what I decided to do was basically give a lot of those grievances to the professor at the end of the film, and he's able to confront Quas, or in this case, Jeff. And Jeff can have that conversation, and the society can have that conversation with Jeff through the guise of fiction.

Movie Clips:
Quas.

Movie Clips:
Ah, the straw man.

Movie Clips:
Where is everyone?

Movie Clips:
They all met Prime.

Movie Clips:
You are Prime. You are so rigid. And so fixed in your insistence that it has to go your way. This was a beautiful thing, and you killed it.

Movie Clips:
The zealots kill what they cannot comprehend. The creation was suffocated.

Movie Clips:
What does that mean?

Movie Clips:
To secure the entity field, the tangibles must find alignment. Otherwise, the core is closed. You failed. You are too late.

Movie Clips:
I was here all along.

Movie Clips:
You were here? The self-professed puppet? You do not see your own reflection. The betrayal is yours.

Movie Clips:
You did this. You killed this thing. There was so much beauty. There was so much connection.

Heather Grayson:
It was really interesting to hear some of the people talking about how it made them feel when it ended, going back to dark places and not feeling great with what was going on.

Movie Clips:
Next thing I know, I'm reading stuff online that says that Jeff just shut the doors. I kind of was confounded because it was so good when I left. I was like, what happened? Why, how could it have blown up to a thing that he just would instantly close down?

Heather Grayson:
What are your thoughts on it ending so abruptly? What was it that... Was it something that you were really surprised about? Maybe some other angles. Maybe they could've paid... Were there any discussions that we didn't see?

Spencer McCall:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, it was definitely a shock to me. Part of me knowing from the beginning that I was going to be making this stock in it. And I think a lot of people in the society knew that it was happening, that I was working on this thing as it happened. I very willfully took a step back, and I wanted to have more of an outsider view in on this situation than an insider sharing what was already a part of it. I was just kind of surprised, and then sat back and it's like, "Well, okay." So, the plane, everybody loaded onto the plane and they're all really excited. They're all going to get to go to Hawaii. And the plane takes off and within 10 minutes, "Sorry, folks, we're turning around. We're going to land again." And that's kind of where I was at, at this moment.

Spencer McCall:
Whereas initially, the doc was like, what happens when we get to Hawaii or whatever magical place that this was going to end up going to? And I think for a lot of people who finally did seem to find the community and the religion that they had been seeking, or that had been missing in their lives, to suddenly have one person sort of have the ability to take that away from them, it's devastating to, for a lot of people who needed this, to suddenly have it be taken away.

Movie Clips:
People were invested emotionally in the creation space, people who created it, like it was their lives too. And when it shut down, it was taken away from them as well.

Movie Clips:
I'm almost ashamed to say, it took me back to a place where I was when I was, had to be hospitalized again.

Movie Clips:
Latitude closing felt like it was something, like someone close to me was gone.

B.C. Wehman:
This film takes place, I guess, I should say, the Latitude Society is mostly in San Francisco. Is that correct?

Spencer McCall:
Yes and no.

B.C. Wehman:
Well, because here's why I'm curious. Because I think the Institute also is in San Francisco, or at least based out of, and I just wonder, as I was watching this, when I kind of got through the end and kind of processed it all and did a little research, does it work outside of that area? We had this conversation. Would the Latitude Society, and I'm definitely going to talk in a second about all the building of it, would that work in Cleveland? Would it work in Missouri? Would it work, even in New York? I feel like that area is ripe for that, but maybe being a little more from the outside, I just wonder how much you feel the location and the people in those locations played into it, especially starting.

Spencer McCall:
Great, that's one of the best questions ever. So, the short answer is yes, I think it can and would, and should work wherever. I mean, look at Meow Wolf. It's in fricking New Mexico. Not that Santa Fe is the middle of nowhere or anything, but people, it's sort of like Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. And I think that something like this would be very powerful in places, probably more so in Middle America than the coast, where... I'm not trying to say that there's, all social, everything socially interesting is happening on the coast, because that's definitely not the case. But there's so much going on that I think it's easy in places like San Francisco or LA or New York, for people to have other things to do or people vying too much for people's attention. So, I think something like this would work even better in a place like Missouri, or Ohio.

Movie Clips:
Some freaky portal to another dimension. And at that point, I was like, okay, I'm going, however much of this is real and however much of this is fake, I am going to pretend it's all real. Because this is so well done, I could really suspend any disbelief at this point.

Heather Grayson:
I mean, it is out of the box. It is art out of the box. It's experimental. It's something that I definitely know that while I was watching it, my 76-year-old mother was coming down and she was like, "What is this about?" She did not understand. But I loved the fact that this is such an art piece. I loved all the art, all the murals. You had talked about that before, all of the sculptures, just the art in general. What was it that... And the buildings. I mean, he had so many different buildings in downtown San Francisco, I can't even fathom just the building of this. It just is crazy. What was the manpower, what was the work behind it?

Spencer McCall:
Huge team of really, really talented artists and engineers Jeff had hired to come on and build these things. I mean, it took years to build the underground labyrinth. And I think the philosophy for some of the design was, when it came to certain things, where it's a little bit more, ask forgiveness instead of permission. So, a good example of that is on the, what, the 14th floor of an old mechanics library in downtown San Francisco, we're going to bring in basically dump trucks load of sand and not tell building management. I was just speaking with the building manager when we were doing some interviews, and just said, "Hey, did you ever go up there and look inside?" And she said, "Well, one day, the cleaning crew went in to try to vacuum. And they find this office room filled with just so much sand." I mean, you can see it. And the idea was that, inside this office building, there is this beach, there is this place where you can do Jungian Sandplay.

Spencer McCall:
So, I don't personally know how all that sand was removed when things abruptly closed. But I mean, it was just a team of... I think the core team was probably actually only maybe six to eight people, but the number of contractors who helped contribute went into the dozens. And yeah, it's just really a testament to great artists in the Bay Area coming together and building something really, really amazing.

B.C. Wehman:
So, as we start to wrap up, I have a question. You mentioned in the beginning that this was a trilogy of sorts, right? Another trilogy that's coming, very vogue these days. I mean, I'm assuming the Institute was first, and I know according to dark corners of the internet, that there was a logo for the Latitude Society in the end of the Institute. There are rumors of mysterious logos in the end of the Latitude Society. And I'm sure you're right to tell us exactly what's happening. But is something else going on right now that we're going to see down the road? I know it's not the place to spoil it here, but it seems like, I guess, is this the end? Let me just give you that generic, vague question. Is this the end or do we have more to see soon?

Spencer McCall:
I don't think anything's ever over.

B.C. Wehman:
Aww. That's a great answer though.

Heather Grayson:
That was.

Heather Grayson:
It's very politician of you.

B.C. Wehman:
So, should we be on the lookout at some point for the closure of this? Is that what I'm looking for there?

Spencer McCall:
Yes, I'd say so. I don't think it's going to be the closure that you might expect, but I think it could be a closure that... The end of any exciting saga or trilogy has to end with a bunch of laser beams and explosions. And I will tell you that you will get that.

Heather Grayson:
And Spencer, honestly, I could probably talk to you for another four hours about this, B.C. and I both. I mean, we just were absolutely like, "Okay, we have to come in early and talk about this in detail."

Spencer McCall:
Thank you.

B.C. Wehman:
Once again, In Bright Axiom, it's a mind twister there, right? Not quite sure what's happening. I definitely would encourage you to check it out. If you haven't seen the Institute as well, maybe even watch that first, because it kind of, you can see the evolution of where you've gone. But it's pretty cool stuff what you're doing out there, Spencer. I'm not sure if I'm taking the dive there, but there's a lot of people that do. Right? And so, that is exactly what they're there for. I'm a little too OCD and paranoid, but that's all right. It's a really cool thing. It was a really unique film that stands out. Usually, talk about other documentaries sometimes are very negative. And this was just a positive journey, and I know there's a good drama involved into it, but it felt positive in its completion. Right? It's a good story. It's a good tale. It leaves you with good lasting vibe to it, and some confusion. But it was fantastic, and we really appreciate it. So, thank you for joining us on Behind the Doc, and good luck out there, sir.

Spencer McCall:
Thank you so much.

Movie Clips:
And once it was clear that they're not going to keep making stuff for us, it meant that if we want our community of experienced designers to continue, we have to start making things for each other.

Movie Clips:
The same kind of selfless love that they poured into a project like this, is the same kind of selfless love that I try to pour into everything that I do.

Heather Grayson:
Thanks for listening to this episode of Behind the Doc. If you liked us, because we all know you did, leave us a review in your Apple Podcasts app.

B.C. Wehman:
Behind the Doc is produced by Evergreen Podcasts in association with Gravitas Ventures.

Heather Grayson:
Special thanks to executive producers, Nolan Gallagher and Michael DeAloia.

B.C. Wehman:
Produced by Sarah Willgrube.

Heather Grayson:
And audio engineer, Eric Koltnow.

B.C. Wehman:
And you'll find us everywhere and anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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