You may not know about Dream Seekers Productions, a small production company run by brother and sister team Peter and Aubrey Dukes, but it’s certainly a name to keep in mind. The company was formed in 2005, when the pair realized they needed an official venue to collect, organize and share their collective work.
“Aubrey and I have long been partners in crime,” Peter informed me when asked about their collaboration as siblings. “We have a similar taste in storytelling,” he continued, “and have always been very close. I often bounce ideas off of her when crafting a new story.” The two haven’t worked together as much as they used to in recent years, as Aubrey’s been pursuing other venues for her animation and post-production effects. As such, “she’s not as present on our newer projects,” added Peter, “but she’s still an important part of Dream Seekers, and always will be.”
Dream Seekers has sixteen short films listed on their website, most of which have links to videos. The most recent three have been the fantastical A Goblin’s Tale, werewolf horror flick The Beast starring Bill Oberst Jr., and the horror comedy Little Reaper.
With a $700 budget, and shot in one night, Peter Dukes’ werewolf short The Beast was a gutsy concept to tackle. The legacy of werewolf transformations alone makes the genre risky. On such a small budget, and with limited time, this short winds up falling short of its mark. A noble effort, the piece is ultimately flawed. Overwrought dialogue makes the characters feel wooden, their motivations melodramatic, and the action stilted.
Michel (Bill Oberst Jr) grapples with paternal instincts, as he must restrain his son, Jacob (Alexander Le Bas), who’s been marked by The Beast. Now a werewolf, Michel and his friend Douglas (Peter Le Bas) must restrain the boy to prevent him from harming others. Tempers flare as the true lethality of Jacob’s condition becomes apparent, and a decision must be made.
There were some incredibly judicious choices made to help stretch the short film’s meager budget. Primarily, having Jacob’s transformation occur off screen, and barely revealing the makeup effects, was likely the best choice Dukes made. It allows the beast to live in our imagination, amplifying the tension. It also helps sidestep the risk of hokey effects. A werewolf transformation has never been easy to master, and since the days of An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, you’d need a sizeable CGI budget just to come close to adequate results. While it isn’t his best work, The Beast was still a noble effort.
Dukes’ strengths, however, lie more firmly in fantasy. His most recent short, Little Reaper, cleverly tells the story of the Grimm Reaper’s (John Paul Ouvrier) teenage daughter (Athena Baumeister). Belligerent, self-absorbed, and social media-crazed, the young teen is adamant about not following in daddy’s deadly footsteps. Forced to take the reigns for a day in order to un-ground herself on good behaviour, she takes to the streets to collect the dead. Completely shirking her duties in favour of talking to her BFF about being BOOMS (Board Out Of My Skull. Duh, hello?!) daddy’s Little Reaper winds up wreaking far more havoc than she thought she was capable of.
This short is cleverly written, well acted, and simply executed. It’s an absolute gem, and a real treat to watch. Baumeister is insufferable as the self-involved Little Reaper, behaving like a delightful brat. Ouvrier’s Grimm Reaper is little more than a frustrated and exhausted parent. His disappointment in his daughter’s inaction and inability to grasp the significance of a world outside herself is hilarious. The pair compliments each other well, and adds to the overall light-hearted whimsy of the piece.
But Dukes’ true gem, without question, is the cerebral A Goblin’s Tale. Home after a long day of work, Carol Anne (Tiffany Giardina) tucks in on the couch to read one of her favourite storybooks as a child. She lets her mind wander as she reads about goblins and elves, magic and adventure. Before she knows it, she’s being hissed awake by a strange figure in the shadows. An odd creature, with a hump back and hooked nose, calls out to her, and lumbers out of the darkness. Vlix is its name (played delightfully by Laura Kearsey), and it’s not from these parts. Vlix is a character in Carol Anne’s book. Naturally, she thinks she’s dreaming. As the reality of her circumstance unfolds, it becomes clear that Vlix has more in store for Carol Anne than mere fairy tales.
With large thematic ties to classics like The Neverending Story, A Golbin’s Tale would serve beautifully as a feature length film. This short is the perfect sampler of magic and wonder, with some darker elements to pepper the piece with mystery. It feels like the charm and presence of The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, or Legend before it. He’s created an elaborate, multifaceted universe within the confines of a single room, with two characters and jumbled dialogue. It’s beautiful and captivating, and leaves you wanting to know more.