'Destination: Outer Space:' An Arden Hills filmmaker's fans pitch in to help finance and produce his latest movie.
By Alyssa Ford

 
Photo by Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Christopher Mihm displayed some of the props used in his new movie "Destination: Outer Space." At left is the head of an Oculon while the robot at right is named A.D.A.M. The movie will be shown at drive-ins and sci-fi conventions. Thatís an asteroid at top left.
B-moviemaker Christopher Mihm of Arden Hills knew he had a fan base for his black-and-white creature features with their bug-eyed lake monsters, alien-possessed meteorites and matriarchal colonies on Mars.

He's accustomed to getting fan e-mails from people all over the country, and he's been able to finance his moviemaking hobby in part through the sale of patches, posters and DVDs of his four previous films: "The Monster of Phantom Lake" (2006), "It Came From Another World!" (2007), "Cave Women on Mars" (2008) and "Terror from Beneath the Earth" (2009).

He's even gotten to the point where he's pleased (but not surprised) to see fans dress up for his premieres -- in ball gowns or their own googly monster eyes made of pingpong balls.

But Mihm says he wasn't prepared for what happened last year when his fan base pitched in to save his latest film, "Destination: Outer Space."

It all started when one of Mihm's financial backers had to back out due to recessionary troubles. "It was a job thing," said Mihm, with a shrug. "It happens."

But that left "Destination: Outer Space" in a lurch. "I was kind of racking my brain," says Mihm, "and I kind of concluded that if I couldn't figure out a way to raise a little money, I'd have to postpone shooting until I could save some up myself."

But then Mihm, a 33-year-old freelance computer programmer in his grown-up life, put a notice on his website, www.sainteuphoria.com, asking for $50 donations to the project in exchange for future DVDs, tickets to the premiere on May 25 and "associate producer" credits in the film.

"I knew I'd get maybe four people to do it and that would be it," Mihm says.

To his great surprise, 50 people signed up to be associate producers for "Destination: Outer Space," giving this black-and-white B-movie an even bigger budget than it was going to have in the first place.

"I was stunned and pretty touched, too," says Mihm.

Some fans also offered to help produce the film, donating their time to build sets and engineer monsters. One volunteer was Mitch Gonzales, 45, of Maple Grove, who discovered Mihm's films while surfing online in 2007.

For "Destination: Outer Space," Gonzales -- a project manager for an injection-molding company by day and a B-movie fan by night -- built a starfish-inspired monster out of chicken wire and foam latex with a giant bulbous eyeball for a head. He also created a pair of wiggly antennae for an extra, and was even allowed to make a cameo appearance in the film wearing a tall, made-up forehead. "I was thrilled to be allowed to play in the Mihm sandbox, so to speak," says the father of two.

Fan Rylan Bachman, 31, of Cambridge, Minn., spent long hours hunting for iron-ore rocks along a railroad bed for an asteroid scene in "Destination: Outer Space."

"I wanted to find some great rocks with nice pits and crevices," Bachman says.

Mike (correction: Mitch) Obrecht, 34, of Omaha, made a 14-hour round trip to Arden Hills to help build some sets for the film and play a capitalist alien named B'Kee in a crowded bar scene.

Mihm, 33, says that all of his films have relied heavily on family members and even neighborhood kids from around Arden Hills, but "Destination: Outer Space" is the first one created by the "Mihmiverse" -- the name he has given to his small but rabid fan base.

As a result, he says, this production has quadruple the number of sets and costumes of any of his previous movies.

"It's my B-movie version of 'Star Wars,' " Mihm says.

The reason for all this fan mania is simple, says Sid Korpi, 50, of south Minneapolis, who is such an aficionado of Mihm films that she keeps a man-sized stalagmite in her basement -- a souvenir from the set of "Cave Women on Mars." (correction: "Terror from Beneath the Earth.")

"It's all about Chris," says Korpi. "When you're around him, you can't help but want to get involved in these silly movies. He's made monsters of all of us."

Alyssa Ford is a Minneapolis freelance writer.