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Daydreaming movies

Photo by: Christine Walsh

When Robin Christian was a kid, he wanted to be a movie star.

The Monticello native is now working in the film business, not in front of the camera, but behind it with two Champaign businesses.

What is now Dreamscape Design began in the early 1990s as a high-tech marketing firm producing anything visual – including websites, training and recruiting videos and TV commercials. “That’s our core business,” Christian said.

Dreamscape Design has clients in industries like agriculture, manufacturing and food. Christian has helped local businesses like Jimmy John’s, Monical’s and Wolfram Research, as well as national companies. The company can offer web design and technology and has had clients as major as NASA.

Dreamscape has added a 40-foot-by-30-foot green screen studio that will allow the company to shoot 360-degree video, virtual reality and augmented reality videos. “We’re all geared up and ready to do virtual reality,” Christian said. “We do a lot of police training videos with immersive video to teach them to be better policemen. You can add all these elements.”

Christian is also a licensed drone operator, giving him even more ways to help clients sell their products.

Christian’s second business is Dreamscape Cinema, which produces feature films. “We have a slew of movies coming up,” he said.

Christian’s most successful film to date has been “Bad Company,” starring Quentin Aaron of “The Blind Side,” which was distributed through 42,000 Redbox locations and through Family Video.

“Act Your Age” was Oscar nominee Pat Morita’s final film before he passed away in 2005. Christian has worked with TV legend Ed Asner four times, including on his film “Sheeba,” which also starred ’80s box office draw Judge Reinhold. Christian’s family-friendly adventure “My Dog the Space Traveler,” in Christian’s favorite genre of sci-fi, is available through Best Buy’s and Target’s websites.

Christian has written nearly 90 screenplays, some of which have been honored with awards. “Since I was 12 years old, I’ve thought of ideas for movies,” Christian said. “I love to have a journey where you can be wowed by the protagonist and laugh, cry and be excited for two hours,” he said, citing “It’s a Wonderful Life” as an example of the kind of movie he admires. Other favorites include “Lord of the Rings” and “Back to the Future.” “I’m a huge movie fan,” he said. “I daydream movies.”

Most of his smaller films are action or horror, as Christian believes that’s what teenagers want to see. He describes his bigger films as “passion projects.” Among those that he wants to make is the story of a 14-year-old Jewish boy from Poland who shot photographs of the atrocities at Nazi concentration camps. “The allied forces saw the pictures and said, ‘People are really dying,’” Christian said.

Another project Christian would like to complete is a stage musical called “Joy to the World” about the ‘70s band Three Dog Night. The band has written him a letter of support for the project. “I’m a musician; I really like music stories,” Christian said.

When Christian is making a film, he typically has to bring in a film crew from Chicago because the only local filmmakers have full-time day jobs. He has three interns he hires every semester to teach about filmmaking. Some want to be producers, while others want to be editors or directors.

Christian is currently completing his ninth feature film, a shark movie called “Below." To date, 100 percent of his films have found release both domestically and globally. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of the community,” he said, noting that many businesses partner with him to become part of a known motion picture.

The next to be released will be “Below,” a story about eight college students on a camping trip who get trapped in a flooded Mississippi River town and encounter angry and hungry bull sharks, a species that has traveled up the river as far north as Illinois. The story was filmed entirely on Illinois waters.

For the last eight years, Christian has been working on “Leach of Liverpool,” based on the true story of Sam Leach, a promoter well known in early Beatles history who after years of struggle gets one last chance to prove himself. Christian will need to spend about 18 months filming in Liverpool once he has raised enough funding from investors. Films like that cost “seven or eight figures” and require a lot more effort to find investment than Christian’s smaller films, which typically cost “in the low six figures” to make.

Other movies he is developing include horror movies “Corn,” "Below 2” and “Slice;” and a sci-fi TV pilot, “Cosmic Journey.”

Christian said he has a way of making venues work for his stories. “When I point the camera, I find something there I wasn’t expecting,” he said. Christian likes Central Illinois because of its rural, urban, middle-class and woodsy settings. “You can tell a lot of stories here,” he said.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to make actors as real as possible,” Christian said. He typically casts recognizable actors in the top 12 roles in his films and then for the next 12 roles uses Screen Actors Guild members from Chicago or holds local auditions.

“Stories are an extension for our dreams,” Christian said.

“Right here in Central Illinois, there’s national-level video being shot,” he said.

Christian’s movies and screenplays have won a number of awards, which he said mean little to him other than “I must be doing something good.”

Christian said the real payoff is when he connects with audience. For example, he said, after his movie “Act Your Age” came out, he was approached by a woman on the street who hugged him and thanked him because seeing the movie prompted her to reconcile with her father.

Christian said he’s been fortunate because whenever he’s encountered a problem with a film, it has always turned out to be beneficial in the end. “It’s unexplainable,” he said.

Christian said that while the similarities between his two businesses may not be immediately obvious, they definitely overlap. “Even a 30-second commercial is a story,” Christian said. “To me, it’s all the same.”

The same green screen technology that Christian uses in making marketing videos will likely also show up in his feature films. “The future of movies is immersive,” he said.

Having directed actors like Chris Judge of “Stargate,” Kyle Massey of “Cory in the House” and Booboo Stewart of Disney’s “Descendants” movies, there’s no telling who will be the next movie star Christian will bring to the area. If you want to participate as crew, partner or investor, email Robin@Dreamscape.LA for more information.