Unlike most of the local filmmakers I profile, John Venable is someone I’ve known for a long time. That’s because he’s a film critic for his own website, www.supercala.com, and I’ve chatted with him on occasion before and after screenings. This time, though, our chat was on the record: His filmmaking debut, the caper flick Karma Police, comes out on DVD on Tuesday. “It’s interesting being on the other side of the table,” he said. “I know what to expect. There aren’t too many questions I’ve heard that I haven’t asked myself.”
A tall, boyish 41-year-old native of Garland, Venable graduated from the University of North Texas in 1991 with a bachelor’s in graphic design, though he returned a few years later for a second stint that taught him about animation and the then-emerging technology of the internet. Those two areas of expertise and his love of film led him to create Supercala. “I’d read a lot of reviews online, and it felt like lots of writers were just trying to impress other writers,” he remembered. “I wanted to write for the common moviegoer, and at the time nobody else was doing [short films that serve as movie reviews]. It was different.”
Venable was hoping to sell his idea into syndication but couldn’t build up an audience before the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. He still owns and operates the site but admits that his new career direction has kept him from updating it in recent months. “It’s not an easy site to maintain,” he said.
He has spent some of this decade acting in local theater productions, which he cites as particularly valuable to his filmmaking efforts, both for networking with North Texas’ acting community and watching other people direct actors. His friend Jay Gormley (with whom Venable co-founded their production company, Parkview Place Pictures) turned him on to filmmaking in 2001 by soliciting Venable’s script idea for his short film Snap. Venable now calls that first effort “pretty bad,” but the collaboration has been fruitful for his subsequent films.
Karma Police is about a tech worker who’s conned by a supposed secret organization that makes good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. After some years of having the script workshopped on the screenwriting web site Trigger Street, shooting finally commenced in 2006. A friend helped finance the production. (Venable won’t go on the record with budget figures until he secures foreign distribution, but the movie looks like it was made for 10 times what it actually cost.) Several Fort Worth locations were used in the shoot, including The Moon Bar, an airstrip near Texas Motor Speedway, and the multi-million-dollar home of David Minor, a TCU honcho. The film enjoyed its world premiere at last year’s AFI Dallas festival and also played at last November’s Lone Star International Film Festival. The crowds for both were enthusiastic, but Venable knows that local audiences are prone to be favorable. “We had a press screening in Houston last week, for a group of strangers who had no ties to our movie, and 70 percent of them stayed after for the Q&A session,” he recalled. “It’s so satisfying to hear an audience laugh in the right places and have that visceral reaction where they enjoy being duped.”
Venable and Gormley are now working together to revive a shelved project called $30,000 Millionaires about Dallas men who pretend to be rich in order to bed women. The economy is providing some hard weather for their work, but Venable is vowing to learn from some of the mistakes he made on his first film. “As soon as you stop learning as an artist, it’s over for you,” he said.