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Spotlight on the Arts: Random Magic in Naples

Random Magic Group Photo 1.jpg

Do you believe in magic? Well, there’s a tightknit group of young, smart creatives in Naples, Florida that believes in Random Magic. That’s the name of an independent film company that specializes in telling stories based on classic literature, fairy tales and Greek mythology.

Head of Production Design and Costumes, Arabella Bas, explains their preoccupation with fairy tales and mythology.

“We focus on that because I think that they resonate with people of all ages, but they’re just stories that people learn from and grow from no matter how old they are or what time period we’re telling them in. You could tell them in the ‘50s, you could tell them in the ‘30s, you tell them 200 years from now and I think people will like them the same.”

Except in English and history classes, fairy tales and mythology rarely make an appearance any more in middle and high school curriculum. But modern variations abound in comic books, movies and television.

Random Magic founder, screenwriter and director Maddalena Kinsley finds modern-day examples everywhere. Superman is Hercules. Twilight is just Beauty and the Beast – somebody dangerous who’s transformed by love.

“Harry Potter and Star Wars are full of mythological themes and concepts. Hunger Games is just a retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, just with a gender-bended character and the writer wasn’t even subtle about it. But it’s beautiful and a great retelling of the story.”

Part of the appeal of mythology and fairy tales is that readers recognize their own problems in the ordeal of mythic and literary heroes. They draw reassurances from the abundant, time-tested strategies that the stories provide for survival, success and happiness.

In the opinion of Random Magic’s Head of Production, Brett Boreham, this is what makes Greek mythology so relatable.

“When you think of gods, you might only think of perfect beings, infallible, that can do no wrong, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Bia is cruel and Aphrodite is jealous and Hermes is snarky. These are all traits that we find in humanity as well, and the irony of that is that the gods think themselves to be above humankind.”

But there’s more involved than just bad behavior.

Mythology has furnished the template for terrific storytelling. Kingsley mentions the name Joseph Campbell. A professor of comparative mythology, his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces describes the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions.

A handbook for movie and television executives, producers, directors, novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, actors and writing teachers, the Hero’s Journey provides the structure for some of the greatest films of all times, including Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., The Full Monty, The Lion King, On Golden Pond, Pulp Fiction, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rocky, Sister Act and Titanic.

Ironically, Kingsley’s production company got its start as a result of one of the archetypes that Campbell wrote about in his book - the Threshold Guardian. In Maddalena’s case, that came in the form of the shut-down in March of 2020. Rather than complain about or languish away during the ensuing quarantine, Kingsley redirected her pent-up energy to make a short film with a handful of friends from L.A. and Chicago who’d found their way to Naples.

Arabella Bas describes what happened next.

“We actually created a black box theater on a property of our own. And they wrote and costumed and filmed a very beautiful film called Prometheus Bound.”

Kingsley wrote the screenplay, which she adapted from a play that was written in 430 B.C. by Aeschylus, the Father of Greek Tragedy.

With Prometheus Bound in the can and the pandemic showing no signs of abating, Kingsley and company decided to shoot a sizzle reel to promote a full-length feature they wanted to film about Alexander the Great – told this time from the point of view of his illegitimate half-brother and lifelong enemy, Ptolemy, who became Egypt’s longest ruling pharaoh.

Local film actor Cassidy Reyes plays Theas in the sizzle reel. She posted a scene between herself and Ptolemy on Facebook. Local film festival director Eric Raddatz saw it and reached out to Cassidy.

“It was like a two second clip of each of our faces and [Eric Raddatz] saw it and said ‘What is that?’ And I said ‘It’s for The Great’ and he’s like ‘can you please submit it?’ I told him it wasn’t done but Prometheus Bound was.”

And so it made its local premiere at last year’s Fort Myers Film Festival. It was so well received, that a number of people in the audience contacted Random Magic and subsequently joined the company.

By then, Kingsley and company were at work on not one, but two sequels. That’s even more ambitious than it sounds.

Aeschylus wrote between 70 and 90 plays during his lifetime, including at least two trilogies. Prometheus was one of them, but all but seven of Aeschylus’ plays have been lost to time, including the sequels to Prometheus Bound. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, Maddalena set about reimagining and recreating the lost sequels.

Kingsley thinks Aeschylus would be thrilled with the result – Prometheus Unchained and Prometheus Fire Thief.

“We really tried to stay true both to his traditional telling, but also spice it up and give it a little bit of a modern twist with the costumes and the sets while staying true to the traditional meaning and tellings of Prometheus Bound.”

Since writing and filming the initial short film, Random Magic’s original eight members have doubled and doubled twice more. With more cinematographers, sound technicians, and even a drone, the production value of the sequels has gone through the roof – as Maddalena Kingsley expounds.

“It allowed us to have more takes to that our actors could get exactly the right reactions to everything. It saved us in time and in overall post-production work and just really helped make our projects come to life.”

But so far, no one outside of Random Magic has seen either sequel. Arabella Bas explains why.

“We originally thought that we might release each of the three films as shorts – Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unchained and Prometheus Fire Thief. But looking at them now, what we’ve decided to do instead is put all three of them together, amalgamate them all, and make one very rich short that we hope to submit to festivals. Within the next three to six months we’ll be finished with that.”

Meanwhile, Kingsley, Bas and their tightknit group of energized creatives continue to work on new projects, including a beautiful new film called Psyche starring Cassidy Reyes, and a full-length feature. The company plans to base its operations right here in Naples and, toward that end, has acquired enough square footage to outfit a sound stage and studio of its own.

They have a long and arduous journey – a hero’s journey, if you will – to put Naples on the proverbial filmmaking map – including attracting more actors, more crew and, of course, investment capital. But for now, they’re happily making magic right here in Southwest Florida.

Random Magic, that is.

This Spotlight on the Arts feature is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.