DOWNTOWN — Combining live action and animation, “Archie’s Final Project” would have already attracted attention as one of those plucky indie movies made good. However, the film also comes packaged with a social message that the filmmakers feel is all too untouched by mainstream media.

The film tells the story of Archie, a media student in high school who feels estranged by his community. His solution? Kill himself on camera as his final project for the year, and for his life.

But his existence takes a drastic turn when his “final project” attracts more attention than he expected, including the twisted affections of a girl who shares more in common with Archie than she lets on.

“Archie’s Final Project,” starring Gabriel Sunday, the late David Carradine and Mariel Hemingway, will premier at the Laemmle Monica 4-Plex on Sept. 23 for a week-long run. The film then will open in 10 major cities across the country, including Los Angeles.

The movie has been almost a decade in the making, said David Lee Miller, the film’s writer, producer and director.

The idea for “Archie’s Final Project” grew out of Regenerate, an organization Miller created in 2002 to combat teen car accidents and suicide.

“What feature could we make that would fit Regenerate, and we came up with this idea for ‘My Suicide,’” Miller said, referring to the film’s original title.

In 2006, Miller began shooting the movie in Thousand Oaks. He brought in filmmaker Sunday to play the title role.

“Archie is a character desperately trying to reach out and try to connect and is tied up in his own world,” said Sunday.

Sunday, who also co-edited the film, said that he felt his experiences as a filmmaker filtered into the camera. “A lot of the character is taking pieces of me and expanding them, making them more extreme.”

Sunday also ended up helping with the production and post-production of the film, shooting and editing some scenes. Sunday described this extended creation as an organic process.

“There were no rules or barriers to what Archie could do,” Sunday said. “It created this kind of actuate depiction of an ADD kid.

“In many ways the editing was more important for me than the acting.”

The film, as “My Suicide,” premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Crystal Bear award for best feature film in the 14-plus Generation group.

Over the next couple of years, the film won over 20 independent movie awards, Miller said.

The film continued to screen at film festivals, but also at youth programs, like Teen Line, a Beverly Hills-based teen suicide hot line, he said.

To give the film a wide release, Miller worked with Big Air Studios, a Santa Monica-based distribution company, and Rocket Releasing, a distribution company.

Michael Arrieta, CEO Big Air Studios, said that his company markets and distributes more aggressively on the digital level.

“We take a more technologically sophisticated approach to distribution than other companies,” he said.

Arrieta found that the film already had a presence on Facebook, which is hardly surprising considering that nearly every entity with an Internet connection has a Facebook account. But “Archie’s Final Project” had something unique.

Miller and Sunday noticed that teens who had seen the film were posting text and video messages on its Facebook page, telling their own stories of dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide, often ending the message with the phrase “I am an Archie.”

The trend began when one teen posted a film, and looked into the camera and said that he was an “Archie,” Miller said.

“Other kids picked it up. It was really organic,” he added.

“It’s mind-blowing to me what’s going on [with] our Facebook page,” Sunday said.

Sunday often interacts personally with the posters over Facebook, offering support where he can.

“I didn’t know how many people suicide actually affected. I just had no idea,” he said.

In addition to the Facebook page, the film maintained an online presence by promoting itself on Eventful, a website in which fans of the film can demand to see it in their cities, said Dan Griffiths, president of Rocket Releasing.

Eventful is useful because it allows the filmmakers to gauge fan response, and makes sure the film is played in high target areas, Griffiths said.

Even though the film will find a wide release with the national theater chain AMC Theaters, its premier will be held at the Laemmle, a decision that was made a long time ago, Griffiths said.

“That’s another chain very much like AMC that supports independent film theaters. We thought it was a good fit with what we were trying to do,” he said.


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