The incredibly tragic tale of the lost kids film, Freaky Flickers

[no audio] “Lost media” is a term used to describe
film, audio, and literature that’s become inaccessible to the public. Over the
years, it’s garnered a lot of attention from readers and outlets alike. Fanatics have
likened it’s popularity to the Streisand effect; the inability to access something
makes people want it more. But every now and again, there are projects that even
enthusiasts think are better left lost… and as silly as it sounds, such is the case
for us with the children’s film “Freaky Flickers: The Quest for the Golden
Flicker”. No, this isn’t an exaggeration. Based on the toy line by
the same name, the production of the ‘Freaky Flickers’ film is unbelievably
tragic. When we first began researching this case, we had no idea what we were getting
into. If you’re unfamiliar with who we are, well, my name is Austin. I’m a regular
narrator and co-writer for “The Animation Warehouse”. It’s an
independently produced web-series that discusses lost media, along with
animation in general. We were first informed about this project when a fan
requested we do an episode about it. The project had gained some notoriety for it’s
odd similarities to the film “Food Fight!”, with both films getting lost due to
hard-drive thievery. We were only able to find two scenes from the film, along with
a plot synopsis. Some scientist by the name of Doc Flick imbues these plastic
things with personalities and abilities so they can help him around the lab.
However, Doc Flick hasn’t been making his mortgage payments, and the IRS are on his tail! So, the flickers go off on an adventure to find the “Golden Flicker” so they can
help pay off the doc’s debt. We started off our expedition in August with the
discovery of the lead animator’s public meltdown. The story, as he told it, began
in 2005 with the creation of the toys by the brothers Simon and Walter Bambach. These names have been changed. They were produced in collaboration with “Toys Toys
Toys, Inc.”, who sculpted and painted the collectibles. Cary Howe, an employee for the latter, had heard that Simon was interested in funding a TV adaptation, so
he began working on a pitch. After amassing nearly six to seven months of
work on the pilot, his idea was approved. Cary decided to
animate the film using ‘Lightwave’ and produced the models using ‘Modo’. At the
beginning of production, Cary was tasked with using a 3200 Athlon Shuttle Box. It’s weak processing power plagued production with issues. By the third year, they’d
only rendered three minutes of animation. As time went on, Cary would run through
a number of PCs. From Cary’s own words, he “only began to make real progress” once
he “accumulated a merry band of computers”. He paid for them out of his own pocket,
and worked from home. In May of 2007, Cary proposed the project be changed
from a TV series into a 90-minute film. Although it took some convincing, he and
Simon eventually came to an agreement. Once it was released, they would divide
the proceeds from the film’s revenue and merchandise. In September, Cary finished
the film’s script, signaling for the remaining voiceovers to be recorded. Tight
budgeting caused recording sessions to become a nightmare. They typically ran
only one to two hours per actor, leading to what Cary dubbed ‘speed directing’. In
January of 2009, the project received an influx of attention due to a new trailer
Cary had released on his website. Simon managed to score a few business meetings
out of this new spotlight. Afterwards he recommended Cary turned the project
into a theatrical feature. “I was extremely hesitant, and pointed out
that it was easily four times the work and we needed drastically more equipment
and actual workstations. I got approval based on an anemic budget, half of which
never materialized. Once it was decided, they were offered an
incredible deal by MGM. The deal included a release in over 2800 theaters so long as
Simon provided the P&A money. This money would account for the advertisement
budget and projection copies. To help edit the film and manage the sound,
Cary brought an old friend onto the project. We’ll call him ‘Erik Wessel’.
Everyday, Cary reworked around 1 to 2 minutes of the film. This included
animating, lighting, and rendering. “This had been a major concern to me from the
beginning. The amount they wanted was roughly a hundred times what our film’s
the entire budget was. To date, we haven’t passed the two-hundred fifty-thousand
dollars spent on actual production. That includes actors, hardware, software, and
the entire payroll. I was nervous, but constantly assured that it wasn’t a problem.”
This, was when things began falling apart. Cary was extremely stressed out due to
the P&A deadline, and despite professional-level equipment, he was
still being slugged with hardware problems.
At the end of the first week in June, Cary’s workstation began crashing
during test renders. Because it was his only 64-bit machine, he was forced to
continue using it. As the weekend approached, Cary decided to continue
working overnight. He was so exhausted by the end that he decided to rest in spite of
the imminent deadline. It was then, that the film was stolen. “I said good night to
Mr. Wessel, who was editing the film in my living room.
I woke a little before eight p.m. and I noticed that it was too quiet. The project computers
were gone, as well as the back-up drives and Mr. Wessel. I noticed a letter taped to
the wall from Mr. Bambach, explaining that the P&A money had fallen through. He
was shutting down the film. I collapsed into a chair and was unable to rise for
many hours. Again, unless otherwise noted, all of Cary’s quotes are sourced from
the multi-paragraph rant he released after being robbed. I felt violated and in
shock. One of my closest friends, Mr. Wessel, had apparently turn on me, and let
my associate take the equipment and files while I slept. He had disappeared
back to his home in Martha’s Vineyard, and to this day has yet to respond to any
of my phone calls or emails. I had known him for over 15 years, and had paid his way to
come up for the job. Him turning Judas was as hard as a blow as losing
everything. When we first read through the text, we got the impression that
something was off about Cary. And we’re not alone this observation; the way he
presented himself has caused many to suggest that he suffers from mental illness. We
don’t believe this is the case for reasons we’ll explore later. Regardless,
the cliffhanger Cary had written compelled us to look deeper. And our first step was
searching for disparities… so, we did some digging. Firstly, Cary
glosses over the project’s original trailer. While it’s tough to say whether
or not this has been done intentionally, its absence is rather convenient. See,
on July 8th, 2008, Cartoonbrew published an article mocking the film for
desperately seeking distribution. This included a line sarcastically suggesting
readers watch the trailer. The article predates the second trailer. This article
had to have been on Cary’s radar for a multitude of reasons. For one, Simon and Walter
had actually left messages in the article’s comments section; and keep in mind, Cartoon
brew has very strict guidelines for commenters, meaning these were likely
the real deal. The following is a comment believed to have been left by Walter. “All of the
emotion and reaction this film is generating from you all, I would bet this
is going to be a big hit. When it is a big hit, you guys can reminisce this
moment when you discovered it when no one else knew about it. Isn’t that sweet.
It’s like the girl you picked on in middle school because you secretly loved her.
Remember when you were in first grade but pretended she had cooties because
you were afraid to show your real feelings. You don’t want to admit you
liked her because your super cool friends don’t want to admit they also
have a crush on her. Come on, guys! You spend all day researching this movie, and
posting on this blog, and it sounds like you watched every second of the trailer!
It sounds like love to me! I’d love to see some of your animation
if you have any, and see how great it is.” That isn’t where the oddities end either.
While Walter had visited the article the week it’d been published,
Simon waited a full year to comment. In fact, Simon’s comment was posted a month
after Cartoonbrew’s coverage of the theft. And in case there’s still any
doubt that the article had reached Cary, shortly after Cartoonbrew published
it’s first article, the “Freaky Flickers” website temporarily shut down.
One thing we noticed while sifting through the comments was that Simon had
claimed that no one had broken into Cary’s home. “No one forced their way
into anyone’s home, and who paid for all the equipment I took back? If someone
came into your house, and took your equipment and files, wouldn’t you call
the police?” We would eventually find an answer to his question, but we’ll address
this later. The second disparity was that the film had stayed in production after
being stolen. If you recall, Cary claims that the project had been cancelled
after missing the P&A deadline. Well, if Simon is in the comments talking
about new footage, this couldn’t have been the case. In fact, Cary himself
would learn the truth later on. While piecing together the timeline, we decided
to look through Cary’s postings online for more information. There, we learned
that in 2010, he had created a website titled “Freaky Flickers: The Untold Story”.
Though it’s now dysfunctional, we were able to access it using online archiving
websites. On this site was a leaked letter from Erik. In it, Erik reveals that
the film had a budget of 1.5 to 3 million dollars. Erik also namedrops
the production company they had begun working with. It’d been formed only four
months prior to the theft by Simon and one of Erik’s colleagues. From the very
start, we had been somewhat skeptical of Cary; but after finding these
discrepancies, it felt like our suspicions about him had been confirmed.
So, we were essentially back at square one,
except with an additional question; what had happened to the three million dollar
budget Wessel had boasted about? After digging a bit deeper, we found ANOTHER
lead. While reviewing the concept art sheets for the film, we realized that many of
them had been approved after Cary’s removal. This suggests that Simon had
hired a new artist to take his place. In hopes of finding someone willing to
speak, we began searching for people who had worked for the film’s production
company. We ended up interviewing multiple freelance artists over text. We
will not be identifying them by name due to privacy concerns. We were told that
once Cary had been removed, Simon hired a team of five freelancers
to pick up where production had left off. Aside from a few interns and the team
manager, the artists worked from remote locations. Their efforts led the
film from looking like this… to this… which is a pretty big jump in quality. The
production was meant to be a three month gig, and was advertised on sites like
Craigslist. It was to end in December with the completion of the film. They
were expected to complete five to seven seconds of animation day, and would be
paid $800 a week. The animation quota would slowly increase over time. The team
was tasked with converting Cary’s scenes and characters from Lightwave to Maya.
this conversion caused many of the rigs to boast limited functionality. The
characters often had to be reweighted just to become usable. Some scenes had to be
reanimated entirely based on dialogue alone. Contact between the artists was slim
to none. Typically they would only interact with Simon and Erik. Once they
completed their quota, they would upload their work to a shared Dropbox. Most of
them were oblivious to the film’s history. One even told us they had never
even heard the name Cary Howe. Before Christmas, the animators were given a
break so Simon could search for further funding. When production resumed in
January, Simon and Erik allegedly began missing their payments to the animators.
One even claimed that they were threatened with pay reductions and being
fired. Our sources believe that production ended in March, due to either
lack of funding or artists leaving due to abusive management tactics. Only two
known employees have claimed to continue working on the project past April of
2010. However, both state that they had left production in 2011. Given the
circumstances, it seemed us the MGM had decided to pull the plug,
explaining it’s sudden halt in production. While the only scene released was a massive
improvement over the original, nothing about it screamed “theatrical worthy”. Well,
in a later revision of the homepage, he reveals that Simon hadn’t actually taken
up the MGM deal. According to Cary, he wanted its release to coincide with the
toys. “After a few weeks, I noticed that Simon stopped talking about finding the
prints and advertising money. We had one offer, but he wasn’t happy with the
percentages. The difference was 2%, so I said, ‘take it out of my cut, let’s just get
the film released’. It was around that time that he took a
trip to Canada to discuss relaunching the toys with the help of a toy
company. He said he was also meeting with a possible backer for the P&A money.
when he got back in town, he was rambling about his new toy deal, but there was no
mention of the backer. That’s when I realized he decided to run out the clock
on the P&A money, so he could release the film when he wanted.” This means that all of
Simon’s payments were likely coming out of his own pocket. This led us to
answering the second question; what happened to the three million dollar
budget? Well, Cary also details several times Simon had lied to him about the money
he didn’t have. “Finally, in early 2009, Simon began to meet contacts in Hollywood that
kept asking why we wouldn’t increase the quality to theatrical resolution. I
resisted it at first given, that it was nearly impossible with the equipment we
had on hand. I told him it’ll take 100 grand minimum to up the quality. he
claimed he had it on hand… a couple of days later, he admitted he had no money,
but was sure he could raise it.” He even provides an explanation behind
the artists not being paid. During the timeframe,
Simon was supposed to pay Cary for the sale of the film’s rights. He stopped in
early 2010, claiming he was in poverty. “After many months, I offered to reduce
the payments. By this point, I felt it was going to be the only way I’d ever get
paid what he owed me. He still couldn’t make payments on time, and after a month
and a half, they stopped entirely. He constantly promised payments, but they
never arrived.” Erik had likely been fed into the deal under the assumption that
Simon had sealed the funds. Back on the “Untold Story” website, Cary also revealed
why Simon stole it when he did. Cary had gone broke, and the rental house he lived
in was being sold, forcing Cary to move out. So, Cary made a deal with Simon. He
would work on the film until moving to Maine, so long as Simon continued searching for
the P&A money. Simon likely stole it back to take that
bargaining power out of Cary’s hands. With few options of fighting back, Cary
used what little money he had to purchase a cheap notebook computer. He
used the device to make the sites, and spread his tale. In an effort to calm him,
Simon offered to buy him out of the film. Because Cary had gone bankrupt
handling the project’s electric and utility bills, he agreed. He took his
first payment, and left for Maine. As Cary began to resettle, Simon visited
legal consultants in hopes of maintaining control over the film. With the help of
Mr. Weisberger, he penned a letter to Cary threatening legal action. He
demanded Cary stop telling people what they had done, and then stated that he would
not be honoring their contracts. “I pointed out that it’s hard to threaten
someone once you’ve taken everything from them, and I never once agreed to a
gag order or to not show my work. Once again, I find it odd that a corporate
lawyer would be so unwilling to honor contracts, yet hide behind them. I’m
thrilled to honor all our agreements, but I seem to be the only one. Apparently the
contracts weren’t worth the paper they were written on. This is not slander, it’s a
fact. Cary was forced to abandon his new home, and moved back to Arizona so he
could pursue legal action. He was taking Simon’s corporation to court for
breaching their contracts. Unfortunately, the exact proceedings of
this case are unknown. It ended in arbitration, meaning it was resolved out
of court and made confidential. Still, Cary told us that he was never found at
fault. “I don’t know what I can say legally. I don’t want to stir that mess
back up again. All I can say is that I was never found to be at fault, and that
Simon never honored a single agreement. We had always called it a partnership,
but I found in the contracts that I was reduced to a work-for-hire. I told the
lawyer this wasn’t the case, but they insisted. The hard fact is that civil
law is based on lawyers for enforcement, and they know it. Translated contracts
are worthless unless you can enforce them with lawyers. His whole position was,
‘they own the film, and I have no rights.’ Since there was no way to enforce the
contracts, I guess he was right.” On November 15th, we attempted to get in contact
with Simon. We hoped that he would tell us his side of the story.
Sadly, we didn’t have the foresight to ask him to sign a personal release form.
As a result, we are unfortunately unable to play the actual audio of the
interview. But let it be known; it IS on recording, and lo and behold, there are
some pretty big differences between his and Cary’s accounts. Full disclosure,
this interview took place before we discovered the later revision of “The
Untold Story”. According to Simon, the film had to be pulled from Cary for a number
of reasons. One of these was laziness. Simon alleges that Cary had only met
his 2-minute quota by putting less and less effort into the animation. In fact,
sometimes, in order to get action into a scene, he’d simply shake the camera a bit.
But the main reason he cited was much more tragic. Simon revealed to us that
during production, Cary’s father had passed away. And that Cary was so
devastated by this, that he began to deteriorate mentally. He asserted that
Cary had had a midlife crisis, and felt the need to push the film out as a
personal accomplishment. Astonishingly, Simon laughs immediately after
disclosing that Cary had had a midlife crisis. For better, or for worse, we were able to
verify that Cary’s father had passed away during production.
When we asked Simon about the film, he surprised us by claiming that it was still
in production. In fact, he said that it was about 60 to 70 percent finished, and that
it was going to be released next year. He also said that to coincide with the film,
he would re-release the toy line. But if this is to all be believed, one has to
wonder why the film continued to stay in developmental hell for over seven years
without any public acknowledgement. Not only that, but every single known
employee of the film’s production company claims on their resumes that they had
left the film by 2012. This includes, Erik whose Simon told us was still editing the
film. To put it bluntly, Simon was probably lying. We believe they realized
our video would be a great way to get interest back into the project, and make
a profit. So, he tried to get us to report on the film optimistically. Note how he
claims that he would ‘re-release the toys’. this will be important very soon. While we
had previously been reluctant to contact Cary, now it seemed necessary. When we
first emailed Cary Howe, we told him about how we had already interviewed Simon, and
that we now wanted to hear his side. He responded by telling us that we had
brought back all the painful memories and sleepless nights from that period of
his life. He did eventually agree to the interview, though. He was upset that Simon
had been talking about him behind his back. “He lies about a lot of things. He
talks big, but it’s mostly him by himself. He liked the film because it made the
company look bigger than a guy working out of his house… but he’s a control
freak, and it was all about ego. It was important to him that the toys made the
film a success, and not that the film made the toys successful. The toys were a flop,
so he wanted to sit on the film until the toys were a success. That was ultimately
what killed the film.” When we told him that we first suspected Simon had been
lying to us, he responded: “If you have any questions on specifics you think he’s
lying about, feel free to ask. I have no reason to lie. The truth is ugly enough
on its own.” And in regards to if he was lying, he preemptively responded: “The big
difference between our positions is that I can back up what I say with contracts
and emails. If Cary had been lying to us, he’d be accounting for very minute
details. Minute details that we never brought up to
him. Remember when Simon claimed that he’d never broke into Cary’s house. Cary
addresses that in the email. “At first, they claimed that Simon had never entered the
house, and that Erik handed the stuff to him over the threshold. Then, a
couple of years later, Erik got cold feet, and they changed their story
so that Erik never touched anything. I guess he was afraid I’d come out after him
legally.” So, we had found our answer. The film wasn’t completed because Simon had
decided to hold on to it in hopes of eventual profit with the toys. And given
how slimy production was, maybe it’s for the best that the film never gets funded.
With all these allegations, paying for the film would essentially be funding
the abuse of artists; be it Cary Howe, or the freelancers. For a while, this
project killed Cary’s drive to produce films. You may not believe it, but
Cary’s work outside of “Freaky Flickers” is genuinely impressive. H-ll, he worked
on the Lord of the Rings as a mini set designer! Now, I’m not denying that “Freaky
Flickers” looks bad. But what we’re getting at is that his talent shines when he
works closer to reality. “Freaky Flickers” was out of his comfort
zone. The film also had long lasting effects on Cary’s personal life.
Cary had invested all of his money into keeping the project alive. And if we we’re
to go by Simon’s word about Cary’s father, his obsession was motivated by
loss. He was going through a midlife crisis, and wanted to prove his self-worth.
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, Cary also lost a friend of 15 years to
greed. “I was smart enough to not give my partner access to the film, but I trusted
an old friend that stabbed me in the back for a directing credit.” Erik didn’t
just turn a blind eye to Simon’s wrongdoing, he also began selling
Cary’s old scripts without permission. Cary was able to expose this by posing
as someone else by using a fake email. It’s been over seven years since the
film was first slated for a release. At the time, the injustice against Cary
Howe went under the radar, and to date, Cary has yet to recover financially.
I hope our coverage of the story can, at the very least, help rebuild his
reputation as an artist. “Just remember the old X-files quotes, ‘trust no one’. I
only trusted one person, but that trust cost me everything.” [piano cue] [no audio]

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