Local filmmaker gains critical praise with ‘People v. The State of Illusion’

“I don’t think there are enough movies made that leave people with an uplifting and inspiring message.”

That’s what Austin Vickers, writer and producer of “People v. The State of Illusion,” said about what inspired him to work in the cinematic field.

An experienced trial lawyer, Vickers came up with an idea to illustrate the most important trial the human species must go through: the trial of life.

“We all go through a certain trial. We all face opportunities, challenges and issues in our lives. On a fundamental level, if you really think about it, those challenges … are really trying to define who and what we are. And in many respects, the trial of life is really the trial of who we are and how we are willing to show up in the world,” said the former lawyer.

“People v. The State of Illusion” aims to answer the question, “Can we turn our imaginations for ourselves into reality?”

Using professionals with expertise in fields ranging from neurology to psychology to physics to pharmacology, Vickers spent six months filming and gathering stories to create an uplifting piece about analyzing perception.

With the movie set up like a trial, the docudrama follows Aaron Roberts in the notorious Old Main Prison of New Mexico State Penitentiary. With commentary from the experts, Roberts’ story is “meant to illustrate the science (they) present.”

With his prison life being a time for self-reflection, “people can really get a better understanding of how our science can apply to real life,” Vickers said.

But how does a lawyer become a successful writer?

“We are educated in the art of asking questions,” said the filmmaker. As they learn to dissect ideas, his job has always entailed seeking and presenting the truth — very relatable to the documentary world. Pair this with a passion for self-awareness and emotional intelligence and inspiration is in the works.

In addition, getting people on board seemed like a walk in the park for Vickers. Pitching the idea to PBS, he found himself with a good team of direction and production. He even had a television deal with the channel after its run in theaters. Getting experts to give their knowledge to the project simply took email efforts.

Even with skeptical expectations, focus groups came back with an averaged 9.2 rating out of 10 for the film, giving the creators confidence to approach Harkins for screenings. Results brought the largest audience at the Harkins Camelview Theater of 450 seats. In their first month, the film was the highest grossing independent film in Arizona.

While the movie has been in theatres for two months, bigger plans are in the works. After a six-week hold on the No. 1 Independent Film in Arizona (ending just a couple of weeks ago), Vickers is planning to go national by January.

With the success proving Vickers capabilities, writing is no longer a one-time project.

“It was by far the most fun project I’ve done in my life,” he said. Recently launching a production company called Exalt Films, Vickers plans to write more stories that can “elevate and inspire the human experience.”

 

Reach the reporter at lkjorda1@asu.edu Click here to subscribe to the daily State Press newsletter.


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