Modesto-native filmmaker wants you to get ripped for Halloween

A still from the short film “Jack the Ripper”
A still from the short film “Jack the Ripper”

Invite Jack the Ripper into your home this Halloween season. You won’t regret it. He’ll stay only a couple of minutes, and won’t hurt you a bit. In fact, you’ll likely be entertained.

This “Jack the Ripper” is a short animated film produced and directed by Modesto native Lexie Findarle Trivundza and her husband, Nick Trivundza. It was selected by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City,” “From Dusk Till Dawn”) for the debut episode of the series “The People’s Network Showcase” on his El Rey television network, the Trivundzas say.

Airing Oct. 30, the episode of the quarterly, two-hour show is called the “Horror Edition” and is hosted by John Carpenter, the writer/director of such classic movies as “Halloween” and “The Fog.” “Jack the Ripper” is the only animated entry among the 10 short films to be aired.

The website of Rodriguez’s El Rey Network invites makers of short films, feature films, art, music and pictures to submit their work for consideration, but the Trivundzas didn’t have to do any of that. “They found us, which was insane,” Lexie Trivundza, a 2003 Beyer High grad, said in a telephone interview Tuesday from the Los Angeles area.

We came up with a really cool idea: What if Jack the Ripper was still around and by killing victims can stay the same age and evolve?

Lexie Findarle Trivundza, filmmaker and Modesto native

Naissance, a studio the couple launched in 2009 to release artistic advertising, had done some “idents” – motion graphics that inform viewers of which channel they’re watching – for El Rey. That work put them on the network’s “reydar” (a frightfully bad pun in keeping with the Halloween theme).

Network staffers knew the Naissance name, looked at its site and watched “Jack the Ripper,” Trivundza said. The couple was contacted in April about how much El Rey liked the short, then were told in June or July that “Ripper” was wanted for the “Showcase” series being launched.

“Two of the most important brand tenants of El Rey Network are creativity and resourcefulness, so what first impressed us about this short was the amazing visuals the directors were able to achieve on such a limited budget and production schedule,” El Rey Network President and GM Daniel Tibbets told The Bee in an email. (Trivundza said “Jack” took between a month and two months from script writing to rendering the last frame.) “Animation usually limits how far a filmmaker can stretch resources, yet what Lexie and Nick accomplished with ‘Jack The Ripper’ came off as a professional and truly polished horror gem.

“We also gave the short extra kudos for its noir-ish black-and-white color palette, which invoked the style of Robert Rodriguez’s own noir epic, ‘Sin City.’ 

“It’s amazing,” Trivundza said of the attention from Rodriguez and El Rey. “From the personal level, we’re so excited. We have his book ‘Rebel Without a Crew,’ on both of our desks. We’re huge fans. We are very graphic kinds of directors and he definitely does that, incorporating motion graphics into his unique style.

“Professionally, this gets our name out there, we’re able to touch more people, bigger audiences. It’s already played over 15 festivals now – it really broadens our horizons.”

The short's most impressive quality was the direction it took with the iconic title character – stacking story against an unusual layering of time periods and style. ... We pored over countless submissions from all over the world to select these 10 shorts for our first showcase, and ‘Jack The Ripper’ was a unanimous raised-hand for inclusion.

​Daniel Tibbets, El Rey Network president and general manager

That Rodriguez has been an influence on the Trivundzas is clear in “Jack the Ripper,” which is black and white with occasional splashes (splatters, actually) of color. On the Naissance site, the synopsis of the short says it’s set in a “world somewhere between ‘Sin City’ and the opening titles of ‘Mad Men.’ 

In the first couple of years of Naissance, Nick Trivundza primarily was the director and Lexie the producer, she said. “In 2013, when we started doing the short film ‘The Umbrella Factory,’ we thought, let’s have us both direct together, which was a lot of fun. I was designing a lot of the frames and he’d do a lot of the animation.

“With ‘Jack the Ripper,’ we were both in front of the computer, adding touches like details on the walls, how the light hits the characters.”

At Naissance’s heart are the Trivundzas, but they work with dozens of free-lancers. “We take advantage of talent from all over the world,” she said, adding that once the couple found themselves working with six people in six countries, creating a real time-zone challenge.

Naissance has created six short films – some live action, some animation – and just wrapped post-production on its first feature-length film, “The West and the Ruthless.”

The website for the movie notes that The Black List – a network of script buyers, script representatives and script writers – calls it “dynamic, stylish, refreshing, darkly comedic.”

This is an exciting time to be releasing a Western, Trivundza said, considering HBO just began its new series “Westworld,” “The Magnificent Seven” was well-received by critics and audiences and Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Traffic”) is executive-producing a Western series titled “Godless” for Netflix.

Naissance ventured into its Western knowing none of that, Trivundza said, but wanting to tell a story of America’s diversity. “We’ve submitted it to quite a few festivals, like Sundance, Tribeca, South by Southwest, and we’re waiting to hear if it’s accepted, which will probably be in December. We’re also seeking distribution.”

On the tone of the movie, Trivundza said, “We like the macabre – we’re dark.”

So while the couple keep telling themselves they’re going to make a lighter project, it never turns out that way, she said. “It’s not called ‘The West and the Nice People.’ 

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327