Monday, August 16, 2010

Staring at an IMDB Checkmate

Although the Internet Movie Database has nowhere near the level of content integrity issues as Wikipedia, actors, screenwriters and directors must sometimes deal with inaccuracies in their listings and a time-consuming correction process. In one instance, an actress whose agent aggressively upped her age at an early career stage is still trying to rustle up proof of her Eastern European birth, so that she may be listed as 30-years-old rather than 35. Then there's the case of Checkmate, an under $1 million independent movie premiering Friday, August 20th at the State Theater in Modesto, CA.

At press time, the IMDB listing for Checkmate contains three major errors: the listing of a co-director and writer, Navarro Aydemir, who has nothing to do with the project; the incorrect mention that the feature drama started as a short; and in-linking to the wrong namesake leading man.

"I have been in communication with IMDB to correct these errors, but that process is not yet complete," confirms Checkmate writer-director Arvin Berner during an interview with FilmStew. "As far as I can determine, IMDB merged two projects together. Perhaps Aydemir directed a short film and that may be the source of the short film reference. I'm not sure."

On set with Barnes

"Also, the Zachary Barnes listed on the IMDB page is not the Zachary Barnes that stars in my movie," he continues. "My leading man is a Caucasian actor who plays in the 16 to 22-year-old age range. Hopefully, IMDB will correct these errors soon."

Checkmate is Berner's feature-length directorial debut, privately financed by himself and two other partners. Before this, the 32-year-old pianist and organist made a number of shorts including Colonel Richards, Over the Past, Mirror and Beyond the Limits. Although none of these have screened at festivals, some have been shown to other filmmakers and members of local film clubs.

Along the way, the Modesto native also interned with a local faith-based purveyor, Cornerstone Family Entertainment. While Berner is himself a Protestant and the notion of faith figures prominently in his tale of a young man struggling to get into law school, he says he did not make his film for the Christian video market.

"Checkmate is a movie for the general public," Berner says. "As an aside, the very process of making a movie is a journey of faith. There are always some things that you can't control, and you have to proceed in faith. Throughout making this movie, I found myself repeating the motto 'God will provide.'"

Much of the success of any independent feature film hinges on the authenticity of the acting. When it came time to guide his cast, Berner relied largely on the 'Mosaic' system he learned from actor-teacher Charlie Holliday at San Francisco's Academy of Art.

Sneak previewing with co-star Amelia Varni

In the film, a judge promises to exert his influence to help Aaron (Barnes) get into law school, provided the young man enters and wins a chess tournament. For this aspect of the story, Berner studied previous chess-themed sequences and movies such as the famous Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway seduction match in The Thomas Crown Affair and the 1993 drama Searching for Bobby Fischer. But ultimately, he decided to opt for a pawn-to-subtlety move.

"Early on, I made the decision that during the chess sequences, I wanted to highlight the human drama involved," Berner explains. "One of the ways I emphasized that element was keeping the characters in many of the shots. I generally avoided really tight close-ups on the chess pieces, with the notable exception of one scene where the character of Mr. Flingle is practicing alone."

Where composer, performer and music teacher Berner got much more finely detailed was the Checkmate soundtrack. He recorded it over two months using a combination of live instruments and library files from the Pro Tools software.

"For the piano music, we recorded on an acoustic instrument," he says. "We used a Mason & Hamlin grand piano that had recently been refurbished with Weikert felt hammers. It has this wonderful warm tone, very reminiscent of the American piano sound from the early 20th century. I really love the instrument - it's one of those you never want to stop playing."



  1. Hi, this is Navarro Aydemir, your correct in that I did make a short film called Checkmate, IMDB have combined our submissions into one listing, hopefully it can all be sorted out soon.

  2. Hi Navarro: Thanks for checking in to the discussion. When all is said and done, perhaps Arvin should consider including your short on his DVD as an Extra, as the film IMDB kept wanting to blend in with his!

  3. Hi, this is Arvin Berner. Thanks for posting, Navarro; I am glad to have confirmation on what happened. If you haven't contacted IMDB yet, hearing from you might help IMDB understand how to fix the listings. I wish you the best in your filmmaking endeavors.