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Maddalena Kingsley and cru making Random Magic in Naples


Do you believe in magic? Well, there’s a tightknit group of smart young creatives in Naples, Florida that believes in Random Magic. That’s the name of an independent film company that specializes in telling stories based on classic literature, fairy tales, legends and Greek mythology.

“[They’re] the stories that have been retold over and over and over again,” observes Arabella Bas, who serves as Random Magic’s Head of Production Design and Costumes. ““We focus on that because … they resonate with people of all ages …. They’re stories that people learn from and grow from no matter how old they are or what time period we’re telling them in. You could tell them in the ‘50s, you could tell them in the ‘30s, you can tell them 200 years from now and I think people will like them the same. We make them with a modern bent, a modern spin and we focus on making them beautiful.”

Except in English and history classes, fairy tales, legends and mythology rarely make an appearance in middle and high school curriculum anymore. But modern variations abound in comic books, movies and television.

Random Magic founder, screenwriter and director Maddalena Kingsley finds modern-day examples everywhere. Superman is Hercules. Twilight is just Beauty and the Beast – somebody dangerous who’s transformed by love.

Harry Potter and Star Wars are full of mythological themes and concepts,” Kingsley points out. “Hunger Games is just a retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, just with a gender-bended character and the writer wasn’t even subtle about it …. These stories are told again and again and again. I don’t think a lot of people are even aware of that. But people are seeing these stories retold constantly in the media.”

Fairy tales and myths appeal to readers because they recognize their own problems in the ordeals of mythic and literary heroes. They learn life lessons from the time-tested strategies for survival, success and happiness that these legendary figures evolve.

“When you think of gods, you might only think of perfect beings, infallible, that can do no wrong, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” remarksRandom Magic’s Head of Production, Brett Boreham. “Bia is cruel and Aphrodite is jealous and Hermes is snarky. These are all traits that we find in humanity as well, and the irony of that is that the gods think themselves to be above humankind when, in reality, they are just as flawed as we are. I think that’s something we can all relate to.”

Fairy tales, legends and myths also connect us to our collective past.

“These are tales as long as time, and [they] connect us to every single person that’s ever read them,” adds Pietro Butelli, Random Magic’s Head of Sound. “It connects us to Alexander the Great. It connects us to kings and queens. It connects us to people from long, long, long ago.”

But there’s more involved than resonance and connection. Mythology also provides a template for effective storytelling.

Maddalena Kingsley mentions the name Joseph Campbell. A professor of comparative mythology, his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces describes the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions.

A handbook for movie and television executives, producers, directors, novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, actors and writing teachers, the Hero’s Journey provides the structure for some of the greatest films of all times, including Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., The Full Monty, The Lion King, On Golden Pond, Pulp Fiction, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rocky, Sister Act and Titanic.


The pandemic gives rise to Random Magic

Ironically, Kingsley’s production company got its start as a result of one of the archetypes – the Threshold Guardian – that Campbell wrote about in his book and that psychologist Carl G. Jung spent a lifetime studying. In Maddalena’s case, that came in the form of the shut-down in March of 2020 that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than complain or languish during the ensuing quarantine, Kingsley redirected her energy toward making a short film with a handful of friends from L.A. and Chicago who’d found their way to Naples.

Arabella Bas describes what happened next.

“We actually created a black box theater on a property of our own. And [Maddalena] wrote, [I] costumed and [we] filmed a very beautiful film called Prometheus Bound.”

Kingsley adapted the screenplay from a tragedy that was written between 479 and 454 B.C. by Aeschylus, the Father of Greek Tragedy. Prometheus was a Titan who defied Zeus by giving fire to mankind and was punished for his insolence by being condemned to the lowest level of Hades, a place called Tartarus.

With Prometheus Bound in the can and the pandemic showing no signs of abating, Kingsley and company decided to shoot a sizzle reel to promote a full-length feature they wanted to produce about Alexander the Great – told this time from the point of view of his illegitimate half-brother and lifelong enemy, Ptolemy, who became Egypt’s longest ruling pharaoh.

Local film actor Cassidy Reyes plays Theas in the sizzle reel. She posted a scene between her character and Ptolemy on Facebook. Local film festival director Eric Raddatz saw it and reached out to Cassidy.

“It was like a two second clip of each of our faces and [Eric Raddatz] saw it and said ‘What is that?’ And I said ‘It’s for The Great’ and he’s like ‘can you please submit it?’ I told him it wasn’t done but Prometheus Bound was.”

Raddatz duly screened the ten-minute short at last year’s Fort Myers Film Festival. With clips from the short now out, festivals around the globe started asking if they too could screen it. And it was so well received, that a number of people who saw the short contacted Random Magic and subsequently joined the company.

By then, Kingsley and company were at work on not one, but two sequels. That’s even more ambitious than it sounds.


Recreating Aeschylus’ lost sequels

Aeschylus wrote between 70 and 90 plays during his lifetime, including at least two trilogies. Prometheus Bound was one of them. Unfortunately, all but seven of Aeschylus’ plays have been lost to posterity, including the sequels to Prometheus Bound. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, Kingsley set about reimagining and recreating the lost sequels.

Maddalena has long been a student of the classics. In addition to history and mythology, she is even well versed in a couple of dead languages. From her lifelong studies of Greek mythology, she knew that Aeschylus, Sophocles and the other Greek tragedians created a comprehensive and complex mythological realm for the gods they wrote about. They all had stories that came before and extended beyond the events described in Prometheus Bound. And that enabled Maddalena to figure out what likely happened to Prometheus and the other gods mentioned in the story after Prometheus Bound came to an end.

Kingsley’s sequels are titled Prometheus Unchained and Prometheus Fire Thief. Maddalena thinks Aeschylus would be thrilled with the result.

“We really tried to stay true both to his traditional telling, but also spice it up and give it a little bit of a modern twist with the costumes and the sets while staying true to the traditional meaning and tellings of Prometheus Bound,” says Kingsley.


Combining Bound, Unchained and Fire Thief into a single short film

Since writing and filming the initial short film, Random Magic’s original eight members have doubled and doubled twice more. With more cinematographers, sound technicians, and even a drone, the production value of the sequels has gone through the roof.

“It allowed us to have more takes so that our actors could get exactly the right reactions to everything,” Kingsley comments. “It saved us in time and in overall post-production work and just really helped make our projects come to life.”

But so far, no one outside of Random Magic has seen either sequel.

Arabella Bas explains why.

“We originally thought that we might release each of the three films as shorts – Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unchained and Prometheus Fire Thief. But looking at them now, what we’ve decided to do instead is put all three of them together, amalgamate them all, and make one very rich short that we hope to submit to festivals. Within the next three to six months we’ll be finished with that.”

Combining the shorts also enables the production team to take advantage of the huge increases in production value they have been able to achieve since completing the first short, which was, after all, done on the spur of the moment mostly just to pass some time before they all returned to their normal lives.

“When we did Prometheus Bound, the set was extremely minimalistic,” Arabella Bas concedes. “Prometheus was seated rather than on a craggy mountain on a very large cinder block box and was in very heavy gold chains.”

With more time and manpower to devote to the sequels, both Unchained and Fire Thief feature elaborate sets and beautiful costumes. But the latter are not period pieces. Instead, Bas designed them to reflect the archetype of each character.

“Looking at the footage of all three of them put together and the story it tells is just so beautiful that we really didn’t want to release them separately because you will lose the story that way,” Bas concludes.


Putting Naples on the proverbial international filmmaking map

Meanwhile, Kingsley, Bas and their tightknit group of energized creatives continue to work on new projects, including a beautiful new film called Psyche starring Cassidy Reyes together with a full-length feature. The company plans to base its operations right here in Naples and, toward that end, has acquired enough square footage to outfit a sound stage and studio of its own.

They have a long and arduous journey – a hero’s journey, if you will – to put Naples on the proverbial international filmmaking map – including attracting more actors, more crew and, of course, investment capital. But for now, they’re happily making magic right here in Southwest Florida.

Random Magic, that is.

February 18, 2022.




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