Utica actor cast as Aladdin in futuristic independent movie

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published April 23, 2014

 Director Matt Busch, 41, of Macomb Township, shows actor Erik Steele, 30, of Utica, the rough framework and concept art for what will be the desert portal that Aladdin must enter to retrieve the lamp in “Aladdin 3477”

Director Matt Busch, 41, of Macomb Township, shows actor Erik Steele, 30, of Utica, the rough framework and concept art for what will be the desert portal that Aladdin must enter to retrieve the lamp in “Aladdin 3477”

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

UTICA — Utica-based actor Erik Steele, 30, recently nabbed the position of Aladdin in an independently financed, sci-fi adaptation of the classic “Arabian Nights” tale that, in this version, takes place in Asia more than 1,500 years in the future.

Steele said he contacted director Matt Busch, 41, of Macomb Township, for a potential crew role, and when Busch offered him the lead in “Aladdin 3477,” he was speechless.

“He actually was the one who told me to try out for the role,” Steele said. “That was intimidating and definitely not what I thought I was going to be able to do, but here we are.”

Busch, an illustration and visual arts professor and advisor at Macomb Community College, and a “Star Wars” marketing artist who also has worked on films such as “Con Air” and “The Matrix,” said he had Steele in mind for the role. He said Steele had been a student of his and that he admired Steele’s work in the industry post-graduation.

“Erik just has this sense of humor, and he’s very humble, but he’s rascally,” Busch said. “He’s like a kid. He has this youthfulness about him, and he has this presence. Erik is definitely Aladdin, and he will not disappoint.”

Steele, who also received training at Grand Valley State University, added that he knew he wanted to be in the film industry ever since his parents bought him his first stop-motion animation camera in 1997.

Busch said more than 10,000 applicants from all over the world answered his casting call, but the casting director was able to narrow the list. He said an actress from the United Kingdom and an actor from Japan will join the 38-person cast.

He and his wife, producer Lin Zy, also filmed background plates in India, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Hong Kong and Switzerland to add credibility to the film, which will otherwise be set in the Silver Lake sand dunes for a desert scene and inside a Clinton Township studio.

“It’s either going to be the coolest truly independent movie anyone’s ever seen, or it’s going to be a big flop and it’ll be a drinking game that everyone loves because it’s so corny,” Busch said.

When all is said and done, he said he expects the film’s budget to exceed $100,000, largely financed by his savings from George Lucas for his “Star Wars” art, but how much further than that is difficult to predict.

“At this point, it’s how much do I want to put on credit cards and keep things going?” he said.

Busch added that the film is going to follow a darker theme than the Disney version and will feature a floating robot named Fidgi as Aladdin’s counterpart rather than Abu, as well as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque Jinn of Wisdom rather than Robin Williams’ Genie, and a robotic sky ship rather than a flying carpet.

The movie will start out familiar to audiences for the first half hour, Busch said, and then delve into a lot of twists and turns that he said he believes people will enjoy.

He said critics have told him he is crazy to attempt a huge project in which every element must be created, but that their doubt only spurs his ambition. Crewmembers must assemble each vehicle and set and sew many of the 100-plus costumes.

“This will be the hardest, most difficult big project that I’ll ever work on,” Busch said, and he added that his vision has been 20 years in the making.

Shooting for the film begins in three weeks, and Busch said he is aiming to have all live action footage completed by August. Depending on how long visual effects take, he said he believes the movie will be released in 2015.

For more information about “Aladdin 3477,” visit www.aladdin3477.com or www.facebook.com/Aladdin3477.