The first, 1998's What Dogs Do, is about a rather nondescript fellow and his black lab. The neighbors already hate the perfectly harmless pet, but when the dog shows up with the kid next door's now deceased muddy rabbit in his teeth, the guy hustles frantically to make bogus amends. He shampoos and blow-drys the bunny and puts the little stiff neatly back in its cage in the yard - only to be told later by the kid's grouchy old mother that some lunatic dug up the rabbit her son buried and put it back where it once lived, doubly traumatizing the tyke. "It's actually based on an urban legend," chuckles Otting. The eight-minute piece won a 1999 Silver Telly Award and has been seen around the film festival circuit and on several PBS stations.
Otting's follow-up is the just completed The Third Rail, a no-dialogue eight-minute movie about a guy who idiotically jumps on the tracks and grabs the third rail with both hands - simply to impress a cute girl he doesn't know from Eve, who's waiting on the platform. Miraculously, the massive jolt of voltage doesn't much faze him. He triumphantly rises - then he's promptly flattened by a speeding train. "This is from an original idea about a guy who tests everything," says Otting, an Iowa native who studied directing and screenwriting at the University of Iowa.
Why no dialogue this time out? "I like shutting off the TV volume to see if the director has done his job, so the story can be told just through images. It's a challenge to work this way. Of course, there's also the budget." Not to mention the morbid message. After he failed to get a shooting permit from the Chicago Transit Authority, Otting was prepared to shelve the idea when, much to his surprise, he struck gold with the Illinois Railway Museum. "I faxed them boards and scripts and kept my fingers crossed," he recalls. "They never said anything. Not about the idea that the third rail won't kill you, or the guy getting hit by a train." The film will be submitted to Sundance, and Otting is already at work on his next twisted tale. "It'll be dark," is all he'll say. "I love dark. Not a comedy, though, it's drama-based. But it could change just like that."