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HORROR'S DIVERSITY REFLECTED IN 2007 TABLOID WITCH
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.
[October 3, 2007]
of the 2007 Tabloid Witch Awards horror film contest reflect the genre's exploding popularity around the
world, and the diverse themes and messages that the genre is capable of
In its previous three years,
the Tabloid Witch Awards received horror films from England, Germany, Hungary,
Canada, Australia, and Taiwan, but all winners were American. That
changed this year. The Tabloid Witch will now be flying her trophy
to winners from England, New Zealand, Canada, and Argentina.
And America too, of course. Most winners still hail from the United States, and most of those live
in the Los Angeles area.
Some winning films already
have DVD distribution, while others have only played at festivals, and
others have received no distribution at all -- the Tabloid Witch Awards
will be the public's first chance to see them.
The Premiere Screening of
2007 Tabloid Witch Award winning films will be held at the Santa
Monica Public Library, with filmmakers participating in a Q&A,
on October 27, 2007, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The screening is free
and open to the public; no tickets or reservations required. First
come, first seated.
An Encore Screening, with
filmmakers Q&A, is set for Thanksgiving Day weekend at Loscon
34 in Los Angeles. No additional fee will be charged to
Loscon attendees to see the screenings.
Entertainment industry folk
(agents, managers, producers, executives) will be notified of the screenings. And now, our winners...
* Best Horror Feature: Death
Knows Your Name
A Lovecraftian sense of inevitable
doom permeates Daniel de la Vega's Death
Knows Your Name (one hour, 29 minutes). This moody, murky
supernatural film was shot in Argentina for only $15,000 (US dollars).
It opens with a psychiatrist Bruce Taylor (Rodrigo Aragón) haunted
by mysterious nightmares -- which are shared by a patient (Kevin Schiele). When Taylor unearths a skeleton buried in an abandoned wing of the asylum,
a plague is unleashed and the mystery deepens.
De la Vega hoped to create
something original, which he says is not easy an easy feat in horror films. Even so, he adds, "I believe Demián Rugna's script does it with
flying colors. Infection and Gozu.were
references while planning the art direction. But our greatest reference
You wouldn't that Death
Knows Your Name was shot in Argentina unless you read the credits. Like the Swedish pop band ABBA,
de la Vega's actors spoke in English to widen the film's marketability. "Unfortunately, there is no market for horror movies in Argentina," said
de la Vega. "If I want to make horror movies, I have to make them
English. Luckily, things are starting to change in my country, so
it is probable that my next movie will be in Spanish."
Despite its $15,000 budget, Death
Knows Your Name is a visual and aural feast. A beautiful
work that looks deceptively expensive, like a big budget studio production
shot on 35mm film. "The movie was shot in high definition video,"
said de la Vega. "It's an extremely low budget movie. I had two weeks to find my actors, two weeks more to rehearse. That's
how independent low budget films are. You
never have enough time to do what you want."
Finding his actors was "hard
risky," he says. "You can find excellent actors in Argentina. You can find people who speak fluent English. The problem is to find
people who can do both at the same time." Luckily, his cast is talented
across the board. There are no weak performances.
Knows Your Name was shot in 2005 at Lanari Hospital and Tornu
Hospital in Buenos Aires. "The script was written according to the
locations we had," said de la Vega. "All scenes (except the ones
at the cemetery) were shot in one location. That was the only way
to do it in 21 days."
Yet remarkably, Death
Knows Your Name succeeds in pushing gore to imaginative new
heights. It has a woman (Veronica Mari) giving birth to ... well,
suffice to say that the film's delivery room scene should become as seminal
among gorehounds as Zombie's
eye-gouging or Scanners's
De la Vega says that Simon
Ratziel achieved his viscerally shocking birthing scene without CGI, using
only "the delicate balance" between framing, lighting, mounting, and makeup
Knows Your Name "has yet not been distributed to festivals,"
said de la Vega, "although I hope this may soon happen." He may be
contacted through his website and blog.
While we received many feature
film entries this year, they don't compare to the avalanche of shorts.
Shorts remain the "calling card" for both student and indie filmmakers,
it the more competitive category. We've thus expanded the Best Horror
Short award into three categories: Dramatic Horror, Comedic Horror, and
* Best Dramatic Horror
Short: The Crypt Club
Amid all the slashers and zombies
and "torture films," The Crypt Club.(23
minutes) is a welcome return to classic, ghostly horror. A
morality tale set in a creepy cemetery on a snowy night.
A teenage girl (Kerry Segal)
longs to join "The Crypt Club," the Goth clique at her high school.
But first she must pass through their rite of initiation -- desecrating
a grave. She doesn't like the thought of committing a mortal sin. As it turns out, the grave's inhabitant is none too pleased either...
"I'm sure that my Catholic
upbringing contributed the themes of guilt, conscience, and consequence,"
said filmmaker Miguel Gallego. "I'm not a Goth, but the Goth sense
of alienation provided a common background for the girls and also fueled
the story idea of peer pressure. What you would do to belong? If
you don't fit in with the outsiders, what's left? So the pressure
was really on 'Julie' to go along in order to belong.
"My wife (and co-producer)
Nancy Moore points out that my childhood as a Spanish-Canadian, in a predominantly
WASP town, contributed to The Crypt Club's
theme of the outsider trying to fit it. Hmmm?"
Gallego also found inspiration
in an urban legend about teenagers in a cemetery. "There's a dare
for one of the girls to find a cursed statue, 'Black Aggie,' and leave
a token to prove she'd made it that far. When the girl doesn't return,
friends go searching and discover her -- scared to death -- at the foot
of the statue."
Gallego had long worked as
an assistant director in Toronto. He made The
Crypt Club because he "realized the only way to move into directing
was to direct a short 'calling card' film."
Casting director Juli-Ann
Kay joined the project on the strength of the script. Agents weren't
going to earn much from The Crypt Club because
it came under ACTRA's low-budget contract (TIP). "But Juli-Ann submitted
the script with cast breakdowns. When the agents realized there were
meaty leading roles for three girls, they sent dozens of submissions.
"Kerry Segal read for Liesl
(the bully) and blew us away, but her short stature made it hard to believe
she could intimidate the others." Segal was instead cast as the initiate. "When Alison Pill read for Liesl with a cold stare, we knew she'd work
great opposite Kerry's fire."
Gallego's cemetery looks
because it was built to scare. "I spent months searching for a cemetery
that looked right and would allow us to film at night. Most cemeteries
aren't keen to allow filming of a story involving a gravesite desecration.
"So we created our own cemetery
at a park in Scarborough. Every gravestone, statue, the entry gate,
was either a prop rental (treated and aged by production designer Maureen
Sless), or a fabrication by co-producers Louise and Ray Mackintosh at Caligari
Crypt Club was shot with an Arri 3 camera on super-16mm film, then
transferred to DigiBetacam tape. The offline edit was done on a PC
Premiere 6.0, followed by an online edit and color timing done with
the DigiBetacam masters at Toybox (now Technicolor).
The film's soundtrack features
a spooky choir, composed by Nicholas Longstaff. "[When] Nancy and
I heard that choir music over the film's visuals, it gave us chills," said
Gallego. "I realized then how important music and sound design would
be in creating the right tone. The visuals provide information to
the audience, but the music and sound provide the emotion."
Longstaff recruited the all-girls
choir from Appleby College. He composed the music as a continuous
piece in several movements. "The lyrics are in Latin from Horace's
Ode #4 and deal with the theme of mortality," said Gallego.
Gallego studied film at the
University of Toronto and the American Film Institute. He's worked
as an assistant director on dozens of feature films, TV movies, and TV
series. He's taught acting and filmmaking at Notre Dame University
(Indiana) and Sheridan College (Ontario).
Crypt Club has screened at over 45 festivals in Canada, the US,
UK, Argentina, Ecuador, Poland, and Korea. It's aired on TV in Canada
Skin Deep is one sick puppy of a film. Perversely funny, so much so that it
remains inoffensive despite its warped forays into necrophilia and infant
abuse. (You might abuse "Lucy" yourself -- she is one savage baby!) Imaginative, creative, colorful, inventive, and hilarious. Many films
brag about being twisted and edgy; Skin Deep delivers.
Running at 9 minutes, Skin
Deep retells the Frankenstein.story
(with shades of It's
Alive) in bright, primary colors, on German expressionist sets. The
protagonist is a Victorian Era mad scientist who builds the baby girl that
his corpse bride can't give him. But then his stitched-together baby
daughter turns medieval on him.
Deep came to mind when reading a Twilight
Zone screenplay about dolls that came to life," said filmmaker
Romero III. "I thought, perhaps a child should be made like a doll,
to complete the false family of a man. Frankenstein.was
a great influence. Especially the bond between man and child/monster."
Deep.benefits from actor James Rollyson...Like
any great comedic actor, Rollyson has an expressive, rubbery face that
twists into a broad range of outlandish mugs. His acting is hammy,
but appropriate for his satirical, over-the-top role.
Romero had wanted someone
with a theatrical background, and had seen Rollyson perform in a piece
by Joseph Fontano, who puppeteered 'Lucy,' the savage infant.
Deep is enlivened by its inserts of comic book cartoons and models,
and by exteriors that were obviously shot on stage.
"I wanted a theatrical approach,
with sharp and distinct shapes, and bold colors," said Romero. A
world "set in Victorian/Edwardian attire, with splashes of German Expressionism.
My DP, Joseph Kolber, was a miracle worker for lighting."
"The animations were hand
drawn, taken into Photoshop.for
color, then edited into Final
Cut Pro," said Romero.
He is enrolled at the Art
Institute of California, Los Angeles, where Skin
Deep.was shot on a Sony
DSR 370 MiniDV camera.
Deep has played on YouTube. The Tabloid Witch Awards will
be its premiere festival screening. Romero may be contacted through
* Best Animated Horror Short:.The
We received a surprising number
of animated shorts this year, yet none came close to the artistry, originality,
powerful emotional undercurrents of Jim Minton's The
Scab (2 minutes), based on a poem by Michael
Like a visual poem, the
film is an oblique description, in this case, of an ugly girl's sad existence.
Is she a carnival sideshow
freak, or does she merely feel like one? Is she merely a normal girl
with a low self-image?
Like the Arnzen's
poem, the film leaves you without answers, only food for thought.
Scab was "entirely done in the Mac," said filmmaker Jim Minton. He used digital photos, Photoshop, Poser,
Effects. "The girl is a poser body, cut apart and animated
Effects. I found a texture and overlaid it per scene,
as appropriate for scale."
Scab.is part of a longer film (17 minutes), Exquisite
Corpse, which is really a series of short-shorts shot in a diversity
of styles, both animation and live action, and all based on Michael
"I don't keep track of time,"
said Minton. "It bums me out when I realize how much time I've put
into a project. I'd imagine 80 hours on Scab..Exquisite
Corpse has taken me three years. In my free time, mostly."
Scab has screened at film festivals in Texas, Canada, Virginia,
and Los Angeles.
Minton studied visual communications
and illustration at San Diego State University. "I worked as a broadcast
designer and art director from 1975 through 1985," he said. "I've
been an independent designer ever since." He may be contacted through
* Honorable Mention
Honorable Mentions are not
easily won. We select fewer films than some other festivals, which
multiple days, whereas the Tabloid Witch screenings only run one day.
Once again, we received far
more entries than in our previous year. Thus, many worthy films had
be turned down.
This means that an Honorable
Mention win is truly something to take pride in. These films topped
many competitors from talented artists to attain the few available spots. These films are among the cream of contemporary horror.
As always, short films dominate
Honorable Mentions, partially because we received so many more of them
-- roughly five times as many shorts as features.
Noon's ambitions far exceed its $4,000 budget. Running
at an hour and 17 minutes, this supernatural retelling of High
Noon borrows stylistically from Quentin
Rodriguez, with Old West period shots that are beautifully composed
and colored, enhanced by arresting and imaginative visual effects.
"I'm a huge fan of Westerns,"
said co-writer & director Andrew Wiest. "That I was born in Montana
and raised in Wyoming no doubt adds to the Western perspective. As for
Rodriguez, the guy is an influence on me, but I think the style is more
the result of making a movie for absolutely no money and using creativity
to solve problems rather than, as Rodriguez would say, using the money
to flush problems away. If anything, I consider Dead
Noon to be a love poem to Sam
Noon is also informed by Christian themes. Following a
game of poker beside a lake of fire, Satan allows a deceased outlaw (in
a darkly charismatic performance by Robert Bear) to return to the modern
West so he may kill off the bloodline of those who murdered him.
As in High
Noon, a sheriff (Scott Phillips) must choose whether to flee with his
new bride (Elizabeth Mouton, who infuses her role with impressive emotional
depth), or stay and face the outlaw.
"I love the horror genre
because it's one of the few genres where you can explore religious ideas,"
said Wiest. "The nature of good and evil, the concept of God and Satan,
fall of man, afterlife, redemption. Many of the great horror
movies have had Christian themes. In a strange way, horror films
are the most morally rigid films made. You sin, you die. Them's
Wiest shot most of Dead
Noon in Cody, Wyoming, including in Old
Trail Town, "an outdoor museum of sorts. Getting locations
Both [co-writer] Matt Taggart
I grew up there. Most everyone was open to us shooting on their property. We didn't bother with permits. Once the movie was picked up by a
distributor, there was paperwork." Additional scenes were shot in
Kalispell, Montana, and Douglas, Wyoming.
Most of Wiest's cast are
from Los Angeles and were in his first feature,.Pizza,
Pesos, and Pistoleros. "I was introduced to them through Robert
Bear, a fellow Wyoming boy. Most were living in L.A. and came to
Wyoming for the shoot. I'm lucky to have good friends willing to
work for me for nothing, despite that they're accustomed to getting paid
Wiest's crew consisted of
family and friends. His sound man, Jason Scott, had done sound for
Disney. Wiest also praises James Teague for executing some 800 visual
effects "with limited equipment for no pay. He dedicated a year and
a half of his life to it, working pretty much non-stop. An incredibly
Noon was shot on a Panasonic
DVX-100 Mini-DV, with much post production, done on Magic
Cut Pro, and Adobe
After Effects. "The effects were the most time consuming part
of the process," said Wiest. "We only planned for a 100 effects,
but that ballooned to 800. Jim is such a whiz, he'd pull off something,
which resulted in me pushing him to see what else he could do. We
worked on the effects nonstop for a year. Thirteen, fourteen hours
a day, every day. Didn't sleep or eat much. Quite unhealthy,
Wiest has no film school
training. His self-education began at age 13 (he's now 28) with a VHS camera, editing
between two VCRs. His feature, Pistoleros,
screened in a New York festival in 2005.
Noon was picked up for distribution by Barnholtz Entertainment
before it was finished. "Lionsgate has now agreed to take it," said
Wiest. He expects a release in early 2008. "The sale of Dead
Noon has opened a few doors for me. Production companies
and distributors return my phone calls. I'm shopping a script, a
family film I wrote with my dad that seems to be garnering interest."
We received three Ouija board
films this year, the best by far being Night of the
Hell Hamsters, a 15 minute comedic horror film with production roots
in both England and New Zealand.
A babysitter dares her boyfriend
to play with an Ouija board. They inadvertently call down a demonic
hamster god, which takes possession of their pet hamster, turning it into
a killer hamster. A talking killer hamster.
of the Hell Hamsters is beautifully shot, funnily scripted, with
hilariously gory special effects. The colored lighting evokes Bava's.Black
Sabbath (inspiration for both Suspiria and Norman J. Warren's.Terror). The babysitter's kick-ass attitude reminds one of Bruce Campbell in Evil
Dead, or Milla Jovovich in Resident
"Influences are Evil
Dead, particularly Evil
Dead 2, and Re-Animator,"
said filmmaker Paul Campion. "I wanted to make a fun, slightly over-the-top,
short horror film that would entertain a festival audience. The
reaction has been fantastic, especially in the U.S.
"The film was originally
an idea for the 48 Hour Film Festival. Teams
across New Zealand have 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit a 7 minute film." But
instead of making his film, Campion returned to London to direct music
"The idea for Hell Hamsters.stuck
in my head. I got back in touch with the writers on the 48 Hour Festival
team I was on, and we developed the script I
found producer Elisabeth Pinto through a UK filmmaking website,,Shooting
People. Once she came on board, the production ramped
up quickly. I was working in London on the visual effects for The
Da Vinci Code, which I quit to make Hell
Pinto set up auditions in
London. Actors were required to fight hamsters. "The nose biting
scene for the guys," said Campion. "Wrestling with the hamster on
the floor for the girls." He eventually cast Stephanie Ratcliff and
Hamsters was shot at a costume designer's house in London. "It was
beautifully decorated," said Campion. "I was terrified we'd damage
Production designer Yasmine
Al Naib put a fake floor down in the kitchen so we could get the shot of
Karl laying in a pool of blood. We protected the walls and floor
in the lounge with plastic during the crotch blood-spraying scene.
"Yasmine and the whole crew
did an amazing job clearing the mess we made."
of the Hell Hamsters's beautiful, stylized colored lighting, and
its judicious use of wide angle and zoom lenses, help create a spooky,
supernatural atmosphere to balance its comedic story. Also amazing
is a panoramic shot of the hamsters filling the streets of London.
"The film was shot on professional
Digibeta cameras in 16x9 Pal Anamorphic format," said Campion. "All
for lighting goes to Ben Robinson and Jono Smith, the two DPs. Ben,
in particular, is a huge Dario Argento fan.
"The hamsters in the street
was a digital matte painting by Max Dennison, head of Matte Painting at
Weta Digital on all Lord
of the Rings films. Wayne Howe, also an animator on Lord
of the Rings, did the levitating animals." (See the hamster levitating
alongside Ratcliff, above.)
Campion began life as an
illustrator. "I specialized in horror illustration, mainly book covers. After
trying to break into the industry as a concept artist, I retrained, doing
a Masters Degree in computer animation, then moved to New Zealand to work
on the visual effects for all Lord
of the Rings films. I've since worked on visual effects for Constantine, Sin
City, and 30 Days of Night. I'm
trying to move into directing."
Campion is originally English,
but now lives in New Zealand. While Hell Hamsters was shot in London, much of its post production was done in New Zealand. The film has played festivals in the U.S., Australia, England, and Canada. Campion may be reached through his MySpace
* By Appointment Only
A young woman (Belen Greene)
is stranded in a small desert town. The town seems so placid, the
waitress (Nancy Sinclair) so friendly, the folks so helpful. The
woman hitches a ride to her appointment to meet with a real estate agent.
The driver (Matt Ryan) seems
to want to warn her. But the woman persists. So they drive
through the desert, till they reach that house -- where evil lurks.
An old-fashioned, Hitchcockian
atmosphere pervades John Faust's By Appointment Only.(20
minutes), both for its American Gothic suspense story set in the southwest
and for its production style: the car ride was obviously shot in a sound
"While I love 'arty farty'
and dysfunctional family films," said Faust, "my true passion is psychological
shit." His first drafts were "a haunted house mystery, ala Clue,
minus the comedy," yet he ended up writing a Hitchcockian suspense tale
with a supernatural twist.
"As far as the truck scene
being shot on a stage, I purposely set out to do that," said Faust. "To
give it that 'Hitchcock' feeling, to make it seem surreal, to make it feel
like they were passing into anther time/space, to give it an edge -- and
because no one does that style anymore.
"[Also], we'd looked at shooting
on a ranch road that was a quarter mile long, but by the time you get a
process trailer, and all that goes with that, it's too much money. It also eats up tons of film, and film ain't cheap. The stage was
free and available and easier to film.
"So James and I set out to
the Mojave desert, and found a road that was almost a straight mile long. We filmed the 'plates' on an HVX mounted to his car. I didn't want
to green screen it, because you can always tell when something is green
"The stage was in Pasadena. The
town was on the Blue Sky movie ranch. The house is a state-owned
park in Mentryville, Santa Clarita. My production designer grew up
out there, and remembered while we were searching about the house. The
kicker to filming in Santa Clarita is since it's a high fire zone, you
need a 400 gallon water truck and a fire marshal, at $80 an hour, watching
your every move."
Only has an excellent cast. Matt Ryan displays conflicting
emotions across his subtly nuanced face. Belen Greene is vulnerable
yet hard, with a Sally Field quality. But outstanding performance
is from Nancy Sinclair, as the waitress with a dark secret.
"Nancy will definitely be
in the feature version," said Faust. "I found everyone but Belen
through multiple casting sessions. The usual casting websites and
"I needed the driver to be
the typical Midwestern average Joe. To find that in L.A. was a task,
because every actor works out, shaves and waxes, has highlights, and is
tanner than beef jerky.
"I needed a real guy you'd
find in Oklahoma. A 'pretty actor' came close, but was trying to
show off his 'assets' to my casting director a little too much. [But]
Matt Ryan blew us away. He was crying and screaming and rolling in
John Faust moved to Los Angeles
from Pennsylvania in 2001 for "the business." He attended the Art
Center College of Design, where he shot.By
Appointment Only on super-16mm film. When "super16 is scanned
into high def, it gives it a really grainy effect, and you can get a 2.35
aspect ratio," said Faust. "The equipment was from Clairmont. The
camera was an Arri."
Appointment Only has played at over 16 film festivals in the U.S.
We've always received horror
comedies, most of them pretty bad. Many filmmakers confuse goofing
off with friends in front of the camera with hilarious "parodies."
That changed this year. We
saw many strong horror comedies in 2007, films that actually had creative
stories and talented acting. Skin Deep and Night
of the Hell Hamsters, both hilariously over-the-top gorefests, were
two of the funniest.
One That Got Away shows another side of horror comedy. Eschewing
outrageous gore for social satire that targets both speed-dating and reality
TV, this Canadian short (11 minutes) features a nebbish young man who can't
find the right woman. His air of hapless despair evokes Woody Allen
It Again, Sam ... with a touch of Norman Bates.
Nicholas Humphries says his
film is inspired by Christopher
Blair Witch Project, "and a whole lot of every relationship I ever
had. Mostly, though, it was born out of production constraints. I'd
won a cash prize from the National Screen Institute in Canada for Larson.and
wanted to put it into a movie. It wasn't much cash, and we had no
time to shoot, so I set the film in my apartment and wrote a mockumentary
so we could shoot quickly."
Humphries found his cast
at film school. "Working at the Vancouver Film School, I saw many
actors in action, so I rarely cast from auditions. I'll watch work
that they've done, track them down, and beg them to be in my movie.
"I met Shane Kolmansberger
while I was working at VFS. The guy auditioned for every student
that ever put out a casting call. [And] Claire Lindsay and I were
in a short together. We were characters in a wedding party. Neither
of us had lines, so we just made faces at each other all day. I wanted to work with her again."
Despite his job at VFS, Humphries
never attended film school. "I took film history at the University
of British Columbia. That led to a job at VFS after I graduated.
"Once there, I re-invented my job so I could produce all the student films
coming out of the writing department. There was a lot of equipment
lying around over the weekends, so I began gathering other employees that
wanted to make their own stuff too."
One That Got Away was shot in Humphries's apartment. The restaurant
scene was in the school cafeteria on a Sunday. The film was shot
on a Sony HD.
Although Humphries cites.Guest.as
an influence, The One That Got Away has a
distinct Woody Allen feel to it, as neurotic urbanites lament the difficulties
of modern dating and relationships. One may call it "psychos in love"
-- but don't assume you know the ending. Despite its brief length,
the film takes several unexpected twists.
So far the film has not played
in any festivals. "Its cross-genre qualities make it difficult to
place," said Humphries. "It's a horror short, but I also wrote it
hoping to make people laugh. At the cast and crew screening, I think
people were afraid to laugh. They didn't
know if they were allowed.
With so many slashers, vampires,
zombies out there, it's always nice to get a sci-fi/horror film for a change. Something with malevolent space aliens and UFOs, like The
X-Files or The
Filmmaker CJ Johnson fills
the need for "men in black" type conspiracy sagas with The
Signal (36 minutes), a tale of government agents trying to head
off an alien invasion.
Yet Johnson (who cast himself
in the role of a federal agent) denies any X-Files.influence.
Instead he interprets The Signal as "24.and Traffic,
with a sci-fi/horror twist."
"The idea came when I asked
how many realistic portrayals of an alien invasion have there been?" said
Johnson. "I wanted a story that weaved together different characters,
all unknowingly intertwined. I wanted each character to go through
their journey in a different genre, so to speak, which is why every story
The result is an ensemble
drama (much like Traffic)
set to a music soundtrack that sounds inspired by Hal
Signal was shot on locations that reinforce the tale's turbulent emotional undercurrents. For instance, the stark desert vistas in one gun standoff dramatically
underscore humanity's impending doom.
"I shot in places that showcased
California," said Johnson. "In Los Angeles, Malibu, and San Bernardino. I asked favors of friends to use their apartments. None of the locations
were homes of actors. I shot where there wouldn't be a lot of people. The Malibu scenes are a secret spot where friends and I go surfing. Not a lot of people know about it, so filming wasn't a pain.
"The most difficult location
was the desert. We drove to San Bernardino on one of the hottest
days of the summer in 2006. We didn't get permits. Because
it was so hot, there wasn't a single soul in sight. One
of my actor's face turned red and he became teary-eyed. I felt dizzy.
It's amazing my crew and cast didn't throw a fit. It was the fastest
I've ever seen anybody work and nail lines.
"I found some of my actors
through friends. Others were actors I've worked with on other projects. Several of my friends have appeared in TV shows and independent films. The
casting process was simple, because I already knew what these actors were
capable of. I chose those I knew could bring my characters to life."
Signal was shot on digital video, regular format, on a DVX
100 A. "The effects were the hardest tasks of the film, and the
bulk of post production," said Johnson. "I've many friends and colleagues
who are talented FX guys. I myself do FX. The 'black eye' FX
were not difficult. The hardest were the
'signal' effect. My animation guy did a good job."
Johnson hopes his short film
will be picked up, either for a TV series or feature film. "The
Signal was intended as prologue to
an ongoing conflict between aliens and humans. It could easily be
a franchise. I'm drafting a feature version. The short is circulating
film festivals. I've gotten positive response from people who've
Johnson has lived in Virginia
and the Marshall Islands. He attended the Art Institute of California,
Los Angeles, majoring in video production. While an intern in at
MTV, he was cast as "Stud-Coach" in the reality TV show, MTV's
Wanna Come In?. He's directed music videos, including "Motherless
which was chosen for BET’s Ya Heard?.Independent
Music Videos Contest.
Johnson has joined other
filmmakers to form IP Films, which has several films in development, including
Johnson's feature length film, Night Terrors. He may be contacted through CJJohnsonbiz.com.
* Fast Forward
A 12-year-old girl (Casey
Halter) longs to wear the skimpy dresses she sees on older women. Her
mother (Kathy Weese) doesn't approve. The girl complains that she's
"not a child anymore." She wishes she were older.
As horror fans know, you
must be careful what you wish for...
Forward (18 minutes) wasn't the slickest film we saw this year,
but it has two things going for it: (1) unlike some entries which only
sought to scare, Fast Forward actually had
a theme. Like a Twilight
Zone episode, its story was about something. And (2) it
features an outstanding performance by child actress Casey Halter.
"Terry Fisher had written.Fast
Forward as part of a trilogy of horror films," said director Jason
Holler. "The idea was to have a new director
take one of each three films. That's where I came in. I'd never
directed a short before, or even a feature."
Forward was produced by Full Circle Studios, shot in and around
Buffalo. "We used one Full Circle partner's home for Casey's house,"
Holler, "and a neighbor of one of the partners' for our other house. The old style homes of Buffalo provided great exteriors." The
opening scene was on Elmwood Avenue, near the downtown area, outside Urban
Outfitters. "Everyone was very accommodating and excited to
see how the process of filming worked."
Cast auditions were advertised
a local newspaper. "We had a good turnout," said Holler. "We had
them read a character from the film.
"Casey Halter was one of
many talented young actresses that auditioned. I believe she went
to a local Theater of Youth acting group prior to filming, but had no experience
for films. She was extremely professional, and always willing to
adjust her tone or mannerisms for the film. She was probably one
of the easiest actors I've ever worked with."
thankfully avoids Hollywood's opposing cliches for children. Her
is neither as an obnoxiously sophisticated brat, nor a sugary cute moppet. She's an ordinary girl of average intelligence, who falls prey to a sinister
neighbor (Mary Ann Reisdorf), who promises that a "magic ring" will grant
one's fondest wish.
Forward.was shot a Sony
DSR-500 with DV-Cam tape. "We used Full Circle's crane and
dolly for some shots," said Holler, "and did all post-production in Final
Cut Pro and After
Holler graduated from Canisius
College in Buffalo with a degree in digital media arts. He's worked
on corporate, educational and entertainment video productions. He
left Full Circle in January 2007 to form his own company, Holler Media
Forward has seen no distribution. "The only time this was shown as a 'world
premiere' was for cast and crew at a Dave & Busters backroom," said
A wife senses something amiss
when her globe-trotting husband returns home early, back from another disease-infested
hellhole. As an international health inspector, it's his job. But this time,
his wife begins to suspect, he's brought back ... something.
The stark clean furnishings,
the cool acting style, the theme of a transformative disease, remind one
of David Cronenberg's 1970s films, particularly Shivers. But
writer/director Mike Doyle cites other influences behind The
Strain (17 minutes).
"There isn't one specific
influence," said Doyle. "I wanted to domesticate a monster movie. You
always see monster movies placed in the middle of nowhere. I thought
it would be cool to see a monster in a home where you assume you're safe."
Strain is a traditional monster movie. It slowly builds its
tension, then releases it with sudden shocks. Low, creepy background
music broken by sudden ear-shattering noise. The monster, seen mostly
in shadows, resembles a werewolf. Doyle says "a werewolf without
fur" would be more accurate.
Doyle cast friends for the
roles of the husband and detective (Jared Crain and Carl Ezold), always
a risky tactic. Luckily, Crain's deadpan coolness, and Ezold's grim
demeanor, work well in the film. "What's strange is that they're
both comics," said Doyle, "and they're both really damn funny."
Fifteen actresses auditioned
for the role of the wife, given to Alexandra Boylan.
While the house's sterile
decor aesthetically reinforces the couple's cool, deteriorating relationship,
the house was chosen mainly because it was available; a beach house in
Del Mar, owned by relatives, loaned to Doyle free of charge. The
only other location was an office in Pasadena, rented for $100.
Strain.was shot in HD on a JVC GY HD100
U with a mini 35. "Eric MacIver who owns Indie
Rental in Hollywood was the DP," said Doyle. "He did a kick ass job
and is great guy. I highly recommend him."
Humphries, Doyle never attended film school. "I dropped out of Orange
Coast Collage. I went to The Actor's Workshop in Laguna for four
years. It's hard to learn about the film industry while you live
in Orange County, so I moved to Los Angeles, got an internship at Cinergi. After
eight months, I picked up another internship at Nomad/Lightmotive, Roland
Joffe's company. After six months, they gave me a job as a
PA on Roland's Goodbye
Lover. An eye opening experience.
couple years later, I got into writing screenplays. I signed with
Hohman, Maybank & Lieb because of a comedy spec I wrote with another
guy. We wrote a couple other projects on spec that didn't
go anywhere. [Then] my writing partner quit. I realized I didn't
want to be a writer for hire, though I wouldn't turn down the job. But
it led me to The Strain, my first crack at
I loved it."
Strain's premier screening was at the L.A. Short Film Festival,
on September 9.
Native American spirits (good
and evil) battle for the soul of a troubled young woman in 3:52,
a 12 minute short that uses the supernatural as metaphor for one's personal
"inner demons," rather than as an actual threat.
"Growing up a part of the
Native American Church, we were taught about religion through a spiritual
perspective," said filmmaker Shawna Baca. "I wrote 3:52.after
my uncle died from a failed liver. His body shut down from years
of alcohol abuse. I wanted to tell a story about how our inner demons
can consume our lives."
shot under a SAG contract and stars Ugly
Betty's America Ferrera. "I hired a casting director,
Leah Magnum," said Baca. "We held auditions, with the exception of
America. I met her at the National
Association of Latino Independent Producers conference. She
was presenting an award at the Gala. I talked the president of Nosotros.into
introducing me, so I wouldn't appear like the fifty other filmmakers who
"I sent America the script. She
emailed to meet me. My producer and casting director dealt with her
agent and lawyer, and we made the film. America had already done Real
Women Have Curves and was in negotiations for Ugly
Betty. We did 3:52 right before
she started shooting the pilot.
The film was shot over three
days. "I shot at a house in Encino that was my editor's house," said
Baca. "Nosotros let me shoot at the Ricardo Montalban theatre for two days for free. We shot on 35mm film, after Panavision gave me the New Filmmaker's Grant,
which was a free 35mm camera package.
"The Native Americans I
cast are actors, but both men are authentic Native dancers and they own
their own regalia (costumes). The drumgroup are friends of mine and
agreed to come in and perform a song."
Baca never went to film school. "I've
worked in entertainment for a while, but not in production. I started
a theatre company in San Diego in 1999. I then moved to Los Angeles
to learn about film." She wrote & directed her first film in
not yet been distributed, partially because doing so would require more
payments to SAG. As Baca explained, "With my SAG contract, I'd have
to bump up the contract, and there's just not that kind of money in shorts.
"It's been to about a dozen
festivals and won two awards. Best of the Nalip on View 2006, and
Audience Choice Award at the San Diego Women's Film Festival 2006."
A woman is so determined to
have her child, she refuses an abortion even after the fetus is declared
dead. Instead, she turns to a controversial maternity center that's
pioneering an experimental technique, one that will enable her to bring
her "dead" daughter to full term...
Grace (6 minutes) is a sparse, visually innovative film that revisits thematic
territory covered by The
Alive, and Cronenberg's The
Brood. Like Skin Deep, Grace has a horrific baby girl. But since Grace.has
no humor to dilute its horror, its infant truly horrifies.
Knows Your Name, that's three films this year with gruesome births
of horrific spawn -- is this a new trend in horror?)
"The genesis of the film
is real medical science," said filmmaker Paul Solet. "When I heard
that, often, when a woman's unborn child dies, she'll carry the corpse
to term unless labor is induced, the idea for Grace.was
born. It was so horrific, in a broadly accessible way, I was immediately
thrilled, totally excited by the subject matter. I had the first
draft within a few weeks.
"As for influences, It's
Alive is a favorite of mine, and The
Omen and Rosemary's
Baby. These films don't present horrors for a specific demographic. They aim at cultivating horrors for humanity as a whole."
Solet hired Kennedy Casting
to obtain his "wish list" cast of Liza Weil and Brian Austin Green. "Kennedy
Casting joined Grace after our producer showed
them the script," said Solet. "They loved it and volunteered to come
on board. I met Brian and Liza and we got along wonderfully.
"We didn't have money to
pay anyone, so it came down to the strength of the script, and the actors'
belief in me to pull it off. The rest of the casting was conducted
from Jason Kennedy's studio in Hollywood."
mondo bizarro "birthing clinic" set was built in a warehouse in downtown
Los Angeles. The car accident was shot in Griffith Park, "for which
we needed a permit," said Solet. "The only other location was a baby
store in the Valley. The owner loved horror movies and was very generous."
Even more than most short
films, Grace aspires to be a feature. Solet shot Grace as a calling card to investors, hoping to raise money for a feature version. It's more a digest of the (planned for) feature than a true stand-alone
short. Thus.Grace feels
incomplete. The unusual costumes and art direction in the maternity
center are left unexplained.
"The purpose of the radical
production and costume design was to show the extreme end of the visual
and stylistic spectrum of which I was capable," said Solet. "The
short needed to get your attention in a way the feature will not. You'll
find more subtle design in the full length piece."
Being a "calling card film"
was one reason that Grace was shot on 35mm
film. "The intention was to demonstrate to potential investors that
I have chops enough to pull off a multi-million dollar production which
would be shot on 35mm," said Solet, "so showing a mastery of the format
was important." But he also wanted film's "celluloid feel" so that.Grace would
have "an organic look."
Solet studied film and screenwriting
at Emerson College. He's cowritten "a creature feature with Eli Roth." Solet's horror short, Means
to an End, won several awards on the festival circuit and was
distributed on Fangoria's Blood
Drive 2 DVD.
been seen on FangoriaTV and some dozen festivals. "It's a pitch film
for the feature, which I wrote first, and from which the short was distilled,"
said Solet. "It was designed to stand alone, which allowed it to
make a festival run. But the intent was always to get the feature
made." Which should happen soon. "We've gotten a cast-contingent
greenlight from a studio. So casting pending, we're aiming to wrap
principal photography before 2008."
A zombie boy falls in love
with a mortal girl. So he dons makeup and woes her disguised as a
mortal. But can he stop his zombie buddies from eating her? Will
she overlook his rotted flesh smell? Does romance lie ahead, or just
cold leftover meat from the honeymoon?
Love (37 minutes) is not so much a horror
comedy than a musical comedy that happens to have zombies. In terms
of genre, it's closer to The
Munsters and Young
Frankenstein than to dark horror comedies such as Evil
Dead. Still, it's a fun romp, with playful tunes, break-dancing
corpses, a talented cast, and a surprise ending.
"I wanted to do something
fun that I'd enjoy making as well as watching," said writer/director Yfke
van Berckelaer. "A classmate and myself came up with the title.Zombie
Love a few years earlier and thought it'd be funny to see that playing
on Broadway next to the Phantom.
Love is a love story about two people from different worlds who
want the other to love them for who they are, but insecurities make them
believe that could never be the case. Everyone wants to be liked
and accepted for who they are. The theme of acceptance is universal."
As is van Berckelaer, Zombie's
Love's cast and crew are all students at the California Institute
of the Arts. "All the actors came from the theatre department. The two male leads Id worked with before and had written the parts for
them. The rest we found through auditions. We'd have them audition
a song and a scene. For call backs we'd have them read together. Especially for the couple, that was very important -- you can't fake chemistry!
"It was great working with
an all-student cast and crew because most of us had never worked on a film
before. It felt like a true collaboration because we didn't have
a lot of expectations. We just wanted to see if we could pull it
off and have fun along the way. We weren't afraid to try new things
and experiment. Like, for instance, the Bollywood scene."
Love was shot on super-16 film. "I love the look of it," said
van Berckelaer. "It both embraces the grittiness of old school horror,
but also has the color range of a musical. We got lucky with our
equipment. Panavision provided the camera. Kodak helped with
the film stock. We got a grant from the Royal Dutch Fund of the Arts. The school provided the rest."
While many musicals begin
with the songs, for Zombie Love, the script
was written first. "Which is weird in a way," said van Berckelaer,
"but was also necessary. The lyrics incorporate the story so we had
to write them first, otherwise no one would understand what was going on." She found a composer and recorded the songs a week before filming. The actors lip-synched their songs on set. Another
handled "underscoring" and "created the orchestrations" during the editing
Van Berckelaer studied film
theory and history in Amsterdam before moving to Los Angeles to attend
the California Institute of the Arts. Zombie
Love is her thesis film. Her distribution "consists of me,
a dvd burner, and a website.that
you can order the film through." She may also be contacted through
* Additional Winners
We added two new trophies since
last year: Best Visual Effects and Best Make-Up Effects. For those
who didn't win, it may not mean that their work was bad, only that their
competitors are also very talented.
Some roles are so pivotal,
they make or break a film. Had child actor Haley Joel Osment fallen
Sixth Sense would have failed. So too Casey Halter carries Fast
Forward. There's not a false note in her performance.
Casting directors should
take note of our 2007 Best Actress winner.
actors get no respect at awards time. There were certainly
many fine dramatic performances to choose from this year, particularly
Matt Ryan in By Appointment Only.
But James Rollyson's Skin
Deep co-star was a butt-ugly puppet, and still, Rollyson delivers
expressive performance that remains a delight to watch over repeated viewings. He deserves Best Actor honors.
Nancy Sinclair not only
steals By Appointment Only with her wide-ranging
emotional shifts, but she blows away every adult actress we saw
this year. Choosing
her as Best Supporting Actress is a no-brainer. She
had no competition.
Nor does any supporting
actor come close to Kevin Schiele's performance as the possessed and insane
patient in Death
Knows Your Name. His screen presence is powerful, riveting,
and compelling. We watch even when we want to turn away. He
wins Best Supporting Actor with ease.
We admit it. We love
Bava and Argento and Warren. We're
also suckers for colored lights. Of course, any lighting must be
used aesthetically, to support the story and create an atmosphere.
Which Ben Robinson and Jono
Smith do in the lively and funny Night of the
Hell Hamsters. They win Best Cinematography.
Jimmy Crispin (aka Juan
Pablo Olguin) mixes layers of ghostly whispers and ominous music to create
eerie atmosphere of impending doom, earning him Best Sound for Death
Knows Your Name.
Noon.would be an entirely different
film without James Teague's incessant barrage of imaginative visual effects. The flaming corpse outlaws (right) are but one example out of dozens. (Or
one out of 800, according to director Andrew Wiest).
James Teague easily wins Best
No photo can convey the
visceral shock you'll feel upon seeing that thing emerge from Melissa
(Veronica Mari)'s womb in Death
Knows Your Name. And it was all done without CGI.
Nicholas Longstaff composed
a haunting and beautiful score for The Crypt Club.
But Joseph Y. Kamiya's music
for Skin Deep not only sets the mood, it parallels
the story, supporting its every emotional shift. Alternatingly stodgy,
dark, sinister, playful, melodramatic, poignant to the point of bathos,
and creepily humorous. Kamiya wins Best Music Soundtrack.
* Best Music Soundtrack
..................... Joseph Y. Kamiya (Skin Deep)
* Andrew Wiest, Matthew
Taggart & Keith Suta (Dead Noon)
* Paul Campion, Hadyn
Green & Mike Roseingrave (Night of the Hell Hamsters)
Faust (By Appointment Only)
* Nicholas Humphries
(The One That Got Away)
* CJ Johnson (The
* Jason Holler & Terry
Fisher (Fast Forward)
* Mike Doyle (The
* Shawna Baca (3:52)
* Paul Solet (Grace)
* Yfke van Berckelaer
Film Trends & Lessons for 2007
entries over the course of a year exposes one to current trends in horror. Here's some of what we've seen:
1. Few women. In
2006 most entries had all-male casts. This year saw plenty of female
talent in front of the camera, but still very few behind the camera. The
of female to male director wins this year (1 to 6) roughly parallels the
submissions. Many more men than women are making horror films. Why?
horrors. Three winning films (Skin
Deep, Death Knows
Your Name, Grace)
had nightmarish births or babies. All written & directed by men. Who says women can't write for men ... or men for women?
boards. Aside from nightmarish births,
we saw plenty of ouija board horror films this year. Wonder why?
school not necessary. Film schools continue
to supply many winners, yet several winners had no film school training. So if you never attended, don't be discouraged. You can learn filmmaking
outside of school.
and slashers. We saw plenty in 2006,
and more in 2007. We love them when they're innovative, or at least
very good, but that's rare. Usually they're tired copycats of ripoffs
of remakes of spinoffs of sequels. Halloween and Zombie are extraordinary. Most of their copycats don't come close.
torture. We saw plenty of Hostel-inspired
(albeit uninspired) torture films in 2006. Far fewer in 2007. The torture cycle seems to be dying a quick death. Based on what
we saw, we won't miss it.
scripts attract talent. Bummed because
you don't have access to movie stars? Grace, The
Crypt Club, and 3:52 all
attracted top casting directors and star talent on the strength of their
scripts. If you can write, you can attract stars.
plead poverty. Sometimes an entrant
will emphasize their low budget, the implied message being: "Please be
kind to my film and overlook its flaws. I didn't have the money to
do it right, so it's not fair to judge me harshly."
We do seek
the good aspects in a film, despite its flaws. Yet when a $15,000
film like Death Knows Your Name is
as polished as big budget studio horror, it's time for filmmakers to stop
craft. Write and rewrite. Light with care. Compose
shots with thought and purpose. Record clean sound. Cast
trained actors. Do post-production to polish your sound and visuals.
are producing first-rate films on a shoestring. If you expect to
beat them for the limited number of trophies, festival slots, and distribution
deals, you'd best put away your excuses and improve your skills.
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