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Chilling Out

Alexandra Feld

AlexandraFeld

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Alexandra Feld, producer and star of the new film “Killer Kate!,” which arrives in select theaters and on Digital HD today.

We recently sat down with Feld to discuss the horror fandom, how her family helped to make “Killer Kate!” a reality, and the reason the film – their first – finished on time and within budget.

TrunkSpace: As you gear up for the official release of the film, what emotions are you juggling with?
Feld: It has been an amazing process to get to this point, but I’m still in producer-mode leading up to the release, so I’m not sure I’ve had time to process the emotions of it all yet. I’m definitely excited for the film to come out and interested to see how it’s received! I’m sure there will be some relief once the film is out but also bittersweet because “Killer Kate!” has been such a part of our lives over the last year. That being said, I’m excited to shift focus and begin something new!

TrunkSpace: You wore multiple hats in bringing “Killer Kate!” to life. How much of your blood, sweat and tears went into making the film a reality? Was there ever a moment when you doubted it would happen?
Feld: I had the wonderful opportunity to produce on this film, my first feature as an actress. As part of the film since early development, I was able to be part of the creative process, including casting, selecting locations and crew, all the way through notes on the edit, which really allows you to get close to a project. We had originally planned to shoot another script last November, but a few months prior to pre-production we decided to put that script on hold due to budget and location constraints and create a new script around our resources. We knew we were going to shoot in November of 2017; we had our director, lead actress, and budget number, so that’s where we began. There was never a moment when I thought the film wouldn’t happen. Our production company, Feld Films, is comprised of myself, my husband (director Elliot Feld), my brother-in-law, David Feld, and my father-in-law, Larry Feld – it’s a true family business, and we work extremely well together. We are a pretty driven bunch and time is valuable, so once we made the decision to shoot, it was going to get done because it had to. We work full-time in the commercial world, so we are used to quick turnaround and working with very strict budgets, which lends itself well to indie filmmaking.

TrunkSpace: Did producer Alexandra and actress Alexandra ever butt heads in terms of what one knew was possible to accomplish and what one hoped was possible to accomplish? How do you find the middle ground between the creative wants and the day-to-day needs on set?
Feld: This is something we were all aware of and tried to set ground rules early on. Once we got to our shoot days, the plan was that I take my producer hat off entirely and just focus on acting, but that was better in theory! (Laughter) It took two days or so to get into our groove and quickly learn that I was most comfortable staying involved in certain parts of day-to-day production life. It’s certainly a delicate balance and something I will continue to learn as I follow this path, but I love being able to use both sides of my brain on set. Having other things to put my energy into also allowed me not to get inside my head as an actor, and it really challenged that “acting muscle” as far as turning it on and off – I loved it!

TrunkSpace: In the film, you play THE killer Kate. Because you were involved in the project on numerous levels, how did you see the character grow from where she was in the early stages of development to where she is in the final cut of the film?
Feld: If I remember correctly, Kate didn’t start out quite as likable or relatable. She was a little harsher and more sarcastic, but not in a fun way. After a few read-throughs with our co-writers, Elliot Feld and Daniel Moya, we all agreed to work on making Kate more authentic. I mean, sure, it’s great to have flaws in the characters, but in this case, you really have to care about Kate and her sister Angie; you have to root for them to get it together because, ya know – family!

TrunkSpace: Independent films are often operating on a limited budget, which means limited time. Did you have to make any on-site adjustments that weren’t in the script that ended up making it into the film, and in doing so, made the film stronger?
Feld: Yes, actually! So, we shot this film in 10 days, with two days of pickups which, if you’re unsure, is an insanely short shoot schedule. We had a director with a strong vision, a DP who loves to try anything, an incredibly talented cast, a rock-star crew, and the best 1st AD one could dream of – it’s this magical combo that allowed us to get our film made on time and on budget.

Alexandra Feld as Kate in the horror film “KILLER KATE!,” a Freestyle Digital Media release. Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
Feld: Honestly, there are so many things, but I am most proud of my family. First off, I got to work with my husband, who’s drive and passion never cease to amaze me, and working together in the actress and director capacity was really special. Next, my producing partner and brother-in-law, David Feld – the level of trust I have with him is next level; he is so good at what he does! Lastly, my mom was the production designer (Stephanie Brewer), my dad the art director (Keith K. Brewer), my brother the prop master (Justin Brewer), and my sister the wardrobe designer (Kevynn Brewer). Looking back on it now, it still feels unbelievable that we had this opportunity to work together in this capacity! We could not have done what we did without the closeness, ease of communication, and intuition that comes with family. Even our dog, Daisy, came to set with us! It was a wonderful, comfortable, positive environment that allowed everyone on set to feel like part of the family.

TrunkSpace: Horror fans are willing to turn out for a film regardless of if they know anything about the film or not. Do you feel like the genre comes with a bit of a built-in audience, and if so, does that put more or less pressure on you with a film like “Killer Kate!” and being accepted by that fandom?
Feld: Oh, man, I think we’ve been totally spoiled by the horror fan community for our first film! I come from a theatre background, and one thing I have always loved about that world is the sense of community and support, and I feel a lot of similarities with our new horror family. I suppose if there is any pressure it’s that I love horror audiences, and I just don’t want to disappoint. Of course, I know our film may not be all horror fans’ cup of tea, and that’s totally cool, because, even still, everyone has been so supportive and enthusiastic, which I’m so grateful for!

TrunkSpace: Aside from making a quality film, do you hope that “Killer Kate!” will open up more doors for you, both in front of the camera and behind it?
Feld: Yes, absolutely! I am an actress, first and foremost, but it’s a tough business. As I mentioned, I began in theatre, but I moved to LA to transition to film, and, after a few years of auditioning for mediocre roles, stereotypes, and reading bad scripts, I realized I needed to diversify and start producing. I took four years off from acting to start from the bottom and learn the behind-the-scenes, so I could jump back in as a producer/actress and have a creative hand in the projects I was a part of. “Killer Kate!” is my first project back in the acting game, and boy, is it good to be back!

(L-R) Alexandra Feld as Kate, Amaris Davidson as Sara, and Danielle Burgess as Angie in the horror film “KILLER KATE!,” a Freestyle Digital Media release. Photo courtesy of Freestyle Digital Media.

TrunkSpace: This is an industry with so many question marks, and often, so much is dependent on the decisions of others. Do you feel like you’ve been able to control your own destiny a little bit in bringing “Killer Kate!” to life?
Feld: Entirely! Again, it’s why I decided to become a producer. I am a creative person, without a doubt, but I am also very business minded, owing in large part to the home I grew up in, where both were of equal importance. It’s also key to be wise with whom you surround yourself and also open to different thoughts and ideas. I was able to have a lot of influence on my role as Kate and the film overall, but I also trusted everyone on our internal team and then the key crew we hired.

TrunkSpace: Super general question, we know, but what’s next? After “Killer Kate!” is released and you’re able to come up for air, what project will you be breathing in?
Feld: Well, my current “day job” is as a commercial producer, so I’m always busy behind the scenes, but we do have a horror short film we are prepping for which Elliot will be directing. Beyond that I really hope to be sinking my teeth into another juicy feature part soon! We have a few scripts in development, so I’m excited to see which one we’ll be diving into next. Keep your eyes on IMDb, and follow me @AlexandraFeld on Instagram for more updates!

Killer Kate!” arrives in select theaters and on Digital HD today!

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Trunk Stubs

Trunktober: Train To Busan

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This October we’re focused on one thing and one thing only… watching as much horror-related programming as possible to prime the pop culture pump in celebration of Halloween. Our consuming will be taking place nightly, and while there’s no rhyme or reason to how we’re going about choosing our scary screenings, we’ll do our best to tell you how we did it so that you can watch them as well.

Title: Train To Busan

Directed By: Sang-ho Yeon

Starring: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, Su-an Kim

We Watched On: Netflix

Trunktober Approved Because: For those who don’t mind subtitles, this zombie flick from South Korea is a wild ride, though admittedly not quite as wild as those the fictional characters from the film are forced to take as passengers on a besieged train from Seoul to Busan. We don’t blame you if you feel burned out on anything related to the undead, but this movie has something that so many others in the genre do not… heart. (Probably because zombies are more focused on brains.)

Biggest Scare: There aren’t a lot of jump scares to lift you out of your seat, but the sense of impending doom is enough to make you uneasy for the duration of the film, particularly for those watching who are parents and would have to traverse the undead landscape with kids in tow.

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Chilling Out

Elysia Rotaru and Stephen Sawchuk

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Mackenzie Mowat and Jenna Romanin in “FWD”

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Elysia Rotaru and Stephen Sawchuk, the brains behind “FWD,” the new horror/comedy hybrid that is giving us a serious hankering for ’90s nostalgia.

We recently sat down with the creative duo to discuss embracing the camp, being scared to scare, and why they owe a lot of favors to a lot of people.

TrunkSpace: First and foremost, how did the creative partnership between the two of you come about?
Sawchuk: Elysia and I have known each other for nearly a decade now so it’s been a long time in the making. People always warn you not to get into business with your friends but I think what clicked for us is that we share a lot of the same creative instincts and work ethic. When we decided to pair up, Elysia was acting at the time and I was producing reality television, and we were both eager to sink our teeth into something new and different where we could flex our creative muscles a bit more.

TrunkSpace: Many of us believe in love at first sight, but does the same apply to creativity? Can two people share a like-minded creative POV right out of the gates, and if so, did you both find that in each other?
Sawchuk: We’re both creative people but that’s not to say we agree all of the time, which is a healthy part of the process. What works well for us is that Elysia brings her extensive acting and coaching background to the table, and as a producer I’m heavily involved in the day to day of both the creative and logistics, so we clicked and our skill sets complement each other and we push each other into new territory.

TrunkSpace: We love that “FWD” is ‘90s based. (Big ups to the chokers and the Skeet Ulrich reference!) Was the setting itself sort of necessary given the premise, which is based around a chain email that brings about unspeakable… wait for it… HORROR?
Sawchuk: Totally! We’re both huge fans of the 90’s slasher genre, and wanted to embrace the camp and ridiculousness of that era… Y2K fear and killer emails!
Rotaru: You remember those, don’t you?!

TrunkSpace: Speaking of horror, as filmmakers, do you feel like you kind of come into “FWD” having a built-in audience knowing how passionate the horror audience is for all things within the genre… even if there are different subsets within the larger horror umbrella?
Rotaru: The horror audience is very savvy, so it was actually a little scary (no pun intended) creating a film in the genre. It’s one thing to have a built-in audience, but another to have them actually enjoy your film!
Sawchuk: As newcomer filmmakers to the genre we wanted to make sure our first project had the elements of a horror film, but that it didn’t take itself too seriously.

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that coin, is the horror audience difficult to please, because in a lot of ways, it feels like a genre where each project has to keep upping itself in terms of gore and twisting plot points?
Sawchuk: Absolutely! There’s a lot to live up to in the genre, and during the brainstorming process for “FWD” I kept asking myself “what can we do differently?” And that’s a super tough question to answer because I think people kind of feel like “it’s all been done before” in terms of the slasher genre. So my challenge was to tell a contained story in less than 10 minutes that wasn’t just a guy with a knife stalking two young girls. We hope we accomplished that with a unique setting and era and a twist ending in the final scene.

Elysia Rotaru

TrunkSpace: In creating the short, do you see this as your complete vision, or is the hope to take the concept and turn it into a full-length feature?
Sawchuk: There were a ton of things we wish we could have done differently with the short, but we did our best with the time, money and resources we had available.
Rotaru: And we knew we just needed to make the film! It sounds cliché but it’s true – if you wait around for the perfect moment to start, you’ll never start. So there were a lot of things we wish we could’ve done differently with the short, but we’ve been developing a feature-length film based on the short that we’re really excited about!

TrunkSpace: Was there anything that you had hoped to accomplish with “FWD” that you had to revisit during production because of budget or time constraints?
Sawchuk: We made the movie on a buck and a half (kidding not kidding) so we really had to stretch every dollar and beg, borrow and steal. Any filmmaker in the genre will tell you that funding resources are super limited… a lot of the organizations ignore or disqualify horror altogether which is disappointing, so you have to get creative with how you’re going to make it happen. We self funded and set up an Indiegogo page and the film wouldn’t have been made if it weren’t for the support of friends, family and fans of the genre. We also had a crazy talented crew who worked on the project simply because they liked the script and the people on the team. So basically we owe a lot of favors back! Looking back, I wish we could have used some different camera gear and upped our special effects/gore game a bit, but we did what we could with the resources we had available. I think every filmmaker gets that “woulda shoulda coulda” feeling.

Stephen Sawchuk

TrunkSpace: As we said, the film is based in the ‘90s, but there’s also a great ‘90s horror vibe to it as well. Were the return of slasher films like “Scream” and “Urban Legend” an influence in “FWD” coming into fruition, particularly given the comedic tone that it strikes at times?
Sawchuk: Totally! The opening scenes of the “Scream” movies really inspired us. Those scenes are usually five to 10 minutes long but they immediately rope you in and keep you engaged until the title card comes up. Our challenge was to try to have a similar impact on an audience, but tell a contained story that had a pay off by minute seven. I could watch the openers to the original “Scream” and “Scream 4” on loop! The way the “Scream” movies infused comedy into the genre was game changing. Nobody did the horror-comedy spin better than Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.

TrunkSpace: What did the two of you take from the experience of bringing “FWD” to life that you’ll apply to your next project and each one after that?
Rotaru: Follow your instincts, honor your vision and have fun throughout the process. Filmmaking is so collaborative, which can sometimes mean there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so it’s important to stick to your gut.
Sawchuk: We were lucky to work with a really great, supportive and talented cast and crew and honestly we wouldn’t have been able to make the film without them. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who share your passion is really important. Another key takeaway from working on our first project together is to not take yourself too seriously!

TrunkSpace: What’s next for you two as far as your creative partnership goes?
Sawchuk: Our second screenplay is ready to roll!
Rotaru: It’s another horror-comedy called ‘Daddy Issues’ that we’re both really excited about, and it was written with feature film potential in mind. We’re still in development but hope to take it to camera before the end of 2018.
Sawchuk: We’re still working on the treatment for the feature-length ‘FWD’ as well!

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Chilling Out

Lisa Ovies

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Jason had his hockey mask. Freddy had his glove. Simon has… his huggable, squeezable, loveable plush body, which he will use to lull you into a false sense of security before horrifically murdering you.

Yes, not only do we live in a world where we have to worry about deadly flu outbreaks, erratic weather, and an endless run of New England Patriots’ Super Bowls, but now we have inanimate felt killers to fear, at least according to the exciting new horror/comedy mashup from Lisa Ovies, “Puppet Killer.”

With the film set to hit the festival circuit throughout 2018, we recently sat down with the mastermind (and producer/director) Ovies to discuss how the core concept for “Puppet Killer” first came to her, discovering the right tone, and where Simon is right now.

TrunkSpace: The idea for “Puppet Killer” first struck you after watching a parade with singing puppets. What was it about taking that concept – a kid-friendly character made of felt – and turning him evil that interested you?
Ovies: I was actually producing a really great short called “Bedbugs: A Musical Love Story” at the same time that I was casting a horror film. I remember sitting on the stairs watching a musical number and thinking, “What would I do if I was in charge?” And the answer was, I would kill everyone. I would kill everyone with a puppet. I guess it was the product of living in both worlds at the same time.

TrunkSpace: Independent productions can often take a long time to come into fruition. How long has the “Puppet Killer” journey been from that spark of an idea to where you are today with the finished film?
Ovies: I think about three years? The film itself isn’t actually quite finished. We are happily chugging through post production with an amazing team.

TrunkSpace: Horror/comedy hybrids can sometimes be a challenge for filmmakers in terms of finding the right balance between the two genres. How much energy went into establishing the tone of the film, and when you started out, were there any projects that came before “Puppet Killer” that you wanted to emulate tone-wise?
Ovies: Yes, it is a really fine line to skate between a genuine comedic slasher, and a parody. We worked really hard to play the drama throughout and it was the actors’ fantastic ability to accept the circumstances and to play opposite Simon in a very truthful and honest manner. That was pretty much my biggest focus throughout and I am very grateful the actors trusted me in it. When we talked about it leading up to filming, I would reference “Evil Dead 2,” “Shaun of the Dead” and “Dead Alive.” I think we did a great job finding that energy in the film.

TrunkSpace: In watching the trailer, the film has the feeling of a classic 80s slasher flick – “Friday the 13th” meets super trippy “Pinwheel.” Did that decade of slasher greatness inspire any aspects of “Puppet Killer” or you personally as a filmmaker?
Ovies: A huge yes to both. I love 80s slasher horror films and it is very evident in “Puppet Killer.” It pays homage to all the greats, from “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween,” and “Friday the 13th.” The main character is raised by a mother (played by myself) who is obsessed with 80s horror and as a result, Aleks Paunovic’s character and Simon are as well.

TrunkSpace: You pulled together a great cast and crew to bring “Puppet Killer” to life. Many of those working on the film have been involved with projects that have amassed huge fanboy/fangirl followings, including “Supernatural,” “The 100,” and “Van Helsing.” From a business perspective, is that the audience that you’re targeting with your film, the Comic Con crowd, because this seems like something they could get behind?
Ovies: I think they are a part of our audience for sure and I know they will love seeing their favorite actors in such a different light, but we definitely made this film as an homage to 80s horror. As a result, die hard horror fans are going to love uncovering the Easter eggs and subtext within the film.

TrunkSpace: You wore many hats throughout the “Puppet Killer” development and production process. Do you enjoy taking on many different roles, or in a best-case-scenario world would you have preferred focusing on the directing alone?
Ovies: I love being creative and I love producing but at the end of the day, I think I will always be my best self when I am able to focus on one job. The next two features I am slated to direct I am only wearing the one hat and I am really excited. However, I always cameo in anything I direct so I expect you will see me pop up in them as well.

TrunkSpace: When it comes to filmmaking in general, do you see yourself as someone with a creative focus on genre projects or do you have an interest in throwing your director’s hat into the every-genre ring?
Ovies: I would love to challenge myself in different genres for sure. I really want to do a big budget action movie like “X-Men” or “Star Wars,” but at the end of the day practical effects and horror will always have my heart.

TrunkSpace: What has been the most difficult aspect of bringing your “Puppet Killer” vision into reality? What kept you up at night?
Ovies: Sadly the answer is just money. We want to keep this film ours and not lose creative control by bringing in other money, so the self-funding has been a tad stressful. We have an amazing group of executive producers that have supported us and we are truly grateful. We are trying to keep the quality really high while keeping the costs low. Our problems are certainly not unique in the independent world of film.

TrunkSpace: Was putting the final stamp on your vision a difficult thing to do? When you’re invested so much in a project, is it stressful to officially call it “done” and send it out into the world?
Ovies: I have made several films before “Puppet Killer” and that is a great question. Part of you feels relieved and so excited to share it with the world but then there is another side that will never be 100 percent done. You can always make it better or make different choices, so at one point, you need to trust yourself and your team and call it done. “Puppet Killer” is close to that stage but still has some pieces that we need to have fall in line before we get to call it done.

TrunkSpace: You’re taking “Puppet Killer” to festivals throughout 2018. Is it nerve-racking for you to sit in on a screening of a project that you had such a big hand in both creatively and on the production side of things? Do you look forward to seeing the instant reaction of audiences?
Ovies: I always worry about audience reaction but I LOVE sitting through the emotional journey with them. The first screening is the hardest… there are moments that you hold your breath and hope they get the joke, or that the jump scare will work – the gore will affect them. It is a crazy experience and every audience is different.

TrunkSpace: Finally, where is Simon right now?
Ovies: Well, as I type this, I am on a plane to LA so he is not with me. He is at home with my partner and puppies. He has lived with me since we wrapped and I love it.

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Chilling Out

The Dark Tapes’ Michael McQuown

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Michael McQuown, writer, producer, and director of “The Dark Tapes,” a found footage horror/sci-fi mashup that has been scaring up fans on the festival circuit.

We sat down with McQuown to talk about the film’s extended shelf life, stolen furniture, and how the plot all came together in the final hour of production.

TrunkSpace: Horror seems like one of the few genres where you can still build a decent audience by word of mouth alone. From your perspective, is marketing a horror movie different than another genre?
McQuown: Well, I would say yes because the horror people seem to be quite fanatical. They watch everything they can get their hands on. That’s why there’s so much bad horror made because they might have one good gory scene in it and the horror fans will still gobble it up. So you do have a fair amount of genre content being done for a low amount of money because they just know they can make a profit on it and turn it around. Hopefully… hopefully we try to go for something better than that, but people have their own particular tastes.

TrunkSpace: Since the film’s release, what has brought it the most amount of attention and put it on people’s radars?
McQuown: The first festival we got accepted into was the Phoenix Film Festival/International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. That was last April. A few reviews came out of that, I think six of seven, and all but one was positive, and there were some tech issues still to fix on the film. I submitted to a bunch of other festivals too and then we started winning five awards and then 10 awards and then 20 awards. I tried to make as many festivals as I could and I talked to a couple of the festival directors and they were just like, “We really, really love you film.” And I’m like, “Are you sure?” I’m it’s own biggest critic since I know it so well. And they were like, “Trust us… we got X number hundreds of submissions and yours is right there on the top.” And then actually we got into some non-genre film festivals and surprisingly the couple that I attended there, the audience members were actually even more inquisitive than the genre people. They were like, “We normally would never even see a horror film, but we really liked it.” And then the people would quiz me for a half hour or 45 minutes on stuff. So, hopefully it struck a nerve. Now we’re up to 61 awards and nominations, so there definitely seems to be an audience for it. I think that’s spread over 30 festivals and competitions… the 61 awards are. And we’re up to about 50 reviews and all but two are positive, so it seems to be striking a chord with people.

TrunkSpace: Another thing about the horror genre that doesn’t seem to apply to other genres is that it has a longer shelf life. Have you found that to be the case as you’re out supporting “The Dark Tapes?”
McQuown: Yeah. Maybe a model on this is… with a much larger budget, don’t get me wrong… but “The Taking of Deborah Logan.” I’ve checked out its IMDB rankings in the past year and you can see it just had a very long, slow fade from its initial VOD release. That definitely sort of became a word of mouth movie and then it got put on all these top movies of the year lists. So, hopefully that’s the case. We’re with Epic Pictures, just for the U.S., and they do have experience in genre stuff. But, still, we didn’t open in 30 theaters and have all of the reviewers from all those cities reviewing it, so we’re still working diligently on the marketing.

TrunkSpace: You spent many years working on the film. Was there ever a point where you thought it would never get finished?
McQuown: Well, I thought up the idea, basically… and I have said this in other forums… I saw “V/H/S.” One of the producers is a big horror fan and said, “Hey, you should check out ‘V/H/S.’” And actually a couple of weeks before that, the same producer said, “Hey, check out ‘The Pact.’” And I watched that and I thought it was a good movie. I researched it and I was like, “How come I didn’t hear about that?” It was straight to VOD. So I did some research and I found out that the VOD market was something that you could at least break even or make a profit on if you do a quality product and horror was the biggest genre in that market. And then when I saw “V/H/S,” a light went off and I went, “Hey, that’s what I’m going to shoot… a found footage anthology.” The thinking was, if we mess up the first story, we can go back and reshoot it and not have to reshoot a whole feature. (Laughter) And I knew my production costs would be lower, etc. etc. etc. And then when I saw “V/H/S,” I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly how most found footage films should be done.” They should be done as like a mini feature because a lot of them just have the same problem where you’re sitting through the first 40 to 60 minutes with not much happening.

And so we shot “The Hunters & The Hunted,” the first full segment that you see in the film, in October 2013. And the idea was to shoot two other segments and one thing I’ve learned being an entrepreneur is that things always take three times longer and cost three times as much and delays are inevitable. And the delay that we had there… we had a great location and the idea was to rent a place at Airbnb and live at it… myself and the two producers who are also the primary crew members… and we would shoot there as well. So we rented a place and when we showed up, the furniture was gone. And we’re like, “What?!?!” The guy who presented himself as the owner was actually sub-leasing it/renting it on Airbnb and he just decided to steal all of the furniture. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Yikes. You can’t plan for something like that!
McQuown: Yeah. It took me about 10 days to find another location that we could live and shoot at. It was in LA so a lot of the owners were like, “Oh yeah, you can do it for $6,000.” I was like, “Well, we might only spend that much on the whole thing.” (Laughter) So, we were only able to do one segment and the two producers, who are British friends and flew out from London, went back. I then went back to Miami and then came out to LA and delayed everything for a year because I had some opportunities to make some more money. So in 2014 nothing was done. And then in 2015 we shot the four stories, one of which is not in the film, but it will be in the DVD as an extra bonus. And it’s not because of the quality or anything like that. I just realized as I was editing that it would push it towards two hours and I felt it would be a stronger film if it was under 100 minutes.

TrunkSpace: That also makes it interesting for people who have already seen the film to give it a second look.
McQuown: Exactly. Right now for people who pre-order and send us a screenshot of their iTunes pre-order, we’ll send them a screener link to the extra story in the summer when I finish editing it.

TrunkSpace: You wore pretty much every conceivable hat in the production of the film. What for you was the most difficult to manage while juggling all of the other duties you had at the same time?
McQuown: I can say the one that is the most time consuming and cumbersome and least creative would be casting. We used a casting director and now I can see the value of a casting director… just in the amount of time you’ll save. The casting director did cast four of the roles. Vincent Guastini, who did the practical effects and directed “To Catch A Demon”… he brought in Cortney Palm. But the rest of the roles, which was like over a dozen, we cast ourselves. We put ads in the right websites and trades in LA and we had probably 3,000 to 4,000 submit. So, that means I got to look through 3,000 to 4,000 headshots online, organize them into the right character, tag them as not good if it’s based on appearance, and now you’re down to 1,000 or 2,000, which I gave to the two producers. They then watched the tapes on the people… 1,000 to 2,000 people. (Laughter) And that got us down to a few hundred people that we scheduled for auditions. And then you’ve got to schedule them, which is a whole cumbersome process because you don’t want people all showing up at once. And then we had to actually book the audition space and go there and set up. It ends up being… that was probably 100 to 200 hours of work between three people to do all of that. So now I certainly see the advantage of the casting director. He already knows who is going to work for that rate that’s up and coming. The people that he brought in all had serious independent film credits. Some had supporting roles for studio stuff. Brittany Underwood was the lead in a Nickelodeon series and she was a well known soap actress for some years. He already knows those people, so for him, it’s probably two hours of work per role. (Laughter) Whereas if you’re going to do it from scratch, it’s 20 hours of work per role.

But I’m perfectly content and happy with the cast. They did a great job. And we got Emilia Ares Zoryan, who is the lead in the wraparound story from “V/H/S Viral,” through our own auditions, so we ended up getting people who had significant credits even through the open casting that we were doing.

I did have something that did help. I did mention that I was the original writer of “The Perfect Man,” which was a romantic comedy that Universal Studios made starring Hilary Duff, which is exactly the type of move that I would never make. (Laughter) I happened to know the person the true story was based on and I thought it would be an easy script sale. And it was. So, I would mention that in the casting listings, so I’m sure that helped us bump up interest a little bit.

But again, the cast was great. We gave them instructions to act very naturalistic because of the found footage nature of the film. And a little interesting note is, in “The Hunters & The Hunted”… because we had the delay with finding the location… that script was really only half done. About half of that was improv. Anytime that the ghost hunters are doing their research, that was all improv. I just told them to watch “Ghost Adventures” and other ghost hunting shows and then we bought actual ghost hunting equipment and the crew and I just hid in a room downstairs. There was one room that never got seen and we’d all just hide there. And it was just like, “Okay… do your thing for an hour.” They had the camera, we had them mic’d up with lavaliers and they just did a bunch of improv.

TrunkSpace: It sounds like the horror version of “Curb your Enthusiasm.”
McQuown: There you go! Exactly. But, it came out really well. And in the DVD we’ll be making an extended version of these scenes we cut out for running time purpose.

TrunkSpace: Some of the best cinematic moments come out of a those moments where an idea or an effect isn’t working and it forces filmmakers to think on their toes and outside the box. Did “The Dark Tapes” have one of those moments?
McQuown: Oh yeah. Absolutely. The demon in “To Catch A Demon” was originally supposed to be on wires and crawling up the wall and crawling on the ceiling and stuff like that. And myself as a first time producer, we had a stunt coordinator bring his whole wire set gear… someone who Vincent Guastini knew… and my fault, I did not have him come to the location to confirm that he could set up all of his wires, which he wasn’t able to because it wasn’t strong enough… the things for him to connect to. So, when we had the whole battle scene at the end with the demon and in other times where you see the demon, he wasn’t supposed to be standing like a person. If he was going to stand like a person, we would have had a different type of practical effect. So, I had to edit around that and the fight scene at the end just wasn’t quite working from what we had shot. He looked too much like a person in a practical effects outfit, which again, he wasn’t supposed to be standing. My fault for not consulting with the stunt coordinator. So we had an extra day of reshooting where we were going to reshoot some of the fight scene and literally with about an hour left to shoot… it just all of a sudden occurred to me that we should have the professor and Cortney Palm’s character Nicole be in multiple, we called it, time dilations, as if they were multiple universes simultaneously with multiple outcomes. I told Vincent, the director, I said, “Yeah… let’s just shoot some scenes of him saying that because then I can go more normal narrative crazy jump cut editing. I can edit anything and anywhere and I’ll make the fight work.” We had bits and pieces of the fight that worked fine, but because of the found nature of the film, you have no cutaways. So, you’re editing choices are very limited. And so literally, it was a very important plot point where he says, “Oh, we’re in multiple time dalations,” and then I realized that “To Catch A Demon” was actually going to be a standalone story. And as I was editing, I was like, “To Catch A Demon” should be the wraparound story, but, “How do I tie it in to the other stories?” At that point I had a way to tie it into “The Hunters & The Hunted” and I had a way to tie it into “Cam Girls,” but I didn’t have a way a way to tie it into “Amanda’s Revenge.” So, again this was all done in the last hour of shooting on one day of reshoots… I pulled David Rountree the actor aside and said, “You’re stuck in multiple time dilations and you’re going to say something worse is coming because you turned on the machine.” And the something worse that are coming are the aliens/demons, whatever you want to think they are, in “Amanda’s Revenge.” And then if you notice the time dates of the stories, that’s why I made “To Catch A Demon” a few years earlier, so then that way the “whatever” that’s coming… it took them time to get here through space because they got the signal from the machine. So, that entire very important plot turn… plot twist… was literally thought up in the last hour of the reshoot to fix the fight scene.

TrunkSpace: So having learned a lot of these first time producer lessons on the fly, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
McQuown: If I was advising any other filmmakers or people who want to become filmmakers, if you’re going to do it for zero budget… or as I like to say, this film is a negative budget movie because it comes out of my pocket… you’re going to have things come up. If you have skill sets as a good entrepreneur in crisis management… you’ve got to think on your feet and make lemon out of lemonade when it happens. And that’s what happened. We had a fight scene that needed improvement and it led to a critical plot change. We didn’t have time to shoot the wraparound story and instead it became the bookend story, which lead to the “To Catch A Demon” becoming the wraparound story, which ended up tying all of the stuff together better.

Learn more about “The Dark Tapes” here.

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