Here's the next case study on getting your indie-horror made. This time around we talk to Michael R. Morris, the writer and director of "Fear House". Check out our other case studies in the archived section and, as usual, if you're a filmmaker and would like us to cover you and your film, just let me know. However, I've gotta say, I've got quite a few to get through now... and these case studies don't write themselves... but I will get to them all, I promise.
Film: Fear House
Written By: Michael R. Morris
Directed By: Michael R. Morris
Released By: Lifesize Entertainment
About: When Michael Morris came up for the idea behind "Fear House", he was looking to do "a low-budget horror movie in a single location with a relatively small cast". Further, he "wanted to do something in the psycological vein" and was "interested in the positive or, in this case, negative power of the mind". With the parameters set, he came up with a story about a group of friends and family who pursue an estranged writer to an isolated house only to find that, once they've entered, their own fears will kill them if they leave. "It's creepy, the idea that what's going to kill you is like a snake tied to your ankle: every step you take, it's always right there." Originally, he didn't write the script intending to direct it, but he had just made "Last Seen at Angkor", which he "wrote and directed for pocket money in Thailand and Cambodia" and that gave him the 'in' to direct Fear House.
Budget: Morris received financing from a private investor through Lifesize Entertainment, which was the distribution company that had just distributed his last effort, "Last seen at Angkor". The budget was around $100K and this was Lifesize's "first from-the-ground-up production". Morris "was not personally involved in raising the financing, though (he) did everything he could to cut costs, find people who would work for very little and even (shot his) own B-roll or pick-ups after the shoot was over."
Getting it made: "The film was shot on the Panasonic HVX200, one of the compact HD cameras." As Morris has worked as a cinematographer before, he can talk more specifically about how he achieved the look, "the important key here is that we used the P&S Technic Mini-35 lens conversion to get the 'cinematic' depth of field you're used to seeing in films that are shot through a 35mm gate." With his previous camera experience, he "had a pretty close hand in the shots". In fact, he "may have been a bit annoying for the DP Skye Borgman because (he) was always on top of her about little details". According to him, "she was pretty kick-ass. She worked hard" and to both of their credit, if you have seen the film, it did look great. As for how the shoot went, it was 14 days with a few days off in between and "it would have been nice to have a few more shooting days", but there isn't much he would've changed. "Some scenes (may have) suffered... due to how fast (they) had to shoot them" and it "was a little dark in some places", but he was "very happy with the cast, since they were mostly unknowns off the street". "I hope most of them really go on to great things"...
The effects: The film had some great effects and there was one, in particular, that stood out... Morris went into detail on a few of them, but we'll talk about the decapitated head that ends up in a bucket on the lawn...
"The fact is, we weren't allowed to break the castle windows, nor did the metal fasteners on them allow us to temporarily replace them. So we came up with a clever way to shoot the shot from an angle, eject broken shards of glass along with the fake head out the deep set window casement without actually having to break the real window glass... Next was the flying head through the air. That's self-explanatory, except that I had a real face off with the assistant director, with everybody in the cast and crew watching, about how to do it. We were so pressed for time, and I think he had some elaborate way to orchestrate this shot. I was like, "Let's just throw it!" He was sure we would end up destroying the head and ruining chances for using it in other shots. In the end I won and we just threw the head through the air and a couple of PA's caught the head in a blanket. Probably did about 12 tries to get it right.
The piece de resistance is the actual head in the bucket. I didn't want some fake head in the bucket looking obviously lifeless. I wanted the look of terror on the actress's face as she realized that her severed head was drowning in a bucket (alas, her worst fear). So we shot this with two elements: 1) we put the actress in a kiddie pool with a cut-away bucket around her head, a little red food coloring to come out of her mouth and bingo. 2) the next shot was just the empty bucket sitting on the dirt. We "processed" the two shots together and it looks like a live person's head is severed in the bucket. We originally thought we'd have to have skin flaps and cut flesh, but with the shadowing of the light, we didn't need it. (This shot was influenced by a shot in 'Wolfen' when, after a guy's head is lopped off by a wolf, his mouth is still moving)."
Distributing the film: Because Lifesize financed and distributed the film, they already had distribution secured before they shot a frame. However, Morris offers advice learned from his first film, which Lifesize eventually picked up. "Research festivals and production companies before you even shoot anything. A lot of those entities are very slanted or political, so learn their bias ahead of time. Often times you get a better perspective of what 'works' in your movie before you waste a lot money doing if from the hip." Further, "know who your audience is. I struggled with that on my first film, a vampire movie set in the New York after hours club scene. There are a few basic requirments in the horror genre that helps it sell. You should know how to incorporate them before you finalize your script." However, he then offers up that he feels the genre is getting saturated and "now's a great time to do something never before seen and combine it cleverly with the tried and true genre elements. Go for it."
What’s next: Morris is working on a few things right now and the one he's most excited about? "Shaolin Zombie Masters... need I say more?"
For more information on Michael Morris, you can check out his profile on Alive Not Dead, for more information on Fear House, you can check it out at IMDB and to buy it off Amazon, click on the link below...