Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Explanation and An Interview With the Makers of "The Shadows"

I know, I know... it's been a week since I've posted anything. And without explanation. Well, I foolishly thought that while I have new responsibilities at work, my family was coming to town and Christmas was around the corner, I would still be able to keep up on all my Dead Harvey chores. I was wrong. To quote Arnie, "Dead wrong". So, I'm going to be taking a break, which will make life a whole lot easier, and this will be my last Dead Harvey post until January 3rd. If I have any readers left by then, I hope you'll come back to a reinvigorated Dead Harvey, as I'm hoping to get some time to catch up on some indie horror and readjust my life to fit in everything that I want to fit in.

So... before I take off on my holiday, I want to leave you with a great interview. We had the opportunity to check out "The Shadows", a small budget indie horror and speak with the guys behind it. Now, "The Shadows" isn't your typical no-budget horror. Usually, no-budget horror films hang their hat on gore, nudity or a particular sub-genre, like zombies, vampires or whatever. "The Shadows" was different. "The Shadows" was far more cerebral than almost anything you'd expect from the low-no budget realm. It didn't bank on gore, it didn't bank on nudity and, as far as I could tell, there weren't any zombie outbreaks. There were, however, quite a few decent effects, including some very creepy characters, but that's not what grabbed me about the film. What grabbed me was how well it was put together, how the story was crafted and how they managed to keep my attention to the end... without nudity, gore or zombies. The film is along the lines of "The Sixth Sense" or "The Others" and it should stand out in the low-no indie horror world as something that's unique, different and very well crafted.

Enjoy the interview and have a great holidays!

So, tell us about “The Shadows”, what’s it all about?

Really it's about facing your demons. And a person’s will to live. The plot revolves around five friends who are marooned on an abandoned island with a lighthouse. And although they seem to be close friends with no secrets from each other, their suppressed conflicts and longings, boil to the surface. Ghostly shadow figures threaten to steal away their souls so they must put aside their conflicts and band together to defend themselves against the relentless demonic specters.
It’s also completely dubbed in Spanish and I am really glad that I was able to include a commentary on the film. The script has so many layers and subtleties, so the more you watch it, the more depth you discover. And the commentary helps you see those things. It's very much a ghost story.

The film is definitely a horror, but it’s far different than most indie horror’s that we see, as it’s not really gory and/or excessively violent. Talk about where the idea came from and why you wanted to make it.

Gratuitous violence and gore really aren’t the foundation for a good film. For us a solid, creative story and engaging characters is. Without a good story everything else is pointless. And you have to have characters worth caring about. So we created characters who had real depth with hopes and fears and flaws. It keeps the audience more connected, invested in their individual struggles and on the edge of their seat as each twist reveals that things are more complicated than you thought.

The lighthouse was a key element from the beginning. They have this stigma of eeriness, mystery and something supernatural about them. So we gave it meaning in the story physically and figuratively. We liked the idea of it becoming a character in the story, hiding it's own secrets, being wounded and under attack. It’s a great metaphor. We are all like a lighthouse with both a light and dark side.

If you don’t mind us asking, what was the budget for the film and how did you secure financing?

We sought funding for a long time. Eventually my sister (Dianna Collett) and I (we make up Victory of the People Productions) decided that we were going to have to fund our first major film ourselves. So we spent our life savings to create a film we loved and to propel a production company we believed in.

The only way to make a high-quality film on a low budget is through lots of planning and preparation. The set started construction seven months before shooting. Script re-writes and revisions took place for a year to refine it and intensify the story. Rehearsals began months ahead and most of the cast was completely off-book before shooting began. It was necessary to keep the intensity of each scene. It was like a thrilling play that became a film. I think often film-makers are in such a rush to shoot the film they skip important rehearsal time and it shows in the acting quality. So the emotion in our film is very real. There were nights after shooting that we genuinely had the creeps. It’s awesome.

The film keeps the audience hanging and has a cool twist at the end. Talk about making sure that the twist was effective and did that come in the writing or did it come while shooting?

The foundation of the story really sets up those twists at the end. We knew keeping the audience in suspense was key. And it’s not an easy thing to pull off. But that really started in the writing. It was well captured by Sabrina's direction and the music for the film absolutely sealed the deal. But even with all that, the editor has to know how to show it. We worked hundreds of hours in post-production to get it exactly right. The audience reactions we’ve experienced have been very gratifying.

You used quite a few CG effects, which was very impressive for an indie film. How did you do the effects and what was your favorite?

Yeah, in an earlier version there wasn't much. But the question arose, "Now how can we make it more scary?" We wanted to make the shadows more mysterious and supernatural. It turned into a major project. Since we ran out of funding, I had to learn some of the art of CGI myself. I'm a on-hands producer. I'd rather pay someone to do it if I can, but knowing how it's done makes me a better producer. I also built the set. It helps me to understand all aspects of film-making.

The ending sequence, building up to Nadia's light burst moment, is so powerful. You become panicked for them. It took many adjustments before we got there in post-production but doing it right is more important that just getting it done. I think as a hard-to-please film-maker, if you can watch the final cut of the film and even you feel the drama, the suspense and the fear, then it’s something you are proud to show off.

The sinking ship in the beginning sequence is probably my favorite effect. Though people have to pay attention during the opening credits to notice it. Detail is important.

What are your goals for “The Shadows”? Is it to get a festival run? Are you looking to just get distribution? Are you looking to turn a big profit? What would be your benchmark for success?

We are submitting to festivals but our primary focus is distribution. We're delighted to be working with Midnight Releasing with a release date of January 4th, 2011. They've already secured a deal with a mainstream video store retailer.
We have realistic expectations. Our goal is to get our production company rolling, gather a following and become a profitable business. We've shown that we are committed enough to put our money where our mouth is. We produced a high-quality film on a low budget which is the best way to make a profit. So I think success would be achieving a satisfied audience following and investors willing to help us move to the next level.

Where can people find out more about “The Shadows” and/or get their hands on a copy?

Our IMDB page has clips and review links and where to purchase the film.
Our facebook page has lots of updates and pictures.
Our website has it's own original front-end graphics with details, clips and more about the film.
And our production company website has more information about our slate of film. People can also friend our production company on facebook.

Now, tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into indie horror and film?

I think acting and film-making chose me more than I chose it. I was unexpectedly cast in a play when I was a teenager and I loved it. I got more involved in all aspects of stage and by 19, I was directing. By 21 I was building sets and producing. I think fundamentally I love story-telling in all aspects of it. In theater, I have held every crew position imaginable. I chose a more profitable profession for life, but after 25 roles and 40 productions, I decided that rejecting it was rejecting who I really am. There is a motto I really try to live by, "If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to it." As a film actor, I wasn't getting the opportunities I should. So I had to start creating those opportunities. And we saw that other talented people were being passed by as well.

Our production company name came from our last name, Collett. It’s derived in French meaning, "Victory of the People." That kind of became the spirit of what we are doing. There are a lot of people who are tired of the big studios putting out the same rhetoric every year; producing yet another sequels or re-do of stories that have been exhausted. They practically fear originality and creativity. We seek to provide what movie-goers long for with a focus on high-quality production value. So we work with investors who are sick of being ripped off. We work with exceptionally talented crew members and actors who are tired of being passed-over and treated like dirt by a studio system that values “who you know” over dedication and skill. So for the audience and for those making the film, it is kind of a revolution, a victory of the people.

Film school: yes or no?

I learn better by doing. I’ve working in most every aspect of film-making and I think that makes a better producer and informed actor. As an actor I go by Alan Collett. As a producer I go by Paul. It helps my alter-egos know what they are doing.

Talk about the indie horror scene, where do you think it is now and where do you see it going?

Indie Horror films always have an advantage over the studios. They can tell the stories the studios can’t. But I think the Indie horror scene today is swamped. Audiences are so leery of being scammed with a crappy film because there are so many. And just because there is a name actor in it, doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good. It reminds me of a Louie B Mayer quote, "Anyone can make a movie son, but it doesn’t mean they should." The quality of the production, the acting and especially the story being told is what audiences care about. Screenwriters are so unappreciated today but you can really tell the difference between what a director slapped together and what an experienced writer created.

Since there is so much being produced these days, audiences need a way of knowing what’s actually worth watching. Every time an audience feels cheated, they blame the entire Indie Horror market for it. They need someone they know to tell them what’s good. They need distributors and film companies they can trust to provide quality films. We hope to build that kind of audience that can trust our content.

Are there any other projects in the works?

We are fortunate to be acquainted with a lot of talented people. We have the filming rights to nine more scripts in three genres. We treat our crew and cast like family so when we are gearing up for our next project, they are asking to be on-board even though they usually have to turn down higher paying projects to do so. (Eventually we will be the higher paying project.)

"Truth" is our next feature film which is in post-production about a terrorist cell that kidnaps three Americans and threatens to expose a secret that will shatter America's soul. Our third film is a black comedy, “Technicolor Llama”, which is currently seeking additional funding. We also have other horrors like “Spectacles” and “Ghost Town” and “Hotel Obscuridad” in development. All of which have a supernatural flavor to it. With the right investors, we’ll have a regular slate of films coming out each year.

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