Copyright 2003 Moviehouse Pictures LTD. All rights reserved.

An independent filmmakers journey 

by Dan Zachary

Origins:

At the tender age of sixteen I set out to make my first epic film. I had picked up an 8mm camera from a neighborhood garage sale. With three flood lamps bought at a local hardware store had all the gear necessary to make a movie! A little slasher film I called “Darkness”. It starred my younger brother Jake in a store bought clown mask and a dulled up butcher knife caked in strawberry jam. With a wonderfully bad performance from my cousin "Donna" as the victim. The film sucked of course. Sucked big time. But it taught me something very important. Anyone can make a film if they have the creativity to stretch their resources.

After a handful of short films and a couple of TV Pilots under my belt my first foray into feature film making is a low budget Slasher Flick. Little has changed! I am the co-writer, co-producer, and director on this production. From my experiences on this film, I truly understand why industry veterans say that a film is made three times. The first time is the screenplay version of the movie, the second is when you are on set and you see that the screenplay version doesn’t always work so it is reworked on the day. The third is when you are in the editing room you see that the stuff you shot doesn’t totally work. That is also why they say a movie is made in the editing room. Film Production is an ever-evolving process. It is also a huge struggle from beginning to end from financing the picture to finding a successful concept. At the end of this movie I will have invested two to three years of my life. The audience will watch our 90 minute picture and when it is done say… “When’s dinner?”.

If you ever want to challenge yourself, to see what you are made of try and make a feature film.

Tips:

A couple of quick-tips for the up and coming filmmaker. Learn business, they don’t call it show business for nothing. It’s 99% business, 1% show. So forget all the B.S. they taught you about it being an art form at film school. Also you get the best deals on light and grip rentals from December to March, as these are generally the slowest months. Make sure you are organized. This is the key to getting your film shot on time and under budget. Keep your actors happy. They are the ones on set that will give you the most grief. Your Grips and gaffers are your best friends; they do all the hard manual labor. Keep them happy too! Do it all without an ego. It will get bruised and badly beaten by the end! Make sure you have comfortable shoes!

Screenplay origins:

The idea for this story came to me when my cohort John Knox and I were producing murder mystery dinner theater. We were creating interactive plays that the audience was an integral part of. I personally find traditional stage plays boring as hell. In fact I would rather sit and watch paint dry than sit through a play. It has something to do with my need to control performances. When I am sitting there and the actor on stage is doing something I don’t like I want to yell, “Cut”. So the experience is very frustrating for me. To all my actor friends who invite me to their plays… sorry.

The concept for Darkest Hour actually started as something I thought we could do as a murder mystery weekend getaway. I thought we could base it all on 80’s slasher flicks, which I am totally infatuated with. (Obviously!) I thought wouldn’t it be cool to get an off-season summer camp and terrorize people on a weekend before Halloween. Ding! Hey that would make a great movie! Nuff said, here we are.

John and I wrote the script over two months. We have written three feature length screenplays together. But this was by far the fastest we have ever written a script. All the plot points fell into place so easily. I wrote the first draft. Unfortunately my draft was more of a straight forward Slasher Film with some very cardboard characters. John came in and took my mediocre slasher script and added many levels of character development. Then we took turns polishing the dialog. The script came in at 114 pages and has 164 scenes. That would have made a 114 minute film. We believe that a shorter film will be easier to market. Our goal is to chop it down to a workable 90 minutes.

Funding and financing:

In Canada there are a lot of people who make films with Government funds. I like to work outside of that system. When you take that money they want to control your film's content. As far as I am concerned... that is unacceptable. The result is a pile of film's made with tax payer dollars that are less than spectacular. Although to give them some credit they are now making it necessary to return a profit. Maybe the film's will get better. I like to make productions that are for a USA/Canadian audience. It only makes sense. Canada has 30 million or so people, the state of California alone has 30 million people. I want the largest number of people to see my movies.  

To find the money for Darkest Hour, we searched and searched until we found some private investors. Our sugar daddy's Scott Gueulette and Bruno Puric. They invested the bulk of the film’s budget. I will not divulge numbers here as it hurts us when we are trying to get the film distributed. Let’s just say these boy’s have deep pockets. And thank god for them coming into the production or we wouldn’t have anything to talk about here.

Marketing.

In this kind of horror film where we don't have an A-list cast the marketing is based on how cool your killer is. In some cases how cool and inventive your death scenes are. I don't believe that this pertains to our film as we have a movie that is heavy on suspense as opposed to buckets of blood. Now to say that our cast is not A-List does not mean they are sub standard actors. That is definitely not the case. They just don't have marquee value attached to their names. (YET) For example if Jack Nicholson were in our movie we would have an actor on the A-list. People would buy tickets to watch Jack wash his car! 

Anyway, getting back to our killer. We spent many a sleepless night trying to come up with interesting designs for the killer’s mask. One of our initial concepts had our heroes up against a killer dressed in a sad clown mask. He would then wear a long jacket covered in patches cut from his victims clothing. The idea of a clown was a nod to the mask young Michael Myers wears in my favorite horror film “Halloween”. That concept was soon dropped in favor of a creepier idea. 

Our masked murderer is based on the Grim Reaper. In his sick and twisted mind he really believes his job is to dispatch justice and collect pieces of his victims clothing on his cloak. Quite honestly… I think he looks scary as hell. When the lighting is right and he is in element, scythe in hand. Brrr… gives me shivers.

 

Reaper art from the production click for a larger image.

The reaper admires his work.

Production:

We shot the film over a four-month period over the bitter/Rainy pacific northwestern winter. Shooting many nights at a location close to the pacific ocean. If you have ever spent anytime near an ocean when it is cold outside you will find that breezes can become bone chillingly cold.  I swear my next film will be all beautiful summer day shoots. Also shooting from 6pm to 6am is very grueling. Coffee soon becomes your best friend! We were able to save some money in the budget by shooting at the off-season summer camp. We had access to the kitchen and all the cabins we wanted. We had some cabins for make up and some for grip and electric. 

When ever I stepped into the make up cabin it was full of actors talking mostly about sex. Must be nice to sit around talking about sex and gossiping, while the crew is lugging cables and setting up lights in the bitter cold. Maybe I should become an actor!

More about actors to come!

To Be Continued: