Who knew Pennsylvania was such a hot bed for Independent Horror Film? Kbatz chats with Frank of the the aptly name Frank Horror Independent Film Production Company tonight!
When did you start making scary independent films? What are the pros and cons of working and filming in the Philadelphia area?
My first film, The Visitation, was shot in November 2011 and released in 2012 under the banner of my production company, Frank Horror. The second film, Dig, was shot in Spring of 2012, is in the final stages of post-production, and will be released for a limited local run in the coming months. While each of these films runs within the thirty-to-forty minute range and is a self-contained story, they will be released along with a third short to create a feature-length horror anthology with the title, Openings. Filming has wrapped for Openings as of June 2013, so anticipate a release for this horror trilogy sometime in 2014.
Aside from Openings, I just completed a fourth short film titled, Diaries. Filming for Diaries took place in June 2013 and marks Frank Horror’s first film working with the Screen Actor’s Guild. Stay tuned for more information on its release.
All of my films have been made locally in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, including parts of New Jersey. The benefit of being based around Philadelphia is that there is a thriving independent film industry here. I’ve found that if you have a strong script and you know how to network, it’s very easy to find and assemble a competent crew willing to devote their time and their skills to help pull off the project. I feel really indebted to my crew and all the behind-the-camera folks who helped make my films a reality. There is also a strong acting community locally whose members, as a whole, are very close with and supportive of one another. I think that’s a plus. The only drawback that I see to filming in Philadelphia is that there doesn’t seem to be enough of a market to sustain local actors full-time, so you have dedicated actors who put in whatever available time they may have on nights, weekends, etc. and as a filmmaker the challenge is to find creative ways to work around everyone’s schedule and pull the film off in a timely manner. I would say that scheduling is the most difficult aspect to negotiate with independent film.
Watch the film trailers now: http://frankhorror.com/films.html
You make shorts and features, quiet horrors and carnage. How do you decide what length or tone is needed for a picture? Does the plot dictate the production or the gore?
Well honestly, my first film was a learning process so I felt it would have been way too ambitious to start right off the bat with a feature-length script. So there was a conscious decision to make The Visitation approximately a half-hour in length. That first film really dictated the length of the next two films, since I wanted to make three separate stories but ultimately tie them together into a feature. So I guess the process for me is to initially determine the scale of the film that I want to make and then develop the story to fit within that framework.
As in any good story, absolutely EVERYTHING must come from the characters. The plot is determined by the characters, not the other way around. I don’t know any way you can boil the creative process down to one specific formula to follow because that formulaic approach to creating becomes stale and stilted – I think the best way to describe my process of screenwriting is to start with some ideas for pieces of scenes, snippets of interesting dialogue and maybe an overall theme about what I generally would like to write and the mood I’m trying to invoke with it. Then characters are developed and their goals, motivations, weaknesses, struggles – those are the aspects that give life to the actual plot and storyline. So the story feels organic and driven by the characters rather than just setting down a plot and having two-dimensional characters jump through plot hoops. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have three-dimensional characters that the audience can relate to and care about, because that’s how you get to them. That’s how you scare the audience: you make them invest themselves in your characters and then put those characters in some horrifying situations. There are a lot of independent horror films out there who rely upon gore and explicit nudity to carry their films, and that style of trash cinema has its own niche but I don’t create those types of films. I think that gore and nudity is all too often used as a crutch for otherwise weak writing. Now that’s not to say that I’m some kind of a prude or don’t appreciate gore and nudity; they certainly are tools that can be used very effectively in a horror film, but they need to be used sparingly and at the right moments to increase their impact. I believe in creating suspense first and foremost and then, when the moment is right, hitting the audience with a particularly visceral scene or a bit of carnage, but that absolutely has to come secondary to the suspense.
Plus, it’s human tendency to fill in the gaps of what they don’t see in a film with their imagination, and the horrors that the imagination can conjure always prove to be more frightening than anything you could possibly show them on the screen.
Tell us about your recently wrapped feature DIG. Was it a difficult shoot and production considering the onscreen secrets and family isolations?
Dig is all about secrets. It tells the story of one woman struggling against herself and her own inner demons. On the surface she works diligently to maintain the plastic veneer of the wife and mother with an ordinary and happy family, but the secrets she keeps threaten to spiral out of control. After filming The Visitation, I decided to pivot and write a decidedly different type of story as a follow-up. Unlike The Visitation, which is a supernatural film that relies on suspense to invoke scares, Dig is a psychological thriller that follows more of a pattern set forth by movies like The Exorcist or David Cronenberg’s The Fly – rather than provoke fear, the film provokes dread. And by that, I mean that in the very beginning of the film we’re telegraphing to the audience exactly where we’re going with this film and they are left to wonder how do we get from this point to that ending? So the audience watches as things deteriorate and get worse, and dread builds as you move towards the ending. Dig was the first script that I’d written to follow that particular story trajectory, so it was a bit of a challenge for me, but I believe it was ultimately executed really well, both in the writing and by the actors who had to step into the skins of these characters.
As far as the filming process itself, we shot a lot of it late at night outdoors in a large yard that was ringed with woods, so the biggest difficulty we faced was ticks and mosquitoes. That, and the scene demands dictated that the crew and myself were constantly digging holes, filling them back in, digging more holes, filling them back in – we all got to be quite competent with shovels.
You also shoot “unsettling” photo series and have some slightly saucy photos on your website. What is it about the ‘not for the faint of heart’ type material that appeals to you? Are there any horrors that make you squeamish or plots that cross the line?
Nothing crosses the line. There is no line — there can’t be for me, anyway. Horror is all about finding societal taboos and pushing them to make the audience feel unsettled, uncomfortable, horrified, shocked. There can be nothing off-limits when you want to achieve that. The trick is to do it tastefully and in the context of a strong story – if you can pull that off, you can keep the audience along for the ride no matter where it goes.
What appeals to me about this is the ability to move an audience emotionally. A comedian tries to accomplish this by evoking laughter. But my aim is to evoke fear or dread – that’s not to say that a good horror film may not draw out other emotions throughout the course of the story, but the ultimate goal is to frighten.
You also have a web store of calendars, t-shirts, and other Frank Horror wares. Are you interested in branching out into other merchandise or media? Or do you prefer to remain film focused, local, and independent?
I’m always interested in opportunities for new markets and mediums, but my main focus right now is film. There’s a certain collective magic in seeing a script that you write transform into a finished film. From the actors to the Director of Photography to the editor to everyone involved, each person lends their talents and their efforts with their own interpretations and skill sets until you have this thing of yours — this script that you gave birth to and watched grow into a greater beast because of all the collective input.
That creative collaboration that I like to foster on my projects is a luxury that comes along with running an independent film company, because I ultimately have the freedom to run a production however I want. Certainly I would entertain offers to work with the backing of a studio or a bigger film company in order to create horror films on a grander scale, but in the meantime I enjoy running the productions myself and ensuring that everyone involved has a voice in the finished film.
2014 pinup horror calendars available now: http://frankhorror.com/store.html
What are you working on next and where can we follow Frank Horror online?
Well, I continue to post ongoing horror photo series in the gallery page of my website (http://frankhorror.com/gallery.html) and I’ve got two films that are in editing right now. In the meantime, I’ve got two feature-length film scripts in development and I’ll be looking to bring on investors for those films. I have a couple of other exciting collaborations potentially in the works, but I’m going to stay hush on those for the time being. Better to whisper past the graveyard until those fresh horrors are ready to rise.
To stay abreast of all the new developments and releases at Frank Horror, visit http://frankhorror.com/ and make sure to check out the online store for dvd’s, the 2014 horror calendar and horror art prints: http://frankhorror.com/store.html. You can also follow us on facebook to get updates, behind-the-scenes pics and other little terrors!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with Horror Addicts.net!!
Thank you! See you in nightmares.
Meet Frank Horror when DIG has its world premiere at the Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City, NJ as part of the Bizarre AC weekend December 13 -15. For ticket information, visit bizarreac.com.