This month, one of our contributors, Perri Nemiroff, embarks on the exiciting and daunting journey of making an independent feature-length horror film. When she approached me about perhaps doing a production journal – from the producer's angle – I thought it would appeal a great deal for you Shock readers out there looking to get a film off of the ground. That said, welcome to her first installment on the making of Child Eater, a feature based on the short film which debuted at SXSW in 2013.
I'm told the film "focuses on a boogeyman-type character named Robert Bowery. Way back when, Bowery was the proud owner of a beloved petting zoo. Trouble is, after getting hit with a case of macular degeneration, the local parents no longer felt safe letting their little ones loose on the game farm grounds. Completely distraught, Bowery snapped, attacked the children and chowed down on their eyes to keep himself from going blind. Now, Bowery is long gone, but the legend and decaying zoo still remain and 10-year-old Lucas is the unlucky little boy who has to move into the old home just a short walk away. At least Lucas has Helen coming over to babysit tonight. If he could just convince her that Bowery is real, maybe she can help him make it through the night alive."
Delicious, yes? The "decaying zoo" sounds like a fun backdrop.
With that intro out of the way, I'll let Perri take it away. You'll find some behind-the-scenes stills and location photographs here. – Ryan Turek, Managing Editor
Step 1: Film School
While enrolled in Columbia University’s Film MFA Program with a focus in creative producing, I was required to team up with a writing or directing student who had a feature length script so that we could take it through my feature film development and pre-production courses. Any writer or director interested in participating sent in preliminary details and then those details were put into a binder sorted by genre. Naturally, when I got ahold of that binder, I flipped straight to the horror section. It probably won’t come as a surprise to know that compared to the drama section, the horror one was sparse. In fact, I only had three options, but fortunately, one of them wasn’t just the best of the bunch, a last resort or adequate enough – it was above and beyond anything I could have hoped for. Sure enough, I instantly hit it off with the man behind that script, Erlingur Thoroddsen, and not only did we agree to work together through those two courses, but continue our collaboration well after and fulfill one of our thesis requirements by making a short film together. And so begins the tale of Child Eater.
Child Eater the short was shot over four days in February of 2012, had its first official screening at the Columbia University Film Festival in May of 2012 and then went on to play in a number of film festivals including the New York City Horror Film Festival, Reykjavík International Film Festival, Mile High Horror Film Festival and SXSW 2013. If you missed it during its tour around the world, you’re in luck because a couple of weeks ago, Child Eater was named a Vimeo Staff Pick and can be viewed in full right here…
Step 2: Writing & Developing a Feature
This was the easy part – or at least from the perspective of the person who didn’t have to write the script. Erlingur penned Child Eater the feature soon after completing the short and for the next year and a half, the two of us passed drafts back and forth until we had a version we were very happy with in the fall of 2013. At that point, that was it; we just had to make Child Eater the feature happen.The New-ish Story: Child Eater is still all about Helen protecting Lucas from Robert Bowery, but this time around, Bowery has a more detailed and disturbing backstory than ever before. Way back when, Robert Bowery was the owner of a thriving petting zoo, but after being diagnosed with a case of macular degeneration, parents feared he wasn’t fit to watch out for their kids anymore. Bowery quickly lost his young patrons and, therefore, his business. With nothing left to live for, Bowery lashed back, killing the kids by eating their eyes to keep himself from going blind. Years later, Bowery is long gone, but the legend and remnants of his zoo still remain, and Lucas is the unlucky kid who has to move into a house that’s mere walking distance away.
Step 3: The Road to Production
Here’s the hard part.Really, there are countless challenges when prepping a feature for production, but one of the most glaring issues is financing. We certainly couldn’t fund this thing ourselves so, we had no choice but to ask for help. After a little trial and error, essentially, it came back to the people who’ve supported us all along – family and friends. And then we learned that once you’ve got someone backing the project, no matter who it is, that bit of stability will attract others, some of whom may have been the ones that passed on the opportunity before. By February of 2014, we had enough funding pledged to pick shooting dates and to stick to them. At that point, my first big mistake was thinking I could produce this thing alone. Fortunately that idea came and went pretty quickly, and we brought on a second producer, Columbia classmate, Luke Spears. For the next month and a half, the three of us rolled through the prep process in accordance to what we learned in school. We did have quite a bit of success locking locations, finding affordable housing, beginning the paperwork process, getting a Kickstarter campaign up and running and more, but it soon became apparent that moving from short to feature wasn’t just about multiplying what we did on the short film by five to match the length of the feature.
By coming out from under the Columbia umbrella, we got hit with a whole new SAG agreement with loads of additional requirements, needed to secure insurance on our own for the first time, expand our network well beyond the student body and loads more – and that’s all before the time comes to put together a shooting schedule, find a way to transport the entire cast, crew and every single piece of equipment to location, figure out where every member of your company of 30 will sleep, how to find and schedule a tutor for your 10-year-old star, deal with food shopping while minding a number of allergies and preferences – there’s really no stopping; this list could go on and on, and if I learned anything during this pre-production process, it’s that it’s absolutely impossible to wrap your head around all of it alone.
Thanks to an exceptional passion for and understanding of the material from Erlingur, Luke’s ability to take the lead on many logistics, Alvaro Valente’s firm handle on the organization of the production, the Bliss family’s willingness to pool all of their Catskill resources and secure many locations, actors and more, and our top notch cast and crew, we’re doing it. We’re here in Catskill and tomorrow, Child Eater the feature will go into production.
We’re as ready as we’re ever going to be and know that we’re in the best possible shape to do this and to do it right, so what more can we ask for? Production hiccups are inevitable, but we’re hopeful that we’ll overcome each and every one of them and when we do, we’ll share what we learn right here in the weekly First Feature Diary with you.
Welcome to Child Eater the feature. We’re thrilled and honored to have you part of what’s sure to be an exciting, exhausting and very bloody month.