Viewing entries tagged
horror

TREMENDUM PICTURES MAKES MOVIES. PLURAL.

3 Comments

TREMENDUM PICTURES MAKES MOVIES. PLURAL.

I recently read that 80% of all short film makers never make another film. That's a pretty terrible statistic. There's probably lots of reasons for people not taking a second dip into the filmmaking pool, but the biggest has to be that making a film is really, really, REALLY difficult. Earlier this year, I finally finished my first short film as a writer/director, The Shift, after an exhausting year and a half of work. There were times I wondered if I still would have made the film if I knew at the beginning how much blood, sweat, late nights, feelings of self doubt, favors, mistakes, computer crashes, and, yes, tears it would eventually require. That 80% statistic resonated with me in a big way.

An ordinary, frustrated man receives sympathy and a job offer from the Devil himself. A film by Brock Heasley. Starring Travis Cluff, Gregory C. Tharpe, and Tina Johnson. Now appearing in film festivals across the U.S.

So, with that statistic in mind, I thought about doing it all again. I weighed the pros (art, the high of creation, furthering a career in something I'm passionate about, the sense of community that grows up around a film, the need to tell a story, etc.) and the cons (see first paragraph), but ultimately I knew: there was no friggin' way I was gonna be part of that 80%. I want to make movies!

So, no, reluctance wasn't gonna stop me. In fact, once I'd made up my mind to do it, the reluctance turned into an overwhelming drive and excitement. I NEEEDED to make movies. 

The only problem? Tremendum--and, by extension, my entire team--was already making a movie.

***

Since the release of our Blumhouse-produced film, The Gallows, back in 2015, Tremendum has not remotely stood still. We created and operated a Gallows-themed haunted attraction; made The Shift and three spec trailers: Slugger, Secondhand, and Flicker; shot an entire second feature film, Challengers (you'll be hearing more about soon); and started consulting on other films. We keep moving forward, no matter what, believing the opportunities will come.

Case in point: Abandoned

Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing watch playback on a scene from  Abandoned.  Travis' arms may or may not be diseased in this photo.

Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing watch playback on a scene from Abandoned. Travis' arms may or may not be diseased in this photo.

2nd Assistant Camera Troy Ruff, caught checking on equipment during a green screen day. Or stealing it. Not sure which.

2nd Assistant Camera Troy Ruff, caught checking on equipment during a green screen day. Or stealing it. Not sure which.

THE CREW. L-R: Grip Tyler Smith, Someone in a Blue Shirt, Best Boy Grip Jeremy Owen, Director of Photography Kyle Gentz, Key Grip Cody Fletcher, Script Supervisor Orlando J. Gomez, Grip Chad Saechao. Background: Set Designer Max Martinez. Not pictured in this photo: everyone else actually working.

THE CREW. L-R: Grip Tyler Smith, Someone in a Blue Shirt, Best Boy Grip Jeremy Owen, Director of Photography Kyle Gentz, Key Grip Cody Fletcher, Script Supervisor Orlando J. Gomez, Grip Chad Saechao. Background: Set Designer Max Martinez. Not pictured in this photo: everyone else actually working.

2nd Assistant Director Nicole Spate and Assistant Set Designer Renee Mason smiling like it isn't 108 degrees and they want to die.

2nd Assistant Director Nicole Spate and Assistant Set Designer Renee Mason smiling like it isn't 108 degrees and they want to die.

Director Travis Cluff readying a shot in an ambulance with a happy Director of Photography Kyle Gentz. The source of Kyle's happiness is still unknown, but is believed to be that morphine he found under the seats.

Director Travis Cluff readying a shot in an ambulance with a happy Director of Photography Kyle Gentz. The source of Kyle's happiness is still unknown, but is believed to be that morphine he found under the seats.

Actress Vela Cluff humoring Director Chris Lofing. She's got this.

Actress Vela Cluff humoring Director Chris Lofing. She's got this.

Abandoned is a project that was brought to Tremendum as a completed film that needed some additional work done on it. It came to us from an outside producer who believed we could do something special and you can pretty much tell it didn't originate with us because I doubt very much we would have ever given ourselves what seemed, at first, to be an impossible task: recreate a Malaysian jungle in Fresno, Ca. 

That's right, the film was originally shot in Malaysia and our task was to do an additional three weeks of photography without going to Malaysia. Do an exercise with me: Google Image search "Malaysia jungle."

There. Did it? Okay, now imagine the exact opposite of what you're looking at.

That's Fresno.

I fully admit that when Chris and Travis first brought Abandoned to my attention I was highly skeptical. I mean, c'mon. It's Summer for one. Our fair city's favorite color during these months is best described as "not green." And I wasn't the only one who was concerned; the entire team was wondering how we'd pull this off. The biggest burden fell upon Max Martinez and his Art Department, who had to figure out how to make a studio environment pass for a jungle with zero access to trees and leaves that look anything like what you'd find on the other side of the world. It was a three month effort involving sticking plastic leaves onto stripped eucalyptus tree trunks and making rocks and cave entrances out of nothing more than styrofoam, chicken wire, and paint. Amazingly, it worked:

Set Designer Max Martinez and Assistant Set Designer Jason Moore laying down the floor on their studio jungle. Giant mosquitoes not included.

Set Designer Max Martinez and Assistant Set Designer Jason Moore laying down the floor on their studio jungle. Giant mosquitoes not included.

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz playing peekaboo with, well, no one. Back to work, Kyle.

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz playing peekaboo with, well, no one. Back to work, Kyle.

Wide, brightly lit view of our studio jungle with all its parts. Aka, how you should never see our studio jungle.

Wide, brightly lit view of our studio jungle with all its parts. Aka, how you should never see our studio jungle.

That's more like it. Director Chris Lofing forgets he's not in a real jungle for a second and looks over his shoulder to make sure the spiders aren't following him.

That's more like it. Director Chris Lofing forgets he's not in a real jungle for a second and looks over his shoulder to make sure the spiders aren't following him.

Set Designer Max Martinez adjusts some stairs in our makeshift lighthouse amid a flurry of crew activity that deceptively looks like people just standing around. That's movie magic, folks.

Set Designer Max Martinez adjusts some stairs in our makeshift lighthouse amid a flurry of crew activity that deceptively looks like people just standing around. That's movie magic, folks.

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz keeps the camera rolling as a miniature building goes up in flames. If you listen closely, you can hear the screams of the miniature people inside. (Editor's Note: no miniature people were harmed during the making of this film and the author of this blog is on notice for his tasteless attempts at humor.)

Director of Photography Kyle Gentz keeps the camera rolling as a miniature building goes up in flames. If you listen closely, you can hear the screams of the miniature people inside. (Editor's Note: no miniature people were harmed during the making of this film and the author of this blog is on notice for his tasteless attempts at humor.)

Shooting began in late July and ran for three weeks. In that time, we turned an indoor studio into a jungle, made an abandoned factory look like a lighthouse, built a church in the middle of a backyard, turned a swimming pool into an ocean, and made a park people drive past everyday into a jungle river. Next, I think we should try our hand at turning a shopping center into the moon. I mean, why not?

If you're a Fresno native and you happen upon a Tremendum set, you're likely to think it looks pretty impressive. You'd see a crew about 30-40 people strong, tons of lights and food; a trailer or two, an expensive camera you do NOT want to drop; people doing hair or makeup or making sure the actors are dressed just right; and tons more cool movie-type activity that would make you go "Wow."

But that's because you live in Fresno. You're not used to seeing film crews and have probably never considered or known the sheer amount of effort that goes into every second of a filmed product. Compared to a lot of L.A. sets (even to, say, your favorite T.V. show), we're small time. Scrappy. What you call "independent cinema," but with big connections. We do what we do and we stay where we are because there's something special about filming in Fresno. There's an excitement here and a thrill local businesses and residents have to be a part of our productions that just doesn't happen anywhere else. Plus, there's real beauty here. I know we're not used to thinking of Fresno that way, but you should see it through Director of Photography Kyle Gentz's lens. It's gorgeous. 

So that was our Tremendum Summer. This big, short production that left us all sweating profusely and showering constantly (let's shoot only in the Fall from now on, okay guys?), and me with less and less time to get my own film together...

***

DIT/On Set Editor Brock Heasley doing his thing while all the magic happens on the other side of the curtain. Yeah, when you pull the curtain to see the man behind it, you get Brock. Pretty disappointing.

DIT/On Set Editor Brock Heasley doing his thing while all the magic happens on the other side of the curtain. Yeah, when you pull the curtain to see the man behind it, you get Brock. Pretty disappointing.

I used my time during Abandoned wisely. When I'm not directing, my on set responsibilities include DIT (getting all footage we shoot into the computer and organizing it) and On Set Editing. This means I'm a bit away from the action and have some down time now and again to work on other things. I used the time wisely by honing my script, dialing up the people in charge of federal lands, drawing up storyboards, and inviting people to join my team when they were just trying to enjoy the catering. 

I worked on both things concurrently because that's the direction Tremendum is headed. We're a studio. A small studio (for now) maybe, but a studio means multiple projects. You can feel it in the air right now: things are moving faster and what started with Chris Lofing & Travis Cluff and their camcorder has grown into a real enterprise that keeps growing and growing. And Hollywood is taking notice.

Time to go again... The Two Hundred Fifth gears up with a production meeting.

Time to go again... The Two Hundred Fifth gears up with a production meeting.

My short film is called The Two Hundred Fifth. It's about the friendship between two college girls, one of whom is a badass with a dark secret. I'm more of a sci-fi guy, and "205" is what you call "grounded sci-fi" (science fiction that takes place in the real world). Now that Abandoned is over (well, for most of us--post-production is now in full swing!), all my attention is on "205". Casting is complete, with roles filled by people from both L.A. and Fresno. Most of the locations are now secured, including some Fresno area landmarks I'm excited to put on the silver screen for, I think, the first time.  I'm determined to make "205" the best little film it can be in the hopes that I can make it into something much, much bigger...

More on that later. Lots, LOTS more from Tremendum to come.

All photos credit: Cody Allred

3 Comments

1 Comment

The Gallows Hollywood Premiere Report

It was probably sometime between noticing Kathie Lee Gifford was sitting right behind me and the woman in front of me with a tray of chicken and waffles was offering to get me anything I wanted that my wife, Erin, turned to me and said:

"Whose life is this?"

I looked around the room at the afterparty--at the DJ rocking it way too loud, at the black ties and the short skirts dotting the reserved table areas and the free bar, at the pretentious Evian water in front of me (I'm not clear on how or why a bottle of water could earn the label "pretentious," but I do know it fits). I looked at all of us--at me and Erin and Travis and Amber and Chris and Rich and Steve and Tyler and all of us from, of all the dusty places on the Earth, Fresno--who came down to LA to celebrate a movie we made. There was just one answer to the question.

Whose life is this? This is our life now.

* * *

The fanciest of evenings started out, as it so often does not, in a McDonald's parking lot. The plan was to find a hotel bathroom to duck into so Erin could put on her new dress and shoes. She says my work with Tremendum is going to do great things for her shoe collection. That, of course, was always my primary goal. Happy feet, happy wife.*

*Not an actual saying, but already I can hear thousands of women across the country shouting "BUT IT SHOULD BE!"

The problem was we weren't in Fresno anymore. "Ducking into" a hotel in Hollywood is not something a person actually does unless they want to pay an exorbitant parking fee. Which we did not.

So, while a man a couple cars away sang a duet with Whitney Houston from the not-so-private space of his rolled-down-windowed car, Erin contorted herself all sorts of ways to apply her hair and makeup and then made a hasty retreat to the McDonald's bathroom and whatever state it was in to change into her stunning white dress and crisp new red shoes.

Erin getting ready in style, in the McDonald's parking lot.

Erin getting ready in style, in the McDonald's parking lot.

While she did that, I hopped onto Instagram to check the buzz. I discovered a shot of Amber getting ready at the Hotel Roosevelt with the help of a personal stylist. These are the perks of being the wife of one of the Directors.

Amber Cluff getting ready at the Roosevelt Hotel. Photo by Travis Cluff.

Amber Cluff getting ready at the Roosevelt Hotel. Photo by Travis Cluff.

In a clever move, Warner Bros. Marketing held the Hollywood Premiere in the auditorium at Hollywood High School, just down the street from the Roosevelt. Erin and I rolled into the parking lot at the same time as Sound Designer Brandon Jones and his lovely wife, Emily. This was nice because they are cool and we now had someone to hang out with. When you're lost in Hollywood (where everyone's just a little lost, I don't care how well you know Sunset Blvd.), you want someone to hang with. More on that later.

Brandon was more than a bit worried about how his perfectly calibrated sound design would hold up in a venue not designed at all for exhibiting a movie, but he needn't have. Warner Bros. knows what they're doing. When doors creaked, they dug into my spine and twisted it, and when doors slammed they straight up stopped my heart.

As with any Premiere worth the limos Warner Bros. paid to cart the cast around, there was free candy, soda, and popcorn waiting for us in the lobby. We--Erin, Brandon, Emily and I--skipped the Black Carpet entirely, having never seen it. I'm told it was on the other side of the building and we were conspicuously led away from it. Something to do with us not being "stars" or "able to reach millions of Twitter followers" or "known, like, at all." I dunno. Haters gonna hate, I guess.

The important people on the Black Carpet. From L-R: Travis Cluff, Ryan Shoos, Pfeifer Brown, Cassidy Gifford, Reese Mishler, Chris Lofing

The important people on the Black Carpet. From L-R: Travis Cluff, Ryan Shoos, Pfeifer Brown, Cassidy Gifford, Reese Mishler, Chris Lofing

Inside the auditorium we took our seats in the Tremendum Guest area. This identified us as both important and very much not very Hollywood at all. Tremendum is Fresno, through and through. We wear that badge with honor and pride. Behind us were the true Hollywood folk, with seats designated for New Line Cinema, Warner Bros., Blumhouse, and, to our surprise, some of the Kardashian clan just two rows back.

Squint and you'll see just who was sitting behind us. Or at least their signs.

Our tickets to the show and the afterparty.

We expected Kathie Lee to be there as her daughter Cassidy plays one of the leads in The Gallows, but Kris and Kylie Jenner were a nice addition. However it's distributed, a small movie like this is still a small movie that needs the support of word-of-mouth to be successful. Kris and Kylie have millions and millions of followers. They were on their phones in the lead up to the start of the movie, and then on their phones again afterwards, telling people all about what they saw. That's pretty cool of them.

Chris, with his date Gigi, and Amber with a standing Travis. Down in front is Tyler Smith, PA on The Gallows.

Chris, with his date Gigi, and Amber with a standing Travis. Down in front is Tyler Smith, PA on The Gallows.

The movie started without ceremony, with only the dimming of the lights to indicate the shutting of the up we all needed to do right quick. Luckily, The Gallows grabs your attention in a hurry with a sustained, VHS shot of the original, 1993 production of the play, The Gallows (Hey! That's the same name as the movie!). It... doesn't end well. A student is killed and so you're on the hook for the rest of the story before you've even opened your Milk Duds.*

*Anybody else pour their Milk Duds into their popcorn? I'm convinced that's the only way to eat Milk Duds.

Hands down, this was the best audience I've seen the film with. Better than the test screenings, better even than the Fresno Black Carpet Even last week. They were so, so into it. They laughed at every single joke, they were quiet during the quiet parts, they screamed during the scary parts, and they exhaled with relief during those few moments when the characters avoided danger (not that they stay out of it for very long). People were into it.

One of my favorite moments of the screening came about halfway through, during a particularly tense moment, when Dean Schnider, one of the producers on The Gallows, moved to the seat next to my wife to better creep up on his mom from behind. He didn't do much--just whispered in her ear--but it was enough to make his mom jump 10 feet and scream at a moment when the rest of the audience was completely enthralled and waiting for the next horrible thing to happen. They all probably wondered why the rest of us were laughing so hard.

The audience was with the picture right up to the end. There's a moment before the finale that puts you in the main character's shoes and makes you fear for them in a big way. The audience reacted so strongly to what was happening and the choice that character makes (you'll know it when you see it) that they overwhelmed the soundtrack. Important stuff was happening in the sound mix and you just couldn't hear anything because people were THERE, shouting and screaming and exhaling and inhaling with the maximum amount of drama. It was a great synthesis of audience and film that you can ONLY get in a theater. It was awesome.

I looked over at Chris and Travis and they were practically falling-out-of-their-chairs giddy.

Reese Mishler shaking hands after the movie.

Reese Mishler shaking hands after the movie.

L-R: Emily Jones, Brandon Jones, Ryan Shoos

L-R: Emily Jones, Brandon Jones, Ryan Shoos

The Premiere sealed it: The Gallows is a great time at the movies and it's an audience picture, through and through. If you're on the fence about seeing it at all, you're crazy. Not only is one of the most frightening movies in years, but it just plain ol' delivers the goods. How often does that happen?

* * *

I have never been to a Hollywood Afterparty, but my wife and I had been to the Roosevelt Hotel before. It was years ago and we had a Groupon. A Groupon. This is the place where the very first Academy Awards ceremonies were held and where many celebrities stay when they're in town (that first time, we waited for the valet to bring back our car while standing side-by-side with Kirsten Dunst and Forrest Whitaker), and somehow they were doing a Groupon promotion. We enjoyed our stay at the time, but we felt wildly out of place and intimidated.

Not so this night when we were escorted behind velvet ropes* to an exclusive party adorned by cafeteria lunch plates. That's not a joke. That's honestly what we ate on:

Only the fanciest place settings for our fancy party. (I honestly thought this was a great, fun touch.)

Only the fanciest place settings for our fancy party. (I honestly thought this was a great, fun touch.)

*Okay, I don't know if the ropes were velvet or not--but they were ropes and, thematically-speaking, that was appropriate in a way all other previous velvet-roped events have only ever pretended.

Watching Chris and Travis work the room was extremely satisfying. They were wanted commodities and could hardly walk two feet without getting stopped by this manager or that YouTuber. Besides the actors (sorry, guys, their faces are just prettier), they were the most popular people in the room.

Erin and I made our way with Brandon and Emily to the back corner of the room with PA Rich Mirelez and Gallows Investor Steve Hrdlicka to find the Chris and Travis booth/enclave right next to Cassidy and her mom and their entourage. At first, the staff at the Roosevelt tried to steer us away because Chris and Travis were nowhere in sight. Rich set them straight.

From our privileged position I enjoyed just taking in the scene, eating all the food that would not stop coming, and not trying too hard to mingle. Alcohol was free and free-flowing (though Warner Bros. saved some serious coin at our table as my wife and I, and Chris, Travis, and Amber are all Mormons). The lights were dim, the servers dressed all fancy, and the DJ rocked. The chandelier above the bar was insane, for some reason.

I know why Erin and I were intimidated all those years ago--this is a different world of movers, shakers, and entertainment bakers, and it's easy to think it's the top of the world. This is Hollywood. It's chief export isn't entertainment but culture. The Western World (and, increasingly, the Eastern World) defines itself--either in emulating or in response to--by what comes from Hollywood's glittery shores.* And there we were, young, unknowing, and among them, not knowing quite how to behave or even if we could sit in the chairs in the lobby for fear of intrusively overhearing some dealmaking nearby.

*Note: There are no shores in Hollywood. But there is no small amount of artifice, so let's pretend together there are shores because it makes the sentence sound better.

But sitting there the night of the Premiere, watching the supertanned and the cell phone addicted, the morning show hosts and the actors and actresses nearby, I saw clearly how they were all just people at a party. People who were just a little lost as I was, trying to secure the next person to talk to and find their place among so many.

One minute the white-haired guy with the nice shirt and the $1,000 dollar teeth would be slapping palms with some Executive whosit-whatsit, and the next minute he'd be sitting and nursing a drink in the corner, wondering where he should go. To find his place. Just like the rest of us. It was all very human and reassuring.

I'm new to all this, so forgive me for the boneheaded realization, but Hollywood people? They're just people.

I wanted to talk more to the actors--Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, and Pfeifer Brown--than I did, but I did get to have a great conversation with Reese Mishler, the fourth lead of The Gallows. Reese has probably met a million people (rough estimate) in the past few months, but somehow within all of that he's managed to remember my name and be pretty cool to me and my wife each time we've talked with him. I told him I'd love to work with him in the future at some point. Instead of brushing me off, Reese got in my face and made me promise that I 'd do my darndest to make sure that happens. He may have even threatened me bodily harm if I don't.

Charlie Grimille talking to Reese Mishler (Houser). Whoa.

Charlie Grimille talking to Reese Mishler (Houser). Whoa.

He and all of of the actors seem profoundly grateful for the opportunities Chris and Travis have given them through this tiny little movie. I get the sense that if Tremendum came calling for just about anything that they'd come running. People in Hollywood brag often about how everyone on set was "like a family" to them, but in this case I know it to be true. With a crew and cast this small, how could it be anything but? We've all been through the fire together.

I was impressed that, amidst all of this partying and schmoozing, Travis and Chris still made serious time for their Tremendum crew. Erin and I spent a good portion of the evening with Travis and Amber in particular, eating food and just sitting back and being amazed by it all.

But still, the biggest takeaway of the night, for me, was just how enthusiastic that crowd at the Premiere really was. Horror films are an intensely tricky business. Found footage films even more so. But having now seen The Gallows so very many times, I'm confident in saying that this sucker delivers. The backslapping and the congratulations and the celebrating that took place this night were all well-deserved and well-earned.

Ultimately, the audience will decide. As Chris and Travis said on Facebook, The Gallows is now "handed over to the world." We can't friggin' wait for you all to see it.

Brock Heasley is a writer with Tremendum Pictures and could not be more excited about our upcoming projects. Maybe one day he'll even tell you about them.

1 Comment