Women in Horror Film Festival 2018!

The Women in Horror Film Festival for 2018 recently took place in Peachtree City, Georgia. From October 4-7, talented filmmakers from around the world gathered to celebrate women in film and horror.

I had the pleasure of being able to attend the festival this year. My films weren’t being featured, but after seeing how wonderful the festival was for 2017, I knew I needed to be a part of it.

The festival kicked off on Thursday night with a cocktail hour and VIP party for the filmmakers. Since I had purchased a VIP pass, I was able to attend these events. I got to speak with several filmmakers from around the country. I made at least one connection. It was a good time.

There were a lot of fun things about this first night. For one, the venue’s bar had a fun themed drink that had a syringe of “blood” to push into it. That was the talk of the cocktail hour and got a lot of us into the mood. This was also the night where filmmakers could have their pictures taken on the “Dead Carpet”. I absolutely had to get in on that.

I wasn’t able to stay at the party for too long because I had a long day of film watching ahead of me. This was okay though because it was a moment for the filmmakers in the festival, not for me.

The next three days consisted of nonstop film watching for me. This festival had one screen and each film was shown once. Nothing overlapped, so I never had to make a hard decision about what film to see and what film to skip. I also needed to make sure that I made time for stuff like eating. That was the biggest hurdle to cross.

On the first day of film viewing, I ended up having to leave the auditorium to get something to eat. This caused me to miss a feature film and the first film of the science fiction block. That was a big bummer for me because everything before and after that was fantastic!

For the bulk of this review, I’m just going to mention the films by name. I will include some more information about the films I mention at the end of this post.

Day 1 consisted of experimental shorts, horror comedy shorts, science fiction shorts, international short films, and the macabre shorts, plus two feature films. There were so many stand outs on that first day!

Pretty much every horror comedy was a hit for me, especially Lunch Ladies, Z-Stuy, Bitten, and What Metal Girls Are Into. I really enjoyed Quiver and Asian Girls from the experimental block. From the science fiction shorts, I was really taken by Pulsar and Girl in the Galactic Sun. For international shorts, Catcalls had me really excited, and Devórame was phenomenal.

The day ended with the macabre shorts which was much closer to my own style of filmmaking. There were so many stand outs for me there. Goodnight Gracie was a great gut punch to start the block. Cecilia, Light as a Feather, and Keep the Gaslight Burning also found their way into my subconscious.

Other than the feature I’m still sad I missed, the first day of screenings also featured the global premiere of another feature film, Bugs: A Trilogy. I really liked Bugs. It was an anthology of three different stories that were all connected by a hard hitting theme and bugs. It gave me some much needed inspiration for one of my own ideas for my future work.

When it came to day 2, I had learned my lesson. We came with food and drinks ahead of time so we wouldn’t have to miss anything. This day was going to consist of panels, psychological horror and thriller shorts, as well as two feature films that I really wanted to see. I didn’t want to miss a single thing.

From the psychological shorts, stand outs included Heartless, Blood Runs Down, and For Old Times Sake. From the thrillers, I loved Consent and Lady Hunters, with an honorable mention for The After Party as well for an intriguing concept and a nice noir look.

The feature films for the day included All the Creatures Were Stirring and Echoes of Fear. All the Creatures Were Stirring was an interesting holiday themed anthology. I got a good kick out of it. Echoes of Fear was also really interesting, and it really got the audience going with carefully crafted jump scares.

I really enjoyed the panel experiences on this day as well. The first was From Indie to Studio, featuring experienced industry insiders. That panel provided some hard truths while also inspiring indie filmmakers to keep on keeping on. The second panel was about Diversity and Visibility, and it was a joy to be a part of. The entire room was involved in a discussion about the need for proper representation in film. As an advocate for this same thing, it was nice to be involved in a discussion that featured no condescension at the concept.

On top of all of this, whenever there were filmmakers present, there was a Q&A. As a filmmaker who has taken part in question and answer time with viewers before, I know it can be such a rewarding experience for both the creatives and the audience. A lot of these Q&As had amazing turn outs.

The final day of screenings was another long one, but I came prepared again! It worked out well the day before. This day included another feature film and several short blocks, including student shorts, local shorts from southern filmmakers, animation, and body horror shorts.

For the student shorts, I really enjoyed The Last Seance and Instinct. The Last Seance had me hooked, and I thought it was really well done. Instinct was just phenomenal. That’s a stand out for sure. The southern block featured several great ones. I really liked Feast and Hinterland. Those were really memorable to me. I’m not a huge fan of body horror, so not too many of those were my cup of tea, but Entropia was interesting enough for me to mention.

Overall, the whole festival was phenomenal. The atmosphere was extremely welcoming. All of the filmmakers and movie goers were really warm, and I think everyone went home with new friends and connections. It was a great event. I’m really hoping to get out there for it again next year. I’m definitely hoping to have one of my films shown there at some point.

More information on the films I mentioned:

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Return to Sender Teaser

I’m a bit late to the punch here, but I released a teaser trailer for my latest short film Return to Sender over the weekend!

I’m pretty happy with how the promotional materials for this film are turning out.

Next up on my list is an official trailer that would give a bit more about what the story actually is. I’m unsure if this will actually come to fruition though because there is so much that I wouldn’t want to give away.

I guess we’ll see. I’m sure there’s some way I can give more details without spoiling it all. I’ll attempt working on that.

Return to Sender: Post Production

While I haven’t written much about it on this platform, we’ve been working on the edit for Return to Sender for a while. We were actually so excited about it that we had rough edits of the first and second shoot days within a week of them being shot!

Post production can tend to be a long (and to many, boring) process. When I make routine updates about it, it can often feel like I’m reiterating the same thing over, and over again. “The edit is underway! We’re making progress!”

For this reason, I decided to wait to post about the post production process until it was on the verge of being completed. It’s just easier to talk about that way.

So, we had the rough edit taken care of pretty quickly. It was really nice to see the footage come together to bring my story to life. I can’t thank my cast and crew enough for helping this become reality.

The biggest issue we had to tackle with the basic edit was getting the pacing just right. There was one scene in particular that involved the lead actress where this was very important. The pacing of this scene could make or break the film overall. It was very important for me to get it right.

This took a good chunk of time. We even had to take a step away for a bit in order to come back with fresh eyes. I felt it was necessary to break away from the fond memories of the shoot day in order to focus on what would be best for the edit. There may have been shots that I absolutely loved on the day of the shoot that just wouldn’t help in the big picture.

I needed the pacing to be able to tell the story on its own. I wanted the emotions to carry through, even if the film were to be watched with no sound. It was a big hurdle to cross, but I think we got there.

Once we finally got the basic edit the way we wanted it, the film was sent for color grading, sound design, and original music.

This portion took a good chunk of time as well, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as the pacing. I really handed this portion off to my post production team here, and they did a fantastic job. I just had to approve things.

Ryan Cwiklik stepped in to provide original music once again. He has also done original music for my films Lights and ms and me in the past. This time around, he also took on the sound design. I really have to commend him for this because I’m not the best at translating my thoughts about audio work.

He understood all of my weird lingo. There needs to be more of the “ting ting” and less of the “groan groan” here. I’m a fan of this but when we get to this point, “it’s too much ouch.” Oh, I was a joy to work with. There were a lot of laughs at my expense.

Erik Leal took on the foley with a lot of my help. I always enjoy foley. It’s fun stuff. We recreated sounds that movie goers really don’t think twice about, but it all comes together to make a better viewing experience.

After that, it all came down to color grading and a small bit of visual effect. At this point, we’ve finished that up, and we’re doing final checks and creating credits.

It’s time! It’s almost here!

Return to Sender: Prop Design

In the same way that set design became an important factor in the production of Return to Sender, prop design became pretty integral as well.

I think, for the most part, the set design played hand in hand with props, in the sense that the sets helped solidify character traits. There was a whole other level though that, again, was entirely new to me.

One of the props was a huge factor in the film, and it took a while to get it exactly right. There is a box in this film, and it plays a pretty big role. My initial idea was to make it look like a package that had traveled the world, but I could never get it to look right, and it never looked good on camera.

The box that we ended up utilizing in the film fell into my lap after Valentine’s Day. I received a gift in that box, and after a bit of thinking, we realized that it would provide the best look on camera. This box ended up changing some of the wording with the script. It worked with the overall theme I was going for though, so I think it was a beneficial change.

This box will be used in promotional materials, so I feel comfortable sharing a picture of  it here. This is the final design for the box which was used in the film.

The other element of prop design that came into play was with our detective characters. We spent a good deal of time trying to figure out if it was necessary to get holsters and weapons for our detectives, but when we examined the script and where the detectives would be positioned, this was deemed unnecessary.

Overall, we ended up going with a sort of clip on badge. We designed the actual badges ourselves. They were placed inside of plastic lanyard style holders. We used the head shots we received from our actors as the pictures on the badge. We figured they would be small enough to be passable.

I’m pretty happy with how they turned out for what the roles in this film were. If the roles were on screen for longer and in more than just a sitting position, then we probably would have gone more in depth.

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As with my post about set design, I think my experience with props in this project will push me in the direction to pay more attention to these details in future productions. It’s about time really. I should be paying attention to things like this.

Return to Sender: Set Design

Before Return to Sender, I had never really put much attention into set design. I just used whatever was in the location I was lucky enough to get. If it wasn’t actively at the location, I didn’t really think about it.

For this particular film, that changed because one of my locations didn’t have any furniture. We had to make it seem like someone lived there. We had to start from scratch.

We hatched an idea that our main character was an artist, a painter to be specific. We had a lot of props at our disposal to work with this idea. We set up enough furniture to make our shots look lived in. We had canvases and paintings on the walls. I think we successfully made it look like a painter lived in the space we had to film in.

This character was curious and outgoing, so we used a lot of bright colors and creative ideas. We had the actress dress in red to work with this theme as well.

Our second location had more furniture already. We just had to cater it to our character. We didn’t want to overuse paintings on the walls again. We wanted to do something different that worked with the furniture and such. We ended up going with more neutral colors, photographs, and flowers.

This character was the more reserved of the two. If our lead character was the type to be the first one on the dance floor, this character was the type who needed to be coaxed out with her. I decided to make her a cat person with a photograph of my childhood cat. We had flowers around the set and a photograph of a beach. They were very subtle things, might not be very noticeable in the final cut, but the thought is there.

I think my favorite aspect of the set design that we chose to do was to add matching paintings. My production assistant Sarah Sofia Serrato and I had been to a painting class together in the past, so we both had different versions of the same painting of an owl with pumpkins. Sarah’s painting is in the background of one of the shots at the lead character’s house, and my version of the painting is in the supporting character’s house. We aren’t sure if anyone will really see it and make the connection, but we liked the thought behind it.

I’ll definitely be taking this experience with set design into future projects. Even if it doesn’t really show up completely within the shots of the film, it really helps solidify the character and their motivations. It created a mood on set. I liked that fact.

Of course, other elements that came into play with this project had to do with prop design. I’ll discuss those in another post.

Return to Sender: Shoot Day 2

On Sunday, March 18, 2018, we had our second day of shooting for my upcoming short film, Return to Sender. After our first shoot was so immensely successful, I was really looking forward to another day of filming.

At the first shoot, I felt that it took a bit for me to get back into the director’s chair, at least to sit there comfortably again. By the end of that first shoot, I had gotten the swing of things again. I was hoping that I’d still be ready to go for this second shoot as well. I think I can safely say that I did well.

This shoot had the same crew as before. I definitely had more actors to work with this time around though. I was working with three actors at this shoot. Two of these actors were playing minor detective roles. They clicked together very easily. I’m very happy with my casting choice for them. The other actress was playing my supporting character. She really embodied the role, just as I knew she would when she was cast.

We filmed the bulk of the story at our first shoot, so this time around was definitely much more simple. It was a smaller location, so there was less area to appropriately light. It was actually my own house, so there was less space that needed to be decorated. I mainly had to focus on empty wall space. I’ll talk more about set and prop design in another post.

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be to direct three actors at once. Either I just got lucky or I was adequately prepared. In any case, I’m happy that it went well.

For this shoot, half of the day was spent finishing up the visuals for the end of the film. Once this was completed, the majority of the cast and crew were able to leave. Our supporting actress stuck around for a while longer in order to fill in some of the audio gaps from our first shoot. Despite it being her first time recording voiceover, she got the hang of it very quickly. She did a fantastic job.

It all went very smoothly. Everyone got along really well. There was lots of laughs. This made for a really great energy throughout the day. I think the food at craft services went over well. I almost wiped out and dropped the camera rig at one point while attempting a handheld shot that won’t even make the final cut, but I think it went well!

We’re officially in post production now. I can’t wait to see how this all turns out.