The second floor had 9 bedrooms. He mentioned that he lived there with his wife, daughter and a guest that was currently staying for the winter. His plan was to redo the top two floors (with a total of 18 bedrooms) and get a license to make it a bed and breakfast. But his wife lamented that they owned it for 3 years already and little work had been done. She was also Russian and incredibly friendly. She offered us soup, which she had been cooking while we were given a tour. We declined but were grateful for the offer. I had told them that we were going to take some shots around the property to show my Cinematographer and use for "promotional purposes" should we shoot there. It was a bit of a fib, or rather understatement, because I was telling the truth but never mentioned the trailer. It was necessary that I be vague though; I had no money. So we got our shots for the trailer, mostly in the woods but some on his property, and he thankfully signed a release for the footage. He was also very accommodating when we came back later in the evening to get the shot of the ax swinging toward the camera. However, it turned into quite a creepy encounter when he brought out his daughter to meet us. it was just me, Matt, Chris and Ricardo (as the ax swinger, since none of us were strong enough to swing it at the camera and stop it before hitting the lens). The owner mentioned that he wanted his 13 year old daughter to meet "real life filmmakers" and I was happy to meet and talk to her. But when he brought her out, I was slightly startled by her appearance. She was wearing nothing but a long white nightgown and sneakers, and because she was slouching with her head looking down, her dark hair was covering both sides of her face. We were in complete darkness except for our little LED light, so it was impossible to see her face at all. I'm not exaggerating, I genuinely felt like I was meeting Samara from The Ring. He introduced us and she didn't say a word but reached out to shake my hand. I hesitated but didn't want to be rude, so shook it and said "pleased to meet you." She still said nothing. Matt also shook her hand, but both Chris & Ricardo cowardly used the camera & ax in their hands to excuse not shaking hers. Ricardo, being legitimately terrified of all things horror movie related, could not help but back away a little after the introductions. It was truly bizarre. She never said a word and neither did he about why she wouldn't have, and then she just went back inside. He remained very excited about her opportunity getting to meet us. We shook off the weirdness and wrapped the trailer shoot. I thanked the owner again and told him I'd be in touch.
A couple months later, no else had responded to any of my ads. It was pretty clear that that house was our best bet for shooting the film. Staying in that house did not seem the slightest bit appealing, but the look of it was so good for the film. It had a Texas Chainsaw vibe, which was terrifying as a person but awesome as a director. Everyone involved, even Ricardo, ultimately agreed to it. So despite the creepiness, I decided to move forward with securing it for the film. However, when I sent him the location agreement, he came back claiming he never agreed to the price he originally agreed to and would need 5 times as much as my budget could allow. It bothered me more that he was lying about agreeing to the original fee than the fact that he was increasing it so tremendously. I didn't care to negotiate, so I just let it go. In the end, I am incredibly grateful to the owner and his family. We wouldn't have had half the trailer if it weren't for them. But it all worked out for the best because he clearly wasn't as nice as he seemed, and his house and family were pretty damn creepy. I was worried that I'd maybe get a phone call saying "7 days" at some point after the encounter, but considering it's been 2 years, it seems I'm fairly safe. In all seriousness though, I truly hope they were just weird and not abusive or something terrible like that. It's those real life horrors that movies aren't made about that are even scarier to encounter, and I just hope that wasn't the case here.
Anyway, we were in the midst of our Kickstarter campaign and had no location. But it was okay because we still had about 8 months before production. By the time summer rolled around, I had found another house through the suggestion of a friend. It was located in Lenox, MA, but was originally brought over from Italy in the 1840's and was left for the owner by his grandparents. The basement was also creepy but mostly interesting because it had many remnants of illegal alcohol brewing from during Prohibition times. It had been uninhabited for the past 30 years and was just sitting on the property He had plans to knock it down and sell the land in about a year, but for the time being wasn't doing anything with it. It had no heat, hot water or electric, so couldn't double as our picture house and sleeper, but would totally work for just the former. I found a 5 bedroom vacation house just a block away, which cost pretty much our entire location budget, but was a deal nonetheless. So we booked it and, luckily, the owner of the 1840's house agreed to let us shoot there for free, since it was just sitting there. We were so excited, and announced our house in this blog post.
A couple months later though, he brought up wanting money, and not just a little money, but more than the entire film budget. I had a meeting with him and tried to understand where his sudden request was coming from. He explained that he had been talking to people and they mentioned how much money Hollywood movies make, and that he should be getting paid for the house. I explained the difference between Hollywood & Independent Film, and particularly my situation, someone who came from a single-mother household with no money to my name and nothing but student loan debt to my credit. He claimed that he misjudged the situation and agreed to honor our original deal. All he had left to do though was get the house inspected to make sure it was safe for my 20 person cast & crew. About a month later, he told me it was taken care of and the house was fine, and he'd send the paperwork soon enough. I kept inquiring about the paperwork and he kept saying he would send it soon. About three months later, he got back to me saying that when he said he got the house inspected, he was lying because he "had no time and figured it'd be fine," but finally did get it inspected and the floors were deemed unsafe. As mentioned in this blog post, the house was condemned and we were back to square one with no main location but now just a month away from production!
My mom and I then spent the next couple weeks making 7 separate trips up to the Berkshires in hopes of finding a new location. I started doubting my faith in people, and started wondering if everyone really is out to take advantage of everyone else just to make a buck. But then something wonderful happened, a man named David agreed to let us stay and shoot in a house that he had bought and was in the process of flipping for just $100 per day. It was a couple towns over from our vacation rental. It unfortunately wouldn't work for the exterior of the picture house, but would for the interior. This gave us hope, and allowed me to come up with the plan to use our vacation rental as our exterior house because, although the interior couldn't possibly work, with some art direction, the exterior definitely would. And thankfully, the wonderful owner Lorraine agreed to let us turn what was just meant to be a vacation house for 20 people for 2 weeks into also a filming location for nothing more than just a slightly higher security deposit. So thanks to both of them and their kindness, we were able to spend 11 days at the vacation house shooting exteriors, and 4 days at David's house shooting interiors; and all for just a few hundred dollars over the original budget (but still way less than anyone else would probably ever charge me). Also, speaking of kind people and shooting locations, I can't not mention Barbara, the 'Corner Deli' and gas station owner who agreed to let us shoot at her gas station both during and after business hours completely for free. For every person who almost made this film impossible, I believe I found 3 who did the complete opposite. If I ever doubt the kindness of strangers, I just have to think about Lorraine, David, Barbara, and of course every single one of our Kickstarter backers. The film simply couldn't have been made without all of you. You were the first to believe in us and to support the film. This post turned out much longer than originally intended; but I suppose what I really set out to do was tell the story not of how the film almost fell apart even before it started, but how it all came together because of you and other wonderful people like you. I'm so grateful to you all. Also, I just want to give a few shout-outs: first to the most supportive and kind person I know, and the reason why I believe in people and the fact that we aren't all just out for ourselves: my mom, Marlene, who was almost as much a part of making this film as I was, next to my fiancé's mom, Linda, who offered up her home and land to us during production and was so supportive and helpful, and finally, my phenomenal crew & cast who all volunteered their time and talent for the film. I'll never be able to express how truly grateful I am to them and all of you. But hopefully you know I mean it when I say thank you. I know I don't update about the film too often but I absolutely haven't forgotten you, and hope you haven't forgotten me and this little film we all made together.
Since this was a good opportunity to reflect on some of the events that got us to where we ended up, and, interestingly, how it all ended up being for the best, I suppose this is also a good opportunity to mention that I plan to release my 'journal series' (not quite sure yet what is the best way to refer to it) "Shooting Summit," where I spent the one year anniversary of production this past January writing about my experiences each day on set and all the obstacles we overcame to make the film. I first brought it up in this blog post and am planning to release it as one concise pdf later this year.
Speaking of what we'll be releasing this year, we'll have our official full-length trailer for you to see in the Fall. In the meantime, we hope you enjoyed the teaser trailer. It's a better reflection of the tone of the film compared to our original promo. It also features both the exterior and interior houses, which I believe we did a good job of making look like one house. You can let me know if I'm right when you see the film.