Getting independent horror off the ground: Erica Harrell and Judson Scott on HUNTERS | Interview (english version)

01. Mai 2011

Hunters

The popularity of crowdfunding keeps growing. When we spoke to filmmaker Christopher Salmon in November last year, his animated Neil Gaiman adaption „The Price” was about to escape pre-production hell with the help of crowdfunding portal Kickstarter. Only weeks later he had financed his short film with an astonishing amount of over 150.000 USD, and every single penny came from fans who wanted to see what he was about to deliver. Producer Erica Harrell and filmmaker Judson Scott are trying something similar. Their ambitions are different though as crowdfunding is only the first step in getting their project off the ground. For their Kickstarter campaign they produced a professional teaser that gives a clear idea of what the finished film will be like. If they succeed, „Hunters” will be the first slasher feature brought to life with the help of online fan funding. In our interview the two talked about their strategy, advantages of independent film production, European horror and killer siblings in the Los Angeles National Forest.

screen/read: By the time we’re speaking your kickstarter campaign for „Hunters” has already reached about ten percent of the goal set, and there are still plenty of days to go. It’s very common by now that people go for crowdfunding with their film projects. Is this the first experience that either of you have with that approach?

Judson Scott: Yeah, we both have a couple of friends that financed their projects through kickstarter, but it’s technically the first time we’ve used it as an avenue to try and secure funds for one of our own projects.

Erica Harrell: We’ve made independent projects on our own and independently raised funds before. But this is the first time trying this strategy to find people who are interested in the film that we’re doing.

screen/read: So the intended amount of 30.000 USD is meant for starting pre-production as you stated on the site. What exactly will it be used for?

Judson Scott: There’s a few things that are good to line up before you start going into meetings with possible investors. One of the big things is attaching actors to the project, or at least one actor. It gives you a bigger step forward to showing people that you’re serious about making the film, but it’s not something you can do without having a little bit of money in the bank. We also want to continue working on our concept art for the film and storyboarding in order to be prepared logistically. Also we would like to check out potential locations to shoot in. Erica is working on trying to secure funds through film commissions outside of California, which is basically because other states in the country have money to finance films in order to bring work and money back home. But most of all we want to be able to pay people that we intend to hire initially, like our special effects makeup artist who we want to get started right away with making the prostethics and that sort of thing.

Hunters Concept Art

Erica Harrell: Also, thinking of possible investors and distributors, it is important that we can say: Look, there are people wanting to see this kind of movie and they are even willing to support it. Because as far as horror is concerned, it’s different here nowadays from how it is in Europe. American horror has declined in the past few years and it’s tough to get a film with that many kills into a theatre.

screen/read: You both are working in the industry for quite some time now. What is either of you doing, who are you working for?

Erica Harrell: I moved to Los Angeles about five years ago after I graduated college, Judson and I actually went to the same college in Florida. I started out in television and worked for HBO on „Entourage“ while I already independently produced a bunch of shorts and three features so far. They played on festivals and now are getting small amounts of distribution. „The Attic Door“ was awarded three times so far and „Acts of Mercy“ got officially selected for the 2009 Shanghai Film Festival. Currently I’m working for Sony Pictures Television on their comedy series as well as their game shows and scripted reality shows. At the same time I’m doing „Hunters“ and trying to raise money to actually make producing my full-time job.

Judson Scott: I have basically what I like to call a day job. I work at Marvel Studios as assistant for one of the producers of all the films that we release like „Iron Man 2“,„Thor“ and all that stuff. In the past I’ve done other assistant type works on other films and television shows like „Bones“ and „Entourage“ as well. I’ve been doing that for the last three years or so. It’s pretty awesome as it’s not only where I earn an income so I can be able to support my life, it’s also like kind of going to real-life filmschool as I get to see from the inside how really big movies are made. I experience the whole process from beginning to end and the problems that these kinds of pictures run into and the solutions that come out of it and working around the story and that kind of thing. So I soak it all in and that is great. Apart from that I’m trying to spend as much of my free time as possible working on scripts and doing promotion for „Hunters“ in order to get this thing off the ground.

screen/read: With that backgorund, both of you have fundamental knowledge on how the industry works as opposed to how the independent market works. Why did you chose to go the independent way and not try to sit down with an established production company to help you out?

Judson Scott: I feel like there is a couple of answers to that and they come from different angles. The most obvious is, to try and make your own independent film is not in a sense easier but if you’re just going out and trying to raise money to do your own thing, there’s not a lot of people to stand in your way and tell you „No“. Which I like. It’s different than trying to bring scripts to a studio system or an established production company and compete with all the other projects that they may or may not make and basically win or lose. But going after it independently and trying to fund it yourself, the only obstacle you have is finding the money, which is a huge obstacle of course but it’s also the only one that you have to clear. And also artistically, especially with horror films, there are major advantages. All of my favorite horror films of about the last ten years are independent, and I feel that a lot of the best stuff in general, especially nowadays, is independent. That’s because you get full creative control, you don’t have to worry about making a rating, you basically do whatever you want to a degree. And I think that kind of creative environment lends itself to being able to making really cool movies because there is no need to please the studio system or having a lot of people who want to see a certain version of the film that you’re trying to make. So basically for me it was always a dream to make an independent horror film.

Hunters

screen/read: Let’s take a look at the story. We already get a certain impression from the teaser already, but there’s probably much more to say.

Judson Scott: When I started writing this movie I had this central idea. One of the things that fascinates me the most about slasher movies is their origin stories and how they became campfire legends and people would tell scary stories about them and that sort of thing. Take „Friday the 13th” for example, you see what happens with Jason as a little kid in the first five minutes and the rest of the film plays out as the consequences of that twenty years later. So what I wanted to do with „Hunters” is expand on that idea of the legend of the slasher villain and  have the whole movie be about that. So in that aspect we spend a lot of time with the villains who in the trailer you see is the girl and the other person that does the neck slashing with the mask. In the story they’re brother and sister. Essentially they are abandoned in a forest after their parents die and have to raise themselves. Through that they learn how to survive and take care of themselves from being little kids all the way up to young adulthood. So we open with their story and learn about them for a while. And then I kick it into the more traditional slasher setting and we see how these two characters that we’ve come to know and learn a lot about react to a big group of people moving in on where they live. So for me with „Hunters” a lot of what I want to focus on is the villains because to me that’s the best part of any slasher movie. The difference is that I look at them more humanly than monsterously. And hopefully in the end the audience is going to connect with the villains which would be a cool experience and something that you generally don’t get a lot of, especially not in the slasher genre.

screen/read: That’s definitely a different and interesting approach. Actually it sounds a little like Hansel and Gretel gone mad.

Judson Scott: It’s funny that you say that because there’s actually a line in there with someone bringing that up. And it’s kind if true. These two, brother and sister, they only have each other and they have to take care of each other and they do whatever it takes to make sure that they’re ok. Which is not so good for people coming across them. Also they had to survive on their own in a hostile environment of a forest, so there are various steps in how to use their surroundings to eliminate animals and people. And that’s where we get a lot of what I think are pretty intense killing scenes.

screen/read: Now you did a very impressive teaser which is way more professional than what we usually get to see at that stage of production in a crowdfunding campaign. How did you set it up and why did you chose exactly that scene?

Erica Harrell: We chose this scene especially for putting it on the kickstarte page in order to help us raise money as well as to test and show people some of the intensity of our blood and gore because, you know, it’s not for everyone. The scene is actually not in the script, it was only written for that purpose, and it’s really showcasing the two killers working in conjunction with each other. For the shoot we got together our dear friend Scott Uhlfelder who is a cinematographer we also went to college with. He’s been doing films out here in Los Angeles for a few years now like „Hoodoo for Voodoo” with Lloyd Kaufman or „The Attic Door” which I mentioned before. Also joining was our makeup effects friend Jenn Rose who has worked on numerous huge movies like „Star Trek”, „True Grit” and „Tron Legacy” but also „Hatchet” for Adam Green. She came out to do the blood effects. Basically all the people involved are friends working in the industry who helped us make the teaser look and sound really professional. So after we got a permit to shoot in the Los Angeles national forest we went out on a Saturday and kind of did the whole shoot in a few hours before we went into post-production.

Hunters Crew

Judson Scott: One of the things we’re fortunate of having through our day jobs is a lot of friends that do things in the industry. So we’re able to call in favors and as Erica pointed out had really professional people working on the trailer that normally would be very expensive to come out and help us for little or no money. And it ended up resulting in what we feel is a pretty high quality trailer as far as production value is concerned and sound design and the editing and that sort of thing. And of course we were able to show some drastic gore effects.

screen/read: Yeah, it’s very graphic. But apart from that it just looks like being taken from a professionally made movie and certainly teases people enough to make them want to see the rest.

Judson Scott: That’s the goal. We hope that people watch it and want more. And that way when we make it, people already know about it and buy a ticket or get it on DVD or itunes or wherever. We want to show what the film is about and that we really intend to make a serious slasher flick. So hopefully that’s enough to get people excited.

Erica Harrell: Also we’re constantly sort of creating material that is meant to cause more excitement and show what we’re capable of. About three weeks ago we shot a short film called „Rebecca” which Judson had written and directed. It was pretty much the same thing production wise. We had a group of very talented friends coming out on a Saturday to help us make an eight minute short. So if we can go on producing high quality material like this, it will help us getting noticed in the genre world, hopefully outside of it and internationally as well.

Judson Scott: Yeah, and internationally is very important to me because so many of the horror films that I love come from outside the United States and I want to make sure that I come up with something that can compete with the quality that people in France and Spain and Germany are used to. Especially thinking of what France achieved in the genre recently is amazing. „Inside (originally: À l’intérieur)” by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury is just the goriest film that these people could make. And it proves that there’s a market for that, and not only in France but globally. I mean, you can buy that movie on DVD everywhere and it does get sold in solid numbers.

Hunters

screen/read: Let’s flashforward a little. In case you reach your kickstarter goal, which I’m quite confident you will, what are the next steps, especially for public relation aspects? Will you install things like a weekly blog or anything like that?

Erica Harrell: Yes, I hope that we will have a blog portion up on our website shortly, but not just about the film itself but also about the genre and the industry in general. As far as reaching our kickstarter goal is concerned, we hope to move forward and definitely attach one of those actors and keep the ball rolling in terms of getting a location secured, getting the storyboarding design process. As stated before, we already have our makeup and cinematographer persons involved and our music composer and we’ll continue working with them and really hope to make the film very shortly. We’re hopefully coming in with a co-production or independent financiers. There’s also the big Comic Con convention which happens in San Diego every year that Judson and I will be attending and that’s sort of right after our kickstarter deadline is up. So when we’re there we’ll be talking about „Hunters” and raising money for the film and how we’re going to make it.

Judson Scott: I think, what I’m picturing in a perfect world is that we hit our goal for 30.000 dollars and then Erica goes and takes it and finds us as much as we need to actually make the movie.

screen/read: Do you have any name actors in mind that you would like to add to the film or do you rather want to work with totally unknown talents?

Judson Scott: That’s an interesting question. A thing that has become popular for American horror films is adding famous genre actors to the cast. Like you see films that have Robert Englund in them or Kane Hodder and that’s cool. I love those guys. But I definitely don’t want to do look for them. Actually there’s only one person that I’d want to be in the movie and that’s Nathan Baesel, the guy that plays Leslie Vernon in „Behind the Mask”. To me he’s the next big slasher icon and having him would be amazing, even if he’s just in the background. But besides from him there aren’t any names that stick out for me. It would be nice though to have actors from 80’s comedies playing some of the older characters. I think killing those actors off might be a little cool because quite a number of our audience will be from our age and would have fun seeing those faces and remembering those comedies, especially in that gory context. – But apart from that I want to try and bring in fresh faces and if there are familiar ones they shouldn’t be familiar because of horror but because of other films. The core cast ranges in age from basically 18 to 26 on the page and I want to make sure that they all look like that and aren’t 30 year olds playing college students. Also I want to work with people who are eager and excited about doing the project and willing to bring something to the table and want to be creatively involved and that sort of thing. It’s really important for me to have people who are interested in the material and want to collaborate and have a good time. Generally, if it came down to having someone famous who was an asshole versus someone unknown who was awesome and loved the project I would always go with the non-famous person.

screen/read: Nevertheless it’s interesting to see that the horror genre is capable of creating names that have been unknown before and provide them with the option to move on to other genres as well. And that is something horror wasn’t able to achive 10 or 20 years ago. It’s a new development because there’s so much more emphasis on the characters today than just on the gore factor. And if I got it right, that is something your film will have as well.

Judson Scott: Yeah, absolutely. Basically I want actors who bring my characters to life, which I know is a very cliched thing to say, but a lot of the horror films that I love really explore characters more than blood. And although it’s not an explicit goal of mine to find the next horror star, I feel like I hopefully wrote a script good enough that at least the leading actors will be able to go on and do some other work based on what they did in „Hunters”. The main female character that we see being chased through the woods in the teaser, she’s really special and I feel like whoever I get to play that role is going to have a lot of fun with it and will do something that hopefully can get her more work outside the genre as well. – Horror films today are being taken way more serious in general, they’re getting made more seriously, the style is there. There’s a lot of bad horror movies that come out, but there’s so many good ones too, especially from Europe. And in the end that’s true for all genres. Most recently there have been a lot of great horror films like „House of the Devil” by Ti West and „Inside (originally: À l’intérieur)” by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, which is a huge influence on me, and also Adam Green with the „Hatchet” films and „Frozen”. Those films are like a shot in the arm to me and there’s a huge influence on what I’m trying to accomplish with my own film, and the bar that’s been set by those people is something that I at least want to reach. But generally I think a lot of today’s genre filmmakers have been heavily influenced by older horror flicks, which I totally am myself. I’m a huge Jason Voorhees fan for instance and then there’s John Carpenter of course who I think is probably my favorite horror filmmaker. It’s just what I’ve been watching since I was a little kid and the influence has stuck with me.

Hunters Concept Art

screen/read: Now Erica, Judson is obviously a huge genre fan which I know you are not, and still you agreed to produce this film. What was it about the script that convinced you or even changed your mind about the genre?

Erica Harrell: Indeed I barely watch any horror films because I get way too scared and involved in them. Judson and I were friends for a while and I knew he was so much into the genre and had asked me to read a script that he had written. Actually I didn’t know if I could get through it but then I started reading „Hunters” and to my own surprise I absolutely loved the pacing of the story and the characters and just everything about it. I think Judson is particularly fascinated with women who are insane and on the verge of madness and that’s the reason why there’s a very strong female character, which I immediately thought was great. There were definitely some very intense death scenes and there were some scary moments for me while reading it but it became something that I thought would be just awesome to make.

screen/read: Still very brave of you as you’ll probably have to see a lot of blood on the set. Hopefully you’ll be able to watch the finished movie at all.

Judson Scott: Hopefully not, because that would mean I wasn’t successful [laughs].

screen/read: Well, guys, good luck for getting „Hunters” off the ground and thanks for taking the time.

Erica Harrell: Thanks for reaching out to us from Germany.

Daniel Baxter, Erica Harrell, Judson Scott

[Producers Daniel Baxter and Erica Harrell, director/writer Judson Scott]

Hunters

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[Images: Erica Harrell, Judson Scott | Concept Art by Erica Vidal]

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