Archive for psychological thriller

Through the Cracks (3): Filming CHAOS THEORY

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Production: the ultimate dream, and worst nightmare, of any filmmaker. It is the shortest phase in the process by far, and also the one in which everything can go wrong. It is the period of two weeks, or five months, when you must execute the story that you have crafted for years. Terrifying and wonderful at once.

Now that the film has been released, I find it timely to reflect on its creation, and our own unique production phase.

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DP Kimberly Greenwell with actors Kat Solko and Rachelle Wood.

Our shoot for CHAOS THEORY was not typical. On a shoe-string budget it was impossible to secure crew members and actors. We had to rely on favors asked and time given for free. These constraints could easily have ruined the process and killed the project before it gained life. But the artistic community is full of generosity and love. I was lucky enough to find a cast and crew who dedicated their time through simple love of the project.

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The graveyard with Madison Petri, Dixon White, Jason Maxwell and Gregg Painter.

We filmed for 12 days in total. Our locations were centered around Littleton, the suburb of Denver where I grew up. In the process of shooting we revisited the graveyard in which I filmed my first project (age 9), my elementary school playground, and my grandparents’ house; an unsettling but special pastiche of old memories. Because of my familiarity with those locations, I was better able to frame and block scenes in ways that picked out unusual details. (Tip #1 – choose locations that you know, and know you can get.)

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DP Kimberly Greenwell frames Julia Berensen and Jason Maxwell.

Those 12 days were certainly arduous. Most of the time it was our skeleton crew and Kat, acting out scenes that only featured her. The performance was exhausting for Kat, not only because of the emotional heights she reached, but also due to the 90-degree weather that plagued us on our exterior sets. Her professionalism still astounds me – in addition to rocking the performance, she knew the character better than I did. That kind of collaboration, as far as I understand, is rare on any sized set. The same goes for the rest of the cast and crew – once we set the scene and framed the camera, they would bring their own life and intensity. It allowed me to wear different hats without worry that I missed something. (Tip #2 – pick actors who are good for the role, but also good to work with. They will make or break you.)

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Director Ben Larned and actor Kat Solko.

Without going into too much detail, I will say that the shooting process was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Engaging in that collaboration gave me so much hope for the future. And because of that, I say to young filmmakers like myself – don’t wait for a budget. Write a script that needs no money, pick a few friends, and go make something. Waiting will destroy a creative spirit. Don’t let yourself stagnate.

Now you know the process – how about seeing the finished product? CLICK HERE to watch CHAOS THEORY now.

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CHAOS THEORY: Official Release

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2016 by smuckyproductions

The time has come… CHAOS THEORY is unleashed upon the world!

Smucky’s first feature film follows the tradition of surreal psychological horror. It follows a young woman who, in the wake of her best friend’s suicide, must combat violent premonitions as she wonders… what really killed her friend?

WATCH THE FULL FILM HERE:

After viewing, connect with us on:
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Share your opinion with the hashtag #SUBMITTOTHECHAOS

CHAOS THEORY: ONE DAY

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Only ONE DAY LEFT until CHAOS THEORY premieres! Smucky can’t contain his excitement.

SUBMIT TO THE CHAOS and JOIN OUR FACEBOOK EVENT to prepare for the release.

CHAOS THEORY: 2 DAYS Until Release

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2016 by smuckyproductions

The signs are all around us… Only 2 days until April 14th, the official release date for Smucky’s first feature CHAOS THEORY!

JOIN THE FACEBOOK EVENT and prepare to Submit to the Chaos.

CHAOS THEORY Trailer #3: Have You Seen Them?

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Only eight days until the release of CHAOS THEORY!

Check out this new trailer – and uncover the secret of the Three Men on APRIL 14TH:

CLICK HERE to join the Facebook event and stay updated on trailers, behind-the-scenes photos, and more.

Through the Cracks (2): A Brief History of Psychological Horror

Posted in Dark Musings, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

After an age of remakes and jump-scare-laden ghost stories, the indie world has seen a resurgence of a classic genre: the psychological horror film. I personally find this genre to be the most rewarding, not only because of its inventiveness and surrealism, but also its ultimate truth. CHAOS THEORY fits firmly into this arena, and because of this, I’d like to explore the history – to further trace my own work’s origins.

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Psychological thriller/horror films involve the deterioration of the character’s reality, often as a result of some deep-seated fear or anxiety. The cinematic medium works fascinatingly for this type of plot – the audio-visual tricks can place an audience inside a character’s head, using fictional sight and sound to create a disturbingly realistic mindscape. While this genre has developed in literature for some years – the classic Gothic novels, Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” are prime examples – films only began fitting this mold in the 1960s. There are, however, a few early efforts at the genre, mainly Val Lewton’s infamous films such as “Cat People” and “I Walked with a Zombie.” In spite of their B-movie titles, Lewton’s work always used their macabre elements to express real anxiety.

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The 60s saw a surge of psychological horror and thrillers. Monsters became your next-door neighbor, a contrast to the atomic and alien nightmares of the 50s. This can, perhaps, be attributed to Alfred Hitchcock’s massive success with “Psycho” – a dread-filled vision of mundane madness with a killer twist. Many subsequent films, such as William Castle’s “Homicidal” or Hammer’s “Scream of Fear” (one of dozens produced by the company at that time), adopted those same elements.

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As the decade moved forward, a number of directors made their own unique stamp on the genre: Robert Aldritch with “Baby Jane” and “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte;” Robert Wise with “The Haunting,” an adaptation from psychological genius Shirley Jackson; and Roman Polanski with “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” These films not only made the mundane frightening, but also explored taboo fears – the deterioration of an aged mind, pathological anxiety, and the horrors of being a woman in a patriarchal society. At the decade’s close, Ingmar Bergman – the master of psychological drama – even added his own addition to the genre, 1968’s disturbing “Hour of the Wolf.” This film was admittedly personal for him, an exorcism of an artist’s demons.

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The 70s saw a shift to occult and gruesome horror, yet in many cases the psychological elements remain. “The Exorcist” is visceral, but even more so for its depiction of a mother’s darkest fears; “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” only seems violent because of the characters’ mental torment – there is hardly a drop of blood in it. When slasher films became popular in the 80s, psychological terror became scarce, but choice films still display its influence: namely Kubrick’s “The Shining” and John Carpenter’s paranoid take on “The Thing.” These classics still found their roots in the human mind, with monsters and blood acting as a manifestation of that dark territory.

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With slashers dying out, the 90s marked an exploration of psychological thrillers – decidedly less nebulous and surreal than their horror counterparts. Thrillers (in my view) are more mathematical, with a distinct set of clues and a path to the end. The psychological aspect comes into play when these clues affect the character’s mind. Notable examples include “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Jacob’s Ladder” and “The Sixth Sense” – both films that popularized the twist ending. The new millennium continued this trend, with a smattering of mind-bending stories that required a twist at the end. These include “Donnie Darko,” “Memento,” “Se7en” and “The Machinist.”

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When writing “Chaos Theory,” these recent films were at the front of my mind – but my process took me closer to the psychological horror of the 60s. I wanted to embody horror, and I didn’t want to subscribe to a clear twist ending. My film became far more surreal and unexplained as a result. It excites me, then, to see other films following these same guidelines – such as “The Babadook,” “The Witch,” and upcoming releases like “Trash Fire.” We are exploring the dark corners of the mind again.

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Join the CHAOS THEORY RELEASE EVENT to keep up on trailers, articles, and the film’s release on April 14th! Help support this return to psychological horror.

Through the Cracks (1): Writing CHAOS THEORY

Posted in Original Writing, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

It has been nearly four years since I began writing a script without a title, which would become my first feature-length effort, and in 2014 would be shot as “Chaos Theory.” Several dead-ends, drastic rewrites and many cuts later, the process is still vivid for me.

The idea was born from a combination of H.P. Lovecraft and the news. I had been reading Lovecraft obsessively during the summer of 2012, falling in love with his dread-filled execution and massive, rarely-glimpsed monsters. There was a movie somewhere in those stories. But the idea was half-formed and bland – until something catastrophic happened.

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Being a Denver native, the Aurora movie theater tragedy was immediate and frightening for me. But the news coverage was even more disturbing. We were seeing this act of violence sensationalized, fictionalized, and made almost exciting. But the grief of those around me was so much more real than that. It felt chaotic, unearthly, to witness all of this, at an age when I still couldn’t really comprehend it. Lovecraft’s monsters, however, seemed akin to the nightmarish aura around these events and the news. Those two elements combined and thus my idea was born.

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The then-untitled “Chaos” began with a male protagonist who becomes obsessed with his neighbor’s suicide – then named Edgar, rather than a friend. His teacher, not his psychologist, unveils the ideas of Chaos and its apocalyptic implications. The frame resembled a bastard child of “Donnie Darko” and “Black Swan.” Many of the scenes are similar, though the bulk of the action took place in a school, and the ending was much more literal. It was far from ready for the screen.

My freshman year at NYU brought about the needed changes for the script. Many of my professors, mainly Pete Chatmon and John Warren, were kind enough to read it and offer invaluable advice. What if, instead of his neighbor, it’s his friend who dies? And what exactly are you trying to say? These questions and many others streamlined the ideas into something closer to the final version. The story was getting stronger.

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But, in its current form, it needed a larger budget to complete. Filming in a school is expensive, and there were several visual effects involved. I did my best to raise the necessary funds, but I was eager to tell this story – the media was getting more disturbing and random acts of violence seemed to occur every day. Thus, a rewrite for budget was called for. The school became a playground, the visual effects became practical images, and the story came to the forefront.

 

Around the same time, I was also searching for a lead actor to take on the role of Aaron. My friend and high school classmate Kat Solko was set to play Sophie. But a stale search and a change of perspective made it obvious: the protagonist can be a woman, and Kat is more than up to the challenge. All that I needed to do was change the pronouns. And with that, “Chaos Theory” had reached the finish line.

That, boils and ghouls, is the spoiler-free timeline of my writing process. Stay tuned for the next chapter – the wonderful madness of pre-production.