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Indiana Teens Tout DIY Terror Flick

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on May 27, 2009 4:00PM


Stark Trek had an estimated budget of $160 million. Even Sam Raimi's new "low budget" horror movie Drag Me to Hell cost millions. Turns out you can get more bang for your buck in Indiana: The Unhuman is being made for around $500. Co-helmer Jacob, 13, sketched out the story for us: "A group of teens are working on a video project for school when a meteor lands bringing with it an alien infection. When some of the friends start showing up dead the remaining group must figure out which one of them (if any) have been infected by the virus." His brother Michael, 14, adds, "We know that there's been many different movies made with storylines like this. Beginning with Invasion of the Body Snatchers going all the way through to Slither. I don't want to say too much, but we're doing our own twist on this idea."

The two teens from Muncie are using the website Kickstarter to find investors; for as little as $4 you can help bring their opus to the screen. The siblings' previous project, a 20 minute short called Don't Go Into the Woods, turned out so well that they decided to take it to the next level. That means licensing music for the soundtrack, pressing DVDs and sending the completed movie to festivals (they're aiming for the Harvest Moon Film Festival and TromaDance). It's still very much a family affair though: family members are cast in the adult roles and their aunt, a graphic designer, is contributing her Adobe Creative Suite for postproduction.

We caught up with them to shoot the breeze about filmmaking on the cheap (they're as wise as Coppola on the subject), their artistic influences and their plans to conquer Hollywood.

Chicagoist: How did you guys first start making movies? And why horror movies?

Jacob: We thought about making movies for a long time. We went to the Horrorhound Weekend convention in Indianapolis in November of 2007 and my brother bought a copy of Tom Savini's book, Grande Illusions. While looking through the pages it just started to feel like something that we could really do ourselves.

Michael: We had just seen the movie Hatchet and loved the whole slasher thing. We thought that it'd be pretty easy to think up our own story of a psycho in the woods.

Chicagoist: Tell us more about your previous project, Don't Go Into the Woods. What's the most important thing you learned from making it?

Jacob: We came up with the idea from an actual gravestone that we found in the woods behind our house. I don't think anybody is actually buried there, but it is kind of creepy, so we put it in the movie. We thought up a story where a young boy and his dog drowned in a nearby pond and his crazy mother walks around the woods killing anyone that dares to get close to her son. In the movie four kids don't heed the warnings and get hacked off one by one by Old Mrs. Gregory.

Michael: Making this movie we learned that it takes a lot more than pointing a camera at someone and saying action. It takes a lot of time. And attention to detail. We had some pretty big screw-ups because we didn't do a lot of planning. Some of it we could fix, but some is still left in the finished movie. We still laugh every time we see that random cow walk through the first scene in the woods! This time around we're taking time to schedule our shooting carefully.

Chicagoist: On your blog you write that "Michael is in charge of how things look" and Jacob "is the idea man." How does that usually work when you're writing the scripts, doing the planning, on the set, and in the editing room? What happens when you disagree?

Jacob: It's funny, but this is just the way things happened all on their own. I like coming up with the stories and Michael likes to come up with how the scenes should look.

Michael: We haven't had a real disagreement yet. Especially not on the set or during the editing. By that time we've talked about it so much that we pretty much both know exactly what we want.

Chicagoist: Does The Unhuman really have a budget of $500?

Jacob: As far as the movie production goes, we don't really have a budget. One of the things that Robert Rodriguez says in his book is that you should use what you have to make your movie. And that's what we try to do. We kind of write our scenes around what we already have. That's why our first movie took place in the woods. We have a woods on our property, so we decided to shoot it there. We had this creepy, old black dress, so we decided to make the killer in that movie an old lady. So we try not to spend much on things that we don't have to.

Michael: The $500 dollars will be going toward a couple of things that we would have liked to done for our first movie, but didn't think about back then. We used a lot of music and didn't think about the fact that we need to have permission to use it. This time we want to get music legally and have the permission. We've looked into doing this and are saving $150 of the pledged money for that. Another $250 will go toward making a number of DVDs that we can send back to our funders, send to podcasts and blogs to review and then sell what's left over. The last hundred will be put toward the costs of festival entries and conventions which we hope to attend. We shoot on a Panasonic DVCam that is pretty old. We hope that The Unhuman will be the one that lets us make the jump to HD for our next movie.

Chicagoist: Looks like you guys love George A. Romero, John Landis, and some of the Italian horror maestros. Do you guys watch Asian stuff too, or any other international filmmakers?

Jacob: I haven't seen too much Asian horror, but we did see Let the Right One In. It's a Swedish vampire movie that I liked a lot.

Michael: We saw the French movie, Martyrs. It's the kind of movie that you watch once, but never want to again. It's that disturbing.

Chicagoist: Psyched abut the new Sam Raimi movie?

Jacob: I love all of the Evil Dead movies. Drag Me to Hell is about a gypsy curse. There's not a lot of movies like that around now. It's like a movie that somebody would have made years ago.

Michael: I can't wait to see him do horror again. Especially after Spider-Man 3.

Chicagoist: What do your folks think about you watching all these violent, gory movies?

Jacob: Honestly there's a select few movies that they have flat out said NO to. Every now and then we can sneak a couple in under the radar, though.

Michael: I think that a lot of the time they know that we're watching it like a filmmaker would. When we rewind and pause during an eye-popping scene it's not because we're sick and twisted kids, but we're trying to figure out how they did the effect. We want to know how they pulled off a scene like that.

Chicagoist: How about road-tripping the movie to Chicago?

Jacob: Wow! We'd love to go to Chicago. I'd love it if The Unhuman could be the movie to take us there. Right now we're concentrating on taking over our much smaller town and then we can move onto the bigger ones!

Michael: It's kind of weird being in middle school trying to make movies in Muncie, Indiana. If we were in college it might be much easier. We've actually tried emailing some of the film professors at Ball State about our movie. We never heard anything from them. It's kind of the same when we talk to people about it at horror conventions too. They think it's cool, but probably think that we won't ever do it or something. Maybe once we get The Unhuman finished people will know we mean business!