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Hell Town Sneak Preview

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Last night I had the great honor of attending a sneak preview of a most delightful, bizarre and magical film at the Alamo Draft House in the grand city of Austin. The movie was ‘Hell Town,’ a soap opera/slasher film I shot last year with co-directors Elizabeth Spear and Steve Balderson. To say that it was one of my greatest joys ever to work on this film would be to play down the sense of magical adventure I felt whilst on set. I’ve wanted to shoot both a soap opera and a horror film for many years now, and to have the opportunity to do both at once was priceless.

Soap opera, you ask? Yes! Though it’s often considered a genre or style bereft of good taste, honed-craft and believable lighting, I would suggest it’s one of the most honest portrayals of our world on the screen today. It’s true that we don’t walk around in our everyday lives constantly lit by the judicious use of backlight, however it is the case that more-often than not we are looking at someone quite moderately backlit – pay close attention next time you’re talking to someone; look, there, on skipping off their cheek and radiating through their wind-swept hair. What is that? It’s backlight! It is also not always the case that we stumble from one melodramatic calamity to the next in our everyday lives. But everyone once in a while it certainly feels as though this is the case. I could go on and on, but I’ll speak sparingly of my cherished love and defense of soap-opera style for now. Needless to say, it was a filmic delight I’d been wanting to explore on set since I first watched ‘Dallas’ and ‘Falcon Crest’ (and ‘Days of our Lives’) as a child. The former two surreptitiously viewed at my friend, Frankie Butler’s, house during sleepovers in the early 1980s. (sorry Frankie, I didn’t mean to rat you out).

So it was with great joy that I sat in a beautifully manicured theater in northern Austin, Texas, surrounded by many of the film’s cast and crew and a swarming plethora of horror (and soap opera) film fans to watch Hell Town for the very first time on a big screen. And it was big. Really big. I don’t think we have such large screens on the beautifully lit coast of Maine that I call home. But here in Texas – yup, they’ve got them.

And indeed, it was a delicious treat to sit in that darkened, air-conditioned room and watch and listen as so many people, most of whom I’d never met, laughed and gasped through the film’s duration. I’m fairly certain that most of the laughs were, indeed, at the funny parts and the gasps and the scarier ones, but there may have been some crossover from time-to-time.

It’s also a very good experience to watch one’s film big prior to it screening at festivals, as every once in a while one finds something that needs tending to prior to broader release of the film. In this case we were lucky, or perhaps I was lucky, that nothing glared out at me that needed such attention for Hell Town. But even the most careful of crews can miss the odd sandbag or c-stand or clown costume when on the express train of an indie film shooting schedule. And perhaps it’s not luck, after all. In this case it was likely due to the diligence, attentiveness and love of the process that everyone in the cast and crew brought to this project. Ultimately, that is what independent cinema graciously gifts to me – the knowledge of being surrounded by other humans (and perhaps the odd alien once in a while) who are truly dedicated to doing their best and enjoying the journey.

What a treat to sit in the audience with Steve and Elizabeth and BeckiJo and Owen and Sarah and Kyle and Rachel. And to feel the pang of missing so many of my fellow travelers who were with me on this expedition to Hell Town. It’s a strange place, a bit bloody at times, but definitely one I suggest everyone visit at least once.

Oh, there goes the ice-cream truck. Perfect timing.