By Michael Forsyth
When the Marketing Director of Freedom’s Hammer Books suggested that it would be a terrific idea for me to create a YouTube video to promote my new horror novel Hour of the Beast I was thrilled — until of course he told me I’d be given a budget of just $500 to do it! But, after all, back in my days as a film student in NYU’s prestigious graduate program in the ’80s (alongside Spike Lee) I routinely shot short movies for peanuts, so I said, “No problem.”
The goal was simple: A 2-to-5-minute video showing a girl running for her life through the woods, screaming her head off, clad in a blood-stained wedding dress as in the opening scene of the book. I’d set the scene in daylight, rather than under moonlight, though, because there was no way I could adequately light a night shoot on my budget. (Hey, my werewolf buffs who haunt the Werewolf Cafe website assure me that the whole moon thing is malarky anyway). Simple, huh? What could possibly go wrong?
First step was to hire a camerman. The videographer I’d used for a quickie project for the Greenville Family Partnership was unavailable, so I figured the easiest thing would be to recruit an up and comer from the local film school. The head honcho smugly assured me that none of his of students would work for the measly $200 I was willing to pay. When I explained that it was an under-five- minute movie that would require about a half a day’s time, he sternly lectured me that NO five-minute movie was simple. True, but the guy’s tone irked me — since I was directing and editing films when he was still in diapers. That night I happened to attend a street fair and ran into a camerman with a professional video camera, recording a band’s performance. We chatted, he was available, and he was hired.
Next step: Hire an actress. With no budget for a newspaper ad, I posted an ad on Craig’slist for an attractive blonde (like on the book cover) with a Playboy playmate figure who could scream like a banshee. Bad move. Not only did I not get a SINGLE response, I was bombarded by spam for months! So I turned to the many wonderful theater companies here in Greenville, SC and asked the directors to recommend actresses that fit the bill. One lady denied her actresses a shot at the gig, warning me that heading into the woods with strange men is something she would warn them to be very leery of. Other directors promised to brainstorm and get back to me, but never did. Luckily, one director suggested two great actresses and ONE of them got in touch with me.
Amazingly, the single girl I “auditioned” looked perfect for the role — blonde, curvy with loads of experience — and the good-natured gal was game for the project. Best of all, her mom was seamstress, who could make any alterations needed for the wedding dress I had to buy. She got the job.
At my wife’s suggestion, I went online to shop for a wedding dress and found one that looked sensational — for under $150. Other props like fake blood, muddy-face makeup and werewolf gear were easy to get at a local costume shop. Halloween was around the corner and it was vital to shoot soon because even the toasty South Carolina weather would be cooling soon and my star was going to have to run around in skimpy lingerie. Paris Mountain State Park was the ideal location and the head ranger okayed the shoot.
Well, the wedding dress didn’t arrive in time. It turned out it was made in China and when I tracked it down it was in the back of a truck somewhere in Qinghai Province! The shoot had to be postponed and the actress was unavailable on the days the park allowed. I needed a new star immediately. The camerman, Hunter Moss, told me his girlfriend was an actress and totally gorgeous. I was a bit skeptical, since (sorry Hunter) the guy is — ahem — no Brad Pitt. “Love is blind,” I recalled, holding my breath as I waited to meet her. But miraculously she really was a knockout — actually prettier than the original actress, with the kind of chest that makes teenage boys drool. The wedding dress sized for the other girl finally arrived and, again, in a stroke of luck, it fit her with a few alterations. She was a brunette, but with a wig she was a convincing blonde.
On the scheduled shooting day it rained cats and dogs. When I tried to reschedule, the ranger wouldn’t let us. All the postponements apparently pissed him off. I scouted some smaller parks and found a remote one, Timmons Park. It wasn’t exactly untamed wilderness, but had virtually no visitors, featured plenty of wooded places and even a bubbling brook for the actress to hop over, a sequence I hadn’t envisioned. Fantastic!
The day of the shoot, Hunter and the stunning actress, Stacie Burmeister, had only only four hours available, but I figured that was just enough time.
It had been warm all week, but that morning the temperature dropped precipitously — the coldest on that date in decades, I later learned. I knew that even spunky Stacie wouldn’t be able to hang too long, particulary after the dress gets torn off and she has to run barefoot in a barely-there slip. (Good thing I didn’t go with my original idea, which was to have the leading lady strip to a THONG to better elude the werewolf!)
My cast and crew of two got delayed enroute, cutting the shoot time to just 3 hours. Then when we got to the location, I saw that the parking lot was so packed there were cars parked on the grass. To my horror, little-known Timmons Park was teeming with people. There were even vendors selling hotdogs and T-shirts. I snagged the nearest passerby, who informed me “Today is the Annual Frisbee Tournament.” Once a freaking year — what were the odds?!!
But there were a few pockets of unpopulated woods. And while I had carefully handpicked the spots for each sequence, Hunter and I were quickly able to find substitutes that were fine — as long as you kept the nearby homes up on the hills out of frame. So we went for it.
What saved us were three things: One, I was totally prepared, something I’d learned from film school. An amateur cartoonist, I’d drawn a storyboard detailing each shot, so I knew EXACTLY what I wanted. Two, Hunter turned out to be an able, rough and ready camerman who could compose shots matching that storyboard quickly. And three, Stacie was a pro who could hit her mark and get action right on the first take (even making stuff like falling down believable). And what a trouper! By the last shot, she was freezing her buns off, covered in dirt and fake blood, scratched up and exhausted, but she didn’t once complain. We pulled it off, with ten minutes to spare.
There were some technical hitches. Converting the footage from mini-DV to DVD to a file format editable on a computer proved to be a herculean task. Coming to the rescue was my old NYU pal Bill Pace — now a film professor at the New School — who guided me through the tricky steps. I had to teach myself linear editing. When I edited in the dinosaur era we cut apart film frames, rearranged them by hand and taped them back together. But the program I used on my PC, Adobe Premiere 9, turned out to be very user-friendly, so easy a caveman could do it you might say.
After all that, when I initially posted the video on YouTube, it streamed terribly — pausing every few seconds. I almost wept. But again an old buddy saved the day. My friend John J. Stevens of Bullfrog Communications up in Long Island, who I labored alongside doing industrials years ago and last saw at my bachelor party in 1997 — told me what to do and now it plays just fine.
The result is below. If you like it, please share it. I’ve been telling friends I want this YouTube video to become the most viral thing since herpes. (See, if I’d said ‘the most viral thing since AIDS,’ that would have been in poor taste). After viewing it, YOU get to be the critic for a change. Offer your honest opinon in the poll.
HERE’S THE VIDEO:
I created another version that included an alternate ending. Which do you prefer?
AND IN A RELATED STORY…
I’m excited to announce the launch of my first graphic novel, Night Cage! The premise of the horror story is simple: Vampires take over a women’s prison. Just imagine Orange is the New Black meets Salem’s Lot.
The project is being funded through Kickstarter. Folks who jump on the bandwagon will get a boatload of goodies and rewards, ranging from advance copies of the book and exclusive art, posters and T-shirts to a chance to be drawn into the graphic novel as a character!
Please check out the video out HERE, and share the news with all your social media friends!
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth