20 Questions with Director of “The Death Pledge.”   Leave a comment

Death Pledge PosterBy C. Michael Forsyth

     After an earthquake uncovers a forgotten African-American burial ground, a group of pledges to fraternities and sororities at a historically black college must spend the night there as part of the hazing process.  What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as the unlucky students discover that the vengeful, resurrected corpse of a murdered slave is on the loose—hell-bent on butchering them!

That is the premise of The Death Pledge, a new microbudget feature written, produced and directed by sci-fi writer and filmmaker Jeff Carroll, who also appears in the movie. I asked Florida-based Carroll 20 questions about the creative process and the challenges of making a film on a shoot-string budget. (View the trailer here).

  1. What inspired the story? My initial inspiration came from the discovery of the African burial ground under Wall Street in 1991.  I also took inspiration from the 1981 movie Hell Night starring Linda Blair.
  2. Your serial-killing supernatural monster Baba is a tragic figure, the ghost of a slave-boxer with a sympathetic backstory. What gave you the idea for this character? I was inspired by Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) and his visible presence, but the backstory of Baba was inspired by real boxers like Tom Molineaux. I also combined the boxing history with the process of slave breeding and the use of African males as “bucks.” I gave Baba a mask because I wanted Black youth to have a masked killer they could cosplay. I made the fighting system like WWE pro wrestling.
  3. Baba’s mask is strikingly different from Jason’s. What went into the design and who created it? I gave the colors red, black and green and a few West African mask ideas to my special-effects person Omar Sfreddo. Omar gave me a few options and I choose one that wasn’t exactly like a real African mask.

    Death Pledge Jeff with Baba

    Jeff Carroll directs his supernatural villain Baba.

  4. The character is reminiscent of Candyman, who had also been a cruelly abused slave in life. Was that a source of inspiration? Candyman was an anti-source. I have never liked Candyman as a character. I wanted to create a character who was Black but a masked monster like Jason and Michael Myers (Halloween).
  5. Honoring our ancestors is a major theme in the movie. Why did you weave that into the plot? In my heart, I am an Afrofuturist and when I saw all of these African burial grounds being discovered, the first thing I thought was I hope people respect the people buried there. The original tagline was “If you don’t respect the dead, the dead won’t respect you.” I frequently use fear to plant seeds for cautious behavior.
  6. You have a large cast of young people. Were these college students? How did you recruit them? What were the advantages of having such a large cast at your disposal and what were the challenges? This was my first movie in ten years and I took a lot of time putting together the shooting schedule. The schedule allowed me to manage the cast easier. I shot the movie during the Christmas holiday and most of the cast came from two colleges. The fact that they were college students allowed me as a director to shape them the way I wanted them. I found my cast in a variety of ways. They came from the schools and from casting calls I put out.

    Death Pledge cast

    The ambitious microbudget film boasts a large cast.

  7. Did you go to film school? If not, what training or background prepared you for making this film? I worked in New York in television and film for fifteen years. I took screenwriting classes at Gotham Writers Academy in New York and acting classes with Tracey Moore Marable.
  8. You incorporated illustrations in an ingenious way for a scene in which the students try to spook each other with scary tales. Why did you make this choice and what went into the creation of that artwork? When I wrote the storytelling scene, I used stories that were already comic book illustrations. I was inspired by movies like 300 and Sin City (originally graphic novels).
  9. What was your budget? I shot The Death Pledge with a budget under $50K.
  10. You ran a crowdsourcing campaign. How successful was it, how much did it raise and what advice would you give filmmakers who are thinking about using crowdsourcing to fund their films? I did a GoFundMe and I raised around $1,000. I didn’t do a Kickstarter because they make you set a goal and if you don’t reach it, you don’t get your money.
  11. What were your other sources of financing? I finance my films mostly from savings. The Death Pledge was the first time I took money from investors. I have a cousin who wants to get into film financing, so I took some money from him.
  12. If you had a bigger budget, what would you have done differently? I would have improved Baba’s costume. I would have added more special effects and tricked out the editing. And depending on the money, I would have tried for an A-list actor and some B-list actors.

    Death Pledge students marching

    Pledges are blind to the peril awaiting them in the old graveyard.

  13. What were some of the choices you made due to your budget limitations? The shooting schedule was the first thing that was affected. We shot in four days. It was tight and it rained two of the four days! I would have expanded the shooting schedule more but with fifteen cast members, each day was expensive.
  14. Why did you decide to make a roughly 90-minute feature film instead of a short? I wanted to put the film out into the commercial market and shorts don’t make the money that features make.
  15. How did you approach distributors? I flew out to the American Film Market in LA and had meetings with a few distributors. I also went to Walmart and hit up every distributor with a film on the shelf.
  16. A microbudget means a skeleton crew. How big was yours? I had a crew of about eight or nine people.
  17. You shot some scenes using day for night. What were the challenges of doing that? We found a location that had a thick canopy. The trees blocked out most of the bright Florida sun. That said, I wouldn’t shoot day to night again!

    Death Pledge Jeff costumes

    With a larger budget, Carroll says he would have spent more on costumes

  18. Instead of squibs, you used an after-effect to create the illusion of blood splurting from the victims. Why did you choose that and how was it achieved? I took influence from Nollywood movies [Nigerian] for that special effect.
  19. What is your next film project? I just finished shooting the second and third films in the Death Pledge series, Conjuring Baba and The Black Nun.
  20. What have you learned from making this movie that you brought to the sequels? The Death Pledge was my first time directing a feature. Directing The Death Pledge strengthened my confidence as a director.

Here’s where you can check out all of Jeff Carroll’s films  and his weekly blog.

C. Michael is the author the historical thriller Houdini vs. RasputinBasic RGB



Posted March 18, 2020 by C. Michael Forsyth in Uncategorized

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