Wake the Witch
In the early spring of
2008 our Nebraska-based production group, Unfiltered Entertainment,
Inc. (UE), was finally up and formally running. Made up of Chad
Haufschild, Andrew Johnson and yours truly, UE was created to give
our dreams of filmmaking a concrete footing, and we were chomping at
the bit to make our first feature.
Our objective was to
achieve DVD distribution with a feature length HD movie. Research had
given us a direction. We knew horror was a genre that would give us a
distribution chance. We were already planning the technical aspects
of how to produce quality visuals on the cheap. But the first thing
we really needed was a good story.
I was expanding a zombie
comedy short we had made, Manna for the Damned, into feature
length script. Andy was working on a synopsis for an animated 3D
feature. Chad was polishing a horror script titled The Last Ride.
He was the closest to going into production but he wasn’t ready to
set a shoot date. For a while he considered starting production in
the fall of ’08. Then he pushed it back to the spring of ’09. But
I didn’t want to wait that long. I was hot to start shooting
something. It felt like we had caught a wave with the creation of UE
and I didn’t want to lose the momentum.
Halfway through the
Manna synopsis I realized I was writing beyond our
capabilities (helicopters, explosions, SWAT teams), so I switched
gears and started writing a synopsis for a horror/sci-fi feature that
would be told from a first-person camera POV (this was
pre-Cloverfield). I busted my ass writing that synopsis and
when I finished it, I realized there was still no way in hell we
could make it. Once again I had written more than we could produce
—giant spider aliens, access to the Nebraska capitol. Who was I
kidding? I vividly remember thinking, “what story can we
I flipped to a blank
page in my notebook and started jotting down interesting locations
that I knew we could access, cool props or pieces that were
available. Within minutes the story came to me. We would make a
suspense horror feature about a witch’s curse. We would shoot
during the day because night shooting was more difficult to light.
I had been dabbling in
Japanese horror and was fascinated by the shooting style, which is so
different from the rapid action of American horror. I wanted to
emulate that style. It would be a good challenge for me as a director
to choreograph movement within the frame, and create suspense with a
The synopsis poured out
of me. I sold Chad and Andy on the idea that Wake the Witch
could be a good first feature for UE — an interesting story with a
small cast that could make a quality project. I finished the script
in July 2008. We decided to start production in late August to take
advantage of the fall visuals and finish shooting exteriors before it
The August start date
allowed for almost no pre-production. All we would have time for
would be casting, crewing and costuming before shooting started. The
final set and effects props would have to be built during the shoot.
It sounded like a recipe for disaster. Or a really crappy movie. But
I knew it wouldn’t be. I had a plan. A brilliant plan! I would
gather a team of producers and together we would bend reality to our
Chad, Andy, our friend
and fellow moviemaker, Pete Lipins, and I became the Wake the
Witch producer team. We split up the responsibilities. We
scheduled the shoots for weekends so we would have preproduction time
during the week. We made giant lists and pages of notes, gathering
people, sharing resources and information. Things began to slowly
fall into place.
Our first hurdle was
casting. Thanks to the Nebraska Film Group in Omaha, we were able to
audition a great selection of actors and cast the key roles in a
quick two weeks. Next hurdle: costumes. I contacted The Black Market,
a hip local consignment store. They agreed to style and costume the
Final preprod hurdle:
crew. The producing team was filling most of the crew roles. However,
we still desperately needed a makeup/effects artist. After getting
the cold shoulder from our first choice we turned to The Fringe &
Tassel, providers of stage makeup and costumes to all of Lincoln.
They put us in touch with Rose Staley, who had recently returned to
town from a stint in L.A with makeup artist Kenny Myers. She came on
board and the shooting began.
The shoot was such a
blur that it’s hard to remember all the things we learned. However,
two things stand out as I look back to that time.
First, when you can’t
pay people to help make a movie you learn to be a Zen master at
problem solving. Classic examples: our prop guy didn’t show up one
morning. Our caterer pulled out of the production midway through. One
of the art department members had a life crisis and had to step back
from the commitment on the set build. What could we do?
Most importantly, we
never yelled at them. We tried not to make them feel badly about what
was happening. (They were working for free!) So we sucked it up and
tried not to take it personally. We shot around the missing props. We
went to the local 24-hour Mexican cafe, D’Leons, to cheaply feed
our hungry cast and crew. And we worked with the artist’s schedule.
No matter what, we focused on telling the story in the best way
possible with the resources we had available.
Secondly, we didn’t
use typical shot lists or storyboards. I had used them in the past on
other projects, and always felt bogged down mid-shoot. But we needed
a plan because we were shooting for the edit, so we created a hybrid.
Chad, who was also the cinematographer, and I would visit the
locations during the week and talk through the scenes. We would start
with the questions, “is this scene scary?” and if so, “what
makes it scary?” Then we would visualize the edit together and
figure out the camera set-ups. I would draw a map of the location and
place camera icons on it with notes so we would remember on shoot
An added bonus of this
process was that Chad could rough-cut scenes during the week because
he already knew what the edit was supposed look like. It was a great
way to see if key shots had been missed or didn’t work. Our first
attempt at a scene where a character is attacked in the woods didn’t
cut together as we anticipated. It just wasn’t scary. But because
Chad could rough cut it right away we knew immediately that it needed
to be re-shot and were able to shoehorn it into the schedule. It was
probably risky shooting with only one way to edit. But I felt
confident that the scares were more intense and worked better because
we had collaborated and committed to them.
Production wrapped in
November of ’08. Post production was completed in October of ‘09.
Fourteen months after principal shooting began; Wake the Witch
was completely finished. Our next step? To seek the grail of
distribution through festivals and distributor contacts. Meanwhile,
we’re keeping the UE momentum going with preproduction on our next
HD feature, The Last Ride. www.wakethewitchmovie.com
the Witch from Unfiltered Entmt. Cast: Stefanie Tapio, Martin
Kenna, Rachel Lien, Karis Yanike. Pr: Dorothy Booraem, Chad
Haufschild, Andrew Johnson, Pete Lipins; Dir/Scr: Dorothy Booraem;
Cin/Ed: Chad Haufschild; Mus: James Oliva; MkUp FX: Rose Staley.
Image capture using
JVC’s HDGY-250U with stock lens. Edited in Adobe Premiere Pro using
Cineform’s intermediate format.