The process of making a documentary is always a bit more complicated that filmmakers let on. Through interviews and retrieved footage they must weave a coherent story that sticks to the truth and entertains.
Somewhere during the five-year production of the New England horror documentary, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, filmmakers Jessica Barnthouse and Stacy Buchanan discovered that they were wrestling with a very different film than the one they set out to make. Originally conceived as an exploration of horror filmmaking in New England, and the creepy region’s inspiration on the horror lovers who grew up there and stayed there, the doc has since taken on a life of its own. To be more accurate, it has spawned into three separate films, each with their own focus and story. Two of those films are having a world premiere at the Boston Underground Film Festival this week.
At the premiere on Sunday you are screening two separate films: one short and one feature. Do you think of them as a single film, considering they were at one point a single film?
Stacy Buchanan: This will be the only time they are screening like that. I don’t want to say that we felt an obligation to the New England piece, but we definitely wanted to offer that because it is something we have been working on through the entire project. But the better story came out of following Kip [Weeks] for an entire year. When we were doing test screenings we were learning that we had too many types of documentary all in one film. We decided to follow Kip’s journey. We think it is something that people can easily relate to, because in one way or another we are all struggling to achieve our dreams while dealing with reality.
How long have you been working on the project?
Jessica Barnthouse: The shooting itself was done in a little more than a year. We’ve been editing it, and reediting it in different ways, over the years.
SB: We have so many different versions of this film now. It wasn’t until we watched Kip’s complete film that I felt, “Here is our film.” We’ve been in post-production for four years.
JB: We’ve been consistently working on it for four years. It isn’t like we shot it in 2014 and then put it up on a shelf for four years. We’ve been editing, and reediting, and flying off to Austin to show it to people for feedback, and finding post editors and post advisors. It feels good to see the light at the end of the tunnel, finally.
“We didn’t know what we were filming, we were just filming.”
How did you connect with Kip and the rest of the interview subjects?
SB: I’ve known Kip for over 20 years. We both lived in North Carolina together. We would work on film sets together. We also worked in a restaurant together and became friends. When I left, he stayed, and we lost touch. We found each other through social media again. This was right around the time that Jessica and I were talking about starting Wicked Bird Media, and we were talking about what would be our first project.
JB: (laughting) Documentaries are easy! Let’s do a documentary.
SB: Right. And we have access to this great person who I’ve just reconnected with. It all just came together, in a very fast period of time. Kip was on board. This was back in 2011 or so, when there were rumors about STRANGERS 2 coming out, and we saw an opportunity there. Maybe he gets recast. Maybe not. Maybe there is a story there. We spent that entire year following him to see what would happen. During that time we were also following a couple other people, just to see what would happen. They all had different lives. We didn’t know what we were filming, we were just filming. Through that, we had specific topics we wanted to tackle. We sat down, and decided who the best person would be to talk to on those topics and started reaching out. Not everyone got back to us. I’m sure at the screening we’ll get questions like, “Did you reach out to Stephen King?”
JB: We heard back from Stephen King. He just said “no.” We heard back from Rob Zombie. He just said “no.”
SB: We heard back from Eli Roth. He just said, “Fuck off.” (laughs) There was only so much we could control. But without access to those names that people were expecting, it forced us to dig more and find the people who had the better stories. Brad Anderson [director of SESSION 9 and THE MACHINIST] sat with us for hours. He was full of information not only about what it was like to film SESSION 9 in Massachusetts, but what it was like to be a filmmaker during that time. When indie films were these darlings that people were just picking up off the streets. Filmmaking at that time was definitely different than what we see now. We also got to talk to people like David Gregory, who is from Massachusetts but ended up in LA. He talked about how difficult it is to make the kinds of films that he makes. We talked to nearly 40 people and then had to go through and decide where the better stories were.
Are there any interviews you filmed that didn’t make the cut into the film films?
JB: Oh yeah! We actually made a small series of shorts, based off the interviews we did, but didn’t he the rights to show the films they were talking about. We had some fantastic interviews with Pete Goldfinger [writer for PIRANNAH 3DD and JIGSAW]. He had so much insight and was really fun to interview. He’s from Newton, MA originally and went to LA to be a comedy writer. His writing partner was really in to trashy horror movies. When they realized all of those older movies were going to get remade they bought the rights to them. They made SORORITY ROW right away, and it was a decent success. And they only do horror movies now. He told us about going to studio execs, and going in to detail about a new film’s plot or character development. Their response was always, “Yeah, but what are the kills like?”
SB: The funny thing about his interview was that we went solely to interview his wife, Jennifer Jostyn [HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES], and he just happened to be there. He kept adding anecdotal side notes, and we brought him in front of the camera. We spent an extra 90 minutes with them because he had so much interesting stuff to say.
JB: We just couldn’t add him to the final doc. He had all of these amazing descriptions of kills in PIRANNAH 3DD. But you can’t have someone talking about it, but not show it.
SB: We are still working on tackling licensing. It is a very difficult process.
JB: They do not make it easy.
And now you’ve separated all of this footage into discrete films.
SB: We’ve taken the footage and story from Kip’s segment and made it a separate film. After the BUFF screening we are going to add more footage to it and give it a longer festival run, We think it is a story that people are going to want to see. Kip was in THE STRANGERS. He has since left LA and moved to Maine to run a family business. Our film is his journey to get back into acting, while raising a family, and running this business.
JB: It is the struggle to live your dream while also living your family’s dream.
What will happen to the rest of the footage?
SB: It will live online. We’ve already sent some of it out to our Kickstarter backers. We have a third film that we’ve pulled out already which is Skip Shea’s film.
JB: We started with one documentary and now we have three.
I actually interviewed Skip for BUFF last year, before his premiere of TRINITY.
SB: That’s actually a big part of it. We were there in the thick of it. The moment when he decided it needed to be made. The production of the film. We’ve got a great slice-of-life story there, which will become a feature. You are going to see some references to this in Kip’s film. You can see the relationship they have built over the years. There is a connection.
Has Kip seen the version of the film screening at BUFF? How does he feel about the project’s shift to focus on him?
SB: He has seen it. He’ll be there on Sunday.
JB: His story isn’t completely done yet. We are going to film a little bit more.
SB: I don’t want to give too much away, but we haven’t filmed with Kip in four years, and a lot has changed.
JB: It is a very genuine portrayal of him.
SB: It is. We didn’t mess with timelines or any events that happen; they are all in sequential order. It’s a common practice in documentary film to create drama. But we didn’t have to do any of that. We are pretty proud of that. He feels like we have given him a gift because we’ve given him this time capsule. We see his kids grow up throughout the year. And we are going to interview his kids when we go back.
You ask this in the documentary, but why do you think New England is so closely associated with horror?
SB: For me it is the inspiration you can draw from all of the history. You can look to Salem and pilgrims. It is all history and it is all creepy. I think it makes a difference if you experience it, and you live in these old houses. You start to feel it, and that makes all the difference.
JB: For me it is Stephen King. I grew up in East Tennessee. We have Appalachian ghost stories, so I don’t that that history belongs to New England. But the south doesn’t have such a famous horror writer. New England has Stephen King. Most of his stories are set in Maine, and he really draws inspiration from that. Salem witch trials too, but mostly King.
SB: And Lovecraft. The writers here get their vision from the landscape. You can’t deny that when you drive to Maine, and you cross the Maine-New Hampshire border it all of a sudden feels more eerie. The clouds look a little darker. The green is a bit more subdued. It can be intense if you are paying attention.