By JASON R. WALLACH
With a gestation period of seventeen years, Nathan Faudree’s new H.P. Lovecraft-inspired film, SITE 13, finally unleashes its eldritch horrors upon an unsuspecting public. The film is about a professor who goes catatonic for 10 years after having excavated the eponymous Site 13, one of the many portals through which an ancient outer god can enter our world if summoned. When the professor comes to and sees video footage of the doomed expedition, he has a desperate warning for the asylum doctors. The end is nigh if the coming of said ancient god is not stopped. From there, it is a race against time to spare humanity… though that may not be possible for “He is in the world!”
With SITE 13 now streaming on Tubi, RUE MORGUE recently sat down with writer-director Nathan Faudree and producer-editor Alan Rowe Kelly to get a behind-the-scenes look at the indie Lovecraftian film and its long, hard road to the screen.
Tell me a little about your background in acting, writing and literature and how these aspects of your life factored into the creation of Site 13.
Nathan Faudree: I’ve always been a fan of the genre. Sci-fi, horror, comic books and the like. I started in theatre because that was the most available to me in a small town in upstate New York. So when I went to college, it was for a major in theatre. But always in the back of my mind was film. I had been watching it all my life and felt like that was where I belonged. But theatre was the path that I was on. As I progressed, I started to get involved with indie horror movies as an actor and absolutely loved it. My goal has never been to win an Academy Award but to win a Fangoria Chainsaw Award. And I got nominated last year for a script that I wrote, A WOUNDED FAWN. But theatre and literature informed SITE 13. Literature in the connection to Lovecraft and his mythos that has always lived in the back of my head since I discovered him in college, and theatre in the idea of writing for limited locations. Theatre also informed SITE 13 because Katie Gibson, the actress who plays Katherine [in the film], was Lady Macbeth in the production that I had just come from.
Alan Rowe Kelly: Thanks for having me on board, Jason, and we’re so glad you enjoyed the film! I’ve been an independent film director-producer and actress for over 25 years now – primarily in the horror genre. I’ve directed four feature films, produced multiple films and shorts, and acted in over 40 features and some TV. I have screamed my way through many horrible onscreen deaths [laughs]! SITE 13 marks my sixth feature as an editor and one of the more complex projects I’ve worked on to date. It took Nathan and me about two-and-a-half years to complete, but we did it, and our heads are still spinning on how wonderful the response has been!
The production of SITE 13 spans seventeen years. Nathan, what was involved in bringing the piece to fruition? Also, Alan, how did you become involved in the project?
NF: I came onto the project as an actor back in 2003. Tony Urban and I had worked together on several projects, including the cult film Kottentail. Tony wanted to do a found footage film and turned to a regular stable of actors that he had worked with. We developed characters and mythologies. And Tony came up with the scenario. And we improvised the entire thing. A year or so later, before any postproduction was done, Tony retired from filmmaking to become a successful author and photographer. But SITE 13 was essentially dead. Over the years, I would talk to some of the other actors, mostly Kelly Ray, and we would talk about the film and the idea that there was something good in there. In 2016, I finally came up with the idea to shoot a present-day portion and use the old footage as flashback material. I approached Tony about the idea, and he loved it. He went and found the footage on an old hard drive in his attic and sent it to me.
I started working on a script based off what I could remember of the footage. We ended up shooting it quickly. Then post-production came, and we realized how much work we were in for. Luckily, that’s when Alan Rowe Kelly came on. He was just coming off promotion for his feature Tales of Poe and wanted another project to work on. I initially got into this because I thought it would be easier to only have to shoot half a movie, but we ended up having to edit three movies. The past, the present and then, the two together. And with a very low budget, we ended up just having to work a few days a week, taking the bus out to Jersey and such. Indie filmmaking is a marathon not a sprint. [Laughs]
ARK: I’ve known Nathan since the mid-2000s, and we always commented on how great it would be to work with each other. We both had supporting roles in 2008 in a gritty little horror indie called Pink Eye. I believe we met at the film’s premiere in downtown Manhattan.
I thought Nathan possessed such great “leading man” qualities and always thought of him when I was writing new scripts. He had moved back to Syracuse for a few years, and thanks to social media, I saw he was back in NYC and dropped him a line. We met for lunch, and he told me how he just completed filming the second half of SITE 13 and was combining it with old footage from an earlier short film as part of the film’s back story. I was very intrigued and quickly offered my services as an editor. I had him watch my current film, Tales of Poe, to check out my cutting style, and he brought me on as a producer-collaborator. Little did we know how this film would rule our lives for the next few years! [Laughs]
Using the found footage shot years earlier to propel the present storyline really serves the film quite well. How did that juxtaposition help you as an actor and storyteller intensify your performance and the project as a whole?
NF: Well, it automatically gave it a sense of history. Plus, the found footage is of an entirely different quality, which gives the film a new dynamic. We used several different camera types over the course of the production, from the original XL 1 digital video tape, DSLR, and 4K and we even used one of those original digital ELF cameras to shoot some footage too. All told, the different stocks really provided a dreamy quality [with the] goal of keeping the audience just a little off, working toward a sense of dread.
I’m glad you brought that up. Bringing Lovecraft to the screen is not easily done. You and your team did a solid job bringing the cosmic dread and overall feel of Lovecraft’s work out into the open with this project! What were your methods in doing that, and how did you approach the creature design?
NF: The initial idea, for me, was honestly based off a lot of Lovecraft’s story structures. His stories usually involve one guy telling another guy about that time he came across some cosmic monstrosity. So I thought the use of the video tapes would be a good contemporary analog to that structure. And you never see a Lovecraftian creature until the end if at all. But, when it came to the movie, I knew that we had to show something. The idea for the creature was based on those vibes. And I always responded to the idea of a large tentacled monstrosity looming over the city, but having it mostly be [an] eye, was to use that idea that it is always watching. Always being under the gaze of this thing that doesn’t care about you or even knows you exist, but when it does, you know you’re in trouble.
Alan and I had known each other for years, running in the same circles, and when I moved back to the city, I made it a point to get together for lunch. We started talking about the project then. Alan was just coming off Tales from Poe and was looking for something to work on. This movie would not exist without him. He came on board as an editor, and I quickly realized that he should be a producer as well. We ended up working closely for a couple of years on the postproduction, and his insights and ideas helped bring it to a level that I could not have imagined. And we make a good team, bouncing ideas back and forth and really digging in to find creative solutions to some of the budget restraints. And his sound design with Tom Burns makes the whole movie in my opinion.
ARK: I believe my ignorance of Lovecraft was an advantage. Aside from a few films like The Haunted Palace, The Dunwich Horror, Prince of Darkness and the Stuart Gordon adaptations, I was not that familiar with H.P. Lovecraft. I knew he was highly revered within the genre, but I was more of a King/Koontz/Matheson fan of horror literature at that time. Nathan didn’t press me for that knowledge either and simply let me study the footage and follow the story from there. The most important thing I did learn from telling a story with a Lovecraft vibe was that nothing had to make any real sense until the end. It was all open to interpretation, and he really gave me free rein to play with the mood, the scares and the overall image of the film.
Another gain was that I had never done a found footage film, either. Found footage can be amazing, but my one goal was not to make SITE13 just a found footage movie. I could see it was much more than that. I wanted to incorporate it as a character in the film itself – a catalyst to all that was about to happen.
There were also multiple technical challenges to overcome. We began this adventure about three months before the pandemic arrived and were immediately quarantined for nearly a year and a half. Eventually, Nathan and I were able to meet at least one or two times a week at my studio, and we just dove into the editing rabbit hole. The original found footage from Nathan’s earlier film was all shot in standard definition and his new footage was shot in HD. So first, I cut all the older found footage as one short film that ran about 45 minutes. This was the backstory to the movie, and even though we only used about 25 minutes of it, I needed the entire piece cut to guide me in the film’s narration.
I then cut the new footage as a separate film, leaving blank slates for where the found footage would appear for our three main actors to react to. After combining the two films via much editing trickery, I would look at sections and realize we need to shoot more footage! Every time I would call Nathan and say, “I have a great idea!” I could hear him die just a little more over the phone! So we shot another four days with the film’s original cinematographer Chris Steinberger, and that really helped to complete the film and add a more gothic flavor throughout.
Plus, living in the old Mill district of Paterson, New Jersey, was nearly identical to the old industrial areas of Syracuse, New York, where they originally shot most of the film.
I also filmed extra exteriors and segments of “bloody Nathan,” “madhouse Nathan” and even replicated shots of him from the found footage segments in the opening sequence where he searches through a book of sketches that he and I both drew. (I used to be a commercial illustrator). The opening title sequence, which goes for about eight or nine minutes, took at least two to three months alone to get it right. We manipulated all the TV and VHS shots to give them some age and played with multiple effects and color balancing so it would all resemble the same film in look and texture. Very tedious work, but it was worth it, and my editor’s OCD went into full effect. I never believed in throwaway shots in a horror movie. Every frame is there for a reason. At times, it was challenging, and there were many laughable moments where Nathan and I wanted to rip our hair out and throw the computer out the window. I believe this is standard practice for most editors. [Laughs]
Finally, it was time to ice the cake with sound design and music, and here is where SITE 13 really found its land legs. I had worked with horror composer Tom Burns on all my films since 2000, and he brings the perfect pitch and tone to every film he works on and perfectly adapts to all the horror sub-genres. Tom follows the school of Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann and Wendy Carlos. It’s always first class, and when you listen to the final theme he created for SITE 13, you’re hearing a beautiful culmination of all the films he’s scored before. Even Nathan teared up the first time he heard the score. It was the perfect fit after two arduous years of editing. Also, a lot of the choral background we used is Nathan doing scales into a microphone. He has perfect pitch, and I was able to manipulate his voice to suit many of the scenes in tone and underscoring.
Tom Burns taught me everything I know about music placement and sound design.
He even let me work on the sound mix for SITE 13, under his guidance naturally, and the result was Best Sound Design for us at the 2021 New York City Horror Film Festival. A huge honor comes from their amazing panel of diverse judges.
At risk of repeating myself, you two really brought the concepts and mood of Lovecraft to life. Would you want to return to that domain in the future?
I would 100 percent love that! I would love to get involved with SpectreVision’s proposed Lovecraft Universe adaptations. There is such a rich mythos there that is also something different than the usual zombie/vampire/demon thing. Truly disturbing and existentially terrifying. I think there are themes that resonate with where we are historically and culturally right now.
I would work with Nathan again in any film capacity. We built a very symbiotic relationship in that editing room, and by the end, we were not only finishing each other’s sentences but always in agreement to where the film needed to go and never let temperament get in the way of Nathan’s original direction. Lovecraft, much like Edgar Allan Poe, lends you tons of freedom for reinterpretation. I’m going to start reading Lovecraft and study him more. After SITE 13, I totally dig his genre of storytelling and would love to venture deeper into that world.
SITE 13 from Terror Films is available to stream now on Tubi.