I had the opportunity to throw some questions at Erik Soulliard about the making of his horror feature The Creek, and independent filmmaking in general.
Mike: What are some of the difficulties of producing and putting out an indie horror film?
Erik: This is a loaded question. Part of me wants to say, “What part isn’t difficult?” It’s tough when you’re ultra-low budget because you literally beg, borrow, and steal when it comes to the equipment you need, the amount of crew you have, and the talent you acquire. We were very lucky and got some great deals on our lighting kit from WM Productions in Lancaster and Location Lighting in Orland, PA. I found that in order to maximize the money we had I specifically took advantage of anything that would save us money. This sounds like an obvious choice but in reality it’s limiting. The Creek was written specifically for locations we knew we could get for free. Some of the characters were written for talent we knew we had at our disposal. All these things can be restrictive.
Mike: From a director’s perspective, how do you get the talent out of the actors you do?
Erik: I found that casting was critical. If you choose well in casting then the job of directing becomes infinitely easier. We had a great cast and a great location. People don’t tend to need a lot of coaxing to be scared when it’s 2 am in the woods at a creepy cabin. My personal technique in directing is very collaborative. I would let the actors show me what they brought to the table first. At that point I would work with them to tweak where they were at to where I wanted them to be. Sometimes they would do something that wasn’t what I had in mind but it worked. As an actor myself I feel as though you should never underestimate a good actor’s instincts. They can completely surprise.
Mike: It seems as if most horror addresses moments where there are spiritual themes, The Creek is no different as we see things like crosses, prayer, and so forth. Why is that?
Erik: I think spirituality is just a universal human experience, especially when you’re dealing with death. A lot of brave men become very religious when faced with death. So horror lends itself to spirituality much more than any other genre.
Mike: What are the hopes for the future?
Erik: The Creek is an ultra-low-budget movie that we essentially made as our calling card. I am ecstatic that we’ve gotten it out there to major retail outlets, so hopefully we’ll reach the right people. Our next film 12 Bells is a big step up and we hope to find backing so that we can do the film justice.
Mike: The Creek has been doing pretty well on the indie circuit regarding film festivals and all; why do you think that is?
Erik: We took a lot of time in post-production to give The Creek as polished a look as possible. We did color correction, ADR, cleaned the sound, and all the little things that a lot of independent films dismiss. I think this helped us a lot. I also think The Creek’s story was a benefit. Most films on this level really don’t attempt to do a strong story. The Creek is dialogue-driven and not just a slasher film. I think that hurt us with some horror festivals but I also think it broadened the appeal of the movie to non-horror audiences.
Mike: What was the biggest challenge with The Creek?
Erik: The budget or lack thereof was definitely the biggest challenge. A movie takes a lot of people and we were lucky enough to find some very talented individuals for cast and crew. However, we definitely could have used quite a few more but the money just wasn’t there. Everyone did an amazing job filling the gaps we had in crew but I think all would agree that life would have been much easier with those few key positions filled.
Mike: You look like you have pretty good distribution for the film; how did you come about that?
Erik: Distribution was a long process. We were offered multiple deals but after researching some of the early offers we realized that those companies were not very filmmaker friendly. After sending out a lot of screeners we found our current distributor Indie-Pictures. They are a great company that supports independent filmmakers.
Mike: What should fans of horror expect here that they won’t get in another horror film; in other words, how is The Creek different?
Erik: The Creek is different from other horror films of its budget because it is dialogue-driven. Don’t get me wrong, we have a good amount of killings and blood but that’s not what drives the film.
Mike: You wear various hats, from writer, to director and editor; what was it like getting everything done?
Erik: In a word, tiring. Those three jobs are actually pretty separate because you write the script and then you direct the film and then you cut the movie. They weren’t really the issue as much as the producing and marketing. Marketing starts early with the website and that overlaps the post-production. Functioning as the producer on set while directing was also not a fun experience. It’s tough to set up a shot with the DP when people are asking you where the milk is and if we have paper towels. Despite all that, the shoot went rather smooth. I knew the shoot was going to be a mad dash to the finish so I tried to have as many things organized and ready going into it. This allowed me to narrow down the number of distractions that came up. Needless to say the next film WILL have a line producer to find out what happened to the milk. I did enjoy being able to write, direct, and cut the movie. There’s a level of creative control there that you usually wouldn’t get on most big-budget films. Although, it also puts everything squarely on my shoulders. I frequently tell people that the down side to it is that I have no one to blame. The buck basically stops here.
Mike: Special effects seem to always be a large expense of horror, yet you seem to have been able to get by on limited dollars. What were your thoughts in this during the filming process?
Erik: We knew from the outset that we did not want a solid ghost. You can do amazing things with good make-up and Final Cut Pro. We also wanted it to look a little more polished, so before shooting we did test shooting. Then we went to Michael George and Justin Harrell and had them show us what they could do with the footage. This allowed us to plan the plate shots needed and know what we could and couldn’t do within our tiny budget.
Mike: Not really a question, but anything you really want to say, go ahead and say it; I will do my best to get it in the review.
Erik: Thanks for the story! The Creek has gotten out there due to persistence and grass-roots support from horror fans and review sites. It’s truly amazing to finally have the film come out. Hopefully people enjoy the film despite the budget limitations. I’ve found that most people usually go in with low expectations and then we surprise them. Please note I said “most” and not “all.” Seriously, to have such a small film actually reach the mainstream retail market is amazing. We are very excited and appreciative of everyone who has supported this film.