While at the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival, this writer had the pleasure of meeting the cast and creative forces behind YellowBrickRoad, an indie genre film that ended up being one of the most buzzed about entries in what has turned into Park City’s true independent film festival.
What impressed me most about YellowBrickRoad’s directing duo of Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland was their passion for the film. Now with their Slamdance debut a few months behind them and their film about to play the also prestigious Atlanta Film Festival on April 19th and 20th, I thought the timing was perfect to talk to the pair about their film, their journey to get to this point, and what’s next for them.
Mitton and Holland met while attending school at Middlebury College in Vermont. Brought together through their mutual admiration for both horror films and theater, they found a kindred creative spirit that resulted in them collaborating on the script for YellowBrickRoad.
“Our goal was to make a horror movie you don’t see every day. We wanted to do something that was story-driven and gave us the opportunity to really work with our actors to develop great characters,” said Mitton.
The writer/director went on to discuss their decision to move forward with making YellowBrickRoad on their own terms.
“We had worked on the script for YellowBrickRoad for two years so we were very attached to the story,” Mitton explained. “We decided to go ahead and make the film because we didn’t want to wait around on anyone else, even thought that meant it would be a three-year-long process for us. We found our own private investors, assembled an amazing cast, and found our location in a remote area of New Hampshire.”
Holland added, “I am glad we made the choice to shoot independently because we really got to do almost everything we wanted to do with YellowBrickRoad. That may not have happened if things worked out differently.”
For those unfamiliar with the plot of YellowBrickRoad, it tells the story of Friar, New Hampshire, where in the fall of 1940 the entire population walked together up a winding mountain trail and into the wilderness. During their mysterious excursion they left behind all their worldly possessions and just one clue: a single word etched into stone near the forest’s edge, YELLOWBRICKROAD.
In 2009 (when the film takes place), the coordinates for the ‘YELLOWBRICKROAD’ trail head are still declassified, but an expedition begins in search of answers. However, the group gets more than they bargained for as their journey ends up turning into a descent into terror.
While setting a horror film in the wilderness isn’t a revolutionary concept necessarily, for both Mitton and Holland the location was a key element for the film’s success in delivering the chills.
“We wanted to have a movie where the location was just as much a part of the story as the cast itself,” explained Mitton. “We wanted it to feel like The Thing. We saw what that movie did with a very isolated location, and that motivated us as storytellers.”
“We ended up shooting literally in the middle of nowhere where we had barely any cell coverage and no Internet. We were entirely cut off, but I think that only helped the feel of the movie,” Holland added.
Mitton and Holland trekked out to shoot YellowBrickRoad with their crew and cast, which included genre favorites Anessa Ramsey and Alex Draper as well as up-and-comers Cassidy Freeman, Laura Heisler, Clark Freeman, and Michael Laurino.
YellowBrickRoad was shot during June, 2009, and both Holland and Mitton were determined to keep the movie’s momentum going full steam ahead. They had it completed in just a few short months, and by late 2009 they learned their determination had paid off: YellowBrickRoad was an official selection of Slamdance.
Mitton discussed the warm reception the cast and crew received when they arrived in Park City this past January.
“I think Slamdance was the perfect place to debut YellowBrickRoad. It allowed us to be a big fish in a very cozy pond, and we were in very good company alongside some amazing filmmakers. The buzz we got while in Park City really felt like everything was worth it in the end,” said the writer/director.
Now both Mitton and Holland have their sights set on the South: Atlanta to be more specific. The duo’s thriller will be playing as an official selection of the Atlanta Film Festival, which prompted Holland to talk about how his life has changed since Slamdance.
“It’s hard to believe we’ll actually be playing Atlanta later this month,” explained Holland, “but it is very gratifying to know how many people have seen our project in such a short amount of time and how much our world has changed because of YellowBrickRoad.”
Changes in their world include both Mitton and Holland fielding directing offers as well as weighing over several different distribution offers for YellowBrickRoad.
Mitton said, “We are still working on an official distribution deal, but there are several great offers that we are looking at right now. We do anticipate that fans will be able to experience YellowBrickRoad at some future festivals, too, so keep an eye out for those announcements. I would say that this is a really exciting time for us.”
“YellowBrickRoad has led to a lot of exciting meetings for us and been an exciting ride, but we’re now looking towards our next project, which is a high school thriller,” Holland revealed.
With the brand new horror project looming, Mitton discussed his thoughts on working in the genre that both he and Holland are fans of and why he thinks the timing is right for independent horror filmmakers.
“Right now I think is the prime time for independent directors to make their voices heard, especially with what horror fans only seem to get in theaters these days,” explained Mitton. “There is a great opportunity for filmmakers to make original films that fans are hungry for because of the remake trend we seem to be stuck in the middle of.”
“I know a lot of directors are worried about getting pigeonholed in the horror genre, but we think that’s not a bad place to be pigeonholed because we’re such fans of this genre,” Mitton added.
For more check out the official YellowBrickRoad website.
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