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Shriekfest 2011: Exclusive Q&A With Filmmaker Steve Gibson

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In co-writer/director Steve Gibson’s cinéma vérité-style indie horror flick The Feed, we follow a wildly popular TV reality series called “Ghost Chasers” as it is celebrating its fourth year on the air. To commemorate the milestone, the members of the “Ghost Chasers” team have decided to broadcast their anniversary show out to the world live from the (fictional) historic and haunted Brenway Theatre in Pennsylvania.

And while the very reason the “Ghost Chasers” series exists is to uncover true paranormal phenomena occurring at famous haunts from around the country, the “Ghost Chasers” get far more than they bargained for once they’re trapped inside the Brenway with true evil lurking in every corner.

In anticipation of The Feed‘s upcoming bow during the 2011 Shriekfest Film Festival on Friday, September 30th, at 8:45 pm (located at Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood), we checked in with Gibson to hear more about the up-and-coming filmmaker, what inspired The Feed and what’s next for the first-time director.

Dread Central: First of all, congrats on all your success as a first-time feature film director! Now, can you talk a little bit about your background and tell us what inspired you to go into filmmaking?

Steve Gibson: Well, I first got involved in production by volunteering at a local cable TV access studio when I was about 18. It was around that time that I got to meet a number of people that needed help with side projects. I spent nearly every moment learning lighting, EFX, audio, directing – you name it, which ultimately helped me secure a number of jobs creating corporate image videos and commercials.

As the years ticked by, I got to do bigger and better things, including producing and directing some award-winning TV shows, music videos and short films. I believe it’s my previous 20+ years of life behind the camera that gave me the knowledge to do a feature film with the extremely low budget we had for The Feed.

DC: Where did the idea for The Feed come from, and was this always a project you intended to do independently?

Gibson: I’ve always been a fan of the ghost hunting-type shows that you find everywhere on cable today. The biggest frustration has always been that these guys never really find anything! It’s always investigators walking around in the dark hyping up cold spots and faint banging sounds. For once I’d like to see something on camera that you simply cannot deny. It was from this frustration that the idea of The Feed came to mind.

The concept was first batted around as more of a music video, where the story would be told just through the familiar visuals of a typical paranormal investigation TV show. The more we talked about it, the more it started expanding in length. Living in the middle of Central Pennsylvania sort of dictated that we’d do it ourselves. Plus the strange weekend hours we’d shoot within meant flexibility would be paramount. It would be hard to do that outside of complete independence.

DC: Please talk a little bit about putting the cast together because I felt like everyone seemed very natural with each other. Also, were all the lines scripted, or did you let people riff a bit?

Gibson: The good thing about living in a small, close town is I had certain local people in mind as I was writing the script. You know, to give a face and voice to the characters. The hardest part was convincing a few of them that they should actually do it! We all knew each other for the most part so I assumed that would help with the way they would relate to each other on camera. This was really important because since the concept was based on a reality show, they should not appear as “actors” but as real people in a real situation. Only two of the people chosen had backgrounds in theatre, but I knew they could pull off the uncomfortableness of being on camera in a realistic way.

Working with mostly non-actors meant they leaned toward sticking pretty tightly to the script. On a few occasions we’d bat around some different dialogue ideas, but most of that was worked out before we started shooting. I knew that once we got to set we would need to jam through the set-ups as quickly as possible because of the limited number of hours each night we could shoot. Plus, being a very small crew meant that between shots I was running around re-mounting cameras and checking footage shot by the actors. This didn’t really leave too much time to discuss dialogue options there on location.

DC: Can you discuss what your production experiences were like and where you got your location from (loved the look of the theatre!)?

Gibson: All things considered, it was a great shoot. We filmed in the dead of summer last year with no air conditioning or fans (due to the noise) so although the theatre got really hot, we held up very well. The primary location was The Campus Theatre- an art deco, single-screen movie house in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The film’s producer, Jessica Paquin, was the theatre’s manager at the time so we’d always had it in mind as our main set. If she were manager at a shoe store instead, we’d have written toward that- work with what you have, I always say.

But since it is still a functioning theatre, that meant we’d have to wait until the last movie was shown before we could start loading in and setting up. We did this for about six weekends, working about five hours a night on average. On a side note, earlier this year the theatre went through a major renovation which completely modernized the lobby as well as altered some parts of the main eating area. I’m glad we got to capture how it looked prior to the construction because they’ve since repaired some elements which gave it that older, potentially haunted look.

DC: How complicated were all the camera set-ups since you filmed from multiple cameras, angles, areas, etc.?

Gibson: Creating this as a faux live TV show meant that two of our actors, Seth Drick and Sam Nelsen, would also be the main camera operators because that’s what most of those shows do. Luckily, they picked up the craft of camerawork fairly quickly, and we only had to re-shoot a few things here and there.

We rented two of the night vision cameras and bought a third for the high and wide shot. Having three cameras meant I could get the coverage I was looking for, but it also meant that for every location change we would have a re-set. I knew this would be the case so I’d written certain transitions into the script that would make sense to the viewer. I wish we could’ve rigged the whole place with cameras everywhere, but budget didn’t allow this.

Other footage, like before they went to night vision in the theatre, the news story near the beginning and the mock TV commercials, were shot using a single HD camera that I personally own. These days were knocked out sporadically over the summer with one or two other people.

DC: What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during the entire process of making and completing The Feed?

Gibson: Not having made a feature before, I was completely unaware of the vast amount of time the project would require after we’d wrapped production. It wasn’t so much the post-production side of things, but instead it became all about the festival submissions, screeners to reviewers, interviews, marketing materials, traveling, pitches to and from distributors, you name it.

On a positive note, I would say I’d learned that it’s more than possible to create a movie that would bring about positive reactions outside of the small town it was made in. We had a terrific cast and a small yet very dedicated crew that worked long hours in their free time to bring this film to life. I am indebted to each and every one of them.

DC: Can you talk a bit about your feelings on being an official selection at the 2011 Shriekfest Film Festival?

Gibson: We’ve known about Shriekfest for some time now and are very honored to be part of the festival. Being one of the industry’s biggest and most well-respected genre fests makes it all the better! Denise has been fantastic through this whole process and has been keeping us up-to-date on the latest news and opportunities. What more could you ask for? Well, I guess a win would be the icing on the cake, but the cake is pretty damned good by itself. It’s shaping up to be quite an event, and we’re all very, very proud to be included in it.

DC: So, what’s up next for you then?

Gibson: We’re throwing around a few ideas for our next project and will push development on at least one of them in the coming months. The Feed has been our primary focus lately so after our fall festival run we’ll have a better idea of which story to go for. I’m sure it’ll stay in the horror/suspense field since we’re all fans. Budget is always a consideration so we may return to online crowd-sharing for financing, like we did with Kickstarter for this project. Obviously it would be great to be approached by a distributor for this film who had the means to develop future movies, but we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime we’re just enjoying the response we’ve been getting to this one!

For more information check out the official The Feed website.

Shriekfest 2011: Exclusive Q&A With Filmmaker Steve Gibson

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