For the last interview in our short film series for Indie Horror Month 2013, Dread Central chatted with writer/director Erik Gardner about his latest project Blue Hole, which has found much success on the festival circuit since its premiere at the 2012 Shriekfest Film Festival last October.
Based on a true New Jersey urban legend, Blue Hole follows Michael (Drew Wick) and his intended fiancée Amy (Caitlin Rose Williams) who travel deep within the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to a vacation cabin where he plans to propose to her. Upon arriving they’re attacked by a madman who claims an eerie pond near the cabin called “Blue Hole” can bring back the dead and soon, reality mixes with illusion as the lovers are left to try to figure out if Blue Hole is real or if the madman controlling their fates is truly insane.
Blue Hole also stars Jesse Kristofferson, Aubrey Mozino, Scott Speiser and Jennifer Ruth Jones and was produced by Gardner, Warner Davis, Brian Hillard, Rachel Kooyman, Chris Mills III and Diane Woodhouse. Check out the highlights from our interview with Gardner below!
Dread Central: Start off by introducing yourselves a bit to our readers- how did you get into filmmaking and more specifically, what go you into the horror genre?
Erik Gardner: Well, I’m originally from New Jersey and I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in making horror movies. Why horror movies? When I was about six years old, my grandmother took me to a double feature — King Kong and William Castle’s Bug which scared the shit out of me. I swear, I had nightmares for months. It was about radioactive cockroaches that would crawl on people’s faces and light them on fire. Probably not something you should take a six-year-old two (laughs)- thanks, Grandma.
And my stepfather was a huge horror buff; when I was in my teens, we’d scour video store shelves for new horror to watch on weekends. He was the kind of guy who would watch a zombie movie, then chase my mother around the house saying, “Braaaiiins!” When he was done, my New Yorker mother would catch her breath and call him a stupid ass.
So I went to film school in Philadelphia; the moment I picked up an old wind-up Bell & Howell camera, it solidified the fact I wanted to be a filmmaker. Actually, I started out wanting to be cinematographer. At the time, Bill Pope was Sam Raimi’s cinematographer and I tracked down Bill through Renaissance Pictures and interview him about the movies he shot with Sam. You know, I wanted to know how they did all those kinetic camera moves. It was awesome.
Once I moved to Los Angeles, I repeatedly sent my resume to Renaissance until I landed a gig on a Sam Raimi television show called American Gothic. The show was created by Shaun Cassidy; the best show I’ve ever worked on. I bounced around on Shaun Cassidy shows at Universal Studios for years and learned a lot about production, development and screenwriting. From there, I moved to MGM and worked there for very long time and while doing this I moonlighted as a horror filmmaker. Then I left MGM for a short time to make a little independent horror movie that Lionsgate distributed called The Mangler Reborn.
Dread Central: Where did the story idea for Blue Hole originate from? I’m very familiar with the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil but this seems to be a somewhat different spin on that lore.
Erik Gardner: Most of the horror stories I write start with a true story. I collect stories from newspapers, weird websites, etc. with the hopes that I find stuff that intrigues me. BLUE HOLE was one of those. It caught my eye because, of course, I’m from New Jersey and grew up around those locations. After letting the story gestate in my mind for a while, I came up with a cool spin and wrote the short.
Dread Central: Did you guys go and shoot in the Pine Barrens then?
Erik Gardner: Blue Hole was shot about two and half hours north of Los Angeles in a mountain town called Pine Mountain Club. It’s an amazing community of log cabins nestled within a Pine Forest. It took a while to find a good location, but I think we accomplished it.
When we first scouted the location there was snow. I was very excited. My mind thought- “Great! Blood and snow, that’s a perfect color combination.” But when we returned to shoot, it was 24 degrees out and unfortunately, all the snow had melted. It was a bummer, but you adapt. It’s really what independent filmmaking is all about. Use whatever you have and make it work; in doing so, happy accidents can and usually do happen.
Dread Central: Tell us more about your cast for Blue Hole.
Erik Gardner: You know, I’ve always tried to surround myself with people that I respect and love. You know, use friends and pseudo-family to make movies. And Scott Speiser who’s one of the leads in Blue Hole was my film The Mangler Reborn and we have a great relationship; he’s versatile and I knew I wanted to use him in Blue Hole. At the time, he was performing in Blue Man Group out of New York.
Drew Wicks and I worked together at MGM. He’s an incredibly talented actor who has been in a ton of commercials and television. I wanted somebody with a comedic edge and Drew was the perfect fit. Plus, Scott got to hit them with an axe- I knew I had to see that happen.
I had never met Caitlin Rose Williams or Aubrey Mozino before. After our casting session, I was nervous because I hadn’t landed my leading ladies so, I let a few email video reads and that’s how I landed Caitlin and Aubrey. Aubrey had literally just moved to California from Philadelphia and we were making a movie about the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which is somewhat close to Philly so it was kind of like kismet, right? Aubrey had never been in a horror movie, never experienced makeup prosthetics either but she has now.
And Caitlin’s video audition was awesome. She actually sent her video read in before we even had a casting session. It was obvious she was the perfect blend of attractive and tough which is exactly what the lead character needed to be. But at the end of the day, this cast was the best I have ever worked with.
Dread Central: After seeing the teaser, it’s very evident that atmosphere is everything in Blue Hole; how difficult is it developing that kind of atmosphere in short-form storytelling?
Erik Gardner: I wanted to tell a cohesive story in around 10 minutes and stay true to a mythology and hook but tone and atmosphere is everything to me. I’m not a fan of fast action and cuts in horror movies; I like to build that impending doom and create a sense of dread. As far as scares are concerned, I think of horror as comedy where there’s a set up and payoff; when you mix these elements together with great visual style, and an unnerving score/sound design, and hopefully, you’ve got yourself a creepy film.
Dread Central: You’ve had a lot of success on the festival circuit with Blue Hole– what’s been your favorite memory so far?
Erik Gardner: Strangely enough, I’ve never festival-ed any of my films before this. The festival circuit was a completely new experience for me so it was great meeting many incredibly talented filmmakers.
After having just screened Blue Hole at Shriekfest, an older man behind me starts talking to me about the shorts. He says to me, “Which one was yours?” I answer, and ask if he liked it. He starts going on and on about how cool Blue Hole was and then says bluntly, “It should be a feature.” So, I started writing one and now I’m writing that feature and dream of finding the right financiers to make it. It’s a bit bigger than the short version, but definitely sticks with the mythology and tone.
Dread Central: Are you working on anything else right now then?
Erik Gardner: I’ve written a new web series pilot called I Am an Exorcist; it’s based on another true story about an exorcist who actually killed a young girl and went to prison but of course I’ve taken some artistic liberties. There are some crazy twists and it’s definitely not your typical exorcism story by far. I’m using the same cast/crew. My producing partner Michael Alberts (he edited Blue Hole) and I have a budget in place and we’re shooting in a few months. Baked FX (Game of Thrones) will be doing our VFX and it’ll be my first foray into the VFX world. We’re going to shoot the pilot but also cut a short film version with a closed alt-ending that we can take on the festival circuit.
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