With writer/director Samuel Gonzalez, Jr.’s urban legend-inspired short Woodland Heights set for its premiere Friday, October 11, at 9:30pm at the Screamfest Film Festival, read on for our exclusive chat with the filmmaker and star Arielle Brachfeld.
Produced by Roxy Shih from a script by Gonzalez, Woodland Heights stars Arielle Brachfeld (Chemical Peel) and James Preston and revolves around a young couple’s prom night which takes a bizarre turn for the worse. Based on the classic urban legend of “The Hook” and in the tradition of 1950’s drive-in horror films, the black & white flick’s tag-line reads: “There is no terror in the bang; only in the anticipation of it.”
Speaking with Gonzalez, he said of what inspired him to do a period piece, “When I was young, I would always search for films that allowed me to experience a new world or time period. Living vicariously through the period pieces of Spielberg and Zemeckis, my fascination only grew more intensely. I fell in love with the way directors would illustrate different historical events and believed that the best stories came from these backdrops. Transporting an audience back in time not only offers a wide creative spectrum but also allows for audiences to learn from the past.”
As for the material itself, “The story of Woodland Heights has been told over and over throughout the years, starting from young children, teenagers and young adults,” the filmmaker offered. “Over time the story has evolved to the urban legend we all know and love. It’s a story we all enjoy hearing around the campfire but often dread to believe it all actually happened. I watched several films that had created this story onto the screen, and many inspired me to write a new version with the original elements. I wanted to give the audience an experience that teenagers from the 1950’s had when they raced to drive-in theaters to experience it for the first time.”
We queried him on his working relationship with star Brachfeld.
“It was such gift to have her on my set,” he stated. “Our relationship was, to say the least, beyond wonderful. You never know what will come out of a relationship with an actor, and the chemistry is not always there, but from the minute Arielle and I had held rehearsals, we knew that the world I was painting for her to be in was going to come naturally to her, and all fears went out the window. My actors bring my characters to life, and I love them for it. I couldn’t have found a more talented and motivated actor to help me bring Woodland to the next level. Arielle has a bright and wonderful future in films ahead of her, and her passion alone is a driving force that will take her there.”
Chatting with Brachfeld, she said of her teaming with Gonzalez on Woodland Heights, “Sam and I had met a few years ago on a project he was the cinematographer on, and we had kept wanting to work together again but didn’t get a chance to [do so] until Woodland Heights. There are certain people that you just click with creatively, and Sam is one of them.”
“In terms of preparing for the role,” Brachfeld continued, “we talked about these older films like The Blob, Rebel without a Cause, and even Grease and about just harnessing the innocence of that era. It was wonderful rehearsing with my co-star James Preston and Sam! Fortunately, Sam encouraged James and me to take chances while staying true to that era of filmmaking. It was really enjoyable walking the line between staying completely true [to it] but also appreciating the urban myth for the fun that it is.”
As for what Gonzalez is currently working on, he concluded, “Since my return from the Iraq War, my dream is to share with the world the inspirational true story of my experience over there. The story is about five young American soldiers who find motivation where they least expect it and use music as a form of survival, touring Iraq to bring morale and camaraderie to the troops while living with day-to-day combat hell as the war raged on. I am currently in development on this biopic piece that is being turned into an eight-part miniseries produced by my editor and Academy Award nominee Billy Weber (The Thin Red Line) and legendary producer Edward R. Pressman (American Psycho), and I’m looking forward to sharing this inspirational story with the world and fellow Americans.”
For more on Screamfest, which runs October 8th to the 17th at the Laemmle NoHo 7 (5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601), visit Screamfest’s website, “like” Screamfest on Facebook, and follow Screamfest on Twitter.
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