In 2004, my wife, Heather, and I entered the American Idol music video contest “Ford Casting Call” We had to sing and make our own video. We ended up winning the national competition, winning a new car and a video camera After placing in the top 3 in the nation the following year again, I decided I may want to pursue filmmaking. I learned the craft through websites like dvxuser.com and film contest after film contest, I made shorts until 2010 when I made my first feature film, Stricken. Since then, I have produced 7 feature films and shot and directed 3. I even produced the first feature for the two amazing directors who went on to make The Gallows. Altar is my 3rd feature as a writer/director and is my best to date.
What can you tell us about the filming process for “Altar” and where did the idea manifest from?
In 2011, I had an idea for a found footage film in the vein of The Blair Witch that would give large amounts of freedom to method actors, and would be filmed linearly (in order), allowing a lot of improvisation and organic honest performances. At the time, it just didn’t line up and I shelved the project.
While seeing my friends working hard on The Gallows, it inspired me to pull my found footage film back off the shelf. After rewriting it and changing almost everything, it was scarier, and much deeper. I wanted to create a Found Footage movie that could stand out. It needed to fit into the genre but buck some standard tropes like The Blair Witch, Willow Creek, or Final Prayer. I feel Altar does just that.
My casting director, Carollyn DeVore, and I cast from the Central Valley area of California “Valleywood” as well as Los Angeles “Hollywood.” I found the absolute best actors I could find who could deal with the grueling shoot schedule of method, mountain filming. The actors I cast are amazing. They gave 100%.
I had all the actors carpool up from Los Angeles and build their back stories. Because they needed shared memories from their college days, this worked wonderfully for them to establish rapport. After the 6 hour drive to the shoot, they had the perfect chemistry.
We filmed linearly, straight through the script. The actors slept in tents in the very frigid Sierra Nevada Mountains, and called each other by their character names. The only time they were not in character was for meals. Even after wrapping, and to this day, they have trouble calling each other by their real names.
Who inspires you professionally?
This is a question that I have a hard time answering because I am inspired by the people who have almost made it. I am inspired by the independent filmmakers who are never giving up, the ones who are persevering and growing through every project to become better filmmakers. If I had to name one, I would say Jason Blum of Blumhouse. I strive to create the best films possible for the lowest amount of money and surround myself with people I trust from project to project. I feel like he does the same.
There are some well shot frames in this film? What challenges did you face filming outside versus indoors?
Filming outdoors, while absolutely beautiful, also comes with some dangers. Our mountain shoot location was very remote. We had to walk half a mile into the woods at 7000ft, with no cell service. The first day, we were caught in a freak thunderstorm. We filmed some shots during it that made the movie, but also discovered some of our tents were not waterproof. After that, we were wet and freezing for the rest of the shoot (great for method actors right?).
Besides the weather, we also dealt with wild animals. One night, while walking with two of my producers to the vehicles, our flashlight beam strayed to the forest edge where a small deer ran from the light. The light then came to rest on a large Mountain Lion watching us. It slunk backwards into the forest. Needless to say, we were all spooked after that. During the rest of the shoot, we were stalked by a bear, had a bobcat try to cut its way into our tent to eat our small dog, and even had a cow eat my straw hat. Nature is fun to film in but definitely unpredictable. Oh, just in case you wondered, we all lived through the filming experience.
What are some of your favorite Horror films?
My favorite horror films are the ones that scare me by making me wonder what is in the darkness. The Ring, The Conjuring, What Lies Beneath, The Sixth Sense, and The Visit are examples of horror films that scare me. I definitely wanted Altar to make people wonder what was lurking in the darkness as well as the darkness inside of us all. The foreboding and imagination inspiring build up is the best part.
What do you think about the Horror genre and how do you think it differs now?
I feel the horror genre is becoming very saturated with content. As a producer, I understand this because people are trying to get movies made, get them out there, and make more movies, but something gets lost in the mix. I want horror movies that surprise me and inspire me. I think producers and directors can make films quickly and for low budgets while creating new and exciting worlds and stories. With Altar, I didn’t want it to become just another found footage movie. I wanted our characters to be rich and real. I wanted the cinematography to be beautiful and the audience to be surprised by the ending in a good way.
The cast in “Altar” did an incredible job, what was it like working with everyone?
My actors blew me away each day. They were professional, prepared and truly believed in this film. They gave everything they were every moment of filming, maintained a positive attitude, even in thunderstorms and while being hunted by wild animals. The reason I cast them was because they all had that special “something”… that “it” factor that explodes off of the screen. I felt audiences would relate to them, care about them, and want to know them more. They became like family to me.
Will there be a sequel?
Altar could definitely have a sequel! There are plans in the works to make this a possibility if this movie does well. Shooting found footage was incredibly challenging for me and I enjoyed every minute of it.
What projects are you working on next?
After Altar, I have 10 different projects in development in many different genres. I am also currently seeking female driven scripts that inspire me with the ability to be shot for low budgets.
I am currently an Associate Producer on the Alan Autry MMA film Victory By Submission (in post production), starring Eric Roberts, Rachel Hendrix, Lee Majors, and Fred Williamson.
Of course, I am also open to new adventures to direct or produce other projects. Have one? Let me know.
What do you want audiences to take away after seeing “Altar?”
So many times during horror movies, I feel like we all want to yell “Why are you going into that creepy building?” or “Don’t go check that scary noise in your underwear!” I think we somehow believe we would do things differently when, in reality, we may not. I wanted to explore what would happen if really normal people were thrown into a scary situation. Altar pokes fun at this several times and the characters seem slightly self aware of the movie they are in. I guess what I want people to remember is: If you ever encounter a creepy Altar thingy in the woods… for the love of all things holy… don’t disturb it.