Wednesday, October 26, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Seneca Haynes ‘River of Dread’ opens on Halloween
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CHRISTINA O'CONNOR | Special to The Roanoke Times
Seneca Haynes is the writer and director of the film “River of Dread.”
For those who thought sci-fi B-movies involving aliens, monsters and cheap special effects were a thing of the past, there is much cause for rejoicing.
This Halloween, filmgoers will have a chance to revel anew in this peculiar cinematic genre as Fried Squid Productions presents “River of Dread,” a tale of four scientists battling mysterious radiation in the hills, showing at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. The film stars Dave Deshler, Deanna Nairns, Jack Bennett (who also edited and produced the film) and F.M. Turner (who also composed the score) and was shot by Nat Gaertner and co-produced and marketed by Amy Splitt.
Shot on a shoe-string budget in a week, the film was 10 months in the making. On the eve of the premiere, “River of Dread” writer and director Seneca Haynes shares some thoughts on the making of the film.
How did “River of Dread” come into being?
Seneca Haynes: When I moved back here from Chicago, Jack Bennett was finishing editing “Fool,” which I acted in. ... I also had helped him a little with filming.
I liked your performance in that by the way.
SH: It was an excuse for me to do some character drinking: “I’ve got to go act. I’m going to need at least three shots.” I didn’t know what I was doing, but I really wanted to do something. ... The first project I had wanted to do, I had gotten a job teaching in China and I had started putting together a documentary. I was going to film while I was in China and send the footage back here for people to start compiling, and we would have a sort of dialogue around the world. But I wound up not going on that trip, so I stayed here. But I wanted to do something, so in January I wrote the script. It took me about two weeks to write it and a couple drafts.
Why were you in Chicago?
SH: As far as my artistic work goes, mostly I’m a writer. And I really like working in theater. I write a lot of stuff for stage, that’s why I was up in Chicago, although I did more carpentry work in theater than anything else.
So for you, writing is the main thing, and film is one avenue of expression?
SH: I went into film because I like working with other artists. This is what also led me into theater. I wasn’t satisfied writing a story and giving it to people to read because I felt like it was sort of a false dead end. ... Once you’ve written something and you stop, it’s kind of dead in the water. Whereas if you write a play script or a film script and you give it to people, it takes on a whole new life. New meanings come out of it and new art is created based on that and that’s really exciting.
Film is the most collaborative art out there. It’s like, “I have a vision, but I will need to gather 500 people to help me get my vision up on the screen.” So it always involves the interpretations of not only the actors and the cinematographer and the editor and the sound editor and the set and costume designers, but a thousand other smaller players.
SH: I don’t think there’s any limit to how many people can be involved in one film.
Speaking of the people it takes to make a film, how did you find the money for this film?
SH: We had a handful of investors. We shot this movie on about $2,500 — to me that seems like a lot.
Yeah, but it doesn’t even exist on a film budget. Low budget is like “Reservoir Dogs,” which cost about $1.5 million.
SH: Yeah, we basically did it on nothing. Our largest expenditure was tape, which probably closed in on $250 to $300.
So all your major equipment, locations and talent were free, and you still spent over $2,000 after tape. That’s how expensive it is to do anything on film or video. So, stylistically “River of Dread” was influenced by the 1950s sci-fi B-movie, right?
SH: Yeah, I had been watching a lot of those movies. And “Mystery Science Theatre.” I love that. It cracks me up. I think there’s something truly valuable about films that take themselves seriously but aren’t at all. ... I thought it would be fun to create something that in itself had the attitude of being very serious, but was not meant to be taken seriously.
What was the production time frame?
SH: I set it up so we had a week to do it. Everybody took off work and came out. ... It was really fast paced and the days were really long, but it was so much fun because it forced us to both focus and also not freak out and take it too seriously.
Where did you film?
SH: At Mountain Lake, in Newport, past Newport on the Appalachian Trail, in town at the University Club, in Charlottesville on the UVA campus and we also filmed at Virginia Tech in one of the labs.
How did you go about securing locations?
SH: We never had a single problem in getting a location. We just asked, and they would be like, “You want to make a movie here? Awesome.” ... The whole production was like that. We never had any problems getting anything we needed.
How about post-production? How closely did you work with Jack Bennett during the editing process?
SH: Since Jack also acted in the movie, he was there for most of the filming. So in that aspect we did work very closely because he knew what I was trying to get at because he was under my direction that whole time. And even while we were shooting, we would talk occasionally about how we wanted to cut it together.
So aside from the showings in Blacksburg, where else do you plan to show your film?
SH: The day after the premiere, on the first of November, the movie’s going to show in D.C. And the next weekend, on the 12th of November, we’re going to be in D.C. again at the D.C. Counter Culture Festival.
Do you have hopes for it down the road?
SH: We’re going to take it to any place that will let us shine it on a screen. It’s the first thing that the production company has done. So it says, “Look, if nothing else, we can make a movie, and we’re going to continue to do it, and we want people to ... keep their eyes open for a Fried Squid film.”
Any new Fried Squid films in the making?
SH: There is. We’re in pre-production. It’s called “The Curse of Torbin,” and we’re going to film it predominantly in Arizona in Joshua Tree National Forest. There’s some prospectors and an archaeology team and an outdoor enthusiast are all out in the desert doing their little thing and a cursed artifact gets uncovered and a monster gets released from a tomb and a gigantic ego marches in and there’s just a big mess out in the desert.
What’s the goal of your production company, Fried Squid Productions?
SH: I wanted to create a company that will support my filmmaking, but one which, starting with the Web site, will serve as a locus for smaller budgeted independent filmmakers. What we’re putting together right now is a place online where any independent filmmaker can have a page on our site to post clips or anything related to what they’re working on ... I want to attract people to that, to encourage people to keep working and to produce and then ... every year we’ll take all the films that we’ve received and have a film festival that’s free to the public ... and the public will judge the films and the top-rated films we’ll put on DVD and sell them through our company at no cost to the filmmaker. So people can come to Fried Squid Productions and, I hope, over time we’ll have a huge list of films that otherwise you would never have been able to see.
The premiere of “River of Dread” will be at midnight Halloween night at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. An open-to-the public cast-and-crew party will precede the screening, from 9 to 11 p.m. at Gillie’s Restaurant. A sneak preview of the film will be at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the Squires Recital Salon at Virginia Tech.
On the Web: FriedSquidProductions.com.