Some independent films from time to time make big names for themselves with groups of dedicated followers and a small but very loyal fan base. 2014 saw 2 films keep popping up numerous times over social networking sites and internet based horror groups. The people responsible for these intriguing pieces of low budget, high interest films are Director and film writer (and to many other jobs to mention) Adam Ahlbrandt and the ying to his yang, Scream queen Natalie Jean.
Filmwerk managed to get hold of both of them in-between their extremely busy schedules to get some background info and gossip on themselves and the films in question Crossbearer and The Cemetery.
How did you both get involved in the film industry initially?
ADAM: I have always loved movies and cameras. I don’t know that I’m involved in the film industry as I really don’t give a fuck about making money off my films… So maybe industry is the wrong term?
NATALIE: I came from a theatre and stage performance background, where I began helping produce shows with my ballet school at a very young age. That opened a lot of doors and taught me many things. Then eventually I started working in commercials, music videos, and TV through my modelling
When did you both start working on films together?
ADAM: We did a music video directed by Doug Sakmann together and things kind of snowballed from there.
NATALIE: Yup, we worked one and then a second music video together, Adam behind the camera, and I in my then-specialty role: video chick.
What are your main influences when it comes to film?
ADAM: Horror. I watch a lot of horror movies and dream about murder all day.
NATALIE: More than I could even list. But what inspires me most is what I ate up as a teenager (and still do): horror, old exploitation and grindhouse movies, Stephen King novels, dance, Asian action movies, the punk scene, and comedy.
Where did the ideas come from for Cross Bearer & The Cemetery?
ADAM: The Cemetery was initially a script I wrote as a serious, dark possession film. When our producers came on board they asked me to lighten up the tone of the film, the results of which are what you see today. I’d really have loved to have been able to make the film as it was written before the changes, but I’m more than proud and pleased with the film as it stands. Cross Bearer was the opposite, it was written to be very tongue in cheek and became very dark during the shoot. Mostly because of the environment of the shoot.
NATALIE: I didn’t end up on production on The Cemetery until after principal photography. I was actually a last-minute replacement for the initial lead actress, who had to pull out due to a family emergency. So I only had a bit of input regarding my character Andrea, and then as someone for Adam to bounce ideas off of later when I became a producer. With Cross Bearer I was co-producing right away. The story is still Adam’s, so my input mostly came in with the looks of the girls and other various characters, coaching some of the actresses, and doing things like scouting locations and running casting. And like Adam mentioned, much of the tone and some of the content of the movie came from the situations we encountered during production.
Both of these movies have returning cast members. How did they come to be involved?
ADAM: It’s important to be able to have a fun and productive cast and crew as production tends to be a lot of hard work and late nights. I try and work with people I know I can count on to give me what I need and perform a certain way on set. Keeping the same performers and crew allows a shorthand to develop and expedites production.
NATALIE: Yes, building a rapport with those I rely on for a performance or to provide reliable technical skills is extremely important to me. When you come across people you click with professionally (and it doesn’t hurt if you all can throw down and have a good time too) you just tend to return to them. And I usually have a good rate of people coming back to me, because they know that much like Anton in Cross Bearer, I don’t play no tip games. 😉
How easy or hard was it to secure financing for your movies?
ADAM: I had a hard time securing funds for both projects and am grateful to everyone who made contributions of any kind. It’s always a struggle for me to get a film made and ultimately I spend all my own cash and time on any project I undertake. My routine answer for how much any one of my films cost me is, “Everything I had”.
NATALIE: Getting funding is a tricky, unpleasant, double-edged sword. When you rely on others to fork over cash your intellectual property is at risk with people who may or may not have the slightest idea of what they’re doing but still want to call the shots. The alternatives are to fundraise or to use your own money. Like Adam I had to lose everything to get these done.. home, assets, savings- gone. But sometimes those gambles are necessary to make progress, and each project I learn a little more about how to get the job done better the next time. So it’s really a long process of trial & error, and there’s really no way to go around that.
Did you have financial backers watching over your shoulder through the whole process?
ADAM: To an extent I had that on The Cemetery but Cross Bearer was free of that sort of thing. I have decided to only make films where I have complete control from now on, simply because it’s how I prefer to work.
NATALIE: Like Adam said. And like I mentioned above, it’s a progressive thing, learning how to work your best with the fewest hands in the pot.
ADAM: It seems to take an average of two to three years for me to complete a film. However I never put a time limit on a film. It’s not done until I feel like I can’t improve on it any further.
NATALIE: Personally I aim to always work on projects that both flow and have intent; even then there will always be fluctuation in the length of time. When I’m working on someone else’s movie and I have a hand in production I will do everything I can to keep the timeline moving. When I’m talent I try my best to only involve myself with professional shoots or shoots that are moving at a professional pace. But as I work on my own projects I do understand that the quality and craft are number one priority, and sometimes that requires extra time. So basically that’s a long way of saying a shoot has no normal length, unfortunately.
Who do you have working on the effects in your films?
ADAM: On The Cemetery and Cross Bearer Doug Sakmann was the lead SPFX coordinator, with help on The Cemetery by Tommy Kollmer. Both men are amazing SPFX artists and I cannot thank them and their teams for all the insane work they’ve done for me.
NATALIE: Yes both guys are absolutely brilliant with effects. I’ve worked substantially more with Doug (who was also a producer on Cross Bearer and plays cameo parts in both movies) but Tommy was also great.
All of the effects in these movies are pretty gut wrenching! Which ones have been your favourites to work on?
ADAM: I loved the bone dagger gutting/heart eating scene in The Cemetery. Or the coke death in Cross Bearer. It was amazing to get to see the contrast between the two films in how the make-up and SPFX were pulled off. On The Cemetery we had an SPFX team and a budget for props and materials… On Cross Bearer we had Doug Sakmann with red food coloring and pancake syrup.
NATALIE: Not surprisingly I had the same immediate answers as Adam to that question ha ha. I really enjoy the scene in which my character Andrea rips apart Tim, played by Adam Huss. It’s an extremely graphic and primal scene, and I think it was handled in a really interesting way that prevented it from being cheesy or campy. And I do think the coke death in Cross Bearer is both creative and a strikingly sad and beautiful image.
You both wear a lot of hats when making these films! When do you sleep?
ADAM: Sleep was hard to come by on both The Cemetery and Cross Bearer. I’ve recently made a point on my last two features (Hunters and The Sadist) to get sleep every night. On Cross Bearer I was so sleep deprived that members of the crew kidnapped me and forced me to sleep.
NATALIE: I’ll be the first to admit my sleep habits are the unhealthiest part of my life. It becomes hard to self-regulate when you work professionally in the film industry because you’re either required to adhere to someone else’s schedule or you’re so needed on your own projects that you barely have time to blink. But I have gotten better at saying no to people and shutting off for periods of time, which gets slightly easier as your career progresses and you have people you can rely on to assist you.
How long does post production normally take?
ADAM: I answered the question before this thinking that post was included, so to clear that up I’ll say that I get very little time on set shooting. I try and do as much pre production as I possibly can to save time and what little money I do have. But days on set I get very few. I almost never get to have a blocking rehearsal with cast and crew before we are shooting. I usually average a feature in 12-15 days. Reshoots are sparing. But editing, coloring, sound design, score, folly, mixing, mastering, titling, test screenings, re-editing… These things can take years.
NATALIE: Post production tends to take far longer than principal photography. There are so many elements that go into all of the aftermath, particularly on the independent level. When there’s less money to hire skilled people to man the actual shoot you are sometimes required to spend many of your own man hours later on sculpting the final results. But ultimately it’s preferable to spend the extra time over sacrificing quality for convenience.
Once your films are complete, how do you start promoting the movie?
ADAM: I don’t wait until then. I’m a firm believer that marketing your film should be happening long before you ever set foot on set, let alone final picture lock. I personally try and begin promotion as soon as I lock the script. This is because I am my own studio so I don’t have to worry about people dropping out of the project or it being leaked and parodied before it’s release. I simply have to worry about getting the film made and part of how I do that is through crowd funding, which is in itself a great way to also launch the marketing campaign for your project.
NATALIE: There really isn’t a beginning or ending to that, especially when you’re building up your name or body of work. We’re in an age when we as individuals have a lot of power over our own careers thanks to social media and the internet, which I personally think is mostly a good thing. But what comes along with that is a call for a flow of compelling content, such that ideally will compel others to champion that content.
ADAM: I don’t try and get major media attention. I worry about reaching the people who support my work directly. I embrace and welcome traditional press, but I spend most of my time interacting with the people who are interested in knowing more about my work directly through social media.
NATALIE: I personally focus more on creating work I’m proud of that will hopefully draw its own attention eventually. That comes with labor (as mentioned in the previous answer) but if you spend your time creating and being diligent you won’t be able to stop media attention even if you wanted to.
Do you take your movies on the road to film festivals?
ADAM: I have, but now I only attend film fests and screenings if I can afford to without it cutting into production of or promotion of another film.
NATALIE: At the beginning I made a lot of effort to get to every screening and any horror convention I could get to. It’s a good idea to get your face out there, meet people, and stand behind your work. As time passes I still do love to go to as many as I can, but there reaches a point when you have to pick and choose, and try to focus on the ones that will help cover costs or offer to pay you to come. Getting a booking agent for personal appearances was a big help in still getting out there.
Do you get much attention from the big horror sites/magazines? (eg fangoria)
ADAM: I have been blessed to get some coverage from Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Horror Hound, Gore Zone, Fear Net(RIP), Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central, Ain’t It Cool News, Decibel Magazine, MTV and many other media outlets that I owe a great debt and thanks to.
NATALIE: I think in the darkest hours of trying to produce, direct, or make your own movies the fans are the most meaningful source of motivation to keep going. And we as a team have been graced with a lot of support from all those great circulations and their writers. As an individual I have also had an incredible amount of encouragement from those publications and websites, and I could never express my gratitude enough.
What are you both currently working on at the moment?
ADAM: I’m finishing up both Hunters and The Sadist as well as FILTHY music video and writing my second book Raping The Angels On The Streets Of Gomorrah.
NATALIE: I’m currently in mid-production on a feature called Ghost Source Zero, which is more in the sci-fi/cyberpunk genre, but still filled with lots of great gore and hot babes. It is written and produced by the creator of the GI Joe comic books Larry Hama. I shot my second short film this past summer which I wrote, directed, produced, and am currently finishing up editing to be screened in 2015, called Behind Closed Doors. And I just was on a show on the Starz Network called The Chair and I’m working with the producers of that show on some projects to be announced soon!
Will we see you both working together again in the future?
NATALIE: We still do pretty regularly behind the scenes, it’s never really stopped! In front of the cameras I would say the chances are pretty high. Tomorrow always brings new adventures..
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2986595/ (Adams IMDB page)
Also you can buy copies of both Crossbearer and The cemetery from the following sites:-