I hope everyone had a fantastic Halloween and watched some spooky movies. Today we’re glad to put the spotlight on an indie horror film, ROWS from writer/director David W. Warfield. We talked with him about the movie.
ROWS is a micro-budget feature. Genre-wise, it’s thriller/horror, but it’s more art house than grind house, and mostly psychological in its impact. The cast includes Hannah Bernal (nee Schick) as Rose, Lauren Lakis as Greta, Kenneth Hughes as Mark, and Joe Basile as Jack. No “names” here, but all have done a lot of work in front of and behind the camera, and came from LA to work on the film.
I was able to pull in a few veteran filmmakers to put in key positions: Keith Weiner has a history of being a key grip on major features, and is now a lawyer, so that is a great resume for a hands-on producer. My long-time colleague Scott Chestnut is a film editor and director, but he wanted to do cinematography on this shoot. He is talented in this area as well, and always knows more than anyone in the room tech-wise. Whatever you think of the film, you must agree that it is shot beautifully. Veteran composer James Guymon provided us a million dollar score. The other senior member of the crew was our location sound person, Bernie Ozol. Julie Bent is an up-and-coming production design and wardrobe person, and Andrew Vona was our tenacious lead editor. We rounded out the crew with young filmmakers in various positions, as well as a handful of college grad interns.
The story is about a young woman (Rose) who, while working for her developer father, must deliver an eviction notice to an old farmhouse where a strange woman — a squatter — has been living. The house is to be bulldozed to make way for Rose’s dad’s new subdivision. The strange woman puts Rose under a substance-induced spell, which propels Rose — and the viewer — into an enchantment where time and the laws of physics seem turned upside down. Rose must find the inner fortitude to break the spell and save her father from the strange woman — who we might call a witch.
We agreed early on to use the Canon 5D DSLR to shoot this film. We employed accessories such as rental prime lenses, follow focus rigs, and a steadi-cam. We also built a semi-permanent 60-foot platform with speed-rail dolly track, in the middle of a cornfield, to capture the various tracking shots the story required. We used a simple doorway dolly. Chestnut constructed a number of 4X8 foot bounce boards, which were excellent for creating fill in day exteriors. Because a mature cornfield has stalks 10 or 12 feet high, it is basically a limbo environment—so we could do a lot of cheating with the extensive cornfield scenes. Our shooting schedule, including pick-ups, was 17 days. Audio post was conducted at Studio Unknown, an excellent full-service audio post house in Baltimore.
The film was shot in Maryland, outside of Baltimore.
ROWS was released in 2016.
As someone who worked in Hollywood for a bunch of years, It is incredibly liberating to make a film without the burdens of the conventional development, financing, and studio negotiating processes. The downside of micro-budget filmmaking is, well, micro-budgets. Filmmakers working in this way know that a successful micro-budget script must be designed for a very low-cash production. Multiple locations, large casts with numerous wardrobe changes, working with lots of vehicles, and unionized shoots are a few of the elements that micro-budgets generally do not allow. In that regard, a story must be conceived that can work logistically.
I have an artist’s mentality, which to me means that I derive fulfillment from creating things. Films are one of the things I love to create. Paintings are another. While I am great at organizing and planning and logistics, I would be a very crappy business person, and a worse accountant. I made this film because I saw an opportunity to pull together the necessary resources, human and otherwise, and because it is what I love doing. I guess they call that passion.
While the old barriers to distribution have been knocked down by streaming, the process is still complex and demanding. I opted to go with Nelson-Madison Films/Indie Rights for streaming distribution. While I have experience with theatrical distribution, in my judgment the smartest play was to work with Indie Rights to facilitate the deals with Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and the other meaningful platforms. The jury is still out on the “box office” performance of ROWS. Thus far I give Indie Rights good grades, and their extensive network and experience is very helpful. But the thing to know about distribution at this level is that the filmmakers could work 24/7 for months or years in promoting the film via social media. If you don’t have the budget to hire social media marketing staff, you have to do it yourself, and there are only so many hours in a day.
ROWS is kind of a weird film, and those who are expecting traditional horror tropes will probably be disappointed. Those who are open to the oddball construction of the film, and don’t have pre-conceived notions, are likely to dig it. In any case, I can say that this was the most gratifying and fulfilling filmmaking experience I have had, and I look forward very much to our next micro-budget endeavor.
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