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The Passion Project: Hardcore Indie

One year ago two directors and an actor connected via Twitter and came up with the idea to pool their resources to make three films they’ve always wanted to make. Oklahoma Ward and Nicole Alonso packed up their lives and moved from L.A. to Tulsa where they had an offer of land to build their warehouse to finally make the horror/thriller CRAWL that had been on their minds for years. For Oklahoma, CRAWL represents a passion project that has now turned into a redefinition of what independent filmmaking means, the idea of extreme independent films, i.e. a film with a budget of less than $5,000. For Nicole, the film represents a chance to have a lead role as well as creative involvement in other aspects of the process, such as contributing music, that she wouldn’t have in a more traditional Hollywood setting. David Baker’s plan is to take his drive-in horror movie SCREEN off the back burner and finally put it on film.

When I first met them via Twitter last year, Oklahoma and Nicole were already on Day 126 filming behind the scenes videos of the making an extreme indie film. Little did I know that behind the behind-the-scenes-videos Oklahoma and Nicole had joined forces with Scottish filmmaker David Baker, who they also met via Twitter, and their plan is embodied in their current Kickstarter campaign: The HARDCORE INDIE Documentary.

The goal: To bring David Baker to Tulsa in order to film his horror movie SCREEN at the same time as Oklahoma’s horror/thriller CRAWL, pooling sets and resources as well as actors. Simultaneously, they’ll be shooting footage for the “HARDCORE INDIE Documentary” with the ultimate goal of setting up a studio in Tulsa that will make and bring into the world more true low-budget great-quality independent films of all stripes. In short, the HARDCORE INDIE campaign aims to make three films for the price of one. In these ridiculous economic times, what could be better?

I’ll tell you what! CRAWL and SCREEN won’t be released in just any old movie theatre, no siree. Should Oklahoma, David and Nicole’s Kickstarter campaign be successful both films will premier at a Hallowe’en night double feature drive-in movie event extravaganza, October 31, 2011. Yes, you read that right. The films will be made and released within a matter of months and will launch this year. Boom!

I had a chance to chat with these three amazing people and aside from debating the value of Rob Zombie films and the role of horror in society, the overwhelming sense I got from these three artists is their plan to take horror back to its roots of great storytelling that touches upon the modern fears and preoccupations. They also have the easy familiarity of long-time friends and as I watched and listened to them chatting, I could see what a kickass team they make.

Let’s hear from them directly, shall we?

Can you each define how you approach the concept of “hardcore indie”?

David: Hard core indie to me is simple. The term “indie” used to mean something. If you spoke about an “indie” film twenty or more years ago. Now it means “everybody” I personally want to get back to the spirit of making films that really do stand out from the mass of crap out there. I want to do what Hollywood is not doing, and I also dislike what most indies are doing, which is trying to win awards at Sundance and various festivals. That kind of indie film bores the arse off me. I want to see “cinema”. New ways to tell stories, and reach your audience too. Use all the tools we have.

I was excited when I first saw films like “Reservoir Dogs”. There was a real spirit of indie filmmaking. But today, A lot of filmmakers get seduced by Hollywood and they lose that edge. I don’t hate Hollywood but I just can’t see why they can’t balance the two. I don’t want to be held by any rules. I don’t want to be told what I can and can’t show, and I don’t want to write my work so that I can capture the 15 year old market. I want to do what I want, my way. NO RULES! NO COMPROMISES.

Nicole: To me HARDCORE INDIE means getting your project done no matter what! Not complaining about what you don’t have or what you wish you had, just putting your nose down and pushing through it to get it done!

Oklahoma: HARDCORE INDIE is very simply an attitude. The term ‘Independent Film’ has lost it’s definition. A 16 million dollar movie can be termed ‘Independent’. My $5,000 dollar independent film The Isolation of Subject #136 would have been in the same submission category in consideration at Sundance with Moon. Now, to me, that’s ridiculous. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is termed an ‘Independent Film’ – Tom Hanks’s wife backed that movie financially. Now maybe that’s what Hollywood considers ‘Independent’, fine, I’m not gonna be able to change Hollywood’s definition of independent. So, for me, HARDCORE INDIE are those films made by filmmakers that don’t have Tom Hanks’s wife’s money. They have the drive, some gum, some duct tape, and a camera or a phone, or a whatever. BUT they have the drive and passion to visually tell a story. That’s HARDCORE INDIE. Getting it done and putting it out there.

What’s your background in the arts? What inspired you to get involved in filmmaking? How long have you been in working in the film industry?

Oklahoma: The arts have been in my life from the minute I was born. My mother is an artist, and most of my earliest memories are of her painting. My father is also an artist as he has always customized muscle cars. I followed step with the artistic gene and that path took me to the College of Santa Fe, which took me to New York, which took me to Chicago where I made a living painting and creating installations. Those three cities and their art scene validated my love for the arts. I’ve been working on/with film for 15 years now.

David: I spent several years in London pursuing an acting career. I went to the Lee Strasberg school they had in London, but left after a few weeks. I hated people trying to teach me how to act. I decided I just wanted to do it, so I acted in a lot of student films, shorts, features. I was one of those pains in the backside actors who gives suggestions to directors, until a director told me to “Go and make your own bloody film”. So that’s what I went and did.

Nicole: I’ve been into performing since I was very young. I started dance classes at the age of six and have loved being on stage ever since. I did plays all through middle school and high school, and as soon as I graduated I started to pursue my acting career. Oddly enough, my first step was to work at one of the top talent agencies in Los Angeles. I knew I needed to get an agent at some point, and I wanted an inside view of how that works. I worked there for a year before leaving to begin auditioning for roles. The first film I auditioned for was Oklahoma’s film The Isolation of Subject #136 and needless to say I got the part! 🙂

There is something about being on set, or on a stage, or in a recording studio that drives me more than anything I’ve ever done. I love it to the core, and I’m willing to give everything to be able to pursue this dream.

Oklahoma and David: Can you tell me about previous films you’ve directed and what those processes entailed? Were those also extreme indie films or did you have studio backing?

David: I went all over the world to try and get the money for “Pasty Faces“, a silly caper comedy about a gang of out of work Scots actors who go to the USA to try and get work. The film was made by the producer of “Hellraiser”, and financed by the executive producer of Guy Ritchie’s “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barells” and “Snatch”. A top international sales agent was also on board, and a UK distributor pre-financed half of the movies budget. I then shot the film in Scotland, LA, and Las Vegas. It was a bad experience. Too many voices. But it was my film school!

I’ve also made a film called “Mission X” about a documentary filmmaker making a film about war who ends up going out on a mission with a gang of mercenaries ,which is currently in the remaking process and I hope to have that one finished by the end of 2012.

Oklahoma: The Isolation of Subject of Subject #136 has not been seen by anyone yet, and thus will be brand spanking new for viewers when it is released after the horror film CRAWL is released. (Small secret here – five minutes of Isolation will be exclusively seen by all backers of the Kickstarter campaign for HARDCORE INDIE.)

Oklahoma and Nicole: What was it that prompted you to drop everything in California and move to Tulsa for CRAWL? Was it an accumulation of things or was there an event that spearheaded the project?

Nicole: Well – there were a couple reasons. We knew it was going to take us a several months (maybe more) to get CRAWL done, and being independent we couldn’t afford to pay rent for our apartment in California and afford to make CRAWL. Also, we had an offer of a free place to stay with plenty of land and places to film, so that was a big influence.

Oklahoma: Hollywood has a way of beating filmmakers down, especially independent filmmakers, in this way: If you’re not making a multi-million dollar film in Hollywood, you’re not making a movie. And, I was surprised at how easy, after a few years of being around people like that, I started to buy into it. It wasn’t until I saw David Baker’s video, where David was speaking very honestly into a phone camera in the middle of a park, leaned up against a tree, by himself, in the snow, and stating “Screw it – I’m making another movie this year.” And I thought, “Yes! He’s got it! He knows it! The “it” is Nobody can keep me from making a movie.” Yes, it is true that an independent film that is not backed by money, noted talent or a studio stands very little chance in getting noticed by a distribution company that will spend the money to get that movie in front of an audience. But, they still can’t keep you from making a movie. So I wanted to get out of Hollywood and get to a place where people were excited to get something done, to film something, to make a movie, whether or not Viggo Mortensen was starring in it.

Nicole: I’ve seen your scenes from “CRAWL” and I’m wondering if you are claustrophobic, or becoming so while filming? I am terrified of small spaces (I almost had several panic attacks the first time I watched “The Descent”) and I must admit I get really stressed watching you crawl through that pipe. How do you cope?

I’ve actually gotten this question a couple times after people watched the Teaser. I’m not claustrophobic. Since I was a kid  I’ve always loved hiding in small spaces, making tents, hiding under the bed. I was a master at hide and seek. However, there is something about getting in that small tunnel and looking forward, and seeing how far you have to go that is creepy. Filming that first teaser I got a little panicked towards the middle of the tunnel, but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t trapped, there was an end to the tunnel, and there was plenty of air to breathe. But I do think this movie will make a lot of people uncomfortable in the good, horror movie type of way.

David: Your proposed film SCREEN (which sounds fantastic, by the way!) is about a group of kids going to a drive-in movie. I’ve always thought this was a very American thing. Are there drive-ins in Scotland? Or did the idea for this film spring from the plan to make a movie in Tulsa with Oak and Nikki?

We have no drive-in’s in the UK. The idea came to me in a pub in Scotland. I had just watched a ton of horror movies for about six months, and thought I could come up with a better one. The concept pitch came into my head within a few minutes, then the story developed over six months. The idea behind this film is to tap into the psyche of current fears. SCREEN is about a group of kids found dead in a drive-in and going backwards to try figure out what they saw on the screen that killed them. These days everything is about screens, computers, TVs, and I want to tap into what is scary about this.

Oklahoma and Nicole, what inspired you both to start documenting the process of making an indie film right from the beginning?

Nicole: Well, we noticed through social media that there were a lot of people out there talking about the how to’s of filmmaking, but very few actually doing it. So we decided the best way to show people was to just get on with it and they could watch videos of filmmakers actually making a film instead of just talking about it online.

Oklahoma: I think social media is the absolute savior for independent filmmakers. What I don’t like about social media is you can’t go on social media and say “The sky is blue” without 100 people wanting to argue what shade of blue the sky is. So I noticed tons of people screaming “You have to do this,  you have to do that, it has to be done this way” when talking about making a movie. When I did some research on these people I noticed the vast majority of them didn’t have a movie to their credit. I decided to hell with all these people screaming ‘It has to be done this way, it has to be done that way’. I’ll just show them one way. What worked, what doesn’t work, on the making of this movie.

Plus, it was very creatively satisfying to be able to create and put something out every week. I find that if artists are not creating something at least once a week they tend to get depressed and down on themselves. Creating something and putting it out always validates an artist within him or herself. It’s grand self medication/therapy.

Nicole: I loved the video of you going through your character notebook for how you prepare for a role. What film and which actress are your biggest inspirations for CRAWL?

Yes! This has got to be my favorite question I’ve gotten to date. I am HUGELY inspired by other actors. I am absolutely obsessed with movies. One of the first things Oklahoma did when he told me I was going to play this role was give me a list of film/actors in those films that he wanted me to watch. So far my favorites/biggest influences off that list are as follow:
1. Sigourney Weaver/Ripley in Alien
2. Noomi Rapace/Lisbeth in The Dragon tattoo series
3. Keira Knightly/Domino Harvey in Domino
There were other films on the list like G.I. Jane and High Tension,  which also helped, but those three really shook me to the core. I could literally get into this conversation for an hour, so I’ll just say that I will definitely be pulling from all of them when it comes to my role in CRAWL. 🙂

David: Why is the HARDCORE INDIE documentary a cornerstone of this Kickstarter project?

The reason I want to make “HARDCORE INDIE” [the documentary] is because I think it will be a great universal story of these two filmmakers meeting via social media from opposites sides of the world, then coming together to kickstart a company. If we pull off these two movies (Which we will if I can get there), and we do our distribution tour, then “HARDCORE INDIE” will be a movie on its own. I also want it to appeal to a universal audience, in the way that “Anvil” didn’t just appeal to heavy metal fans.

Oklahoma: Where will the Hardcore Indie Studio be located? Will you be able to set one up in the UK as well?

That depends on if this campaign is successful or not. If this campaign is successful that gets us to the next step, which is building this studio here in the state of Oklahoma. The next step would be Santa Fe, New Mexico. From there, it’s open, but it all comes down to this campaign.

It’s totally cheesy but I have to ask, what’s your favourite scary movie?

Nicole: As I mentioned before the ones I’m drawing from the most at the moment are Alien, High Tension and The Girl WIth The Dragon Tattoo. [After a bit of cajoling in which I rephrased the question as “What’s your go-to scary movie?”] Silence of the Lambs and Zombieland. I’m also a big fan of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects and his Halloween remakes. I also love this show called I Survived, which is basically about real people who survive the most horrible things you can imagine. This one episode was about a man who dressed in a ninja outfit and hid in a woman’s attic for a month. One day she was in the shower and the dude attacked her with an axe and put it through her head. He even stomped on it to make sure it really got in there. AND SHE SURVIVED! She’s sitting there talking about it! You couldn’t even put that in a movie because everyone would be like, “Pffft. That could never happen.” But it did!

Oklahoma: If I were on a desert island the one scary movie I’d take is Alien. No contest. The film is subtle, strong, it has beautiful acting and the best part is how grounded in reality the film is. The characters don’t have superpowers or superstrength, they have to use their brains to figure it all out. I also love classic horror like Hitchcock and anything Kubrick. I recently watched The Serbian Film and while it is not a movie I will ever watch again, it is a great horror movie in that there were no holds barred. The acting was excellent and they absolutely broke every taboo possible.

David: I like the horror genre but I’m not a HUGE fan of most horror movies.  [FOR SHAME ;-)] I’ve always loved genre films like sci-fi and westerns more than horror. But I would have to say my favourite horror movie is the British film “Peeping Tom”. Last year I spent about 6 months watching horror movie after horror movie and I found there to be a real lack in variation. Plus I just don’t scare that easily. Like that Paranormal Activity. I’m not scared of a bunch of chairs moving around. [To which I asked, “So, David, what does scare you?”] The world terrifies me. Every day what’s on the news. Governments scare me. These people who could control the web.  The horror movies I always appreciated the most are the ones where it’s people who are the monsters.

I must admit, I was very sad to say goodbye to these three creative forces. Their rapport is the easy friendship of people who have known each other for a long time, even though technically they’ve only been friends for a year and not even met physically in person yet. I was also energized by the feeling that these filmmakers are interested in going back to the roots of great storytelling rather than relying on cheap tricks and new ways to torture the characters. I kept thinking to myself that their goal is to make exactly the kinds of films I and so many others want to watch. The fact that the movies in the pipeline are horror films is icing on the cake.

Let’s hear your thoughts on indie film and horror in the comments below! And please donate to their campaign if you can. No contribution is too small. 😉

2 thoughts on “The Passion Project: Hardcore Indie

  1. This is a great project well worth supporting. I’m looking forward to the videos of the process on the backers pages.

    1. I agree, Graham! I am so inspired by these three and their vision for the future of independent filmmaking.

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