I’ve been a fan and supporter of independent film for as long as I can remember. One of the great things about independent filmmakers is they’re generally more accessible and passionate about their work than the big-budget guys. My first blog post was about one such independent project, L5, and I’ve kept in touch with Chad Burns, the man behind it, ever since.
Since that time I’ve befriended another very talented filmmaker, Jason Huls, who’s also President of Ten Wing Films. He’s been very generous with his time and has been kind enough to allow me to screen some of his projects like The Drone and the soon to be released Beyond the Basement Door. Jason and Chad met through another of Jason’s upcoming projects, Citizen in the Temple, and have since begun working together.
The two of them were kind enough to sit down with me for a pretty in-depth interview. We talked about Beyond the Basement Door and discussed various other subjects touching on filmmaking, fans, and the future of entertainment distribution, specifically how Ten Wing Films’ distribution model will work.
I’ll be posting a separate write-up on the latter subjects in the near future. Today we’re discussing the H. P. Lovecraft-inspired short film Beyond the Basement Door, which not only had me on edge the entire time, but really left me wanting more when the credits rolled. Check out the trailer then read on for my interview with Jason Huls and Chad Burns.
Alistair, a genetic researcher, saves his own life from cancer by making a pact with some dark and dangerous people. The secret lies with whatever is making the odd sounds in Alistair’s basement. The deal he made forbids him to go down there for three days…no matter what he sees or hears. His sanity, his life, depends on it.
The full film is scheduled to be released very soon and I will be posting an article linking to it when it’s released, so keep checking back. Now, please enjoy the interview and check out the links at the end, plus a special video “Director’s Introduction” from Jason Huls himself. (Like a Marvel movie, it pays to stay until the end!)
Tom Gardiner: You said Beyond the Basement Door was influenced by H. P. Lovecraft. Was it any particular stories or more his overall style?
Jason Huls: More so just the style, I would say. I think a lot of horror and a lot of role-playing games and the things that I grew up with are influenced by his work so it’s been kind of a trickle-down effect into my brain and I’ve always wanted to do something along those lines. A couple of my favorite stories are The Shadow Out of Time and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The Shadow stories in general, really. I wouldn’t say it’s one direct story as much as the vibe and the feel.
Tom Gardiner: How did you go about formulating a story like Beyond the Basement Door? How do you take an idea and turn it into what you came up with?
Jason Huls: This has actually been something that’s been on-going for a while. I designed the story while I was in grad school and so there were a lot of shifting priorities for different projects, but I’m an old-school role player so these kind of ideas crop up in my brain constantly. I don’t know if this is the sexiest way to tell the story, but I had an opportunity to obtain a budget from DePaul, where I was at the time, and it needed to be a project with a certain scope. Obviously you can’t have an enormous scope so it needed to be a small story and I wanted to tell it in a “Lovecraftian” type of way. So just looking at all the pieces on the table and making everything fit, that’s how this one came into being.
Tom Gardiner: You’ve got some interesting names in the film. How did you go about casting the movie?
Jason Huls: That has been an evolving process for years. The very first film I ever did was a feature zombie movie and that was one of those things like a lot of people do where you cast your friends and family. For Beyond the Basement Door, I actually met a guy, the lead, Steve Christopher. I met him because he’d heard of my first project so we started talking and I cast him because he’s a great guy. He’s a very hard working actor and I thought he would be good.
I was talking about casting with Steve and he said if it’s in the budget Daniel Roebuck (LOST) is one of his best friends. So a lot of casting on this one was Steve calling in his connections and going through his network. Nowadays if I’m casting something I’d really prefer to go to the people I’ve worked with in the past and look for referrals. You just sort of say, “Hey. Here’s the part I’m looking for.” If I don’t know somebody or have somebody in mind I put the word out to people I know because I like to cast from trusted sources. And, of course, there’s always Craigslist where you can do an open casting call. That’s how I met Chad, through an open casting call.
Chad Burns: What’s really funny is after I showed up for a casting call we began to discover that there were people in our circles that don’t quite intersect, but come really close.
Tom Gardiner: Getting back to Daniel Roebuck, he’s one of those guys who’s been in everything. More people probably know his face than his name, but I’m sure he’s most famous for his, to use a bad pun, explosive role in LOST. What was it like working with someone who’s immediately recognizable to just about anybody? He’s “one of those guys.”
Jason Huls: Dan is, no surprise here, just a total pro. He came in, introduced himself and shook hands with absolutely everybody there. That was really nice of him to do. It was a long day, we were there for 12 hours before Dan showed up. He came in completely prepared and completely open to collaboration. It was actually the first time that he and Steve were able to be in a scene together and being best friends I think that was kind of cool for them. Guys like Dan make my job easy.
Tom Gardiner: Dan’s a guy with a really recognizable face, but maybe not as many people know his name. You’ve got another guy in your film who has a name that just about everybody would recognize, although the face maybe not so much. You’ve got Richard Pryor, Jr., the son of one of the world’s most famous comedians. How did you get him and what was he like to work with?
Jason Huls: Well again, pretty much the recognizable names were from Steve calling in former contacts that he had worked with on his projects. I give him huge credit for that.
Tom Gardiner: So it all goes back to Steve, huh?
Jason Huls: In this project, yeah it did, this one goes back to Steve. Richard was a lot of fun. It’s sort of surreal because he sounds a lot like his dad and looks a lot like his dad. We had him for a day also and it was fun. Again, he came in prepared, no problems. He’s just a great person to work with.
Tom Gardiner: It’s a horror film, but I notice that it centers around a cure for cancer. Daniel’s on the cover of a magazine playing a scientist. Is there any sci-fi crossover or is it purely horror?
Jason Huls: No I think there’s a little sci-fi crossover especially when we start to reveal what’s really going on with the plot. Steve plays the lead character, a genetic researcher named Alistair, and is Dan’s subordinate. Dan fires Steve, steals his research and gets credit for it, so there’s some bitterness there. Steve has cancer and has been trying to use this breakthrough research to save himself. He encounters a roadblock when he’s fired and loses all of his research and funding. Then he has to make some dark deals with some dangerous people to try and save himself and that’s where the darkness starts to creep in. So there’s definitely elements of sci-fi, but we’re not talking space necessarily.
Tom Gardiner: I know you’ve done sci-fi because you were kind enough to send me a screener for The Drone which I thoroughly enjoyed and wrote about quite a while back so I knew you were into sci-fi as well.
Chad Burns: That’s the next film we’re putting on the site.
Jason Huls: We had a couple of showings of that. That’s our next big push, The Drone.
Tom Gardiner: When I watched the trailer there’s the titular door and there’s a symbol on it. Is that, I mean obviously that’s significant. Can you say anything about that or is that something that’s pretty much “stay tuned?”
Jason Huls: I would say there are a lot of open questions in this short. It’s a complete thought, it’s a complete story, but there are a lot of elements throughout that we use to try and hint at a larger story going on outside of what you see. That symbol is one of those things that we’re trying to make people go, “What does that mean?” To ask that question that you just asked. There is an explanation, but it’s not directly influencing what the story is.
Tom Gardiner: It sounds like this movie is part of what could become a franchise centered around a theme. Is that sort of the case, other stories in the same universe surrounding the same elements or whatever they may be?
Jason Huls: Absolutely.
Chad Burns: There’s a whole lot more “Dark Ones” stuff that could happen. Maybe not with Alistar, though who knows?
Jason Huls: The original thought process behind what this was going to be, and it still could turn into, is something sort of like The Twilight Zone movie where you’ve got several different episodes with all the stories happening in the same world. So there’s an overriding plot that’s occurring and you’re seeing little perspectives on it; little slices of life within it.
I think it would be fun to do and would also be easier for us to produce on our current budgetary level. And it would be easier to attract guys like Dan who just need to come in for a day or two to be a part of this rather than a month.
Chad Burns: We’re much more likely to get larger name talent if we’re asking them for a day rather than two months. That falls right into what we’re doing with The Drone because it’s the first part of what is planned to be a trilogy in that world. We’ve got the first one in the can, which is The Drone, Citizen in the Temple is in late-post and the third yet to be named title will follow. We’re hoping that triumvirate is that little slice of that world, then we’re hoping to be able to revisit some of the Basement Door stuff in its world.
Jason Huls: It’s a similar idea, what we’re doing for Drone and Citizen, that was intended for Beyond the Basement Door also. It’s sort of a series. There’s both practical and story benefits to doing it that way. So I think it would be an interesting way to work because in this new online era if we have a couple of installments we can say, “Well here’s our series” or we can package these all together and market it as a feature-length project.
Tom Gardiner: I’ve always been a fan of anthology type shows like The Twilight Zone that share a common theme or a common universe that don’t necessarily always have the same cast in them. There really hasn’t been much of that recently on TV.
Chad Burns: That was one of the big birthmarks of original sci-fi on TV. You look at The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, that kind of thing. Those really helped cement what the sci-fi genre is in video media.
Tom Gardiner: You guys have talked about projects coming out in the future and Ten Wing Films is getting a site redesign. What’s the best way for people to keep up with the progress of work, what’s in the pipe and what’s out there now?
Jason Huls: I would say the site or the Facebook page which we update quite a bit. I don’t know if you follow Without Charity, the documentary that Paul G. Lyzun, one of our other partners, is working on. He’s actually the director of photography for my project and I help produce his so I’m a producer on the documentary. We all sort of work together under the same name so there’s updates about that there. I would say the Facebook page is just as viable.
Chad Burns: We’re planning on doing a lot of con appearances over the next year. We’ll be at a lot of the smaller sci-fi cons mostly in the Midwest because of travel limitations. I think right now we’re planning to be at CapriCon which is in February up here in Chicago. We’re going to have a booth on the floor. We’ll try to set up some screenings and stuff. We’re going to, of course, have DVDs of everything available that we’ve got out and ready to ship for sale there. I think we’re going to be at C2E2, but I don’t think we’re planning to have booth space. Mostly the Midwest cons: Convergence, MarsCon, MiniCon…stuff like that.
That’s another way we like to interact with people. That’s one of the experiences I know I personally like doing, going to cons and having immediate feedback
Jason Huls: This is my experience and, admittedly, I haven’t been to big festivals like Sundance, but I’ve been to some of the smaller ones. It occurs to me that conventions are a much more social experience, a more interactive experience than a lot of film festivals are. I think that cons are an interesting place to meet because you’re able to talk about your work and show it to an audience. At film festivals everyone’s always in the dark room, they’re always in the theater. And, of course, you want to get them in there, but I think it’s a different way of looking at it because we’ve been to a couple of cons to promote our work and we’re the only filmmakers there. So it’s something we’re exploring which is why we’re trying to keep it regional right now and just see how that experience works.
Beyond the Basement Door Director Intro with Jason Huls
Ten Wing Films on Twitter