How Cynicism is Killing Entertainment


By "Six Degrees of Hell" Screenwriter, B Harrison Smith


This is an account of how "Six Degrees" got from page to screen. Hopefully it may be useful to anyone out there trying to find financing, get a good crew and do something other than another "Paranormal Activity" or zombie film.


So how did it start and how did we get it made? It started with the script. But that's where it always starts so we're not going to bore you with that. The next step was getting a solid director and crew. Without them, even if you get a celebrity, you have nothing. Do not buy into the belief you have to get a star first. While it helps and it you have a personal connection, go for it. However if you want to get someone to give you money to make your movie you need a solid crew that deliver one. The greatest star in the world won't save a piss poorly shot film.


After shooting "The Fields" I started looking to my next project. While "The Fields" is a thriller, I did not want to get pulled into the horror genre and become "the horror guy." However "Six Degrees" was centered around a local Halloween attraction, "The Hotel of Horror" in Saylorsburg, PA. It is formally known as "The Lake House" and was built in the late 1800's and since became a resort, hotel, restaurant and now a Halloween haunted house. You can learn more about it at the "Six Degrees" website here.


After " The Fields" I got a lot of requests from prospective filmmakers to make their movie. Sample footage consisted of: shaky camera in the woods, shaky camera in an old house, shaky camera in a mental hospital, shaky camera with zombies... Everyone felt they had the next "Paranormal Activity" on their HD camcorder and emails told me they had something "original and different" while following those descriptors with it being "the next Paranormal Activity."

Then in October, 2010 I got a Friend request on "The Fields" Facebook page from a guy named Joe Raffa. He included a link to the trailer for an independent film he just made called " You'll Know My Name."



Expecting more shaky cam stuff, I clicked the link and found the director for "Six Degrees of Hell."  To hear my praise for this independent film, see my review here. I saw a six minute trailer that literally made my draw drop and I knew two minutes into it that I had to get this guy before someone else did. The picture quality, the acting, the angles, the production value, the was everything that an independent film should be. Then I saw he wrote, directed, starred and produced this thing and my fingers started tapping back a reply.


Over the next month we cultivated a rapport to find out what was next for both of us. We exchanged scripts. Joe, future "Six" stars Nicole Cinaglia and Brian Gallagher came to my home to view "The Fields" and he left a screener of "YKMN" behind for me to watch later that evening. I was blown away by the fact that I didn't just see a sizzle reel of the best scenes in the film with his slick trailer. Joe Raffa reinvented the American Western movie and I was convinced this was a filmmaker whose name indeed would be known.


Joe got the script for "Six Degrees" in January 2011 and I asked if a horror film was something he'd be interested in. Talks were going with several interested private financiers and we might have a green light by the spring for a November 2011 shoot. He liked the script and felt comfortable making the transition from heavy drama to horror. We started discussing cast and came up with a short list of possible celebrity names.


The script needed the Hotel of Horror. The premise was simple: what if you paid money to go through one of those Halloween haunted houses and the people you thought were dying for pretend, were actually dying for real? The Hotel recently changed hands and the new owners were open to talks in using the Lake House as the main set piece for the film.
But we still needed the money. There were three budgets drawn up to fit two different versions of the script. There was the "plain Jane" script which featured a cast of relative unknowns and no celebrity talent. Then there was the "B" script, the one where we scored at least one major name for the film.
Make no mistake, you need a name. Unless you have a film that has a great gimmick or a major studio pumping millions of dollars into a hype machine ( Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch) your film will be lucky to see the light of Netflix for distribution. When we shopped "The Fields" for distributors the first question out of every executive's mouth: "Who's in it?"


We approached our financier with the two script plan. The financier was comfortable with either but felt better if we came up with at least one celebrity name to help sell the film when done. A good filmmaker wants to get their financier their money back. Period. You can't just get any name. Distributors and sales agents want names that mean something both in the United States and worldwide. Just because you have a personal star favorite doesn't mean it translate into wider appeal.


We did due diligence on stars that  have an appeal in horror. Horror is a tricky genre. Horror makes names, it doesn't really depend on them. However the horror market is saturated with product, much of it substandard, so getting a celebrity name to set it above the glut of horror films is important to a distributor.




We decided on Feldman because of his reputation for taking risks in smaller films and his pedigree in horror. Making his big, commercial debut as Tommy Jarvis in "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter", Feldman quickly became an 80's icon in some of the biggest films of the decade. His shining jewel in the horror crown is "The Lost Boys" Joel Schumacher's 1986 highly stylistic vampire film that built off the resurgence of vampires from 1985's "Fright Night". Feldman's Edgar Frog became a new pop culture icon in the genre that has made it to presently two sequels.



So all these things went into place just to secure the money. The biggest thing, aside from a celeb name, was a crew. Eventually it was decided director of photography, Charlie Anderson would lens "Six Degrees." Anderson served as cinematographer for "YKMN" and it was decided would return to Raffa's second film. Charlie's ability to light a scene and bring out the best in its color palette and overall look makes a 30,000 movie look like 5 million. Screenwriter and co-producer Harrison Smith wanted the film to have a look reminiscent of the old Hammer Films of the 1960's: rich primary colors, stark contrast and a depth of field that creates a unique look and signature for the picture. Anderson was confident he could deliver and the end result shows he was dead to rights.



The first time I met the main crew was one month before we started shooting. They arrived at the Hotel of Horror on a Saturday morning. It was gaffer, Kevin Martin who made the best entrance, and I quickly understood why he was nicknamed "The Jack Sparrow" of gaffers. He made a grand entrance, whipping his car from the road into the gravel parking lot in a choking cloud of dust while loud music pounded from the car. He popped from the driver's seat totally casual and announced he was ready to work.


Kevin Martin in background with Unit Production Manager, Chuck J. Stone in foreground.


Part 2. will bring on board the rest of the crew as the casting of the film is examined as well.





















Blog Stats

  • Total posts(36)
  • Total comments(0)

Forgot your password?