With principal photography set to wrap any day now on the production from Caliber Media Company, Sundial Pictures and Preferred Content, I can tell you that I recently flew to Southampton to spend some time on the set of Dark Was The Night.
Directed by Jack Heller (Enter Nowhere), the upcoming creature feature’s script, from Tyler Hisel, appeared on the 2009 Black List of best un-produced scripts under the title “The Trees”. The film stars Lukas Haas (Brick, Inception), Kevin Durand (“Lost” Real Steel), Heath Freeman (Skate Land), Sabina Gadecki (Freaky Deaky, “House Of Lies”), Bianca Kajlich (Halloween: Resurrection, “Rules Of Engagement”) and Nick Damici (Stake Land, Premium Rush).
“‘Dark Was the Night’ centers on the isolated town of Maiden Woods, where a nearby logging company has disrupted the balance of the life in the woods. From the frozen forest, an evil will emerge and threaten the local citizens; their only hope being the local Sheriff and his trusted Deputy.”
My flight from LAX into JFK arrives a little after 5PM. Aside from a muffin in the morning, I haven’t eaten all day. I know I’m staying in Southampton, but I figure it’s only a few minutes away from the airport and I’ll be able to eat soon. My stupid reasoning behind this? New Yorkers don’t typically have cars, but they do typically seem to “head out to the Hamptons.” Piece of cake, right?
I was wrong. It’s 40 degrees and raining and I have failed to pack properly so I’m drenched and freezing by the time I get to the car. And the car ride takes a little over three hours. The Hamptons are out there. By the time I arrive at the hotel I feel like I’m shutting down. I take a quick shower and head downstairs where I’m greeted by one of the film’s producers, Dallas Sonnier. The film’s schedule isn’t scarce on night shoots, appropriate given the title. It’s about 10PM at this point and we head to the restaurant where the cast and crew are having “lunch” (quotes refer to the hour of the meal, not the quality of the food – which was actually very good).
As I eat I find myself slowly coming back to life. Everything has been confusing for hours but now I find myself, fully aware, on a film set. And one that turns out to be a really cool film set at that. Shooting a movie is an intense, arduous process that tends to bring people together – but seldom have I seen a cast & crew as naturally familial as this one. They seem to have bonded over a genuine fondness over each other and the material.
We head back over to the church where production is set up. It’s a sprawling location with an exterior that looks appropriately gothic at night (hence the picture you’re seeing in this teaser piece). Inside, it serves as a production office, craft services, dressing room and indeed the set itself. It was actually a very cozy place to spend the next few nights.
But the details of those nights are off limits at the moment. Right now I’m only going to tell you that on set there was a lot of chatter about Tyler Hisel’s Black List screenplay for the film. It had actually been set up at a major studio for some time since it first hit the market in 2009. Both Sonnier and director Jack Heller tracked the project during its development period and were quick to snatch up the rights the moment they became available. A script that had been lost to an entity who didn’t know what to do with it had suddenly found a loving home.
It’s certainly one of the key reasons why everyone’s here. As Sabina Gadecki, who plays Clair, puts it, “It’s a horror film but it’s so much more. It could also be a Sundance drama. You really relate to the characters. ”
When I speak with Hisel about the project’s inception he reveals, “It’s kind of based on a true story. In the 1850‘s this town called Topsham England, this sleepy little town in the middle of the country, woke up to freshly fallen snow. And there were biped footprints stretching through the town. And people freaked out. You can look up the news articles.* So part of the idea of this was, “what would it be like if this happened in rural America today? What would people think? Would they think it was the devil?” That for me was kind of the genesis of it. And then we drew from all sorts of folklore, from all these different sources, to create this monster I don’t think we’ve really seen in American cinema yet.”
*He said I could look up the news articles, so I did. Below is a clipping from the late February 1855 detailing the phenomenon known as “the Devil’s Footprints”.
I talk with Kevin Durand (Sheriff Paul Shields) about his character, “It was all on the page in the script. It was so well executed. When you have the privilege of being a part of it, it’s exciting. You have a visceral reaction to it.”
Lukas Haas (Deputy Donny Saunders) echoes the sentiment, “It’s a cool character for me to play. He’s got a history, he got into some trouble and he’s decided to escape. And he escaped to this little town to try and start a new life. He’s basically just searching. He’s in the process of learning what he wants to be.”
And when I’m finally able to find Jack Heller in a rare moment away from the monitors? “This has a real strong family drama to it that motivates the plot, as opposed to the plot motivating the characters. With this film, I found something that I could tell as a complete story. It definitely has a strong genre element, but I almost think this film could survive if their wasn’t a creature in it.”
That’s about all I can say today. Stay tuned in the coming months for a much more in-depth report detailing my two nights spent on set. I’ve got full interviews with Lukas Haas, Kevin Durand, Heath Freeman, Tyler Hisel, Sabina Gadecki, Bianca Kajlich, Jack Heller and Nick Damici. I saw Heller orchestrate some very cool shots with their two camera set up. I saw multiple scenes evolve on the spot. I heard Lukas Haas play piano in the break room. I watched the film’s stars blow off steam in the hotel room adjacent to mine. I was a “scared townsfolk” background performer. I talked to the man in the creature suit and saw digital mockups of the design. And yes – in the name of glorious practical effects – I saw the creature suit in use.
But, for right now, the only creature I’m allowed to show you is the one I found outside my hotel room.
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