Midnight Macabre (2015 / IMDb)
|Mother — Em (mannequin)||Writer, Director — John Johnson|
|Dead Guy — Scott Johnson||Camera — John Johnson|
|Dead Girl — Karissa Johnson||Editor — Scott Johnson|
|Makeup, Effects — John Johnson|
|Music — Chuck Phipps, John Johnson|
This film was a last minute replacement for a feature film we had planned to shoot. The original film, Hell Came With Me, had a number of locations and a large cast that took a lot of effort to schedule. Unfortunately, a day before we were scheduled to begin shooting, our lead actor cancelled. Arrggghh!! We were not able to generate another lead quickly enough to keep everyone’s schedule going and had to shut down production. Our first experience with that. Dangit!
John, always working on multiple projects in his head, came up with a simple story that wouldn’t require any cast or crew other than ourselves. The only trick was to find a mannequin. A quick check on Craigslist, a $100, and a 30 minute drive resulted in us having a beautiful full height mannequin that we could film with. Nice!
The general idea of the story is that we sometimes experience horrible things (abuse, abandonment, neglect, etc.) that are so difficult to deal with, we remove ourselves from the world at large. We cannot deal with the external punishment and the internal pain at the same time and retreat to a safe place by throwing up a protective wall. Internally we try to heal, while externally we are seen as cold and distant. This is a defense mechanism that allows us to continue on with the suffering minimized.
But when this pain becomes too great, and the wall is not strong enough to hold the world back, we snap and act out in uncharacteristics ways. In this case, Em couldn’t cope with both her husband’s affair and her step daughter’s refusal to accept her into the family. Em retreats into her shell, but it is not enough. Her worlds blur together. The film picks up with her recounting and regretting her recent actions.
This film was challenging to make. We had to animate Em enough to move the story along, but not so much as to make it comical. We had to minimize Em’s movements and know what shots she needed to move in. Sometimes the camera movement was enough to give her a sense of motion.
What was more difficult than initially expected was making sure that one of us was not in the shot when being filmed. It is amazing how many reflective surfaces there are in a kitchen! We shot numerous takes angling the camera to hide each other from view.
We also played around with lighting colors. We didn’t have any gels to throw in front of the light kits, but we did have actual colored bulbs to use. Most of the time the direct color was too harsh, so we had to place the lights way in the back of the shot. But I think it paired well with the decision to give a slightly cartoonish look in editing. Given that the main character is a mannequin, going cartoonish really wasn’t that much of a stretch.
We still have Em and keep her in a closet, ready for her next appearance. As with The Cleansing Field, we have discussed creating a sequel to this film that shows where Em goes after she drives off and who she encounters along the way. The thought is more appealing than a Cleansing Field sequel as it has almost zero cost and doesn’t require scheduling a large cast or crew.
This was our first film we thought worthy of a film festival. We didn’t know if it would get in anywhere and didn’t expect a lot. As you can see from the laurels above, it was very well received. It was submitted to eight festivals, accepted at five, and won awards at two. Awesome!
Two of the three festivals that declined the movie were international and we mistakenly did not include subtitles. We don’t know if that is the reason it didn’t get accepted, but that could have been a factor.
It was a huge boost to our confidence to have our first film submission be accepted and win awards. We know this will not always be the case, but we have since had more of our films accepted to festivals and win awards.