2022 / 94 mins
murder

The Story

We started on this film three years ago (2020). John was already coming up with the basic story while we were finishing up our last film, Flesher. Although the two of us spent many years living in east Texas towns, John was unlucky enough to have done this during his elementary and middle school years. Anyone who has spent time as a teenager in a small town knows there are always two groups of people: the popular rich kids...and everyone else. This story is based on John's experience as a teenager in Texas. You can probably guess which group he was not a part of.

The movie presents itself as a whodunit story, in the same vein as Knives Out; it's less about who did it and more about what happens when the head of the family is gone. While our film is not really about the inheritance, it does show how relationships can change and people's interactions become chaotic. Knives Out focuses on a single family. The Radcliffes expands the story to encompass a small fictitious town in Texas. Like a John Hughes film, we have representative characters from a variety of groups: rich kids, mean girls, jocks, nerds, and punks.

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Pre-Production

While we try to push ourselves with each new film, this project truly was leaps and bounds larger than our last. Flesher had a few main characters, one primary filming location, and only one side story. The Radcliffes, by comparison, had double the budget, filmed in multiple states, required twenty or so main characters, and had at least five story lines to weave together. There really is no comparison.

We were extremely lucky to be able to arrange schedules for such a large cast. What helped us out was that we filmed during a lull in the COVID pandemic. The main Alpha and Beta variants had tapered off and the Delta variant had not yet kicked in. Actors were eager to get back to work and we were able bring on a number of people we probably would not have had access to pre-pandemic. We took precautions during filming and despite people working in close proximity for long periods of time, the cases of COVID on set were extremely minimal.

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Another bonus was that we were able to secure a beautiful house in Virginia to use as the luxurious Radcliffe mansion. It is called the Stoneleigh Estate (Stanleytown, VA) and used to be offical home of the state governors. The house is huge and allowed us to both film and live there for a week. After wrapping each night we were able to sit around, play pool, have some drinks, listen to music, and relax until resuming production the next morning. Everyone had a blast. It was hands-down the best time I have had in my filmmaking career.

Production

For such a large endeavour, the production actually ran fairly smoooth. We had a few setbacks, like a last-minute actor no-show in Virginia which required a rewrite of the final climactic scene the night before shooting. We also lost a few scenes due to limited drive space and an overwrite error. But the production itself went about as well as you could hope for. The only real drawback was that we filmed in January...at night...in the cold. Really freakin' cold! I was very impressed with the actors for being able to shut this out of their minds while cameras were rolling. I have no idea how they do that. I certainly couldn't.

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Our practical effects were solid for this film. Our effects guy, Hayden Bogan, really knows what he is doing and worked with practiced hands each time we needed him. While this isn't a body horror movie (it's not really even horror), there is enough blood to go around. A couple of heads getting blasted with guns, a wrist being cut in half with an axe, and even a character falling on his own chainsaw. We did have one over-the-top effect (a see-through hole blasted through a head) that may have been a little much. But John and I wanted to see if we could pull it off as it required both practical effects and digital trickery. We used it as a test for future films.

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Post Production

This was the darkest portion of the entire process. Post-production took 22 months, which is about 12 months too long. The main part of the edit was completed in about 9 months, which is not bad. This film was not a straight-forward edit. To give it some pizzazz, we added in a number of special elements like pop-out character cards, a continually-updated family tree, informational call outs, freeze frames, voice over narrations, audio recalls, flashbacks, and so on. We also wanted to weave the story lines together and had to make many more cuts than a typical film.

A good chunk of time was taken up by outsourcing the audio and video polishing, which ultimately didn't work well for us. Not only did this take way more time than anticipated (6-8 months), causing us to miss a number of potential distribution opportunities, it also cost us quite a bit more money than we had budgeted. And in the end, neither the audio remixing nor video color grading gave us what we wanted.

The color grading looked okay when we viewed the sample stills, but it didn't work for the overall project. I spent a few months recoloring from beginning to end. The audio, while competently remixed, wasn't what we were going for. It was easier to start over on my own that to attempt to explain what was in my head. This required another 4-5 months of combining what we received back and what I could redo on my part. In the end, there are still some noticeable flaws.

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For our next film I will be handling both audio and video myself. I will skip using professionals and save many months and many thousands of dollars.

Festivals and Beyond

For the first time we went into this project with the idea of seeking distribution, not just entering into festivals. Our producer has a variety of contacts and as of January 2023 (about 2 months after completion) we are hoping he will get some traction with this film. We plan to show this film at some festivals, but will be more selective than with our previous films. John and I discovered that what we really like is seeing the audience enjoy our films, hearing the reactions, and getting feedback. We will probably limit our festival submissions to just a handful that we can actually attend.

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We believe this film will do well in the long run. It's fun, fast-paced, and somewhat original. People can have a good time watching it and that's all we can hope for.

On to the next film!