Tabitha escaped from a cult as a child. Now an adult, she finds herself in the dangerous position of returning to her tormentors in an attempt to save a little girl's life.
That's the premise of Homecoming, a web series that's the latest project of Castle Rock-based production company Film Hound, rebranded from November Films by founder/writer/director Hunter Burns this fall. Inspired by his love of horror, Stephen King and the books Sadie and The Project, by Canadian author Courtney Summers, Burns pulled together a six-member crew to film the first three episodes of the series, which will have its premiere Friday, October 29, in Castle Rock.
Burns plans to film two more episodes in the next couple of months, and he sees the potential to make even more if the response to the first five is strong. The ultimate goal is to edit the episodes together into a feature-length film, then submit it to festivals and get a distribution deal somewhere along the line.
In just six days of filming done over two weekends separated by three months, the crew shot an astounding 38 script pages, which translates to nearly forty minutes of screen time. "I call it the all-out method," says Burns. "You get everything ready, you pack as much as you possibly can into one weekend. Film everything, don't leave anything off the table, get everything you can no matter how hard it is. Then edit for three months. Then you're ready again. You're like, 'Wow, that was so much fun, and I don't remember how painful any of that was. Let's go do it again for another weekend.'"
He learned the technique during his studies at the Colorado Film School. Homecoming's cinematographer, Jordan Spalding, also attended the school though the two didn't cross paths there. "Hunter is not the auteur who oppresses and controls the entire process," says Spalding. "He's very much like, 'What can you bring to this? What do you have?' I don't know what he saw [in me], but he said, 'You do a lot of nonprofit, political work. Come be a cinematographer.'"
Although horror cinematography was a new experience, Spalding praises Burns's vision for the project. "The thing that's really modern about this is that it's a daylight horror," he says. "It's not hiding everything in the shadows, which is its own set of challenges but also very fascinating and something that's reflected in more recent horror productions."
Because the project has little to no budget, Burns separated the shoots so that he could make enough money in the meantime to pay his cast and crew. He also used his small apartment as a filming location; to observe coronavirus guidelines, the crew had to make creative use of tiny spaces, placing boom microphone operators on ladders outside of windows.
During a shoot in a park near Golden, the cast and crew had to scramble up a hillside when a herd of moose came through the set. But even the planned physicality took a toll. "There's a lot of action in this film," says lead actress Julia Stine. "We had to do a lot of choreography. We had to figure out how to get a lot of sticky blood all over the place. There's a really epic scene where [Tabitha's] hand gets cut. There's a lot of things to the film that are going to make it really exciting, but [the challenge] is how do we work with this to make it not too difficult on the cameraman and not too difficult on the actors at the same time?"
Making the action even heavier, the first three episodes of Homecoming were shot in summer heat, with Stine wearing heels and a fall coat.
"I feel partially responsible for the amount of running [Julia] did in the episodes," Spalding jokes. "I would say, 'You know what? That was good, but I'm gonna get it from this angle now, or let's get one more take.'"
Still, Stine was up to the challenges because, she says, Tabitha is "the idea character. She's got a rough background, she's a badass."
Although Colorado has been the backdrop for films since the invention of the motion picture camera, a shortage of state incentives in recent years has sent most major film projects elsewhere, leaving just independent projects.
"Unfortunately, because of Colorado and where the film industry is at, we can't make money on creative film the way [you can] if you're in L.A. or an actual production in New Mexico or Georgia," says Stine. "We're really excited to contribute to the film industry, and hope that people recognize the talent that's in Colorado."
Still, due to the current dearth of local film projects, many talented filmmakers here don't view themselves as such year-round, Spalding suggests. "There's the contest, the 48 Hour Film Festival, and for a lot of people, that is the moment in the year where they're like, 'Today we're going to be filmmakers and see what we can realize,'" he says. "But the other way to approach it is you're a filmmaker all year, and that is the test. Homecoming is the test of the skill set and all the other things we're bringing together."
They'll share those things during a ticketed event on October 29 that includes a walking ghost tour, then screenings of the first three episodes of Homecoming, with the cast and crew on hand. Over the last several weeks, Film Hound sent out a call for filmmakers across the state to submit trailers for their own projects; six were selected and will also be shown.
"It's also going to be amazing to see the community of Castle Rock come to this event," says Stine. "We're hoping [to] pull in the everyday neighbors of Castle Rock and nearby so they can recognize the talent that is in Colorado."
In addition to showcasing homegrown talent, Burns wants the event to bring together a somewhat dispersed film community. "If we all came together, I swear we would be the best market in the country, hands down," he says. "We're untapped, we're ready to go, we're fierce."
Night of Terror will run from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, October 29, at Sudden Fiction Books, 221 Perry Street, Ecclesia Market, Castle Rock. For more information and tickets, visit the Sudden Fiction Books website. For more information about Homecoming and Film Hound, visit the Film Hound Instagram.