On episode 24, we interview Dan Doren and Mark Wenger, the creators of the indie horror film TERRORTORY. Kevin Kangas, the third of the creative team, was unable to join us on EP 24, so we got an interview for the website. Kevin shares his knowledge of the film industry and wisdom for anyone trying to get started.
TERRORTORY is still available on Amazon Prime. Check out this original indie film.
What is your mission as a film maker?
My mission, as I see it, is to entertain. I’m not one of those filmmakers looking to “make art” or change the world. I like creating, and I want to entertain people the way I was entertained by watching fun horror movies.
Could you tell us a bit about your inspirations, the movies you liked growing up, the directors you draw from?
My earliest inspirations are all writers, because I started writing at 12 years old, long before I even had a thought to direct or make movies. I read fantasy and horror at a young age, so my inspirations would be people like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Dean Koontz, Terry Brooks, Jack Chalker, Stephen King, Agatha Christie. Any book that I read that spurred my imagination and made me want to DO that.
Growing up, horror was always the forbidden fruit. My parents became religious when I was around ten, and they started banning all sorts of stuff, from horror to D&D, so naturally I gravitated even more to it than before. My brother and I used to get up in the middle of the night to sneak downstairs and watch movies we weren’t supposed to, from the original Friday the 13th to Escape From New York to Zapped. In middle school when I went over to a buddy’s house for sleepovers, we always watched whatever horror was on one of the two movie channels(HBO&Showtime), which was great. His mom was always working, so we’d catch The Beast Within or Nightmares or Alien.
As for directors that I draw from, obviously John Carpenter to a great degree. I’d love to say I draw from Hitchcock, but that guy was so far ahead of the rest of us that I’m not even sure I understand how he did what he did. But I’d love to try. Also, there’s no way anybody in my age group isn’t influenced by Spielberg, who is probably the greatest overall filmmaker of all time.
What is your background in the industry?
I went to school for computer science, because I was always very computer savvy(before computers were common like today). I’d been writing screenplays for a while, but had never really considered making a movie until I took a film elective. From the first moments I shot film, I began thinking about dropping computer science and making movies. Due to some school trouble(declining grades and a fight with a campus monitor), I ended up dropping out of school, and eventually decided to make a film.
What are some of your earlier films?
“Hunting Humans” is my notorious first film. It still gets a lot of play because of the serial killer they caught with it in his truck a few years back. (google “Adam Leroy Lane Hunting Humans” to check it out) And then very recently they may have caught another murderer with it…the news just broke.
Then “Fear of Clowns” that Lionsgate picked up, and its sequel. Bounty with the legendary actor Tom Proctor followed, and “Garden of Hedon”, a giallo-esque murder mystery with horror elements.
Why do Terrortory? Where did it come from?
It was a weird happenstance. Mark sent me an email out of the blue—I didn’t know him. He said he was trying to get together a horror anthology set in a sort of Bermuda triangle in Maryland that he and Dan had thought up. We could do any story set there—slasher, ghost, monster. Whatever we wanted to. That was appealing.
But I didn’t have any ideas offhand, and I thought I was going to be moving into production of another feature at that point, so I turned him down. A few months later, though, and I knew I wasn’t going to do the feature, AND an idea occurred to me. It was Smiling Jack.
I emailed him back and said I’d be interested in doing one. We went out and shot Smiling Jack a few months later. Some of the other filmmakers he’d gotten didn’t get back with films, so I said I’d do another one. Then another one. And the wrap. Pretty soon I’d done all but two of the pieces, and I think I helped flesh out the mythology of the Terrortory. You can probably see my interest in the Terrortory steers more toward the supernatural, which balanced well with Mark’s slasher and Dan’s real-world technology runs amok stories.
What kind of budget did it need? And how do you spend that money?
From the get-go Mark had said we weren’t spending much money. It had to be very low budget—and since I was footing the bill for each of my segments, that was never a question. I’m not a rich guy. Making low-budget movies is certainly not a big money-maker in this day and age, so if there was any chance of making a profit, we HAD to keep our costs low.
The money is sort of split between FX/props, paying the actors something whenever we can, craft services(which, on my sets, means boxes of fritos and potato chips, and either hot subs or pizza, which are the only restaurants close by to the wooded area we shot in), lens rentals and whatever other things are necessary.
How did you get your actors and writers?
Well, I write all my own stuff. The only time I haven’t in the past is when I work with a writer buddy of mine, Luke Theriault. But I always pass my stuff by him and my UPM Rob Ziegler(who’s also a writer) to get their thoughts about my stuff when I’m done.
Mark and Dan wrote their segments.
As for actors, I have to say that casting is one of the worst parts of making indie movies. I hate it. So lately I tend to write parts for actors I know, and then casting’s easy. But casting was inevitable once I started doing more than one segment, so we listed in Backstage and put feelers out among the community. The Maryland film community is pretty big. But man, on my last segment “The Midnight Clown”, it was hard filling those roles. We had used so many local actors it seemed like we’d used up everybody, so I was sweating casting right up until the week we shot…it was nerve-wracking.
Any new projects on the horizon?
I’m always writing. Right now just trying to take a break, because Terrortory was a brutal two-years of my time. But honestly, I enjoyed the anthology format and I love Halloween, so I’ve been thinking about doing a Halloween anthology. Then there’s always Terrortory 2…I’ve already written the new wrap-around script because I can’t stop my mind from going where it goes, and I think it came up a pretty good idea. The wrap story in an anthology is the hardest part, so having this one already is pretty big.
In the end it will come down to what I feel like doing.
What advice would you give to new film makers entering the industry?
This is always the question I dread getting. Most filmmakers will tell you stuff like “Man, just go out and do it. It’ll be great.”
I’m not that filmmaker. Making movies is hard. It’s not simply a matter of taking that new DSLR you got and pointing it at someone who mouths words. Just because it’s easier and cheaper than ever to create pretty video with decent sound doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a good movie.
My honest advice is this: Don’t do it. Find something else to do where you’ll get paid an honest wage, because you’re not going to get that making movies. What you will get is tired and broke, and all for the bonus of saying you’re “a director” while the internet takes glee in sniping at you and what you’ve done.
If you cannot do that—if you cannot NOT make movies—then do it. If you have a hollow feeling in your gut when you’re not creating STUFF, do it. It’s why I do it…I can’t NOT do it.
The important part then will be to learn your craft. Learn how to write. This is the #1 most important thing to being a director. You need to know how to tell a story on paper first, then on camera.
Don’t write about boring shit in your life; nobody cares about the guy who works at the pizza place who’s pining for the waitress who ignores him(unless he then decides to kill her or her boyfriend). Nobody’s interested in a drama that takes place between two people sitting at a table.
Learn how to shoot with the camera, and I don’t mean on Auto mode. Figure out how f-stops and shutter speeds work. Learn about composition. And for fuck’s sake, don’t shoot every shot from eye-level on a tripod.
Then…go do it. It won’t be easy. The first few things you do will suck, but that’s normal for pretty much anything.