Infestation: International Horror Hotel Film Festival 2019: The Interviews
While at the festival, I was able to speak to various filmmakers about their craft. First up, I met Geoffrey D. Calhoun who is an award-winning screenwriter who maintains a script consultation service called WeFixYourScript.com and wrote the Guide for Every Screenwriter.
London: What got you into screenwriting?
Geoffrey: (Laughs) Well, I didn’t actually pursue the field, I was actually dared to be a screenwriter by a friend who was an editor of a kids show. He wanted to break into screenwriting and he wanted to challenge himself so he bet me to write a screenplay in order to motivate himself. What he didn’t realize is that I am secretly competitive. So, I took that challenge and we both wrote treatments and compared the results and I ended up winning. We didn’t have prizes, it was just bragging rights so I ended up really enjoying that process of turning it into a screenplay. Then I just set it aside until my wife found the screenplay in the kitchen or something. She was reading it and got a big kick out it and said that there’s really something to this. She told me to keep writing and I confessed to her that I really enjoyed the process so really since then I never stopped.
London: Seems like you just jumped into it. So did you have any formal training at all?
Geoffrey: As a kid, I actually struggled to write because I was dyslexic so I had a hard time learning how to alphabetize and things like that. I remember being in grade school and giving a kid my Twinkies so that he could help me alphabetize. I was never inclined to be a writer. I came into it later because I can visualize the scenes and translate them that way. I’ve come to find out that people who are dyslexic think in pictures so it’s easy for us to see scenes and just translate that onto the page. So almost like a secret power. You have to have the tools to be able to translate them but if you’re visual, screenwriting is the perfect literary art for you because it is a visual medium but with the written word.
London: Do you want to talk about your business and book for a bit?
Geoffrey: I created something called WeFixYourScript.com and that actually was birthed from one of my mentors, Dell Weston. He had suggested maybe I should start helping people fix scripts. I kind of thought about it and I was at a film festival in London and ended up holding court with a bunch of filmmakers who found out that I was good at this. So, instead of watching movies I was fixing scripts in the lobby or in restaurants. I ended up working with this one German actress who wanted me to help her to break a story about a woman who loses her daughter. So, we spent lunch together in London where we broke that story and she immediately started crying. She told me that now she has closure because she had lost her daughter. I didn’t know that, so she is crying and then I’m crying and that’s when I realized that this is what I need to do. From there I started working on how to figure out how to spread the word even more. I was actually asked to teach in Ghana, Africa. I started creating a program for it and I was going to travel down there but that fell through. I didn’t know what to do with all this material. I started teaching seminars at film fests and trip summits. I did panels here at the Indie Gathering and at the Horror Hotel. I ended up being in between gigs. I literally had 5 minutes of looking at my life and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I told my wife, I think I can make this thing a book and she agreed. So, I wrote the book and now it’s the number one new release on Amazon. It’s actually available at Barnes and Noble now and is doing pretty well.
London: That’s good, bookstores are really hard to get into. You have a lot to be proud of. Could you walk us through the process at WeFixYourScript.com?
Geoffrey: The cool thing about what we do as compared to other script services is they look at it as more of a critic. So, you’d get kind of harsh notes. What we do is view ourselves as mentors. It’s less about changing your script and more about developing yourself as a writer. We improve your abilities as a writer and through that, we are able to fix your script. It’s more of a partnership process as we kind of become invested in seeing you as a success. We give you feedback notes on a page by page basis and bullet it so that it is easy to follow. Then we follow that up with a one-on-one consultation. We send you the notes then meet for an hour on Skype. You can kinda fire away with questions during it. You get closure with the process.
London: That’s really nice and sounds better than the average creative writing or academic course. You get a group of people in a room and one will write something and people talk about it. After a while, you realize they don’t know what they’re talking about. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Geoffrey: I’m the Director of the Script Summit which is a screenplay contest listed as one of the top 20 biggest contests of 2019. The really cool thing about that is, we are in Vegas and are part of the action film oriented Mega Fest. Being there lets our writers be able to network with producers, directors, working agents, and managers. We’ll have a producer from studio media taking pictures for projects. We’ll have seminars where we will have studios actually teach how to pitch as well. We’ll have scene table reads. I’m teaching a seminar on what to do with your screenplay after you’ve written it. We’ll have seminars on how to build a long lab. Joan and Hash are doing a seminar on scene mastery to write scenes that are powerful. With our festival, one winner will be chosen and they will receive a contract with a Hollywood talent manager and on top of that cash prizes. We do a lot for our writers.
London: Wow, so where is it and when is it?
Geoffrey: For the Script Summit you can go to Coverfly. The summit deadline is the 23rd so it’s coming up at the end of July.
London: Sounds great. WeFixYourScript.com. Check the site out to get some one-on-one mentorship and use the book Guide for Every Screenwriter which can be bought at Barnes and Noble and also located at Amazon.
I also had the opportunity to meet the youngest filmmaker at the event. At seventeen, Alex Gruenenfelder came all the way from Los Angeles to present his film Saga of Psycho Girl.
London: So, you’re a filmmaker and film student?
Alex: I am finishing my senior year of high school this coming week. I’ve done some film classes in high school and I did a lot of high school theater so that’s a lot of my background. I am about to enter college. Currently, I am entering with a major in theater but possibly gonna switch to a double major in film. I’m going to UC (University of California) San Diego California.
London: Great school.
Alex: I study film in school and my school has a very good arts program because we’re a very small school in Los Angeles. We don’t have any sports team or anything so we sorta try to set up ourselves of having a really strong arts curriculum. I’ve done a lot of independent film stuff in order to get better. I am taking a number of community college film classes this summer to continue that into film education.
London: You are very academically knowledgeable at such a young age. Do you have any other experience in film working outside of the academic sphere?
Alex: I’ve grown up on film since my dad is a director. Because of that, I have also done acting. I was in a major supporting role in an independent horror film in middle school. Also, my uncle is a virtual reality director and he has done some horror stuff that I was in. I was also the production assistant. In addition to that, I’ve done mostly production assistant work. I was an assistant director in one of my Dad’s music videos. A lot of experience comes from what I was taught academically and what I observe from movies I like and trying to recreate that.
London: It’s in your genes. I see why you kind of went into film making then. What drew you into horror?
Alex: Something natural drew me towards horror. Before I really started watching horror films I was into monsters as a little kid. From there I got into haunted house design from my elementary school. They had a haunted house. I am also a stilt walker which I started doing because I enjoyed haunted experiences. I was into gory monster stuff. Being into haunted houses brought me into making horror. There’s not exactly a singular moment I can think of that got me into filmmaking. Nothing specific, it sorta happened over time.
London: Question: What is a stilt walker?
Alex: (laughs) If you’ve ever gone to a haunted attraction, stilt walkers are those people that are super tall. I am one of those.
Alex: I have been doing it for about 4 years.
London: How do you use the stilts?
Alex: I use two different kinds. There are a variety of kinds that are used. One is for general performance then I have specialized acrobatic stilts that I can more easily jump and run on. I started doing that because of my love for horror. That got me into circus stuff but that is an entirely different thing. But for me, it’s all about scaring people. I wrote a college essay about why I love horror.
London: Let’s talk about your film “Saga of Psycho Girl”.
Alex: Saga of Psycho Girl is the story of a classic male serial killer. I wanted to open the film with a very short micro version of the full script. I basically wanted to start with an idea of what a serial killer film is going to be. In this film is the serial killer is nicknamed “Psycho Girl” and she is the protagonist. Most slasher films have a last girl who is the hero of the story. Psycho Girl is a chaotic, insane twist of the last girl. It’s about a romance between the two of them (another killer) and how that devolves into murder.
London: So, what you’re presenting here at Horror Hotel is a micro version.
Alex: Basically a trailer.
London: Do you have the full script for a feature-length?
Alex: Yes, there is a feature script which is not done but is written. When I started working on this idea it was for a short film and I slowly started expanding it and adding different scenes and it got up to 50 pages. I turned it into a feature script and cut it down to a manageable size so that I can show my friends, share it on social media, and submit it to festivals.
London: That is a smart idea. It reminds me of a lot of… Do you know Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead? He made a less expensive version of the movie and then got the funding to do a more expensive one. Tell me about how you made the micro version of the film.
Alex: I am the director, writer, and one of the two producers. I had an idea that I pitched to a friend named Emma who is another producer of the film. I basically said I want to make this a film project. We decided that we should do this thing but it would take more time to get a bigger cast and crew. We ended up submitting something entirely different for that film project. Let’s focus on Saga of Psycho Girl. We got together a cast of eight friends that were theater people who had done a lot of acting and that had an interest in film acting. They were put in roles different from the musicals they were accustomed to. They were put in roles as killers and victims. It was an interesting shift and they had a lot of fun with it. I have a surprising number of friends who want to be makeup artists and because of that, we were able to get multiple people who worked on makeup. Additionally, we got a friend of mine named Lexy who is an amazing makeup artist. Her entire job was to do special effects make up for it. The cast and crew were generally friends of mine who had an interest in doing it. I edited it myself and so much of it was super low budget. We were like, “okay, let’s get this done.” Everyone contributed different things. My co-producer Emma’s dad knew someone that had lights. So we went and got them but they weren’t there for all of our takes. Most of our takes were done naturally, but some of them are lit by nice lights. My cinematographer, Aaron S, did a horror trailer for this slasher thing. It was the most well-shot thing I had ever seen in any of my student films. She had a nice camera so we had her shoot. All the makeup artists brought their own makeup. Everyone supplied their own costumes. It was everyone providing stuff to make it work.
London: What advice do you want to give filmmakers out there?
Alex: Really, at the root of being a filmmaker, you try to tell a good story. There’s an art school in Los Angeles which is known for having this renowned film program. I don’t go to that school but they give people a ton of equipment. A lot of the stories they tell are not very compelling and the acting isn’t necessarily very good. You were referencing the Evil Dead; it’s not shot on amazingly high-quality equipment. It’s not done with the highest quality anything. But, there’s a really good story and performances and because of that, it turns into something. And so my advice to filmmakers is if you have a story to tell, get out there and tell that story. Especially in a genre like horror, fans will watch it even if the quality is not very good if you’re telling people a good story and giving people compelling characters and a compelling narrative. People will want to watch it and then people in the industry will allow you to make stuff and give you that bigger budget so that it can look prettier and be better done. But really, it all comes back to story.
London: That’s great advice and very all-encompassing. What other projects are you working on?
Alex: I am working on music videos that are mostly taking up my time and attention. I really have gotten into horror music videos because both my Dad and Uncle are music directors so I’ve grown up around good music. I really like the way you can have these micro-narratives that are the finished products and you can still tell a concise story. Can I make scarier music videos? That’s what I have been doing. I’ve been working with local a band that did the score for Saga of Psycho Girl called “Sunset Crater,” who are awesome! Trying to do indie low budget short horror films set to music is one thing I’m trying to do. Also, I’m trying to work on future scripts, mostly the feature version of Saga of Psycho Girl. Another script that I am working on which I will try not to spoil is basically a combination of a possession and slasher film set within the Los Angeles nightlife. I’m drawing inspiration largely from the films Get Out, The Strangers and Cam.
London: What are your social media platforms?
Alex: I am on YouTube where all my work is shown including Saga of Psycho Girl. I’m on Facebook if people want to reach out and find me but I don’t use it very much. I am also on Instragram@alexstilts. That’s my big social media outlet.
London: Is there anything else you want to say?
Alex: I’d like to recommend Horror Hotel. I was trying to find horror festivals that had categories that suited what I was doing. This one is really good at that. Already on the first night, I have been seeing amazing films that I just love. The more you can meet other creators, in general, is the best. People I know, especially in LA, sorta see other artists as being competition. Exposing yourself to other creatives is such a great thing and has so many positive benefits. It’s really cool being here.
-Interviews by London Vayavong
The International Horror Hotel Film Festival took place from June 6th to the 9th at the Norwood Inn in Hudson, Ohio. It is an annual event where filmmakers and fans can network, attend lectures, take part in contests, and enjoy horror films. If you enjoy other movie genres, then you should check out The International Indie Film Gathering Film Festival. It will commence at the Holiday Inn in Mentor, Ohio from August 8th to the 11th.