Today’s Interview is with the founders and creators of Blackflight Studios, an independent production and media creation company, based in the Atlanta area. I would like to begin by congratulating your team with winning the “BEST FILM” at the “2014 Atlanta 48 Hour Horror Film Project” with your short “The family That Preys” by beating out 30 other entries. We got to see “The Family That Preys” at the Buried Alive Film Festival and were very impressed. Link to the full film . “The Family That Preys” full movie https://vimeo.com/111851715
“Seven Toe Maggie” Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IETMo8El8Vs
DB&B: Before we get into your award winning film, please introduce yourself and share with us the story behind your production company, Blackflight Studios.
Hi! My name is Joseph Lavender and this is my partner Allie O’Neill. I started Blackflight back in 2008 after having worked on several Hollywood productions filming in Georgia as an extra, I immediately got the acting bug and decided that a better way to get my foot in the door was to start making my own stuff. Most people would say that the route I chose to take to get into film was backwards. I didn’t start off making short films. Other than a few camera tests here and there, the first film I ever made was a feature film. That film is out now on DVD nationwide. I did not go to film school, but I did spend countless hours researching, and reading. I made several connections with people with the skills I needed to learn and brought them onto my team. I was living 2.5 hours South of Atlanta at the time and was able to get the entire community involved with my first project. We premiered our first feature, “EXIT 101” for around 1000 people locally. The film was picked up by Chemical Burn Entertainment, and was released on DVD World Wide in September of 2012. Blackflight has grown tremendously over the past few years and we are now on our third independent feature film, and we have numerous shorts and other video projects under our belt. I relocated to Atlanta GA about 6 months ago, and we have been eager to make our mark here. We intend to continue to produce quality independent films in all genres (with HORROR being one of our staples) until someone takes notice!
DB&B: Explain to our readers what a 48 hour film competition is like? And give some of the biggest challenges filmmakers have with 48 hour competitions.
Ha, It’s grueling! That’s the best way to describe it. It’s 48 hours of pure carnage. You get very little sleep, and stress levels can go through the roof. However, I can think of no better way to get a project completed and out to the masses in such a short period of time. For those who don’t know, the 48 hour film project is a competition where teams from all over compete in their city by writing, shooting and editing a seven minute short film in the span of just 48 hours. Each team is given a genre at random and all teams are given the same prop, character, and line of dialog that they all must use in their film in some manner. The teams who complete their films are shown on the big screen in a massive screening after the completion of the films. The teams who turn their films in on time are eligible to compete for several awards including: Best Acting, Best Directing, Best film, and Best Use of Prop, which we won for our short “Ripe for Murder” during the regular 48. The 48 hour film project is an amazing opportunity for film makers and actors to collaborate and help each other create something amazing and we love that they offered a specific Horror-themed competition in addition to the regular one this year.
DB&B: Who made up your team and what responsibilities did they have for this competition?
(Allie responding for this one) This was the largest crew we’ve ever had, but it’s still considered fairly small by most standards. Everybody was a grip at some point. Even though Christina Pykles was given the title of “2nd AD” and Chad Hudson is credited as “1st AC” they both did so much more than what those positions are traditionally supposed to do. At some point, they both, along with actor Braeden Orr, ran additional cameras. Conor Wainwright, who we hadn’t met until the first night, came to be a PA, but he ended up as the gaffer and we threw him in as a cast member. Denise Bundy works at the Barn as a makeup artist, so she stayed to help. Her daughter Samantha was a cast member. I wrote it with a lot of input from Joe. We both edited it. The original score was done by Aaron Srdoc, who is scoring one of our feature films right now. Stuart Appleton had his second go at being a sound guy with help from Hal Clay, whom we’ve worked with on numerous occasions. They’re both from the Middle Georgia area. Our lead actor, Todd Wilson, was responsible for getting us the awesome location. All the rest of our actors drove down from Atlanta: Alie Diaz, Hannah Marie Moore, Niki Edwards, Justin Boykin, Kereisha Harrell, and Codi Waugh. We had never worked with any of them before, but they were all awesome. We grabbed a few Barn workers to stay as extras. It was a fun night for everyone involved and we can’t thank Jimmy Steffens and The Haunted Barn enough for allowing us to shoot “The Family That Preys” there.
DB&B: What were some of your biggest challenges your team faced in making “A Family That Preys”?
Obviously the time constraints are huge obstacles: not just the 48-hour long window to do everything in, but making a completed piece that’s only 7 minutes long. I’ve talked to other writers who have said that they have a writing team that writes all night long on Friday, and then they start shooting on Saturday morning. When you’re shooting at a working haunted house in the middle of their busy season, you don’t get that luxury. We came up with the main story in the car on the way down and I wrote it in the makeup room while waiting for all of the guests to clear out. We couldn’t start shooting until everyone was gone, so that set us back a few hours. I have a tendency to write far more than necessary, so we had to cut scenes on the fly in order to make that 7-minute mark, and to get us out of the barn in a decent amount of time. When I wrote the last scene, for some reason I thought that it’d be a great idea to write “insert whatever Joe wants here.” So what was originally a 3-line prayer turned into the three minute long scream fest seen in the movie. That entire thing was improv, and it was amazing. But in order to keep it, we had to shave out so much other stuff. And we had to keep hacking away at it all night long. We’d finish a scene, send it to Aaron saying “Okay, this one is done, give me music.” And he’d write something amazing, but then we’d email him back a few hours later saying “Oh, just kidding, here it is again six and a half seconds shorter.” It doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a BIG difference when writing music. I know I drove him crazy with that. We have so much footage, it could easily be a 15-minute long piece. We were able to show a slightly extended cut at the Buried Alive Film Festival which was the “prize” for winning BEST FILM at the Horror 48.
DB&B: I’ve been following your feature film “The Legend of Seven Toe Maggie” what the latest with that project and when do you expect it would be released?
First off, it’s really cool that you’ve been following the film this long. It’s been a long and grueling process to get this beast finished. We wrapped principal photography back in 2012 and I spent the next 6 months of my life editing it. The initial plan was to have it out by Halloween 2014, but of course that didn’t happen. We ran into some technical issues that we had to resolve which pushed the film back even further. We are finishing up some ADR and foley sessions now and waiting on our new composer to finish out the rest of the score and it will be ready for public consumption. The plan is to enter the film in the upcoming Macon film festival as well as the Milledgeville film festival. We will most definitely be entering the Atlanta film festival next year, as well as the Buried Alive film festival among others. We hope to be ready to premiere the film in Atlanta by March. The date is up in the air right now but you’ll be one of the first to know when we have that nailed down.
DB&B: What’s next for Blackflight Studios?
Ha! The list never ends for us. We’ve got another feature film that’s about 50% shot called “Suplex”. It’s a comedy about a nerdy IT guy who gets fired from his job due to his obsession with professional wrestling. He uses this opportunity to pursue his passion of actually becoming a pro wrestler, hilarity ensues. It’s our first non horror feature, and we plan to resume production on that in the Spring. I know you guys focus on horror, so you’ll want to hear about the new project we are currently working on. While I can’t divulge too many details yet, we are currently in production on a six film horror Anthology. The feature will include six totally different horror shorts, all bundled together in a feature length foray of blood and guts. We’ve already shot one of the shorts entitled “Friend Request”, shot on location at the amazingly awesome Chambers of Horror Haunted House at the Masquerade. They were gracious enough to allow us to film there. The second short called “Lycanthrope” will start filming when it warms up a bit after the New Year. We can’t wait to get started on it. We have some very talented people involved and we can’t wait to show the world what we can do. We will be seeking distribution for all of our features in 2015, and we hope that 2015 is a big year of Blackflight Studios here in Atlanta.
DB&B: We know Blackflight Studios makes movies, but what else do you do?
As I said earlier, I got into film making because I originally wanted to be an actor. After feeling the pains of actually seeing what actors have to go through here to get footage for their demo reels. We started providing other services for actors in the area such as audition taping, demo reel editing, and even post production for films other people have made. Most recently we started offering something to actors we like to call “Speed Scenes”. Actors spend days, weeks and months working on non paying indie films in order to get footage for their demo reels. Often times the projects turn out being terrible, or they never get the footage they are promised in lieu of payment. We know that in order to book bigger roles having a good demo reel is almost as crucial as having good headshots, so we decided to do something about it. For about the cost of a headshot session, we write, shoot, and edit a 1-2 minute scene for an actor looking for demo reel footage. The scene looks and feels like it was pulled straight from a real television show or movie. We custom tailor the scene to the actor and the types of characters they want to play, and the turnaround is usually around 48 hours. This is light years better than waiting years for the promise of footage you’ll never see. We’ve been offering the service for a few months now and it’s starting to take off. We encourage any actors needing demo footage for their reel to come check us out! www.blackflightstudios.com
DB&B: What do you think of the current state of Horror and how has it affected Blackflight Studios?
Horror is our staple. Horror is what I grew up on, and what I enjoy doing the most. You’ll often hear people say that horror is the easiest genre to do when you’re first starting out and even famous directors like Peter Jackson and others had their first foray into film making doing horror. I believe that film making in general has become less and less about telling a good story and more about shocking people. I totally understand that we have to keep raising the bar, but I feel like the bar isn’t being raised in the right way. I’m all for blood and gore, and crazy practical effects in horror films. However, I’m all about telling a compelling stories and making the audience love or hate the characters I’ve created. What I don’t like about the horror industry and it’s not something new per say, but something I’ve always hated about it. I feel like some film makers forget that we are supposed to be telling stories, and spend way too much time on making sure there is copious amounts of female nudity. I’ve even had distributors turn down my films because of the lack of female nudity in them. I’m like, “guys, I’m not making porn here”. I didn’t need it to tell the story I was trying to tell, so I didn’t include it. I’ve just seen so many times where film makers add this kind of stuff for show, without any real merit to the story. There are plenty of places online to look at naked chicks if that’s what you’re after. I want to watch a movie and get lost in the story and characters. I know there’s a niche audience for every type of movie you could think of, but I like to take pride in knowing that I still hold story as king and refuse to lower my standards just to get a distribution deal.
I want to thank both Joseph Lavender and Allie O’Neill for your time, it was a pleasure meeting you two at the Buried Alive Film Festival. You have an exciting 2015 ahead of you and we can’t wait to see both The Legend of Seven Toe Maggie and your six film horror Anthology.