Well here we are. Just a couple weeks away from completion of CHILLS DOWN YOUR SPINE, a 10 film horror anthology from Dead Lantern Pictures that was originally started in 2016. Now, four years later, all of that hard work and patience will be sent off into the world for people to love, hate, or be totally indifferent about. Hurray art! Fair warning, I’m a writer. Which means this post is going to be long. Digest it in small portions if you must.
I’ve been making movies in Nebraska since 1999. 21 years. That’s over half my life! 15 years proper with Dead Lantern Pictures, which began in 2005 with THE GRAND HORROR. And now that our latest film is here and I’ve become a graybeard in the Nebraska filmmaking “scene”, I find it only fitting to reflect back on what this has all meant to me.
Why do we do it? Every filmmaker has asked themselves that question. If they tell you they never have, they’re lying. It’s 4 a.m., you’re shooting outside in the cold, you’re way behind schedule, nothing went right that day, and you’re sitting quietly by yourself waiting for something to be done and you think to yourself “You know, only a handful of people are ever going to see this. And do I even want them to? Why am I putting myself and all these people through this?”
I do it for the friendships. Old ones whose bonds grow tighter and new ones that enrich life in ways you never would have expected. It’s a way to stay connected and share experiences with my high school friends now that we’re all scattered to the wind being “adults”. It’s a way to meet people you otherwise never would have had the opportunity to do and create lifelong friendships where none existed before. One of my favorite lines in any movie ever is Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid in YOUNG GUNS:
” See, you get three or four good pals, well then you’ve got yourself a tribe. And their ain’t nothing stronger than that.”
We’re lucky enough to have dozens of pals at Dead Lantern. That tribe is a family. And it means a lot to all of us. It’s a rare thing and a gift to cherish because it doesn’t happen all the time.
Being on a film set is basically being plugged into a memory making machine. What is “Cinema” if not memories captured on images, be they film or digital? Memories are what make us human. Good ones, bad ones, it all goes into the brain blender and eventually leads to you and your friends reminiscing about that one time your friend almost killed your other friend by blowing high pressure fake blood down her throat….be careful with them special fx, kids!
I was asked recently how Dead Lantern finds so many talented people to work on our films. Honestly, almost every person I have encountered in Nebraska has been talented in some way. Could be an actor with the weight of the entire film on her shoulders, or a production assistant making sure the batteries are switched and charged. None of these films would be made if not for the input and assistance of dozens of other people not named Mathew.
If we have any talent at all it’s putting people in the best position possible to succeed. My greatest fear as a director is not doing that for the people who donate so much time, energy, and patience on one of our projects. I could care less whether or not someone likes my movies. What I do care about is making sure that the actors themselves are proud of what is on screen. If you see anything in CHILLS that is screwed up or terrible, I am the one responsible for that, not the cast and crew. Aim your arrows at me. It means I screwed up somewhere along the way. In pre-production. On set. In the editing room. Somewhere.
Any director who can’t admit their mistakes and places blame on the others who are their to support the project isn’t someone you should be working with in the first place. I hope one of the reasons talented individuals continue to want to work with us is that they know we’ve got their back and that, yes, it takes forever for our movies to come out, but that’s because we are putting everything into them that we can to make them as entertaining and well-done as they can possibly be. We’re not going to put something out just to do it quickly, as frustrating as I recognize that can be sometimes.
Which brings me back around to CHILLS. This film is easily the most fulfilling thing that I’ve ever had a hand in. I made tons of new friendships on this and I do feel that we leveled up in terms of filmmaking and storytelling. The acting in this movie is so fantastic. When you see the performances by people like Megan Garcia, Lindsay Washburn, Anastasia August, Sarah Nichole, and so many others, they just elevate all of the films to another level. The crew, from old hands like Mark Thimijan, all the way down to first time production interns like Marisa Viramontes, and everyone in between, added so much professionalism and beauty to the images…it makes me feel incredibly lucky to have been any part of it. The crew is the glue. They aren’t seen and are oftentimes overlooked but I implore everyone to stick around and watch the end credits. End credits are their time for acknowledgement and this film wouldn’t exist without them.
Over 75 Nebraskans helped make this, either cast or crew. We shot 11 films, 10 of which you’ll see in the final feature (One of them is even an animated film done by our friend M.W. Leitzel!). At the very least, we cannot be accused of not being ambitious, lol. Even if I were to thank everyone with every fiber of my being, it still wouldn’t be enough. We are all extremely proud of the finished product. We met or exceeded all of our personal goals for the project. Are there problems? Aren’t there always on no-budget films? But again, any problems are mine and mine alone.
One last thing: Most Nebraska filmmakers stick to their cliques. If I have learned anything from filmmaking in Nebraska for the past 15 years it’s that the “scene” has an unfortunate way of not communicating or working together. It’s a sad thing and has only gotten worse over the years.
With CHILLS, we literally had a different cast and crew on every single one of these projects. Again, this is about friendships and memories. It’s not about money. It’s not about “being noticed”. Its not about validation from “peers”. It’s about having a sometimes miserable time with people you’d happily jump into the foxhole with any day of the week. Every single person who was a part of this movie will forever be part of the Dead Lantern Family.
Much love to Nebraska and all the talented people who reside within it. Yes, it’s a barren state with some backwards ideas about the world, but there are pockets of brilliance. You are all a testament to that. We hope to work with you next year for our feature length killer puppet movie….wait, what did he just say?
Oh, one last thing. You may be reading this and thinking to yourself “How do I see this movie?”. We’re working on it. We want this to get out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. COVID-19 has complicated our original plans. Keep checking our Facebook page for updates. We should have information on pre-orders for the movie very soon.
Stay safe out there.
-Mathew Kister (Writer/Director/Editor – Dead Lantern Pictures)