Halloween has come and gone, but a good scare has no expiration date. How convenient then, that this Friday, November 6th, the horror film The House on Pine Street, which was shot and made locally, will screen on the opening night of the 15th annual Kansas International Film Festival.
We talked with producer and writer Natalie Jones about her experience making this psychological horror-thriller alongside co-directors Aaron and Austin Keeling. All of whom, happen to be KC natives!
KCFMO: Why was it important to you to shoot this film in Kansas and Missouri?
THOPS: Right from the start we knew we were going to film our movie in the Midwest. We grew up here and we absolutely love it. Kansas and Missouri are not usually thought of as filmmaking hubs, but both states are rich with character, stories, and visual appeal, and it was important to us to bring those things to the screen. It was really exciting to tap into the great talent and resources the Midwest has to offer, while also giving independent filmmaking (and filmmaking in general) a wider geographic representation.
KCFMO: How did growing up in the Midwest influence you three as filmmakers?
THOPS: The three of us are definitely not the ‘stereotypical-bitter-Hollywood-executive’ type. Being from the Midwest, we’re much more ‘let’s-all-be-best-friends-and-hug-each-other-while-making-a-cool-movie-IT’LL-BE-SO-FUN!’ So that attitude definitely influenced us a lot. While on set, we always tried to make sure that we were not only being professional and creating the best work that we were capable of, but also that we were having fun. We wanted our cast and crew to be more than just members of the team – we wanted to form a family, and that’s exactly what we did.
We also met many locals who welcomed us into their homes to film and were not only generous and instrumental in the making of this movie, but have since become lifelong friends of ours who have truly touched our lives. And while there are tons of wonderful people working in the film industry in Hollywood and all over the world, we feel that the experience we had filming THOPS was unique to Kansas City. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience, and we couldn’t have found it anywhere else.
KCFMO: The Keelings are brothers and co-directors – was that challenging? What really worked?
THOPS: Surprisingly, it wasn’t challenging at all. Aaron and Austin have been working together on film projects since they were 12 years old, so they’ve gotten used to the struggles of co-directing. And while we expected there to be a few hiccups along the way, the whole process was incredibly smooth.
It also helped that we knew the script so well before shooting. All three of us spent TONS of time with the script before production began, and we’d discussed each scene, character, scare, and moment over and over and over until we were all on the same page. This made the actual filming process much easier than it could have been. There were no big questions about the script remaining. We knew what we wanted, so it was just a matter of getting it done.
KCFMO: You had an incredibly young crew. Did this affect the film and the filmmaking process? And if so, how?
THOPS: We were worried that we wouldn’t be taken seriously due to our age, but we didn’t run into any issues at all. In fact, the only way our age has really come into play at all is that many people, after seeing the movie, are extremely surprised that it was made by filmmakers in their early 20s. We’re not exactly sure why there’s so much surprise, as we know a lot of young filmmakers who are out in the industry creating some truly incredible stuff, but we suppose this could be evidence of the ‘ageism’ we were afraid of. This whole process has definitely been a huge learning experience, and we’re still learning, each and every day. But our lack of experience (this was our first feature film, and right out of college) was nothing in comparison to our passion and excitement for the film. And we think that it’s the passion, excitement, talent, and dedication of our young crew that shines through in the final product, not our ages.
KCFMO: Where did you get the idea/inspiration for this film?
THOPS: We’ve always loved horror movies, but we’ve been fairly under-impressed with what’s come out in the past few years. We definitely knew we wanted to make a horror film that was more in the vein of the older classics such as ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Shining’ – films that were less about blood and gore and cheap scares, and more about mood and atmosphere and the psychological states of the characters.
We’ve also always known we wanted to make a haunted house movie. The three of us have all, at one point or another, believed we lived in a house that was haunted (Aaron and Austin grew up in a house in Leavenworth that was DEFINITELY haunted), so we wanted to translate the fear we felt in those situations to a thrilling big screen experience. We spent eight months developing and writing the script, so the ideas for the story really came from just talking about what scared us and why.
KCFMO: What advice would you give first-time feature filmmakers?
THOPS: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We reached out to local theaters asking for suggestions on actors (which is how we were introduced to Cathy Barnett!), we asked anyone and everyone to help us feed the cast and crew, and almost all of our locations came from people we didn’t know until a month before shooting. We also had a Kickstarter in which we successfully raised 18 thousand dollars, much of which came from complete strangers! People are willing to help and we think it’s important for filmmakers to train themselves to feel comfortable asking for it.
Also, don’t feel like you have to wait for permission to make your film. If you want to do it, just go out and do it! A lot of things are necessary to make a movie, and it’s definitely not easy, but you can do it. So try really hard and work really hard and you can make it happen. You’ll be happy you did.
KCFMO: What would say are three must see horror films, aside from The House on Pine Street, of course?
THOPS: We’ve already mentioned ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Shining,’ both of which are definite must-sees for us. But there’s a ton of great horror films out there, and if we had to pick three more we’d probably say ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ ‘The Others,’ and ‘Poltergeist’ (the original, of course).
KCFMO: Where can we see your film next?
THOPS: We are one of the opening night films at the Kansas International Film Festival in Overland Park. We are screening Friday November 6th at 7:45 pm at the Glenwood Arts Theatre (3707 W. 95th St.). That is the only screening we have scheduled for now but make sure to follow ‘The House on Pine Street’ on Facebook to be updated on any upcoming screenings and a DVD release sometime early next year!
Thank you Natalie for speaking with us! If you want more information about THOPS, or the screening at KIFF this Friday, click the links below!