An Interview with Erica Summers – By Kirsten Walsh

Not a newbie to film, Erica Summers has always had filmmaking in her blood, and now blood is in her film. Mister White is the third feature film coming from Keeka Productions, and the first horror film. A controversial film that includes voodoo, mentions slavery, and deals with revenge, Summers shot the film in the middle of Bible-belt Florida, with no hesitation. Coming from the hands on experiences of photography and videography, Summers took on the horror film head on, designing the mask and look of the main villain herself, as well as writing, directing, and producing the film.

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KW: So, tell me about the story of “Mister White”.

ES: “Mister White” is the tale of a voodoo-hexed slave owner that has been cursed to protect weaklings for all of eternity. This horrific beast is tied to Tyler Rooney, a bizarre college freshman who can’t seem to catch a break. He’s bullied in school by his juvenile peers, has a terrible relationship with his father, and loves his mother dearly though she resides in a mental institution plagued by tardive dysconesia after having been over-medicated for schizophrenia. Tyler can see Mister White when others can’t. He feels as if he’s going crazy. One day his peers bully him for the last time and Tyler, through voodoo, summons Mister White to do seek his revenge. That’s when all hell breaks loose…

KW: That sounds really spooky! And you are a very hands on director- so you wrote, directed, and produced "Mister White"? As a female directing horror, you are one of a handful. Have you experienced any bullying or negativity in regards to your directing horror? Is horror the genre that you want to stick to directing now?

ES: I absolutely want to stay in horror. I always want to work on a horror-slash-something to keep things interesting, but I am very, very passionate about horror. I was brought up by horror loving parents and learned to appreciate it from a young age. Its my goal to be the first female on a list of the horror greats. I would love to one day hear myself on the same list as Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Tom Savini… and then Erica Summers. That’s the goal before I die.

As for the bullying, on the contrary, I’ve received more enthusiasm then anything else. People treat me very well. Sometimes at festivals I feel like a panda bear and people are protecting me like I’m an endangered species. Its been really wonderful. I never expected to receive the respect that I do. Especially from fellow male directors of horror. I have made a lot of great male friends on the circuit because they’ve been so kind.

KW: Can you tell me more about your pre-production and some of the initial experiences you had with casting?

ES: We did everything in Central Florida. Almost exclusively in Ocala which is a very bible-belt town. I’m not terribly well liked or supported by the community, but they’re not knocking on my door with pitchforks and handing me the keys to a Uhaul either.

I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Anthony James (he plays one of the head slaves in the film) and he was so kind. He allowed us use of the meeting room in hotel for all of the auditions, table reads, and rehearsals. It was probably the smoothest part of the process. We have so many talented actors/actresses involved. It was so amazing to be able to work with them one on one during those weeks. They surprised me every time I turned around.

KW: That’s great! What are some of the locations you used in the central Florida area, and what are some of the fun experiences you had while shooting?

ES: We featured a few great places in the film including a clothing store called Jezebel’s on the town square. It’s primarily a lingerie and pin up clothing store which made for a great backdrop. We filmed on a massive piece of property just outside of town in a small town called Inverness. That was amazing. We had acre after acre of woods and field to film in. We also camped overnight there and that was incredible. it really bonded many of us so much more than we already were.

We also filmed at the Fuqua Sawmill for all of the plantation scenes on a day that was 108 degrees outside. We filmed for about 14 hours that day and there was nowhere to get out of the shade. It was sweltering but oddly enough that was my favorite day of filming. The cast and crew there that day were absolutely top notch.

We also featured the Homewood Suites for many of the scenes and we converted the banquet hall of the Ocala National Bank Building into our insane asylum which was no easy feat as it had to be done last minute due to the owner’s change of heart with the first choice of locations. But we had all hands on deck that evening and so many people pulled together to make it look really great.

KW: What secrets can you give us about the film- an exclusive if you will?

ES: We are the only film, to my knowledge, to include a death scene where someone gets hung to death in a tree by a noose made entirely of her own intestines. I couldn’t WAIT to shoot this death scene. It’s such a creative concept to me and I feel like it came off really well onscreen. But it was bizarre. It’s one of those moments where, I yelled “CUT” and looked around for a long moment and things felt very surreal. I’m thinking “Are we really in my front yard at1 AM hanging a girl with her own guts in my tree?”

KW: Can you talk about the look of Mister White? I’ve seen pictures on your website and facebook, and it looks pretty intense.

ES: Absolutely. I created the mask from scratch. Sculpted it, cast it in concrete, poured the latex, painted it, you name it.

Our costume designer, Loida, took one of my old dusters and modified it a bit and created this very old style look for the monster as he is supposed to be a rich slave owner/doctor reincarnated.

My poor husband was under layer after layer of fabric and latex, often with no air conditioning (A/C units make a lot of noise and you get better audio if turned off). He had to wear: Eye makeup, a mask, rubber gloves, heavy shoes with wooden planks screwed onto them for added height, pants, suspenders a shirt, a vest, a full length coat, and this scarf that was a million miles long. I really felt for him every time he had to put it on.

KW: How are your special effects done in the film- practical or through CGI and why did you choose to go that route?

ES: Most of the special effects are practicals. The hanging of the girl by her own intestines was a practical effect that required a lot of ingenuity. We have a nail going through a guys foot… saw blades… you name it. Almost all of the deaths are practicals. However, there are a few effects toward the end that I didn’t have the budget to pull off practically. I mean I don’t have the money to replace a house if we explode it so that obviously is something that Adobe After Effects came in really handy for!

KW: That is great though, I know many avid film fans out there are fans of the practical effects. "Mister White" is currently on the festival circuit and is released on DVD. What are your plans for the film?

ES: We passed on our distribution offers and decided to self distribute. It’s very tricky to know who to trust in the film industry and right now we are at a scale where I can manage the sales myself. Soon we will hit the festival circuit full force this fall and I am ready for a roller coaster ride.

We are also launching some international campaigns later on to promote the film to other countries: the United Kingdom, Australia, France Germany, Mexico, etc. They tend to appreciate independent film more than the United States does simply because we all have access to DSLRs and consumer cameras and there are a lot more films being made over here on bigger budgets, with famous stars, etc. So we are hoping that we can develop more of an international following for the film.

KW: Do you have any new projects on the rise?

ES: Right now I am in pre-production for my newest film, called “Mantis”. It’s a female-driven horror/action film and I’m extremely excited about it. I just brought on the most amazing crew I could ever wish for and I am so ready to get started. You can like us on facebook for more information at www.facebook.com/mantisthemovie

KW: Excellent! We will definitely keep our eyes peeled for that! Finally, what advice can you give to aspiring filmmakers?

ES: If its what you want to do, DO NOT GIVE UP. Being an independent filmmaker feels like climbing up a jagged cliff, certain death below you, and above you a malicious kid hurls rocks straight at your face to try to make you fall. You may have to take a few rocks in the face along the way, but don’t let go. Don’t give up on your dream if you’re passionate about it. Try to keep in mind that anything good takes lots of practice. Don’t be AFRAID to practice. Oh — and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re going to be an overnight sensation. Even the overnight sensations were not really overnight sensations. They just seem that way to the outsiders because we didn’t watch their whole journey to get to that point.

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Make sure to check out up to date information on “Mister White” on their pages:

FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/iammisterwhite

WEBSITE & STORE: http://www.misterwhitethemovie.com

Soon there will be an IndieReign link on the website so that you can rent the film if you don’t necessarily want to commit to buying it.

Also check out the Festivals and Screenings page of our website often for updates on where you can catch our film at festivals or small theatrical screenings.