Steve Gibson recently made his feature directorial debut with The Feed, a clever horror film that mixes reality TV with a haunting ghost hunt. Prior to The Feed, Mr. Gibson spent over 20 years creating original content for the television, film, and web industry with credits in directing, writing, shooting, lighting, special effects and editing. His work has earned numerous awards including Emmy, Telly, Communicator, Billboard Music Video, CUPRAP, and Grand Prize festival honors. You can learn more about The Feed and its creative team at http://www.fistinpostfilms.com.
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EI: What about the found footage reality TV horror style appealed to you as a filmmaker?
SG: When we first started talking about ideas for the film, I knew it should be done relatively easily and as inexpensive as possible. It made sense to use a mix of standard and HD cameras just like they use in those shows. This allowed us to cheat a bit with both video and audio on location since the technical set-ups are meant for handheld, lav-mic’d, run and gun situations anyway. So really, it was designing a low budget film around a popular medium without cutting corners. Reality-TV gave us that option. If we set out to shoot a proper work of fiction with that same equipment, it would look like crap.
EI: You’ve said that a lot of the cast of The Feed were first-time actors. What are some of the challenges you found directing people who had never performed in front of the camera?
SG: I knew going with non-actors meant it would bring a nice believability to the film’s performances, especially the awkward moments that everyday people can have when a camera is shoved in their face, so it was only different in that they needed extra help finding their character. What’s funny is we actually had to re-shoot scenes if they got too comfortable with their dialogue or actions. All in all, they were very committed to being there on time, studying lines and waiting around during set-ups – typical film set requirements. Shooting out of order was trying for some since their mental continuity was off most of the time. Seth Drick, who plays Todd, a senior investigator, had the most on-camera experience and helped some of the others between takes.
The way we’d shot the film had some tremendous drawbacks in that two of the lead actors did most of the camera work and neither had much camera experience. Because they had to keep mobile, I couldn’t get a video tape off each camera to monitor. I had to scan through each take immediately afterward. That took some time, for sure.
EI: On the reverse, are there hidden benefits to working with non-actors?
SG: I would say so since they’re so moldable. It’s like theatre actors getting on camera – everything they’ve learned is big and broad, designed to be heard from the cheap seats. When most of them try and go subtle, they turn into Brando with lots of facial contortions and nervous tics. That, and they never know what to do with their hands. Non-actors don’t care. Sam Nelsen, who plays Carl in the movie, came from theatre but also studied improv, which allowed him to stay in character and match the non-actors perfectly. We’ve actually gotten great feedback from reviewers thinking the cast was made up of all experienced film actors. That’s a great feeling.
EI: How did you find the filming location of The Brenway theatre?
SG: At the time of filming, our producer, Jessica Paquin, was the General Manager of The Campus Theatre in Lewisburg, PA. The art-deco movie theatre was built in 1941 and has been wonderfully preserved, which was a deciding factor since minimal set dressing was needed. If she were GM of a restaurant or someplace else instead, I’m sure we would’ve changed the script accordingly. Use what you have is what I say.
EI: In The Feed, the Brenway has a rather macabre and mysterious history. Were these stories based on any factual cases?
SG: Nah, all made up. The Campus Theatre has its share of fun reports that the previous owner is still watching over the place, but my logic was that since we were making a movie in a movie theatre he should be fine. We did have a few strange things happen on set but no real stories worked their way into the script.
EI: How did you approach filming fake commercials in comparison to the actual film?
SG: Jon Nunan wrote most of the commercials to give them another voice, since if they sounded like dialogue similar to what I would write, it wouldn’t seem like a network TV show that combines numerous production companies. Same thing went for the news package back story at the beginning. Matt Edens, who also writes various murder shows for the Oxygen Network, took that on so it would sound different than the film itself.
The spots were shot on different days over the summer, basically when time allowed. All the locations were here in town so it was more about actors’ schedules. We’d always wanted Lloyd Kaufman for the lawyer spot, and through a mutual connection we got in touch with him. Lloyd was a great guy and a pleasure to work with. That was our only non-Lewisburg shot. The drug commercial, which was filmed near the end of production, was a last minute changeover from Jon’s original idea of a sleep-aid fairy that would tuck you in at night. It was good idea but would’ve swallowed half our budget!
EI: A good portion of The Feed is almost entirely filmed in night vision. Do you need to approach this kind of technology and style in a different manner than traditional filming?
SG: Before filming I tried a test with regular video and tinting and vignetting it in post. This never works because true night vision not only changes fabric colors, but also mirrors people’s eyes from some angles. Since shooting The Feed I’ve noticed a lot of horror films where they’ve just tinted the picture. Mainstream movies, as well.
We had three consumer grade night vision cameras on set. Two handheld and one high and wide as a static shot. The biggest consideration while filming was the amount of infrared light needed. The handheld camera-mounted lights would be really bright close-up and fall off to nothing 10 feet away. The actors had to always twist the light away a little when getting right up on someone. The high and wide camera had a beefier IR light to show the whole room, but matching the shot was trickier because it did spot a little. If we shot in the same location over a couple days, getting the beam of the light to hit the walls and floor exactly the same way was tricky. Otherwise, I knew the standard def footage would grain out a little in post but it would also help sell the reality show concept. Ben Watts, our editor and colorist, did a great job grading the film afterward, which helped a lot.
EI: Was The Feed tightly scripted, or did you allow for a more improvisational style?
SG: I had some people already in mind for certain characters, so the script was written based on mannerisms they already had for the most part. There were a few changes here and there on set, mostly to keep the illusion of it happening spontaneously and in real time.
EI: Who are some of your influences as a filmmaker?
SG: I’ve always respected directors that had to fall back on creativity instead of money. The Roger Cormans and George Romeros of the world. There are a number of traits from people like Burton, Scorsese, Raimi, Ridley and Tony Scott, The Coens, Spielberg and others that inspire me, but someone creating something from next to nothing will always get my vote.
EI: Do you have a dream project you’d like to direct?
SG: I’ve worked on a number of stories that given the proper budget would be dream jobs to me. I’d also love to direct the remake of either Creature from the Black Lagoon or Somewhere in Time. Go figure.
EI: The Feed was your first full-length feature film. What are some lessons you learned that surprised you after working in more short form?
SG: You know that saying that whatever you plan time and money-wise on a film, you should triple it? It’s sort of like that. I was most surprised by the sheer amount of time it took to simply dump in and log the footage. We were running 3 cameras for the most part, slating each one to make it easier, yet it was something like a week just to bin it in Final Cut before we could even think about what takes worked best. The audio was another thing. There were only so many natural sounds we could get on-site so we had to re-create quite a bit. Now that the film is done, it’s festivals, reviews, marketing and a thousand other things.
EI: When and where can audiences expect to see The Feed on DVD?
SG: Right now we’re working on the behind-the-scenes features for the DVD, which have always been very important to me to watch when I buy other people’s work. Our plan is to have everything done late April or May. To start, we’ll offer the DVD on our web site and take copies to festivals, though we’re finding out now that some fests we’d entered have a strict no-distribution clause, which is a huge pain in the ass for us filmmakers that are only trying to re-coup some of the costs of making our movies in the first place. Best case scenario is we’ll find a decent distribution deal and move on to the next one.
EI: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
SG: There are a few ideas floating around right now, even one that includes national syndication of a horror-themed program, but those are all in development right now. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that typecasting is a real thing, even for producers and directors. If The Feed proves to be a success, the iron will be hottest for us in horror. If it turns cold – well, I can always fall back on that romantic comedy noir porno opera that’s been swimming around in my head lately.
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