An Interview with the Crew of Dead Woman’s Hollow – By Kirsten Walsh

Libby McDermott isn’t from the Pennsylvania area of the Appalachian Trail, yet she navigated it in her film as if she had spent her entire life there. Teamed up with Producer Matt Stahley and Writer John Taylor, the three put together an incredible cast and crew to withstand the trials of the Trail and its creepy history. They took a moment from preparing for their future projects to share their stories about the film, which is available for download on their website (details below).

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KW: Where did you come up with the unique idea for "Dead Woman’s Hollow"? It seems like a big undertaking for a film set on such a dangerous trail.

LM: We wanted to make a movie in this area and the Appalachia Trail runs right through here. It is the most beautiful, wild and tranquil places I have had the privilege of experiencing. Any day on the trail is a good day. Even if you were to go to the same place every day you would more than likely experience something completely different every time.

MS: We (Libby McDermott) and I were looking for a project to shoot in my home town area of Waynesboro,PA. Not being a writer we approached our good friend and writer John Taylor as he had written the other three films I had photographed. He told us of his idea and we loved it so the rest is history. I would say any film is a big undertaking but we have the trail running right through our county and I have spent a lot of time in the woods and mountains and already was pretty familiar with all of the locations we shot.

JT: Matt and I were trying to think of a story that was native to that area and could be filmed on a micro-budget. He mentioned that he and Libby had been out hiking and taking pictures along the Appalachian Trail, and thought it’d be cool to utilize the trail as a location. That’s when I remembered the local newspaper covering a story about a man who gunned down two women, killing one of them, who were hiking the trail. I was in 7th grade at the time and had lived in PA less than 2 years. I don’t know if you can appreciate how a kid from the mid-west would react to stories of who the paper was calling the Mountain Man, living in caves along the trail, shooting and killing hikers, etc…but I found the thought of it all quite terrifying. Little did I know at the time, but that would later inspire the screenplay of Dead Woman’s Hollow.

The very nature of micro-budget filmmaking itself is a big undertaking. The obstacles and challenges are a constant.

KW: How long did the entire production take, from inception through to the release? What was the biggest hurdle you had to cross as a crew/ cast member?

LM: After moving to PA from Nashville with Matt Stahley in early 2010 we mentioned to John Taylor we really wanted to do something around here. He had lived here and was familiar with the land and area. There was an idea from John, then script. We were ready for pitching idea/script and start casting by summer 2010. We met local actors and began shooting in fall. Winter slowed us to an almost stand still but we did what we could and continued on planning and locking down inside locations. By Early 2011 spring we had to finish outside locations before it popped green and we barely made it shooting in March and April. Indoor locations finally came together and we finished our last shots in the summer 2011 and knocked out some audio, establishing and atmosphere in Fall 2011. Editing began winter 2011 through fall 2012 when we finally showed everyone a first cut premiere at the Historic Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, PA. It was a hit and all involved were happy with the result but we decided to do another edit and the composer wanted to make some changes as well so back to the editing through summer 2013 when we called it picture final and released it on DVD in July 2013.

MS: Id say it took a solid three years to finish and premiere. We didn’t have a straight shoot and were shooting on weekends or whenever we had the time. Weather played a big part in our delays and was one of the hurdles we faced. We dealt with several snow storms and basically the snow never leaves the mountain areas so we basically got held up for weeks waiting for snow to melt etc.

KW: The cast is excellent, from The Killer all the way down to the Rednecks. How did the cast get involved and where did you find them?

LM: I call it right place right time. We put it out there when, what, where and we are making a movie. People often mention to us they would love to be in one of our movies and we remember.

MS: We placed some Craig’s List ads and had a good amount of responses from those and one of these response came from Sarah Snyder who played Donna in the film. We had met with her and by our luck she had turned us on to Mel Heflin (Jen) as she had recently worked with her on a previous film together and she said she had felt comfortable with her doing some of the intimate scenes. We later met with Mel and decided that those two would be our lead female roles. We met Charles Dawson at a previous premiere of our film Leach. Coincidentally he was living in Waynesboro, PA but originally from Anderson, IN where Leach was filmed. When he read in the local paper about a film playing locally but made in his hometown it sparked his interest and he introduced himself to us at the show mentioning that he would like to work with us on future projects. Being the skilled actor that he is it was of course a no-brainer for us to have an actor of his ability local to us so we offered him the part of the Sheriff. A good amount of the other cast are friends who definitely have an interest in acting and they all proved themselves even though 90% of them have never been on camera before.

JT: Several years ago, Tracy Lee Staton, a WV filmmaker, had sent me a student film of hers, a short titled Dead and Breakfast. Anyway, it had this guy in it scary guy. I didn’t know who he was, but I remembered HIM, even all these years later. So I sent the short to Matt and Libby for a look. They approved. I reached out to Tracy, and she connected us with our mountain man, Boodle Montgomery.

Jeremy Bingaman, who played the doctor, has been a friend of Matt and I for many years whos always shared a similar passion for movies and music as we have.

KW: Now that the film is out, what is the next step for it? I understand you have done some screenings- is it still out on the circuit?

LM: We are still trying to get it out there. This has been the hardest step so far!

MS: We have played at the Wilson College Horror film fest this past October and Charles Dawson got the best male lead award there which was really cool. We also screened at the first Bizarre A.C. this past year in Atlantic City. We have currently submitted to several other festivals but are still waiting to hear from them on acceptance.

KW: For Libby, what draws you to horror? There has been a lot of attention drawn to female horror filmmakers as of late, especially behind the camera.

LM: The script. I want to make all kinds of genre movies. The fact that my first movie is horror was happenstance other than we did think about audience when discussing the project in the very beginning. The fact remains that there is still an audience for low/no budget horror and that became our target.

KW: As a team, what was the hardest thing for you to accomplish onset? (specifically for John Taylor) As the writer, did you have any issues with the vision you wrote differing from what was happening onset? Were there any additional scenes that were shot but ultimately were cut?

LM: The hardest thing as a team was how long it took. I actually thought we could get it done in weeks maybe a month. Sticking it out though obstacle after obstacle and figuring everything out every step of the way until you have something you are all proud of. Often Matt and I were able to watch footage after a shoot but had no play back during the shoot and sometimes what we got was what we had to work with and with that said we did miss a page and a half of dialog between The Killer and the girls at the campfire scene but it worked out and we were able to make it come together.

MS: I think the hardest thing to accomplish on set was getting all of our shots and coverage at some of the locations. Quite a few locations we only had very limited time like the hospital scene. so given only an hour to two can prove challenging but we just went in and knocked it out.

JT: Good question. This is the first experience Ive had where I served primarily as a writer. Having directed a few of my own original scripts, I learned quickly that sometimes what appears great on paper, for one reason or another, doesn’t always translate well(or at all) during filming. Aware of this fact, I gave Matt and Libby the green light early on to ditch anything that wasn’t working for them or add material as needed to be able to tell the story. I trust both of them, and since I wasn’t able to be on-set during filming, I wanted them to have that freedom. Seeing the picture for the first time was surreal to say the least. To my surprise, they stuck tightly to the original script. There were little add-ons here and there, normally character inspired bits of dialogue, but all were warranted and made for a better experience. As for changes, I only made some editing suggestions to Matt after the first cut, nothing with regards to what was or wasn’t included, only the pacing. As writers (or artists in general), its easy to get emotionally attached to our work. That being said, I really couldn’t be more pleased with the work that this cast/crew did. I’m honored to be listed as a collaborator amongst them, and I’m proud of the movie they brought to the screen.

KW: What was your favorite moment onset?

LM: On set is where my heart is happiest so picking one very difficult. We had some hard days but living and learning and the fact that even our fears found us there at times is truth. One of my favorite moments was working with Monique Dupree. She has been in close to a hundred horror films and consistently works on movies. We had a real location to shoot in all night. The girls came very prepared and had plenty of rehearsal time. We had extras and producers in the mix and it all felt like this is it…we are making a real movie!

MS: One of my favorite moments was probably the diner scene. We basically got the entire diner to ourselves after hours for as long as we needed so that helped a lot plus it was the scene with the most cast involved so we had a lot of fun with everyone there and we got to work with Monique Dupree which was awesome.

KW: What is next for the team behind the film? What is your next project?

LM: I call it "Project: It’s Happening Again"…we will be making another movie and we are working on getting the elements to align.

MS: Im planning on DPing a slasher comedy feature slated to shoot this summer in Indiana. It will be my first time working with someone other than John and Libby so Im looking forward to that.

KW: That’s awesome! Where can people see the film?

LM: It is playing at the World Music and Independent Film Festival in DC in August. So come check it out on the big screen!

MS: People can go to our website here we have DVDs available for $10 and also digital downloads for $2. We sometimes run a free digital download so be on the lookout for that by liking us on Facebook and Twitter.

KW: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

LM: Start with what you have and where you are. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and support your dreams and you will live your dream all your life.

MS: Id tell anyone looking to making their first film to be sure you have a strong script. The script is everything in my opinion. Too many people make visually pretty films but the films aren’t any good because the script was terrible. I see this too often especially in the lo-no budget arena. Story matters so if the story doesn’t make sense it cant be told no matter what camera the movie is shot with or what actors are in it. Also be nice. Being nice to everyone will help you in so many ways. We had a very very small budget and we were lucky to have nice people that were willing to help us with whatever they could be it locations or food, costumes, props etc. Being nice to someone for the most part you get nice in return if that makes any sense.

JT: Don’t take yourself or your filmmaking so serious that you become an asshole in the process. Not everyone is going to like your film. But no one likes an asshole.

Thank you Libby, Matt, and John and best of luck on the festival circuit! The film is available at the Libmatic Films website so YOU can check it out! Also check out their sites: