Basic production diary:
In 2007, the recently-formed Untitled Creative Group was making plans for its inaugural production. Most of the UCG members hadn’t worked on a movie for several years, and we were all itching to get back into the swing of things.
Two projects were discussed: Mike Olson’s “Do You Remember Thriller Theater?”, a web series of 7 episodes, and Steve Hill’s “The Easy Kill”, a 5-minute short film. Pre-production began on “The Easy Kill” in October, but the project was postponed indefinitely in November.
In March 2008 we focused our attention on Olson’s concept. Originally meant to take place in the 1980s, the story was changed early in development to take place only one or two years in the past (it’s never specified in the movie or script, but the story takes place in 2007 or 2008).
In our spare time we are developing a detailed production diary, but for now, here are some general notes on the history of the production:
August 2007: Concept presented to group
March 2008: Script for episode 1 (draft) completed – first “formal” writing done
April 2008 to April 2009: Writing and rewriting
April 2009: First read-through of all episodes (full script)
April 2009 to September 2009: Script editing; rewrites
September 2009: Staged read-through (what we called a “walk-through”) of full script
October 2009: First filming (fake movie footage)
November 2009: Completed script registered with Writers Guild of America
Late November 2009: Uncredited script advisor Robert Shearman provides valuable feedback; more filming (news show debate)
December 2009 to February 2010: Major rewrites and script restructuring, mostly based on observations and suggestions from Shearman
March 2010: Character and scene breakdowns developed; casting begins
April 2010: We secure the services of actress Sophie Aldred in the part of Lynn Whitlam
July 2010: More filming (chorus scenes); casting continues
September 2010: First filming with principal characters
24 September 2010: Filming with Aldred in Wisconsin
October 2010 to March 2010: Filming continues
February 2010: Editing begins
April 2010: Most filming complete, most characters have wrapped, only a few scenes remain to be shot
May 2010: Post-production really gets going
End of July 2010: Post-production is completed
August 1, 2010: Completed film submitted to the Chicago Comedy Film Festival for consideration.
And that brings us back to d’oh!
We asked our cast and crew to pick another member of cast or crew, and ask them five questions. We will continue to add these mini-interviews as they come in!
Steven Warren Hill, interviewed by Jenny Oberth
1. How did you get involved with the Thriller Theater project?
I was part of the original group that formed the “Untitled Creative Group” back in 2006. The group isn’t exactly a production company, more of a thinktank for moviemaking; a group to generate the ideas to make films, as well as to bring together the skilled people needed to make them. We had some meetings for brainstorming story ideas, and Mike Olson presented the Thriller Theater concept to the group in the summer of 2007. Writing was the first task, and I jumped right in with a draft of the first 20 minutes or so in March 2008. We were quite a long way into pre-production before changing from our plan of casting people outside our group to casting ourselves in the parts that were essentially reflections of ourselves (i.e., Tom was similar to me, Ed was similar to Rob Warnock).
2. Did Thriller Theater turn out the way you envisioned? Were there creative changes you had to make due to technical/real world limitations? (And what were they.)
It’s hard to say if it’s different from how it was envisioned. It’s certainly different from the initial concept presented to the group, for many many reasons (narrative reasons, practical reasons, commonsense reasons, logical reasons, and so on). When you’re working on a project like this that has basically no financial backing, and you’re funding it out of your own paychecks, you’re always forced to make compromises and cut corners. Those will inevitably be disappointments. There are things that I wanted to do that were just impossible, given the limitations of resources (not just money but people). For example, we had a number of other locations originally scripted that were later changed so that we could re-use locations to which we already had access. But I can look at that as a positive thing too, because we utilized more widely varied locations in this movie than in our past projects, so it is a progressive step; it just didn’t go as far as I’d hoped.
3. Did Silver Scream help prepare you for writing and acting in Thriller Theater? Or did Thriller Theater help you write Silver Scream? How have the two projects overlapped?
The two volumes of “Silver Scream” that I wrote (Telos Publishing, www.telos.co.uk) stem from my love and knowledge of classic horror movies, and there’s no question that the knowledge came in handy for my character (both Tom and his horror host alter-ego Ghoulini). This, however, is mostly just the result of the concept of the movie being an alternate-universe version of ourselves!
4. How much fun did you have? Thriller Theater must have been a blast! Tell us your favorite part of the project and your favorite moment on set.
We do usually tell ourselves and others that we wouldn’t do it if there was no fun in it. It’s so much hard work, but it’s still a lot of fun, and the fun of it can continue indefinitely, because once it’s finished, people can see it for years to come. I enjoy watching the other actors work, but that was a rarity because I was in so many of the scenes. I also love coming up with and fine-tuning ad-libs that end up in the finished film, such as Wade’s line in scene 2, where he says of station manager Lynn Whitlam: “She’s a little bit… British.” That wasn’t in the script, simply because we didn’t know while we were writing that we’d have Sophie Aldred playing the part of Lynn.
5. What do you see for the future of Thriller Theater? What do you have in mind for a ‘second season’?
We actually did have ideas about these characters and where they go after our story ends, but that goes back to when we were still planning on doing it as a webcast series of individual episodes. I suppose if we ever decide to bring the characters back, we’ll explore those ideas, but for now I’ll keep quiet about them. As for the film, I’m eager to submit it to every film festival ever conceived. As I know that won’t happen, I’ll just be terribly excited to submit it to a dozen or so over the course of the next year or two. And we’ll see where it goes from there. I’m realistic, it’s a no-budget film made with (mostly) non-actors and non-professional crew. But one of the purposes behind the creation of Thriller Theater was to go from having nothing on our project list to having one completed feature film. It’s easier to drum up funding when you can show other people what you can do when you don’t have any.