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On the Set of Serial

I had the chance a couple of weeks ago to visit the set of a new indie slasher film called Serial: Amoral Uprising. I was contacted by the director, KM Jamison a while ago about the film, checked out some of the footage he had given me and saw something pretty good there. It was a breath of fresh air in a sense for me since at the time I had received tons of stuff that just never hit me. After a few emails I learned that Kevin is pretty much from the same town as I am and also learned that he would be at this years Fango Con in Chicago.

So after a few emails back and forth, a story about Serial, and a few random emails about Fango, I met up with Kevin and the crew of the film at Fango. Great bunch of guys! We hung out for a bit, but my ass was off doing random stuff, catching the panels, and trying to take notes, but before they left… Kevin invited me to the set to see them in action.

Well a few weeks later that day had arrived, and off I went. They filmed the majority of the in Yorkville just an hour south of Chicago, so off I go and hit the open road.

Once I arrived, I met Kevin at the hotel he and the crew were staying at and proceeded to follow him out into, well not really the country, but pretty darn close. For this shoot, they were basically doing some retakes, re-shooting some scenes that they were not happy with and just filling in the gaps with close ups and various shots like that. Now I have to add something here, we just pulled up in the driveway of some house, then passed the house and arrived in the barn in the back of the property. Yeah, this is a serial killer movie and there is nothing better that killing folks in a dirty dusty backwoods barn. Real set here folks, haha

I also got a chance to meet the rest of the crew and 2 of the cast members. Along with Kevin, the director… we have: Paul (PA), Mike Scola (DP), Chris Howell (Trenton), Don (SPFX), Erik (AD), Carson Jones (Porter).

I arrived at the best time, lunch. I had a chance to talk with everyone about what was going to happen today on the set and what I had to look forward to.  First of all, the set was a barn which they got to use for free. Nice job guys. Exactly where a film and in particular this scene should be shot. On today’s agenda.. the dismemberment shot! How fun!

I talked with the lead Chris Howell who plays the killer Trenton. This is his first horror film and the first time on camera in about 2 years. Tall, well built, handsome, blond hair, and ready to go right off the bat. Perfect casting for a killer. Think American Psycho, only more brutal! Chris is a medical student at a college in Southern Illinois and with his knowledge of medicine he actually had some great advice for the crew in some of the scenes. I imagined it only helped them out! Chris has been in a few movies before, mostly romantic comedies and has done some modeling in the past, but from talking with him and having Chris show me some of the clips later on in the day, he does an excellent and very convincing job in the lead role.

Along with Chris I got a chance to speak with Carson Jones who plays Porter in the film. Although he didn’t have any speaking roles in this scene, (he is the one being chopped up), I guess his part in the film came by accident. He was originally cast as a part of the crew but when the person playing Porter didn’t arrive and had prior engagements, Carson stepped up and put his theater ability at work.

The scene starts out with some close shots of Trenton chopping away at a body (Porter) with an old rusty axe. Various angles of the carnage were filmed along with a few up close shots of Chris chopping the head off of Carson. Everything looks great and the Director of Photography (Mike Scola) is doing a great job of getting the scene from various points of views and angles. I talked with him about his style of shooting and the way he wants to portray the characters in the scene. His biggest thing was to not have a lot of long and drawn out, wide angled shots all of the time. Doing the same scene from various angles over and over again, is nothing new in film, but for first time filmmakers to take that into consideration and not just set up the camera and let it role is great. Sometimes people forget that keeping the pace of a film is all about how you shoot and not just what you shoot. He told me there is definitely more work in the editing room, but the overall effect is very professional and worth the time in the end.

So Chris starts chopping away at this block which is supposed to be Porter, and I tell you what…. we are all about 50 feet away from him just in case this axe head starts to fly off. Chris is going insane on this thing! Repeatedly chopping, swinging, and violently going at it with all of his might. He really gets into character for this part. Warming up, doing push ups, running around the barn, and just doing what it takes to get ready. Over and over, and over again… and this is just the beginning of the day! Once a couple of those shots have been filmed, its on to the blood!

Don the special effects wizard of the film, just cooked up a batch of blood in the kitchen earlier that day… about 5 gallons of the red stuff. So I’m sure you can imagine the amount that is in the movie and what he has done for this over the course of a couple months. With various tries with the blood bags, and trying to get that one money shot of the blood splattering up and on Chris’ face, they got it right! With all indie films, there is a bunch of trial and error when it comes to special effects, and you never know what is going to end up working. I’m not going to ruin it for you, but let’s just say if you think long enough and use what you have around you to improvise (remember they just had lunch from a fast food joint) you will eventually find the perfect solution. Just take a look at the pictures.

From there we go onto the close up shots of the blood from the body being dragged into the bar. Don takes a jug of blood and liberally spreads it around to simulate the flow from the body, and with Mike shooting the blood about 4 times, it looks like this scene at the barn is done. Now I have to say that this entire time, I’m just sitting back, staying quiet, not trying to get in the way at all and just watching how they are doing what they do best. Occasionally they would ask me a few questions about what looks good and what might work. I was surprised a little to see and hear them doing that. I mean yeah I run a horror site, but I’m no expert on shooting a film, that’s for sure. With that said, I’m real surprised to see the level of organization they have with this, and not just a fly by your pants style of shooting that I have witnessed before. Everything has been meticulously planned out, story boarded, and even put in a time frame for what they need to get done for the day. Everything from the scenes, to lunch has been planned out and accounted for. Very nice work on that and I have to think those small details will show in the final product.

After filming comes the cleanup effort. And everyone is involved with this one, from the crew to the cast members. I mean they are using this barn for free, and this place is covered in blood so they  have to try and make it look half way presentable to the owner after right? But how to do that without running water??? HAHA, I would say the cleanup of everything lasted almost as long as the shooting did. It is a barn, with only well water to use…. which stunk like shit too!

During this time I had a chance to check out some of the props they have been using and I got a look at the head of Carson (Porter) that will be used later on in the film. This thing looks just like him… check the pics again. Great job with that. I also got a chance to hear some of the mishaps on set from everyone and what has happened in the process of shooting this film. A major one that stands out in my head was a bar fight they got into a little while ago. They had to shoot a scene where Trenton gets into a fight with another patron at a local tavern and Trenton hits this dude with a pool cue. Now this is an indie film with a small budget, so you have to understand that there are no real props to be made, so you have to take one for the team sometimes and use the real thing. They took a cue, sawed this thing almost completely in half, all the way around, so there is only about one half inch of it left in a spot. Once you hit them with it, it should just be like hitting someone with a small twig or stick of sorts.

So the action starts, cameras rolling, and Trenton takes aim at this guy and swings like he is Babe Ruth or some shit, with all of his effort and strength. OK, beforehand, Paul (the production assistant, and one of the nicest and animated guys I’ve met in a long time) says to Chris (Trenton), just hit me with all you got. I can take it. I want this to look and sound good!! So Paul is completely ready for the scene and Chris takes aim and lets him have it. Paul drops to his knees after the hit and the camera is still rolling as a few other punches are thrown until the scene ends. Problem is the pool cue didn’t break and all, and when Paul dropped to his knees… he wasn’t really acting. Turns out there was a small metal rod all the way threw the pool cue and they never knew about it. It’s a bar cue, made so they don’t get broken after drunk fools use them for years. Well when they started to saw through it, they never hit the rod at all, so they never knew about it. Paul had a bruise the size of a basketball afterwords and it nearly knocked him out cold. I got a chance to see the clip later and the SOUND from that hit made me cringe. Paul hurts, can barley walk, but finished the day and even got into the set the next day early in the morning like nothing happened. DAMN! Talk about putting you all in for a movie! He’s not even an actor in this film either…well sort of. He did have a role in the film as Donovan, but for the most part he was a PA!

After a few months of filming and various mayhem like that and getting snowed in for a day at a location, I got word that this was the final day of shooting for this film. How cool is that to be invited to the final day. I’m honored that I could be a part of it!! Thanks guys.

After a brief stop at the hotel to clean up a bit, we were off to a state park to film the final scene of the film. This involves the disposing of Porter and the final goodbye for Trenton. We arrive at a wooded area of the park, next to a lake of some sorts and they discuss what needs to happen with this. Absolutely beautiful day outside and the light is just right for shooting, they start with some ideas of how they can do this. Turned out their original idea might not work too well at the location they were at. They have been there before shooting a scene, and noticed that this would work out perfectly for the final shot. After arriving there and taking a look around to see how they are going to do it, it turns out they have to make a last minute change to the script. With all of them together they discuss what needs to happen and what can be possible.

I noticed that during this discussion, the director, Kevin is talking and listening to everyone’s opinion about what needs to happen. All suggestions were talked about and they even included me in the decision making process. Even though Kevin has a vision for how the final shot should be and just because he is the director doesn’t mean that he has the final word in everything. He told me that during this movie, everyone had some sort of idea that got thrown into the movie and everyone’s idea were never bad ones. It’s a collaboration with all of them. They have been at this for months and all of them have a real interest in this film and want to see it succeed and want the best possible footage. Some of the crew have never done a horror film before and some of them never really knew anything about horror, but it’s their project together and they want it to be the best. It’s nice to see that people can come on the set like this, shoot a brutal horror movie, and even though they don’t have a real passion for horror films, want it to be the best. Erik (Assistant Director) said its a “group effort” and this is Kevin’s baby and we want to see it grow up.

Lets just say what they decided on worked perfectly for the film, and it leads the viewer into the next chapter of the film… the feature length. It worked out well and the collaboration of everyone made the final scene great!

So after that had been shot, and the final words have been said… “that’s a wrap”, there was much celebration on the set, and I have to say it, maybe a tear or two coming from certain people…. not going to mention names! HAHA

I was honored to be a part of the final shoot for a movie that I can say will be a great slasher film, not just because of the kills, but because of the characters and story as well. Kevin has put a lot of himself into writing the script and making sure that each and every character in the film has a story to them and he makes sure to remember to put the plot first and gore second. Doing so will make a great movie that not only the gore hounds will love, but also others that enjoy a bit of substance with their movies. It looks like it will be the perfect package, and after months of shooting I can not wait to see the final version. And this is just the beginning for them as well.

At the end of the day we all went to a local bar, had rounds of drinks.. Jager-bombs, whiskey, beer.. oh and a little bit of food too… and traded stories of all sorts between each other. I felt honored once again to be a part of this day and felt even better after being a part of the after party itself.

Thanks guys for having me on the set and I look forward to checking out the full feature. We will be premiering the final version of the film at Summer Slaughter on July 11th! Stay Tuned!!

Check out the trailer below!!

Serial: Amoral Uprisng – Full Trailer – FINAL from Michael Scola on Vimeo.

Written by Mitchell Wells

Founder and Editor in Chief of Horror Society. Self proclaimed Horror Movie Freak, Tech Geek, love indie films and all around nice kinda guy!!