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An Interview with Christopher Flowers, Co-Director and Star of Uwharrie

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2013

Christopher Flowers on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your film Uwharrie - in a few words, what is it about?

 

It's about two guys who are hoping for a relaxing weekend in the wilderness and the killer cryptid who has other plans. I think there's a little more to it than that--especially when it comes to some of the thematic elements imbedded beneath the humor and the self-parody--but that's for the audience to decide.

 

Basic question: Why Bigfoot - and does your interest in the creature/myth go beyond coming up with a monster for your movie? And since we're at it, what can you tell us about your Bigfoot-costume?

 

Late one night Michael [Mercer] and I were thumbing through some of the more low-brow horror entries available via Netflix and we came to the conclusion that there hasn't really been a "solid" Bigfoot movie. With that in mind, neither of us had any intention of starting some kind of crazy Kickstarter campaing to create something with a respectable budget, but we came to the conclusion that we could make something of worth with a handful of friends and an extremely limited budget. So we came up with the idea, wrote the script, rented a cabin with some friends in the middle of the Uwharrie National Forest and got to work.

 

Michael is more of a believer in Bigfoot than I am. I wouldn't say that I think the myth of bigfoot is a "crock", it's just that I tend to be skeptical when it comes to cryptozoology. That said, I can't get enough of cheesy documentaries about the Loch Ness monster or aliens. Maybe I'm just in denial.

 

Ah, the costume. It's a beauty, isn't it? We picked that up on Amazon for around $80. We knew it would be comical, but when the thing was worn by Danny for the first time we lost it. It was then that we decided to really play up the "guy in a costume" angle. In fact, the movie's conclusion was filmed after production had wrapped. I decided that it would lend a little more comedy to the whole thing and Michael agreed.

 

With Uwharrie being of the found footage variety - why did you choose that approach for your subject at hand, and your thoughts about the found footage subgenre by and large?

 

Our decision to go the "found footage" route had to do with our inexperience with filmmaking. I've been a lover of movies my entire life--as has Michael--and, up until filming, had a rudimentary knowledge of what went into the production of films both large and small. We decided that the "found footage" aspect would allow for a little more wiggle room with this first go around (in terms of the audience being more forgiving of the lack of a dolly, etc.). Honestly, we were wrong. Creating something by way of "found footage" is incredibly difficult. It's very limiting when it comes to establish certain shots; if we were using a more traditional approach, we could frame shots however we wanted. That wasn't the case here, and it made for some trying moments. One of the most difficult to get in one take was the shot of Chris being attacked and then Michael driving off in the background. The camera had to be dropped at just the right angle so as to get everything on screen.

 

In regards to the genre, I think it's not quite as worn out as people think. There's something jarring about the realism associated with "found footage"; audiences know it's fabricated, but it still works. It's still scary when done correctly. Or, if your intention is to blend comedy and horror, it can be an unusually effective tool, too.

 

How did the movie come into being to begin with, what were your inspirations and what did it take to get the project off the ground?

 

Well, as I said earlier, the whole thing came about as a result of our disappointment with the lack of Bigfoot movies that existed. Surprisingly, that particlar sub-genre has seen an incredible turn around in the past couple of years. With The Lost Coast Tapes, Bigfoot's Wild Weekend, and a number of others already on video, people seem to have tapped into that as a viable horror (and horror-comedy) sub-genre. Our inspirations for the style of the movie came with the likes of Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project. Believe it or not--and I'm not even sure if Michael is aware of this--the movie Paul (about the stranded alien) played into the decision to work in so many references to classic films. This is something that permeates both mine and Michael's daily conversations--typically in references to Spielberg offerings like Jurassic Park--and we thought it was something that fellow geeks would really enjoy.

 

To make the movie happen we needed support from our significant others. My wife, Erica, was great. We have a two-year old son--at the time he was one(ish)--and she was willing to watch him by herself over the course of several weekends while we worked on the movie. Jenn, Michael's girlfriend, was very supportive too; she was even willing to take on a role early in the movie. We also had to commit well over $1000 of our own money to the acquisition of props (fake blood, severed limbs, the aforementioned costume, the cabin rental--which many of the people in the film helped contribute to as well--and a myriad of other things). Making a movie--even one with what can only be called a micro-budget--isn't cheap.

 

One can't but notice that Uwharrie has its tongue-in-cheek moments (to say the least) - was the move at all intended to be comedic from square one, or did the amusing moments just sneak as you went along?

 

Yeah--the movie was meant to be funny. Our goal was to have some authentically creepy scenes, but we wanted people to laugh and have fun. A few of the moments were scripted, while others happened on the fly. One of the more notable is when Chris stabs the bigfoot with the broken limb. The line, "Hey Bigfoot--mine's bigger than yours!" was added by Chris Daniels (the Hiker). The scene was meant to parody the moments in horror films where ridiculous one-liners are delivered, and we thought this addition was perfect.

 

Christopher Flowers, Michael Mercer, Matthew Cole

Since you and Michael Mercer  play the leads in your movie: What can you tell us about your performances, and would you also like to talk about your co-stars for a bit?

 

One of the reviews of the movie said something like, "If these guys are different in the film than they are in real life, then I tip my hat to two of the greatest actors ever." That was part of our goal--to create these characters that are, in essence, us. The conversations we had--about other movies, fantasy football, any number of things--are exactly the kinds of things we talk about when we're hanging out. That realism--that everyday, what might be called Seinfeld language--is what resonates with people. The bad acting that crops up--especially from Michael and I--was authentic and, at times, purposely exaggerated. We wanted parts of the movie to be laughably forced; we wanted some moments to be so insanely horrid in their delivery that people couldn't help but laugh.

 

The rest of the cast was fantastic. We're all friends, and they sacrificed personal time to come out into the middle of the woods with us in order to make this movie a reality. They were almost unhumanly patient with me and Michael. A few of the nights that we filmed the temperature dropped considerably, so there we were, standing in the middle of the woods, straining to read the screenplay by the lights of our cell phones, waiting for Michael and I to explain how we wanted the scenes to unfold. A few times we had 15-20 takes--or more. For us, it was right when the humor and the creepier moments were able to mesh. And everyone involved--Matt, Daren, Jenn, Chris (Daniels), Brandon, Danny--they were all on-point.

 

What can you tell us about your locations, the advantages and challenges of outdoor shoots, and the shoot as such?

 

As I mentioned ealier, we rented a cabin in the middle of the forest for the first weekend of filming. Since most of the movie takes place at night, we were up until 2 or 3 AM, covered in corn syrup and growing crankier by the minute. That was what was so nice about the humorous moments--it helped us "rest" in a sense; it helped things move forward. The second night of filming is when we made the most progress. We rolled through scenes once we hit a rhythm. But, as you've said, there are challenges at night. A I stated before, in the middle of the woods you have to be prepared for the utter darkness. We had three or four flashlights--some better than others--a spoltlight for one or two specific scenes and our cell phones. During the scenes where things were happening at various distances, it was hard to set up the shots so that we knew we were headed in the right direction, whether it was toward a prop or character. In that sense, there were times where it felt like we really did get lost in the woods. One night--this may have also been in the wee hours of the morning on that second evening--a full-blown thunderstorm rolled in. It actually worked out really well for one scene; when Bigfoot attacks Daren (the Cop). When he tackels him, lightning struck in the distance and there was a thunder clap. It was perfect for the scene. We then filmed the scene inside the abandoned barn--where Michael encounters Bigfoot for the first time. At that point it was pouring, so things worked out well on that particular night. Thankfully, the rest of our obstacles in shooting outdoors weren't quite as daunting. As I've said, it was cold on one of the later weekends of filming, but we were fortunate to not have too many "natural" obstacles.

 

Besides being in the Uwharrie Forest, we were able to use a friend's wooded property for our second weekend of filming. This was great, because it looked virtually identical to the original locations we'd filmed at and it didn't require any kind of permit. The final scene--the one that was filmed after production had technically wrapped--was done in my backyard. That was a quick one, and thankfully the light from my neighbor's homes didn't filter into the shot.

 

You of course also have to talk about the gore effects in your film for a bit?

 

The gore. In a sense, we're satisfied with how that aspect of things turned out but still feel like we could have squeezed in a little more. We're saving that for the next movie.

 

But here are a couple of insights. One of the trickiest things we encountered was the scene where Chris' hand/arm is ripped off by Bigfoot. We purchased a poison sprayer for this--one of those deals that you pump up and that works off of air pressure. When we did the first take of this scene, there wasn't enough pressure, and the nozzle from the sprayer kept poking out of the empty long-sleeve t-shirt we'd placed on the ground. In the end, we were able to achieve a more discernable red spray, which is what we wanted. We ended up leaving in a second or two of the footage where the audience can see the nozzle; it was just too funy to cut out and really helped add to the humor. Later, when you see the Hiker's intenstines being pulled out, that was an on-the spot improvisation. We'd written that scene into the script, but, by some gross (pun intended) oversight we'd forgotten to purchase some fake innards. Our friend Matt--whose property we were filming on--found some old rope that was perfect. We dipped in our container of fake blood, pour some on Chris' shirt, and started filming from a distance. The effect was as comical and gory as we'd hoped for. The other bits that you see--the severed hand and foot, the finger in the car door, the head on a stick--most of that was purchased through Amazon. You can find some great things on there (and no, this is not a plug for their site). It's just a great resource. One of mine and Michael's favorite items was the torn-up eye that we see on the Park Ranger (Brandon). Michael set that whole thing up and applied it to Brandon like a pro. It was great. The only issue we encountered in filming that scene is that the camera had some difficulty focusing on Brandon when he came stumbling out of the fog. it just happened at one point that we the lens was able to adjust exactly when it needed to, giving the audience that split-second shot of his eye, and that's what we were looking for.

 

What can you tell us about critical and audience reception of your movie so far?

 

We've gotten mixed reviews. Some people have panned the movie for being too basic; for being, as they've said, too technically deficient. One critic in particular said it was overall a "horrible" experience. Our reaction, of course, has been that some critics are approaching the film with an eye for snobbery. That is, they're expecting something very unrealistic. Again, our goal was to create a movie that makes people laugh and shy away from things in equal measure. It's intentionally tongue-in-cheek, and many moments are intentionally stupid. It's supposed to be fun. With that said, many critics have been aware of this, and have praised it accordingly.

 

I say all of this as a critic (I run a movie blog and am a member of the Internet Film Critics Society), so I know what critics look for. If there's one thing I've learned, though, it's this: you can't make a movie in the hope of receiving "good" reviews. You have to make a film because you like what it does and what it says; you have to make it because it's fun and because you feel like it works. You have to make it because you have faith that there's an audience who will appreciate it. You can't make it for anyone else.

 

Let's go back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

The main thing that got me into filmmaking is Star Wars. It's that simple. As a kid I absolutely loved the movies--heck, I still do, and I'm going on 31--and marveled at the way Lucas was able to bring together memorable characters, effects, and to make that transition of a classic story into a completely unique universe. My first "role" came in the form of a short feature that a buddy of mine in college put together. It was about a mischevious squirrel. I was also in a movie he worked on called Death by Ninja. Beyond that, neither Michael or I have had any "formal" training. We've both always loved the medium of film, though. We've both always been fairly creative. As kids we were always coming up with ideas for video games that included things we thought others were lacking. So it's always been a natural byproduct of our conversation--the discussion about "What hasn't been done?"

 

In college, I studied literature, and one of my favorite classes focused on sci-fi lit. We talked about the themes contained in the narratives--from everything to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner) to The Time Machine--we covered it all. I wrote a novel, in fact, that explored what might happen to the future of humanity when the sun begins to deteriorate--again coming back to that notion of "What hasn't been done?" Michael is the same way. He's always got ideas for things, and we're always bouncing those ideas off one another. Actually, we're trying to put together the screenplay for our next movie right now, and the process has so far been the same.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Uwharrie?

 

Well, to add to what I noted with the previous question, I've put together a short film called The Kinderbot. It's about an educational toy robot that becomes self-aware and determines that it is designed to kill. Think about Short Circuit gone bad, and you'll have an idea of what it's about. I've also got a YouTube series called The NES Chronicles that's a running documentary. In it, I'm on a quest to collect every NES game ever made (and to complete each one). For Michael, this is--I believe--his first effort with film. As I've said, though, we're basically coming from the same place with our ideas, so working together has been a very natural thing. It doesn't hurt that we've known each other since... well... birth.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Yeah. As I stated, we're working on another movie now. I've put together a plot outline and Michael is currently reviewing it. It's much gorier than Uwharrie, and it's more involved. It's the sort of thing that we'll only be able to make with an increased budget, so we're toying what what that might look like (and how we can obtain it--possibly through something like KickStarter). I can tell you that we're shifting from Bigfoot to aliens. So, in a sense, we're trading one cryptid for another. We'd like to make a trilogy based on this. The tentative title for the next move is The Probing. That should give you some ideas about the content.

 

How would you describe yourselves as directors?

 

I like to establish shots that involve seamless transitions between characters and action--in other words, the camera movement is both realistic, natural, and informative. This is especially tough to do with a found footage movie. I think Michael is the same way. He's got a good eye for framing; for what needs to be trimmed out or set up differently. With our cast, we worked together to determine how to best use their skills. As is the case with any production, they're bringing their own personalities to the characters, so there are certain ways you want them to approach the scenes. We worked hard to convey these ideas to them during production. At times, there were disagreements about how certain scenes should play out, but we were always able to come to a consensus that worked for everyone.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

For me, it's all Spielberg, all the time. If the man has made "bad" movies they can be counted on one hand--on one or two fingers, in fact. I think Nolan has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, too. Those are the blockbuster directors I admire, but I'd say that Aronofsky is certainly a titan in his own right. Michael is a big fan of Eli Roth, among others. We both have an appreciation for directors who can highlight the subtle moments but not take themselves too seriously--who can effectively make use of the full range of emotions.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

For both Michael and I Jurassic Park and Jaws are at the top of the list. I know one of Michael's favorite movies is Cabin Fever, and that certainly has an influence here with Uwharrie. For me, The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark represent the pinnacle of cinema. For horror, the original Halloween is where it's at. For horror comedy, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the like are where I turn.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

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Oh gosh. I always try to find something worthwhile in everything I see, but movies like Epic Movie and Date Movie--that kind of hokey, incredibly unfunny stuff that parodies superior films--are what I can't stand.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

We have a couple of links we'd like to share with you guys.

1) The Facebook page for Uwharrie: https://www.facebook.com/pages/UWHARRIE/107015056065657

2) The official website for Uwharrie: www.uwharriemovie.com 

3) My personal page, where I post reviews, commentary and more: www.flowersflix.com 

4) The Facebook page for our production company, Pillowman Productions: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pillowman-Productions/403322686382619?fref=ts

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Nope. I think that covers it. I do want to say "thank you," though, for your interest in the film and your willingness to talk with us. You'll be the first to receive screeners of The Probing when it's wrapped!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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