While locations like the thrift store rarely inspire fear in the people who frequent them, a team of Hay River filmmakers is working hard to transform them into sets for their short horror film to be entered in this year’s Dead North film challenge.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Craig Kovatch, a member of the team. “You don’t get the opportunity to work on film projects like this very often, so we jump on the opportunity when we can.”
This is the second year a Yellowknife group called Artless Collective puts on the Dead North short horror film challenge. The idea is to encourage filmmakers north of 60 to write, film, and edit short horror movies within a very limited amount of time, and then have them screened before an audience of hundreds of people in the capital. This year’s presentation will be in March at the Snowking Winter Festival snow castle.
Last year, Kovatch’s team won best script and best actor out of the four films that entered. This year there are 11.
“We have some new team members, but it’s still the same core group, just with new actors,” he said. “They had originally approached me, because they knew I had all the equipment.”
Part of what makes the process a challenge is that the teams have two weeks to write a script, then – after it has been submitted and approved by the organizers – two weeks to shoot and edit their short film. The piece must also include specific elements; partly to make it more difficult, and partly to make sure groups aren’t cheating and starting early, said Kovatch.
“Last year, we had to include a recognizable Northern shot,” he said, explaining that while the high rise had been in the running, the group had decided on the West Channel Bridge as their local element.
Although Kovatch can regularly be seen out at community events with his camera, shooting documentary-style footage, he said he loves narrative cinema production because of the control it affords the creators.
“It allows us to shape every single thing,” he said. “The story, the characters, everything. There’s an immense amount of work that goes into a movie.”
Writer and director Dan Harrington has also returned for the second year, but he said the contest itself is secondary to the filming.
“I just love doing this,” he told The Hub.
Although he had a script written, Harrington had to change tack completely as a result of the weather being too cold to allow for shooting outside. He said he was inspired to write the script by an off-the-cuff joke made by one of the actors. In terms of what he hopes to improve on from last year, he said he learned a lot about pacing.
“You need to keep the audience interested,” he said, adding that there are also more technical things the team is doing better, like making sure the camera is rolling for enough time before and after the scene to allow for comfortable editing.
Kovatch, however, said he likes the competition for the chance to schmooze with other filmmakers, among other things.
“It’s really different watching the film with hundreds of people,” he said. “You’re watching the film throughout the entire process of making it, and it’s really different viewing it with 200 or 300 people. They laugh at things we never though of as funny and just seeing their reactions is pretty cool.”