Horror Film ALIVE comes to life will help of Blackmagic Design and Canadian Crew – Interview

I seem to be getting a lot into content about mental health these days, but this is something incredible and new. ALIVE is doing pretty well for screenings and showcases, as it has won the 2018 Austin Film Festival Audience Award, the 2019 Fantaspoa Audience Award, the 2018 Shriekfest Best Thriller, and the 2018 NYC Horror Film Festival Best Director. Aside from that, it even has some Canadian talent, crew, and was shot in Calgary at an old abandoned hospital. I was going to chat with Brendon Rathbone regarding his fantastic work with post-production, but he was a bit tied up with another shoot. So I spoke to producer Jules Vincent, who naturally has been involved with horror ever since he was young. Interesting fact, he was Stephen King’s neighbour, growing up around the area that served as inspiration for Pet Sematary.


HNMAG: As a co-writer for the script, where did the inspiration for the concept come from?

Jules: Well, there’s two things: One, I was in the hospital with cancer at one point back in 2011 or so and during that time, my father was in the hospital dying of cancer. We were on the same floor in the hospital, so that sticks with you. My writing partner Chuck and I have searched a long time for horror ideas that we felt weren’t necessarily a rehash of a sleep away camp slasher movie or a halloween type movie or whatever. But we also wanted to do something that was a very traditional genre, like a classic horror tale turned on its head. We came up with this idea of all things while having a brain storming session and there was a commercial for a professional sports team in the background. They were putting together their most perfect player and it was kind of weird, I don’t know how we got to it, but I said “What if we did this?”. 


HNMAG: How did the experience go with getting the film shot?

Jules: What happened was we got the script, we had some interest from some local LA actors, but you have to raise the money. When it comes to horror movies, unless it’s a Blumhouse or Lion’s Gate movie, they’re not going to dump a whole lot of money into it.  You have to keep your budgets low because big budget horrors only exist for a few people. As we got into the process of finding production partners and raising money, it was fairly evident that to shoot in LA was going to be really difficult. If you try to do it non-union, you get flipped. If you try to do it union, you get crushed with all the regulations, health and welfare type stuff. We decided to look outside of California, and look at State tax credits like New York, New Mexico, Louisiana, Georgia, and then we got in touch with people in Toronto. From there, the guys told us “Listen, all the studios and Netflix and Hulu, they’re all up here.  So you really have to be well over a million dollars in production in order to crew up and be competitive for the best kind of crew. You really should be in touch with these guys from Calgary.” So they put us in touch with Mike Peterson and Lars Layman from 775 Media Corp and from there we sent the script to them, we introduced ourselves, said we got their name on a recommendation. They responded pretty quickly, saying “Yeah, what do you guys have in mind?” We had an opening in summer, and ended up shooting in late August because of casting and stuff like that. They had a great director, Rob Grant who was really fantastic. He’s done a lot of great stuff, I mean his movie Harpoon did really great last year. He did a really great job, we cast up, and went to work pretty quickly. Once we knew where we were going to shoot, it happened fast.  


HNMAG: And how did you manage to find the locations for ALIVE? 

Jules: I would have to credit Lars and Mike on that. They knew about that specific spot. We shot in a real abandoned hospital, a rehab clinic, a walk-in care centre and stuff like that. It might not even be there anymore, it may have been torn down by the city of Calgary. We got that location, and it was a fantastic location. It really provided everything that we needed for 85% of the film. Then the exteriors are a place called Sheep River Falls, a provincial park that’s adjacent to Bamff. It was beautiful and amazing to work there, we did 2 crazy days there because the drive-in and drive-out were difficult. But we had a camp ground to set things up and we had trailers there.


HNMAG: What about casting? Was it hard to find the actors most suitable for the roles?

Jules: Well, when you into casting, you have these lists, you know. We had our hit list of people who were GREAT, and then our casting directors Jordan and Lauren of Bass Casting in LA, they had a lot of suggestions that were great. The first piece of the puzzle was our antagonist, every horror movie has to have a great bad guy. Angus McFadden came on board after reading our script and he had availability so we could slot him in and after we got Angus we could tell other agencies that we had the guy from Turn, the Saw Franchise, so people were excited about that and then we got Tom Cocquerel who just worked on Ayrll Flynn, and our last piece of the puzzle was Camille, an actress out of Toronto. She had worked with Rob before, he had a good relationship with her. One of our producers, Mike Peterson knew her and I think she was working in Vancouver because she was on a show at the time. Something like Guilt-free Zone, I think it was like a comedy show there. She was available we saw her work, and said “Yeah. Fly her out to Calgary, it’s time to shoot a movie.” She showed up and we were shooting in like 48 hours, I think. 


HNMAG: So now that ALIVE has been digitally released, where can people search for it if they want to watch?

Jules: We’re on the Youtube Premium, and we’re also on iTunes and Google Play. We had a run in about 7 theatres here in the United States, we were in Bangor MA, Queens NY, Salt Lake City UT, maybe Knoxville TN, Kansas City MI, I think we got a couple more theatres coming up for the Halloween season. We also did an advanced premiere with Slipknot on their Knotfest. We were the feature movie on their platform. I don’t know how the guys watched it, I think our distributor got it over to them. They liked it, and then Shaun (Clown) rescored the trailer as an exclusive Slipknot piece and then they ran it for about two weeks on Knotfest, and in conjunction with our release and rollout, it’s been doing really great here. It’s a small movie, we were competing with Annabellum on the same weekend. I think we’re finding an audience, people are starting to respond to it, the reviews so far have been pretty solid, so it’s good. 



HNMAG: That’s pretty impressive. With the success you’re getting, do you believe there will be any sequels in mind, or will you be looking into making different projects? Maybe even more horror movies?

Jules: Ha, well, I think we’d be excited to do a sequel if we were up for the opportunity. We currently don’t have a plan to shoot a sequel or anything like that, but we have a lot of ideas for the sequel and I guess it would all depend on if there were any kind of demand for it. As far as other projects, we’re working on one that takes place in the UK. It’s about the world’s first ever professional darts champion out of Wales. It’s a guy named Laden Reese, he became a champion in 1978 at the ripe age of 39-40. Not exactly the prime age of your career as an athlete but when you’re playing darts, I don’t know how much that matters. (laughs) It’s a fun story with a lot of characters during that time, the music and the culture back then in the 60s and 70s. Hopefully we get it set up.


HNMAG: Now back to ALIVE. How has this Blackmagic Design camera helped with making the shots look?

Jules: Basically with what happened, we’re doing a low-budget shoot. We had 17 days total to get everything done, so you have to set everything up, check the lights, and all that. When you’re not shooting the actors, usually you’re moving on to the next setup, the next scene, the next camera position. But you have all kinds of stuff in the movie when it comes to inserts, close-ups, and the thing that’s REALLY hard to get, you usually get a B-unit which we couldn’t because of how low budget we were. What we did thanks to Rob’s innovation is he was just using this Blackmagic Design camera, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K churning and burning as fast as he could between set-ups and even after the shoot was fully over, he could recreate a lot of the things that we had on set. He would make-up his hands, and then shoot the shots that we would need for the film that we just couldn’t get because we didn’t have the budget, the time, extra shoot days. Whether it was supposed to be Tom’s hand grabbing scrubs, I’m pretty sure that’s our director’s hand wrapped up in bandages. Angus’s hand handling a syringe, and needles. Our director was acting like a hand model. There’s zero loss of quality, you never in million years would know that it’s shot at a totally different time or without the actors. Then there’s a scene with falling off a cliff where Rob had a crash box. I don’t know what materials he used or where he got it or if it was something Blackmagic Design offers as an option. But he gets the camera into a crash box and just starts throwing it off the cliff (laughs). He got some great flips and the way that it flies and lands. Rob managed to get a really quality production value and it saved our bacon as they like to say up in Canada. Well at least in Calgary, it was a common place I heard that phrase. It was so useful in so many ways, and then Brendon did everything with the colour on the Davinci Resolve.


HNMAG: So what did Brendon do in Davinci Resolve to achieve the look you desired?

Jules: I can tell you from what we shot, and what he managed to turn it into, whether it was changing out the sky or adding buildings or deleting buildings. Whatever it was, he did so much. To just build that world of this abandoned hospital. If you had seen it, it’s right in the middle of Calgary. But in the movie, and it feels like it’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere. 


HNMAG: And how long was the post-production process for Brendon Rathbone?

Jules: Huh boy. We wrapped in September, and then Rob had to put together an edit that we could all agree on. Then Brendon took that over. I would say we had a locked cut on the picture right after Christmas, start of January, and then Brendon started digging in. Then I think we went to sound by March around St. Patrick’s Day. He probably worked on it from mid-January to mid-March, about 3 months. Some of that included VFX, getting visual effects scenes in, he probably worked for a solid 90 days.


HNMAG: Regarding products by Blackmagic Design, have you ever used any of them in the past on film sets?

Jules: No, my introduction to Blackmagic Design was on the shoot for ALIVE . I couldn’t believe what Rob was managing to get. You get your package and you rent all this stuff. We had everything, and you need that to shoot a movie. Rob was really working with the stuff during pickups. Even after we were wrapped and everybody went home, Rob still kept going to the hospital and got a lot of stuff. Ambience, filler, and change of day. I believe he recreated a lot of stuff in his own house in Vancouver. Realizing we didn’t have this shot and we needed it. He managed to do all that with the camera and that with Brendon’s work on DaVinci Resolve, these shots look like they were gotten right there on the day.


HNMAG: So having been introduced to Blackmagic Design, would you recommend it to other filmmakers and use it on film shoots? 

Jules: Actually, yeah. You know, it’s funny, I have a little self-funded project I’m thinking of doing soon, and I was trying to figure out how to do it on a Blackmagic Design. It’s a short film that’s very John Cassvetti’s-esque with a dinner party involving a lot of people talking and I was trying to figure out a way that it could be done with 1 or 2 Blackmagic Design’s almost like if people were filming on the iPhones or whatever. Of course, not film it on an iPhone but something far better like a larger suite of options on the camera to get it all done. I probably will be doing a shoot with a Blackmagic Design camera in the next 6-9 months depending on how badly the Corona virus destroys production in LA.


As you can see, Jules gave me quite a lot of deals but then, being a producer is one of the biggest jobs on a production. Most think it’s about getting the funds and they feel richer than a lucky gambler who operates any online casino Canada, but it’s more than you think. With the way things went, it’s amazing how well they pulled it off. I got more info on this movie than I ever thought, not just post-production wise but also pre-production AND production.

Eventually, I did hear some other interesting facts on post-production where Brendon explained that DaVinci Resolve helped balance out with a huge set of features to help quickly colour the film, and the features of cutting, audio fixing, and visual effects. Everything he did with the film in colour grading was a fun and interesting exercise, especially with the seamless work DaVinci Resolve had done. Probably one of the greatest films of all time, and definitely sounding like a challenge in post-production, this is a film worth checking out. A great story about two individuals with no memory of how they got into a hospital, they must find a way out and save themselves at the same time. Pretty exciting!

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