Zero tolerance for Zombies
- Susan Matheny
- Madras Pioneer - Features
>Local movie makers catch attention of major video storesIf you thought you were hallucinating when you saw Frankenstein on July 4, or zombies running through the streets of Maupin, or terrorists speeding down the back roads of Madras -- you weren't.
Those sights were all parts of scenes being filmed by emerging Madras movie makers Duke White and sons, Garrett, 19, and Brandon, 18, of Hudson Productions (Hudson is Duke's first name).
The White's latest production, a zombie horror movie called "Necropolis Awakened," has been accepted for release by two nationwide video chains, and its world premier will be in Madras at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7, with a 2 p.m. matinee, Sunday, Dec. 8, at the Jefferson County Library annex. Tickets are $4 (the film is not recommended for young children).
"Necropolis" is the fifth horror movie they've made and will be their last, Duke said, admitting he himself is not a horror movie fan and wants to try other things.
But that film genre served as a stepping stone into the business, and helped them get noticed, White said, explaining, "Horror movies have an incredibly loyal fan base."
Hudson Productions got its start in 1997. White had been interested in the movie idea and bought a video camera, then got the chance for some real-life experience.
"I was an extra on the set of (Kevin Costner's) "The Postman" when they were filming at Smith Rock and I got to see how the big guys do it," he said.
His sons, both home-schooled since the seventh grade, were equally interested and helped work on the first movie, a 30-minute short called "Hit and Run," about some kids who hit an old man with a car and leave him for dead. Garrett also started their Web site that year (www.hudsonpro.com) and 50 copies of the video "Hit and Run" were advertised for sale on the Web. The movie took just under $500 to produce, so they broke even, White said.
Every year after that, Hudson Productions turned out another movie, shooting with a home video camera part-time when White wasn't working at his construction job.
Next came "Lost Souls," a feature-length drama shot in the Mt. Hood National Forest about eight teens lost in the woods. The movie starred Madras teenagers, some of whom received school credit for being in the film. Also sold off the Web site, that video developed a fan base in Canada for their movies. They sold 100 copies of that video over the web.
"Exiter" followed in 1999, and was about a genetic experiment done on the unwilling people of Antelope. "We rented the old school there and the people were real nice and helpful in Antelope," White said.
White wrote the scripts, while Brandon, at age 14, began doing the special effects on "Exiter," teaching himself the techniques from books. Taking a break from horror movies, they turned out some comedy shorts "Scooter" and "Kitty on a String" that made the rounds at colleges, then in 2000 produced "The Unknown," a thriller about a fisherman who goes into the remote forest and encounters Big Foot.
For that movie, local beautician Sara Gannon set up a tent to do their makeup on location, and has continued to work with them over the past three years. It also took a lot of special effects work by Brandon to create Big Foot.
"We used hot foam latex that you glue on your face and it mimics everything your face does. We also made false teeth and a full body suit," White related.
By now the trio had developed a working pattern with White and Garrett trading off writing scripts, Brandon as the special effects and stuntman, and Garrett as the director, cameraman and film editor. With no money to hire others, all three act in their own films, playing numerous characters with the aid of disguises.
"For the most part, it's a three-man deal," White said, adding, "Sometimes my wife Diane helps out. In `Necropolis' she's the victim of the zombies."
In 2001 they produced the 30-minute short "Monster," a modern-day remake of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," which utilized many scenes around Madras.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department let the crew film scenes in the new jail building before it was opened to inmates; Martina's Market was used for a holdup scene; and six real-life deputies appear in the movie shooting the monster at the end of the film.
"Monster" drew the attention of the Canadian horror magazine "Rue Morgue," which printed a favorable review of it, and Hudson Productions was contacted by video distributors who said they would have picked it up if it had been a full-length film.
"They said they would be interested in our next movie, so we decided to do `Necropolis' full-length," White said.
White was against doing a zombie movie because they've been so over done. But Garrett wrote the script for "Necropolis" and promised it would be an original version. What set it apart was the use of classical music and more of an action movie feel, with assassins, a lot of gunfire and high-speed car chases.
This was their most expensive movie so far, costing just under $10,000, but that amount is still considered a micro-budget in the film industry.
Part of the cost was for improved technology. Instead of a hand-held video camera, Hudson Productions now uses a digital camera and does all the film editing digitally by computer. "At first we edited VCR to VCR," White said, admitting that process left something to be desired.
"For this movie we concentrated on professional lighting and sound and built some sets in our garage," he added.
But they've retained the one low-tech element which has helped make Hudson movies popular -- Brandon's hand-sculpted special effects.
"We pretty much use hands-on special effects because they look more realistic than computer generated images (CGI). We'd only use CGI if we needed 10,000 extras in a scene, because we couldn't afford to hire them," White said.
To gear up for the movie, White began buying $200 and $300 cars last winter for the car-chase scenes, along with a couple of "muscle cars" and a 1947 Chevy cab-over truck, which he found on e-Bay. Meanwhile, Brandon was making latex and plaster casts of zombie masks, and fake arms, hands and fingers.
Taking time off from their regular jobs, production for "Necropolis" began May 13 with a 90-day shooting schedule, which they completed on time. The scenes were shot at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, in Gateway, at the old Maupin grain elevator and town streets, the Painted Hills, Shearar's Falls, the Clarno Cliffs and on public lands around Madras.
The movie's plot centers around "Nefarious Thorne" and his band of zombies who bring their evil corporation "Neogenentrix" (a play on Cogentrix) to the town of "Skyhook" in a plot to take over the town, and eventually the world. At first a character called "Uncle Bob" sells his town out by giving Neogenentrix building permits, but when Bob finds out people are being turned into zombies, he tries to rescue the town back, but is pursued by assassins hired by Neogenentrix. Sort of a zombie action flick.
Numerous Madras residents volunteered to act in the film without pay including 12 adults and teenagers who play the zombies, Ken Butler as the mayor's son, Brandon Dubisar as an assassin, and Coren Slogowski in several roles. In the White family, Brandon plays both Nefarious Thorne and assassin "Johnny Gog," his dad doubles as the assassin "Judas" and Uncle Bob, while Garrett plays "Tiden," one of the good guys.
To do the car crash scenes, White said they used dummies, tied down the accelerator pedal and let cars go off cliffs. The chase scenes, however, had real people driving the cars, but the film speed was increased.
"On film it looks like they're going 70 to 80 mph, when actually they're going 20 mph," he revealed.
The vehicles caused some excitement in another way because of the Nazi-like "Neogenentrix" symbols painted on their doors, he noted.
"When we were doing car scenes, someone turned us in as terrorists because of the logo on the truck, and the FBI was coming down from Portland to get us, but the sheriff's office stopped them," White related.
After that, White said they started calling the sheriff's office every day to let them know where they would be filming.
The filming was wrapped up mid-September, then Garrett spent two weeks editing the footage down to a two-hour movie. Behind-the-scenes footage was also shot to include on a DVD issue of the film and to use on their Web site.
Hudson Productions sent out 60 "screeners" or copies of the movie to video distributors and major retail stores, and personally met with distributors in Oregon and Los Angeles, hoping to get picked up. A big contract would mean 25,000 to 30,000 videos and DVDs would be made of their movie.
Favorable reviews started rolling in, noting the movie had "adrenaline pumping action" "gut-wrenching horror" and high-octane car chases," and soon "Necropolis" was snapped up by Hollywood Entertainment, Movie Gallery, and is being considered by Blockbuster and New Line Cinema.
After its premiere in Madras, White said the film is slated to appear Dec. 26-29, at the Northwest Film Forum Theater in Seattle. Whatever happens, White said he and his sons aren't interested in being in other people's movies, but want to continue as an independent company writing and producing their own.
"We said we'd give it five years when we started," White said, adding, "All our past movies have been practice, and we have (perfected) the craft now."
In the next five years, he hopes to see their productions in theaters nationwide, earning enough revenue so they can make movies full-time. "It's not just the money, we enjoy making movies," White noted.
White has already written 60 pages of script for their next production, a psychological thriller about a person with multiple personalities. Other ideas include a Viking story, World War II from the viewpoint of everyday Germans, a Western and a story about Atlantis.
"We have no trouble coming up with story ideas. Just watching people you can come up with stories," White observed.