Hey all! As some of you may know, I recently realized a long life dream; I directed my first feature, a supernatural thriller called THE SHELTER, which was produced by my good friend Donny Broussard and myself. It was executive produced by my company Bruise Productions Inc. and JoBlo Movie Productions Inc. and it stars Michael Pare, Gayle James, Rachel Whittle, Amy Wickenheiser, Anastasia Brooke, Thomas Johnston, Brigette Rose and Lauren Thomas. Below you'll find some insight as to the experience that was tackling my first feature.
Star Michael Pare, Director of Photography Bobby Holbrook and VFX Supervisor Thomas Wilson also chime in with their thoughts. The Shelter is presently in Post Production, you can expect a teaser trailer soon and the film will be shopped at this year Cannes Market. You can also visit its Facebook Page here to keep up to date with it!
Writer/Director/Producer John Fallon:
Pretentious director pic next to equipement? Check!
So after it took me 3 years to crack the script and two years or so to get the film off the ground with producer Donny Broussard and myself hustling like madmen (this film would NOT have happened without you bud), I was finally on my way to Abbeville Louisiana (where they shot the 1988 The Blob btw) to finally take part in a decade long dream; that dream was to direct my first feature and that feature was THE SHELTER. And it felt so right. I had my most personal script to date, had the lead actor I wanted in Michael Pare (as I wrote the character with him in mind), I had sturdy back-up by way of Producer Donny Broussard, Production Manager Erin Bennett, ace DP Bobby Holbrook and the rest of our team... it was on! FINALLY!
You would think that I would have been nervous, tackling a first feature after all these years of building up to it, but I wasn’t at all. To be honest, the random obstacles that surfaced days before the shooting (like problems getting insurance, our lead actor’s flight being cancelled a day before shooting due to mammoth snow storms, budget woes etc.) pretty much milked all the anxiety I could’ve had on the first day of shooting. So once I got on set and yelled action for the first time, there was no room for any other thought or emotion than “get it done”. On paper, the shoot was a suicide mission. It had been a while since I had been challenged this much in something I took on and I relished every micro second of it.
With producer Donny Broussard and star Michael Pare! Two great men!
And thankfully for the most part the shoot went smooth as silk and I attribute that to preparation and the fine, hard working and talented people that I had on my side. One of the first things Michael Pare told me when we finally got him to Louisiana is that he had read the script over 60 times and you know what, it showed on set. His performance was flawless, he owned the character and brought more layers to the story. I genuinely can’t think of anybody else in the role. At a certain point I was so moved by his showcase via the monitor, that I forgot that I was directing a film. It took me 5 extra seconds to yell CUT, because right there, I was a film fan being affected by a scene. Yup, Pare simply blew me and everybody on set away. And the same can be said for DP Bobby Holbrook who came in like a freight train and delivered the goods and then some. I loved that we were on the same page, had solid communication and the same energy when it came to shoot till we drop, even though we never dropped.
Producer Donny Broussard had my back and them some in terms of putting out fires and sheltering me (pun intended) from the typical BS that arises during a shoot (the same BS, I had to deal with after the shoot but I digress), production manager Erin Bennett ran a tight ship and kept things moving while our location manager Al did wonders in terms of locking locations and getting us the permits we needed to shoot our exteriors. Look I can go on and on and list every single person that was part of our cast and crew, but that would take up the whole article. So let me do it this way; making a film is a team sport...period. I’ve been on many sets over the years and often enough there’s that one or many bad apples that inject negative energy in the shoot and corrupts the set. It takes everybody from lead actor, to grip, runner, to make-up to make a movie. And if one or two players are rotten, you have a harder time winning the game. Well I’m happy to say that with all the hurdles and challenges; this was the smoothest shoot I’ve ever been on.
Watching Mike Pare do his thing.
Looking back, even though I was too in the zone to fully appreciate what I was living for the bulk of the shoot, some moments stood out. For example, a couple of times we’d shoot a scene and the screenwriter in me would beam as it was a pleasure seeing characters that I had written come to life via the fine actors we had on hand. Or I loved doing the stunts in the movie, like tumbling down a flight of stairs or hanging from a 3 story window. Why would the director do the stunts? Well, I figured if I get hurt, I still have my lead and can always direct in a cast or in a wheelchair, yeah, I know, just go with it. But hey I had lots of fun!
Or the time we shot on the water in a boat, or when we shot a concert scene with the fly band The Onlies (visit their site here) and the news stopped by to cover us (see the report at the end of this story) or when I had Pare and actress Gayle James improvise a scene and the sparks FLEW and then some. So many good memories. I also relished those early mornings/late nights/weekends of watching raw footage to see what we had while scribbling down the inserts or shots that we were missing, to then bang them out early on that next day of shooting with a hungry crew.
But now that I think of it, one of my favorite shooting days was one where we shot at night till 5 in the morning. You see we had shot at night two days before, but it got so cold (like minus 16, the coldest Louisiana ever got in like 20 years) that we had to cut the night short and postpone the outsanding scenes. So we doubled down on night scenes on a warmer night and it truly felt like we were a group of soldiers taking down one fort after another. We’d bang out one scene, then hopped in our trucks and rolled off to the next location and banged out another one and so forth and so forth. We were a well oiled shooting machine! Actually at one point as I was sitting in the back of a pick-up being driven to the next location, I looked around, the stars were shining, I felt the cool air on my face, I was directing my first film and for that moment it sank in for 5 second: “This is the life”. I was probably the happiest I had been in years.
Any regrets looking back? Not really. There was one “cut-away” shot (a bird’s eye view of the staircase) that we kept pushing and never wound up shooting. It still haunts me to this day. Also there’s one scene that didn’t go as far as I wanted it to go on an aesthetic level; but the edit may change my mind on that, I think we can milk it, we’ll see. And boy did I learn about the dangers of continuity on this picture. Duly f-ing noted! Lesson learned! But we overcame, all that mattered. So once the shoot wrapped, I got bummed big time. Adrenaline dropped and dammit I still wanted to shoot! Even at the wrap party... I still wanted to shoot. So yeah, I went through the post-shoot downer hardcore and as I write this, I just recently reconnected to “normal life”. It took a while! Much longer than usual for me...
On that, The Shelter has energized me as I have found my calling – directing is for me. I learned so much on this shoot, had a freaking blast and again... I felt so alive! It’s like Apollo said in Rocky 4: “We always have to be in the middle of the action 'cause we're the warriors. And without some challenge, without some damn war to fight then the warriors might as well be dead.” Amen to that! So as THE SHELTER enters Post Production, I am already starting to set up the next feature I want to direct. I want more. In closing, once again, huge thanks to The Shelter cast and crew for believing in the project and backing me up like you did! You all owned it and then some!
Lead Actor Michael Pare:
Michael Pare as Thomas Jacobs.
Shooting The Shelter was a great experience. John Fallon the Writer/Director/Producer was amazing! We had talked at length before the shoot so we were in perfect synch before I even landed. From day one of shooting it just was a great artistically stimulating experience. Wonderful, considerate and talented crew and cast. A great time!
Producer Donny Broussard:
Some guy that directed, Producer Donny Broussard and Production manager Erin Bennett!
Three years ago my friend, John Fallon told me about this idea for a script he had about a homeless guy in a creepy house, and from that moment on I bugged him every chance I got to let me produce it once he finished the script. Many other projects got in the way, and for a while it seemed like the script wouldn't get finished. Then, one day John called me and informed me that he was making progress on the script and sent me some pages. After I read them, I knew I had to be a part of this film that would become, The Shelter. I got together with friends of mine in the industry like DP, Bobby Holbrook and my producing partner in crime, Erin Bennett, and was off and running.
I spent countless nights with, Erin mapping out the needs of the production, scheduling, budgeting, and negotiating. We were going to make this film no matter what. Once, John got to Louisiana and the crew was on set I had the pleasure of experiencing one of my best friends realize a lifelong dream. I couldn't have asked for a better director or crew. Producing The Shelter was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It's not often I get to work with people as creative as this cast and crew, but I'm going to continue to strive for more dream projects like The Shelter.
Director of Photography Bobby Holbrook II:
DP Bobby Holbrook at work!
The Holbrook experience on the shoot of The Shelter was fun, lots of fun and confirms our belief that with a great story, outstanding director and experienced actors, all that's left is the right equipment and a crew dedicated to not just doing their jobs, but to the film itself and amazing things can happen.
For over 37 years the Holbrook concept has been to provide all needed production services, equipment and top crew... One, Single source. In addition, I think that one aspect of our work ethic that was beneficial on The Shelter but goes against the Hollywood norm is the fact that our crew is cross trained and encouraged to help other crew members if needed. Regardless of the job at hand. So it's not uncommon to see an Audio engineer, run to help a grip... if needed. It was a pleasure working with everyone involved during production and I am thrilled to continue this with John into post. Find out more about Holbrook Multi-media here!
Visual Effects Supervisor Thomas Wilson:
Me and our talented VFX supervisor Thomas Wilson on a cold night of shooting!
When John officially asked me to be the VFX Supervisor on The Shelter, I was excited. It was going to be my first time getting to work with several of my local friends and acquaintances in the industry. I read the script and thought it was a movie that I had not seen before, and was very eager to get involved with it. Following my experience on both The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2, I also felt ready to get back on set with the type of people involved in the Horror/Thriller genre. There really is something about horror movies that get such a great group of people together to make another installment into the genre that they love. I would list all of the people that I enjoyed working with, but then I’d be listing nearly ever single crew and cast member involved on the project.
The first shot of the movie on Day 1 was a VFX shot. This was a good warm up for us all, but I’m glad I was there on Day 1, because the moment I saw Michael Pare knock his very first take out of the park, it set a tone of quality and professionalism that carried through with everyone to the very last day of production. I also saw some great opportunities for me to flex my VFX Experience. Working with Director, John Fallon and DP, Bobby Holbrook in Pre-Production, we crafted some very simple and interesting visual set-pieces for the movie that I felt compelled to put all of my creative energy into. As a VFX artist and supervisor, I always like to start planning VFX shots with the other creatives, by starting from a base of reality and practicality, then working up from there. Many of the VFX sequences in The Shelter were designed to be non-distracting, yet effective.
Another thing I kept an eye out for, were opportunities to improvise and keep things practical. The very last shot of the movie, for example, was something planned to involve significant digital VFX. But, while on location one night, the environment and energy of the crew was so awesome, that, despite it being nearly 4 am, I encouraged the Director and DP to stay a few minutes longer and get a shot that ended up being perfect for the look John was going for. It was the kind of creative flow between the on-set creatives that kept each of us at our top game and looking for ways to make a better picture.