Interview with Chris Ward

Chris Ward is an independent filmmaker currently residing in Stamford, Connecticut, which is about 35 miles outside New York City. Chris spent many years producing documentaries for Network television. He also teaches filmmaking at Quinnipiac University and the Maine Media Workshops. Fog Warning, his second feature, was just picked up by Wonderphil Productions and he has agreed to share his experience with Jason Brubaker of Filmmaking Stuff…

JB
Tell us about the movie.

CW
Fog Warning, which I wrote and directed, is an independently financed feature about three men who hold a professional woman captive in the attic of a historical house where they are housesitting. They believe she is a vampire and try to get her to confess so they can become rich and famous. We shot it in HD with the Panasonic Varicam in three weeks on a shoestring budget.

JB
How did you get the idea for the story?

CW
I’ve always been a fan of the old Hammer horror films and one day I read about some goth idiot who actually attacked people and sucked their blood. He thought he was a vampire. That got me to jot down some notes which eventually lead to a more detailed outline.

JB
Was this something you wrote?

CW
Absolutely. Acquiring rights to other people’s stories is difficult and expensive. I’m not saying I wouldn’t go down that road, but it would have to be a very special project. Besides, I have my own ideas.

JB
How did you get the money?

CW
A man who hired me to write a script on a separate project heard what I was planning, liked the idea and agreed to invest. He put up most of the money.

JB
How were you able to put the cast and crew together?

CW
This is my second feature so I had already learned the ropes here. We placed an ad in Backstage, held auditions and chose the best. The cast was a mix of New York actors who rode the train out to Connecticut and local actors who do mostly community theatre. I trust my gut when it comes to casting so there weren’t many callbacks. I make decisions rather quickly and I don’t procrastinate — you can’t when you have deadlines with tight budgets.

Alan McIntyre Smith is a gifted cinematographer who had shot my first picture. We talked about visualizing my story idea over lunch one day and decided we were on the same page. Simply put, I wanted bright, beautiful exteriors and then contrast that with dark, shadowy interiors. I let Alan choose the crew which was made up of men and women he had worked with for several years. I should add that we had a lot of women on the crew, including our talented gaffer, Jennifer Johnson.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Unfortunately, a production manager and one of the producers left the project about ten days before we began shooting. I almost canceled the shoot but we were able to find replacements and get them up to speed.

JB
Why did they leave the project?

CW
They were offered better paying gigs.

JB
Did you find people to be supportive of your project?

CW
Yes! Something happens when you pull that trigger. People pop up from nowhere wanting to help; they want to be a part of something worthwhile, something special.

JB
Tell us a little about production. Where did you set the movie?

CW
The story takes place in Connecticut where I live and work. I come from the documentary world so I try to base just about everything in my films on fact. The men are house sitting in the historical home of a famous writer which I loosely based on the Mark Twain house in Hartford. We shot at a beautiful estate in North Stamford but it took us months to find. We didn’t have a lot of money and most of the nicer homes had heard stories about film crews wrecking property. Money usually makes the difference yet we could barely afford the rent.

JB
What did you do?

CW
I went to nice homes in the area that were for sale to see if they would make a short term deal. One man happened to be a big movie fan. I ended up giving him a bit part as a bartender.

JB
How was he?

CW
[laughs] Not bad. He’s in the movie.

JB
Any advice on getting locations for a low budget?

CW
You have to spend the time to talk to people, share your enthusiasm and explain the process. My crews are very professional, of course we had insurance in case anything was damaged. One thing that I always do when we’re shooting on location is ask about personal items or expensive valuables. In other words, is there something here that can’t be replaced. It might be on the ceiling, far out of reach, doesn’t matter, I ask them to remove it. I don’t mind paying to replace a broken window, which I’ve had to do, but I don’t want to destroy a family heirloom, something that can’t be replaced, or that costs a small fortune to replace.

I don’t like sets because often they look like a set. I try to shoot on location using as much of the location as possible.

JB
Did the movie play festivals?

CW
Yes, we’ve had two screenings so far, at the Fright Night Film Festival in Kentucky, and Shockerfest in California. More to come.

JB
What was the audience’s reaction?

CW
It’s great to see the film with an audience. Even though Fog Warning is ostensibly a suspense-thriller, there is a certain amount of humor in it. Well, we get some huge laughs and they come during some of the film’s most intense scenes. I worried that I might have put in too much but the audience seems to like it.

JB
You just signed a deal with a distributor. How did that come about?

CW
They contacted us. They had seen our trailer on Youtube, visited the website and then told us they wanted a screener. After watching the film they called to make us a contract offer.

JB
What advice do you have to all those filmmakers who have yet to make a feature?

CW
God helps those who help themselves. Stop talking about it, get yourself out there and do it. You’ll make mistakes, we all do, but you’ll learn and get better. A lot of people want to be part of a movie so don’t worry too much about money. You need enough for equipment, food and insurance; the rest you can barter for (especially if you have good karma!) Forge ahead, be faithful to your vision, treat people the way you want to be treated and you’ll be surprised at what can be accomplished.

JB
What’s next for you?

CW
I’m writing a new script that I hope to direct next year. I also have some ideas for a sequel, Fog Warning 2, but I want a much bigger budget!

You can check out the trailer for Fog Warning at www.wonderphil.biz and www.fogwarningthemovie.com

Photo of author

ARTICLE BY Jason Brubaker

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