Movie lovers are always curious to know more about what goes on behind-the-scenes of their favorite films. I recently spoke with director Matt Hish, producer Autumn Federici, and co-producer Rib Hillis about their new film, Haunting of the Innocent
, which was released in February 2014. Hish, Federici, and Hillis were able to offer an incredible amount of insight into the independent filmmaking process, and also commented on what it was like to have starring roles in Haunting
Haunting of the Innocent
(2014) is a terrifying account of a family that moves into a new home in a small New England town. The family appears to have a perfect life until Tom’s (Rib Hillis) wife, Brenda (Jessica Morris), is attacked in their own home. After the strange and violent encounter with an insidious evil, Tom has to face his past and confront his own demons in order to set his family free from chaos, and the presence of a powerful and sinister supernatural force.
boasts a strong cast, including Judd Nelson (St. Elmo’s Fire), Jessica Morris, Hannah Cowley, Autumn Federici, and Rib Hillis. The film is directed by Matt Hish and produced by Justin Jones and Autumn Federici. Haunting of the Innocent
is a Khoury A. Marriot, Marquis Productions, and Raging Bull Entertainment production, and is distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment.
Matt Hish, an actor and director, is best known for his work on Jawbone
(2009) and The Blackout
(2013). Hish began his career in the film industry as an actor, but soon found that his true passion was film directing, so he began directing his own short films. “I feel like directing suits me more than any other role in the movie business,” Hish says. Hish finds movie directing to be very satisfying because it allows him to fully harness his creative abilities in a way that works best with his personality. For Hish, breaking into the acting business was a frustrating pursuit, and he realized that directing was the best way for him to pursue creative work in the film industry.
Autumn Federici is a producer, actress, and model, and has appeared in both film and TV productions, most recently in Murder 11
(2013), and The Blackout
(2013). She is the producer of Haunting of the Innocent
(2014), Borrowed Moments
(2013), and Toasted
(2013). Federici, a self-professed workaholic, has also had one foot in the music industry since joining the Girl Radical team managed by JC Chasez (formerly of *NSYNC) and acclaimed music producer Jimmy Harry. Being a producer comes naturally for Federici. “I don’t sit still well. I have to be involved in 900 things at once. The minute I started acting, I realized I had been doing production my whole life. I was born to use my right and left brain,” says Federici.
Rib Hillis, an actor and producer, is best known for his acting roles in the soap opera General Hospital
, and it’s spinoff Port Charles
. Hillis also played Steven James in the comedy Groom’s Cake
(2012). For Hillis, getting involved with movie production stemmed from his desire to be busy. “While movie stars get the most recognition, and may get paid the most, they, arguably, do the least amount of work” Hillis explains. He says that being involved in production helped him to feel invested in every aspect of the making of Haunting
Haunting of the Innocent
is a movie that was basically reversed engineered, in that the distributors came to the producers asking if they could make a haunted house movie. “The distributors essentially came to us and said, if you can make us a haunted house movie, we can sell it,” says Hillis. With distribution being lined up from the get-go, many other aspects of the filmmaking process fell into place relatively easily.
Federici then took the idea of Haunting
to Matt Hish, who co-wrote (along with Chris W. Freeman and Ian Ascher) and did some rewrites on the screenplay. Hish was very impressed with the story after reading the script, and came on board as creative director. Hish actually had to interview for the position of director for Haunting
, and got the position because he had a clear vision of the type of film that he wanted to make from the very beginning. The film that he delivered ended up being the same as film that he described before it even went into production. “As an actor and producer I felt like I was in very good hands from the beginning, because Hish had such a clear vision. There is nothing worse than having a ship with no captain,” says Hillis, about what it was like to work with Hish.
For the film’s producers, the job description basically involved a lot of risk taking, and getting other people to understand and follow their vision. Producers are responsible for putting the entire show together. They have to find the directors, the talent, the crew, and the sound engineers. They then have to follow everything through to post-production and delivery. “You have to be a cheerleader and get everyone excited about your project,” says Federici. “Producers have to find ways to convince people to believe in something they otherwise wouldn’t believe in,” Hish adds.
The producers had a very successful casting process for Haunting
. They put out a casting call through Breakdown Services, Ltd., and received a minimum of five thousand submissions per role within the first three hours of putting out the call. Rib Hillis was the first person cast for the movie, along with his son Dane Hillis, who plays his son in the movie as well.
Independent filmmaking is a numbers game, in which the filmmakers and producers have to balance how much it will cost to make the film with the potential return on investment after the film is released. Financing is one of the most daunting parts of the filmmaking process. The producers have to get financiers on board with the project, because investors want to be convinced that they will get a return on their investment in a particular film project. The producers of Haunting
were very fortunate, in this respect, because they had an investor who was interested in financing the film ahead of time.
Independent filmmakers need to have a clear understanding of what distribution model will work best for them. Federici explained that only about three percent of films made are able to get distribution. Haunting of the Innocent
was never intended for theatrical release, because the producers had made a strategic decision early on to exclusively release the movie on the digital market. Haunting
has been released on Redbox, as well as Hulu Plus and iTunes in the United States
Unlike big budget movies, budget constraints prevent independent filmmakers from doing significant rewrites, or holding special screenings and reshooting scenes if needed. “Everything has to be filmed at one time, with the hope that you don’t need to go back and get something,” says Hillis. Director, Matt Hish also explains that the editing process is invariably mired down in a lot of technical stuff, because right after principal photography wraps, the director immediately has to start aligning the post-production department, the sound design, scorer, and composer (Haunting
features original music by Darren Morze). There is an extremely tight deadline, and in many cases post-production may even take place when filming is still in progress.
Hish, Hillis and Federici all agree that the joy in independent filmmaking is that everyone is involved with different things, from making the coffee to the technical jobs. Everyone is script supervising. Everybody multitasks. By and large everyone working on an independent film comes together as a team to get things done.
If you are curious about what other projects Hish, Federici, and Hillis are currently involved in, here’s the scoop! Autumn Federici is keeping busy with Girl Radical, and recently filmed two new movies Circle
(which is now in post-production) and Abaddon
. Matt Hish is in the process of developing a psychological thriller, and Rib Hillis is starring in Birthday Cake
, the feature film sequel to the multi award-winning short film, Groom’s Cake
Rib Hillis and his wife, Elena Grinenko (best known as one of the professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars
) recently opened a dance studio in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles California. The LA Ballroom Studio Grand Opening, which will be held on March 31, 2014, will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). The grand opening is slated to be a celebrity-studded event, with many Dancing with the Stars
pros in attendance. *NSYNCer Lance Bass will make an appearance, and Charo will perform live flamenco! Kota Radical and Meeghan Radical of Girl Radical will join Autumn Federici at the event as well.
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