Local horror movie showcases film tricks
ADDISON COUNTY — Middlebury filmmaker Tim Joy is living proof that a guy can fulfill his boyhood dreams. He makes movies with a high-tech, radio-controlled helicopter and pulls off stunts with actual vehicles rigged to steer using an external device.
Joy and his crew headed up to Lincoln to crash a radio-controlled, full-size pickup truck into a tree. Click here to watch.
Director, producer and editor of the up-and-coming horror film “Soul Keeper,” Joy and his Vermont-based team “Projection Films” are looking to turn heads with innovative camera work, nuanced scriptwriting, high-intensity stunts and sheer fright.
Based on a story by the Burlington author Joseph Citro, “Soul Keeper” stars former Middlebury resident Andy Butterfield, the nationally acclaimed actor Paul Schnabel, and Tim Kavanagh, former host of the WCAX-TV music and comedy show “Late Night Saturday with Tim Kavanagh.”
Shot at Shelburne Farms and at Addison County locations including New Haven’s Lime Kiln Road and Lincoln’s Isham Road, Joy is expecting that the 20-minute short film when finished will show Projection Films’ ability to produce high-quality footage on a meager movie budget estimated at $15,000. The local film team — comprised of associate producer and art director Daniel Sparling of New Haven, the scriptwriting duo and Middlebury College grads Ben Hardy and John Milton Oliver, and others — has worked on the film since spring of 2010 and now must cut down more than 600 minutes of footage before its projected Halloween premier at the Majestic 10 in Williston.
“A short film is very different from a feature film because you only have a few minutes to establish something and get an audience interested,” said Joy. “I think there’s more intensity.”
Thus the film begins with a bang.
When Maplefields employee Carl — the main character in “Soul Keeper” played by Butterfield — storms out of his house in a fury due to marriage woes, he stumbles across an old lottery ticket. Carl jumps in his old rusted truck and hits the road while slugging alcohol.
Swerving down the road, he scratches the lottery ticket and discovers he has won. He drops the ticket between his legs, reaches down to grab it and slams into a tree.
“Next thing you know he wakes up (injured) in this old man’s house and the old man is taking care of him,” said Joy. “But we soon realize that the old man has other ideas.”
MAKING THE MOVIE
As compelling as the quick-starting plot is, the way Joy designed the truck accident is equally fascinating. The crew gutted Sparling’s beat-up truck, drained the fluids and removed the gas tank.
“It was just a rolling carcass really,” said Joy.
A big gear was connected to the steering wheel with a chain, and an emergency brake — essentially a spring-loaded plunger — was installed. The gear that steered the truck was controlled by a radio-controlled setup that Joy installed.
“I actually saw this on ‘MythBusters,’” he laughed. “They said don’t try this at home, but that wasn’t going to stop me.”
Filming of the crash took place earlier this month on Lincoln’s Isham Road.
“The fire department was there, and we had to obtain permission from the landowners and the town. It was a big to-do,” said Joy.
The first test drive was a failure. While Joy attempted to the steer the truck out of a sunroof in a chase vehicle, Sparling was in the truck ready to break or takeover if anything failed.
“He took off like a bat out of hell and I was kind of scared because when you can’t see the steering wheel of the vehicle you’re driving, it’s very hard to know where it’s going … I just about drove him off the road,” explained Joy. “I can’t steer a truck going 30-40 mph like that, so we had to abort.”
Joy’s remedy was to install a small camera in the truck’s visor with a wireless video transmitter on top of the truck. He put a piece of tape on the steering wheel for a frame of reference and positioned himself between the truck’s starting point and the scene of the crash. Through a driver’s-eye view transmitted to his computer screen, Joy was able to successfully steer the truck down Isham Road and smack-dab into a tree.
“It was a blast,” exclaimed Joy after the crash. “It’s every boy’s dream, I think, to have a full-sized radio control truck.”
The film also features aerial footage shot by an electric, radio control helicopter with a six-foot diameter rotor disc. Attached to the front is “a custom built three-axis gyro stabilized camera gimbal” that has a vibration isolator to take smooth shots, explained Joy.
“The gimbal has the ability to pan, tilt and roll, and it has special electronic gyros on each of those three axes, which can automatically compensate for the movement of the helicopter, so if the helicopter rolls to the left, the gimbal will automatically roll to the right to keep the camera tray level.”
While Joy flies the helicopter, Sparling runs the camera.
“It’s not a toy … it takes a lot of practice,” said Joy, who recalled the countless hours that he and Sparling spent practicing to smoothly coordinate their movements.
Thanks to the inventive and mechanical minds of Joy and Starling, Projection Films was able to shoot dynamic footage at a very low cost.
“This film is really meant to be our greatest example of here’s what we can do,” said Joy. “This is what we can do with $15,000. For most productions, that would be their food budget.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].