Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bits & Pieces 03.24.13

Christian band-cum-carnival-act White Collar Sideshow was interviewed by Fearnet.com, who posted the video Friday. You can read the write-up and watch the video at Fear Net. WCS's latest album, WitchHunt, is a concept album which also features a 45-minute original horror film based on the 7 deadly sins. More from White Collar Sideshow at their website.

Greg Mitchell has a Goodreads contest going, offering up a couple copies of Dark Hour. This is the final installment in his Coming Evil Trilogy. The contest runs 'til April 1. Keep up with Greg at his Coming Evil blog, where you can also read the first of his commentaries on the series. 

And we end where we began: with music. Horrorpunk mainstays Grave Robber are on tour March 29-April 6 with punk band Dead Words. While the majority of their shows are in home state Indiana, they'll also be in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee. 

Guts, Grace, and Spiritual Warfare: An Interview with Filmmaker Matt Mitchell


Dr. Matt Mitchell is a Christian Filmmaker. The proprietor of Cross Shadow Productions, Mitchell and his crew are responsible for one of the first Christian (and almost certainly the first Dove Approved) Christian serial killer (I think Dr. Mitchell would agree with my avoidance of the term “slasher”) trilogies

We recently had the chance to get to know a little more about Matt and his Cross Shadow Productions. .

A Flame in the Dark: Hi, Matt. Before we get started, tell us about yourself!

Matt Mitchell: I'm happily married to Amy, my wife of nearly 18 years, and we have two kids, Maryn and Mylo. We've always been involved in the arts, music, acting etc., in fact, that's how I met my wife. I first saw her on stage, acting in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was love at first sight.  :) I'm the former lead-singer of a secular rock band, but Amy says if she knew me back then, we would never have gotten together! :)  I've been a Worship Arts Pastor for over 20 years, so directing has been something I've been pretty comfortable with for a long time. My long-time friend, and co-founder of Cross Shadow Productions is Tiaan Kruger. He and his wife, April, have two beautiful kids as well, Evan and Caraline. Tiaan and I met at church (The Potter's Hand Bible Church in Apex, NC) several years ago where he is also the Head of our Worship Tech ministry. I have to say, he's pretty much a genius when it comes to all things technical. The fact that we've been able to release something like 5 DVDs in 5 years, is due in large part, to his giftedness. Without him, there would probably be no Cross Shadow. (www.crossshadowproductions.com)

AFitD: What inspired you to start making Christian movies -- and in particular, why did you decide to start with a suspense film like Pray?

MM: Great question! I suppose it all began with a conversation my wife & I had at our house several years ago, with Tiaan & April Kruger. (By the time this night was over, our two families would become the co-founders of Cross Shadow Productions :) We were sitting in our living room just talking and wishing there were some decent, clean, but suspenseful movies out there that had all the fun "thrills" but none of the offensive stuff in there. It seemed everything coming out of Hollywood lately was full of terrible language, over-the-top violence and gore, nudity, etc. and it really wasn't necessary to have all that "junk" in there to tell the story. So after a few minutes, we jokingly said we should write & produce our own clean scary movie!  :)  The more we thought about it, the more we sensed there might be something to this, and then we began to seriously discuss it. We knew there was a niche market out there for people who, like us, had grown up watching secular scary movies, and wanted those same type of thrills, but without the needless offensive content. However, if we were seriously going to do this, we knew we wanted to include a spiritual "heart" or message to anything we did.  I remembered typing up a story years ago, that I had heard as a teenager with some of my youth group friends from church. I thought it was a really powerful (and creepy) story, so I gave it to Tiaan that night to take home and read. He liked it as well, and the rest is history.  :)  From there we fleshed out a script, held auditions, and basically produced the entire thing within a few months, and the movie Pray was done. God really did some amazing things to make it all happen. He gets the credit, not us.  :)  The way He provided the funding, brought the actors to us, and eventually secured a multi-picture Distribution Deal for us, was nothing short of amazing. It still feels surreal to read international reviews or get emails from fans in England, New Zealand, Australia etc. and realize that your films are being sold all over the world. It's pretty humbling.

AFitD: Can you tell us a little more about what went into the Pray trilogy? What inspired the story?

MM: Originally, it was just going to be a single film. Honestly, we weren't sure anyone would ever see it, so we kinda just made it for us. However, the VP at a major distribution label saw it and tracked us down. He offered us a deal on the spot and sent us a nice royalty check in the mail. We couldn't believe it! Tiaan & I still laugh about it, and are shocked and humbled that it continues to sell as well as it does. It was our first attempt at filmmaking, so it's pretty rough, and yet it continues to out-sell anything else we've ever done. It really is incredible how it's taken on a life of it's own. A lot of Youth groups show it at their lock-ins or as a "Halloween Alternative" and use the free Bible Study that is available online for each movie we make. Once it was obvious that it was becoming a surprise "hit", the label contacted us and asked if there was a sequel in the works. There wasn't, but after that phone call, there was!  :) Our latest release, Pray 3D: The Storm, is more of the classic straight-ahead, fun, thriller. We all wanted to build on the simple, old-school suspense thrills from the first movie, but adding the 3D element to it gives it a cutting-edge vibe at the same time.
AFitD: After you did the Pray Trilogy, Cross Shadow moved into more of a Spiritual Warfare direction with Paranormal. Is this a personal interest for you?

MM: Dealing with Spiritual Warfare was something that I became keenly aware of while attending Samford University. I had an unbelievable....um, we'll just call it "encounter" that really opened my eyes. It was terrifying and illuminating all at once, and will be the basis for another film "The Vestavia Experience" one day, perhaps. Ever since that event, I've been interested in Spiritual Warfare. There had been so many shows appearing on TV that seemed to focus on the supernatural side of things, ghost hunting, etc, but none of them addressed it from a Biblical perspective. The whole genre was really wide open for someone to come in and do a film that dealt with this growing fascination from a Christian viewpoint. One day I was sitting in my office and Tiaan was there and I said, "Hey, I think I may have a title for our next movie idea...what do you think of "Paranormal"? He lit up and said something like, "You had me at Para- count me in!" I think he was even more excited than I was! We laughed and knew what our next project was going to be within 30 seconds. It was that quick.  :)  Paranormal really stretched us. In addition to Tiaan and myself (and of course, our awesome wives) we added two key people to our core team, Vince Mills and Eliot Barton, and that really helped us a lot with a film of this size and scope. It was a huge leap forward in every way, and I think it came across well on screen. It was a tough film to produce, but it was definitely worth it. We knew that the enemy did NOT want us to finish this movie, and we have some pretty freaky stories that we could share about things that happened on set, especially at the abandoned "sanitarium". But I'll save those for another time.  :)


AFitD: You're in pre-production stages on another couple of horror/suspense titles -- The Vestuvia Experience and Panic. What can you tell us about those?

MM: The future is wide open for us. We have a lot really exciting, creative ideas and potential films in various stages of development. You've mentioned a couple of the suspense titles that we may do, but we also have some sci-fi/action oriented films we are considering too. As always, it's up to the Lord and His timing. Where He guides, He'll always provide, so we'll wait on Him for the next step.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Guest Post: Playing Tricks


By Greg Mitchell

If you’ll allow me to be sentimental for a moment.

As I am primarily a horror writer, I deal with the macabre on a daily basis. So much so, in fact, that it sometimes becomes mundane. During the editing process, I get so bogged down in sentence structure and “show don’t tell” and all of that nonsense that I often lose the wonder of horror. I forget the magic. I  sometimes forget what drew me here in the first place.

Having children is a tremendous blessing. I’ve never entirely left my childhood behind, but having kids is like a portal through time. It’s been fun to see what kinds of cartoons and toys my young children enjoy, and it is an even greater thrill to introduce them to the things of my own childhood. Seeing my oldest daughter Jo Beth (age 6) playing an old Super NES Mario game—AND seeing her enjoy it in a world where every other kid her age has a Blackberry already—is dang near tearjerking. Of course, being a horror guy, my wife and I have always made it a point to start our kids young on monsters. They are always free to take it at their own pace, but I hope to give them some good monster memories that they can look back on, much like I had.

Case in point, my youngest daughter Dani (age 2). One night a few months back, while they were showing a Jack Arnold marathon on Turner Classic Movies, Dani and I spent the evening together, snuggled up on the couch, covered in a big blanket, watching Creature from the Black Lagoon. Dani was really into it, especially since this is one of the few Universal Monster movies that actually shows the monster quite frequently. And, of course, me being a spooky story spinner, I couldn’t resist but make ominous noises and reach around the back of the couch to grab her with a menacing claw. She’d squeal and laugh and squirm and, before I knew it, she wanted me to do that for the entire movie.

Fast forward a few weeks later and we’re watching another black and white monster classic from yesteryear and Dani starts exclaiming “Let’s play tricks!” It took me a while before I realized what she was talking about, but she took me by the hand and led me to the couch. Once I was in place, she scurried to the tub o’quilts we keep in the corner and heaved one free. With all her might, she drug it to me, her eyes alight with excitement. “Let’s play tricks!” So, once again, we snuggled under the blankets and made spooky noises and I grabbed for her. She’d squeal and laugh and squirm, then insist that it was my turn. She prodded me to hide underneath the quilt and she proceeded to make her tiny wolf cub howls, her small delicate hands clutching like the blood-stained claws of a ferocious monster. Naturally I squealed and laughed and squirmed.

Now, Dani will hardly let me watch a monster movie without exclaiming “Let’s play tricks!” She’s already got a quilt that proves the best for giving each other the willies, and hurries to get it.

That’s what horror is, folks. At its best. Yeah, there’s a lot of drek out there. Gore and vulgarities and terrible things I’d never show a child. But, somewhere buried underneath, there’s a magic there. A wonder that I can’t escape, no matter how much some might not understand my fascination with the genre. It’s a release, a chance to escape to a magical land of monsters and heroes. It’s an opportunity to be scared, if only for a little while, but emerge from beneath the blanket unscathed. That’s why I do it. That’s why I write in this genre, why I share it with my girls. With all the darkness in the real world, can’t we laugh at ourselves and snuggle close, reminding ourselves that we can laugh in spite of the fears we feel? We squeal, we laugh, we squirm.

It’s all just “playing tricks”. And I love it.

Greg Mitchell is the author of the "Coming Evil" Trilogy. Find out more about Greg in today's Small Bites column!

Small Bites with Greg Mitchell


Greg Mitchell is the author of the "Coming Evil" Trilogy. Book Three of the series, Dark Hour, was released on February 20. Pick it up here.

Get more information on Mitchell's latest book, other writings, and more, at his blog.

A Flame in the Dark: What is your favorite monster/horror icon?

Greg Mitchell: Wow, you’re just asking the tough questions right out of the gate. I think that my answer
has changed as I’ve grown older. When I was a kid I loved the werewolf mythology. Wolfmen—even the Incredible Hulk, which I always saw as the same sort of concept—appealed to me. This idea that you had incredible power within you, but you had to keep it in check lest you lash out and hurt everyone around you. Having said that, I don’t like
a lot of werewolf movies! I haven’t found many that really resonated with me, except for
Lon Chaney Jr’s performance, of course. But now that I’m adult, I really gravitate toward
the “alien invasion” concept. An impossible surge of outside threat swooping down, and
everyday folks from all walks of life having to rise to the occasion and work together to
overcome it. That’s inspiring to me.

AFitD: Favorite horror movie?

GM: The Monster Squad. An invasion of classic movie monsters in a small town and the only
ones who can stop it are a bunch of kids who have seen all the same movies I have?
What’s not to love? Sign me up! It’s the perfect movie for that perpetual twelve-year-old
buried inside of me.

AFitD: Favorite author?

GM: To be honest, I’m more of a movie guy than a book guy—even though I’ve written a
number of books. So I’m going to have to go with directors, in which case I would have
to say John Carpenter. He is a true storyteller. There is such a visual language to his
films and he has the ability to blend thoughtful commentary with tough guy/horror/sci-
fi exploitation. I love John Carpenter movies. The music, the cinematography, the “every
man” quality of his characters. Great stuff.

AFitD: One question you wish people would ask you, and your answer?

GM: I think it can never be overstated how powerfully children respond to “horror”. I know
that, in my own experience, I first connected to the genre at a young age. I had such a
fascination with “the spooky”. So, I’m always up for discussing childhood memories
as they relate to monsters and what not. I would say that one question I wish people
asked more often was in regards to my early exposure to monsters and horror, such as
“What was your favorite ghost story growing up?” My answer to that question would
probably be this one tale I remember reading in one of those Scary Stories books called
“The Hand”. As I recall, they had a severed hand of a criminal and hung it by the wrist
in a broom closet. Then they dared this kid to go inside the closet, in the dark, alone
with the hand. The kid’s in there for awhile and when they open the door, they discover
that he’s hanging by his neck—that hand has strangled him. That jolted me as a kid and
really bothered me. I was terrified of dying alone with my parents not knowing what had
happened to me, so that was especially frightening.

AFitD: Who is Jesus, to you?

GM: My only hope of salvation. The only worthwhile meaning in life. I’m constantly
reminded, both in my own life and in the world around me, that humanity is a fallen
creature. The world is mired in murder and lies and arrogance and ignorance and
it’s absolutely suffocating. I can only look to Christ for any possible hope of finding
forgiveness, myself, and finding some sort of comfort beyond the here and now. There
has to be a better life than this one, or what was the point of it all? Just to feed ourselves
fat and make a bunch of money and laugh real loud at the parties? I want more out of
life. I want meaning. I want to be a part of something greater than my own selfishness,
something with eternal value. I want to be loved and accepted by God. I believe that can
only truly be found through Christ as, on my own, I’m completely devoid of merit.