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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Interview with producer/director & writer, John Portanova

It was a genuine pleasure to receive the amount of positive feedback about last week's blog article for the May DVD release of the rather excellent The Invoking. The fact that the positive vibes weren't just from those involved in the project, but others who had both enjoyed the article and been inspired to possibly go out and buy it when it's released.

John Portanova standing in the 'stalkers' section
 -  nope nothing to infer from that......
If that wasn't enough, just a couple of days later I was more than a little pleased to be contacted by writer/producer/director and member of a mysteriously named group known as The October People, John Portanova.

If truth be told I was pleased on two counts. Firstly, it gave me the chance to pass onto my reader just part of the process behind the production of an indie horror movie. Secondly, it was the opportunity for me to gain answers to a few important burning questions that I had, such as; Was the rather excellent The Invoking really made on a shoestring budget? Just how annoyingly talented is Mr Portanova and his team? And are The October People really some shady group whose true intention to suck out the brains from our still breathing bodies?

As you'll see below, John is a rather deft and excellent interviewee with a good line in intelligence, humour and detailed oration, besides, anybody who uses the word 'cryptozoology' in an interview is fine by me. Not only that, but it seems that he has the need also to get the odd rant off his chest - nothing wrong with that. So I hope that he doesn't mind the odd minor amendment that I've made to his responses to my once again legendary, almost interrogatory in nature, interview questions by my altering his American English spelling (i.e incorrect) to UK English (i.e correct).


Q) Let's start with me asking you just who and what are The October people?

"The October People is a production company started by myself, Jeremy Berg, and Matt Medisch. It is based in Seattle and San Diego and specialises in producing independent films with a strong focus on character. Our first film was The Invoking, which Jeremy directed and co-wrote, I co-wrote and produced, and Matt produced and helped come up with the original story for. On future projects we will have similar positions some of the time, but other times we will switch things up and I could be directing, for example. We want to tell quality, character-driven stories through the prism of our favourite genres.
"

Q) The Invoking seems a little old-fashioned in terms of character development (and I mean that as a compliment) Was this an intentional approach from the start?

"It was. We are all lifelong horror fans and of course a big part of that is loving the gore effects and monsters. But when you see as many horror films as we have, you start to see those same things over and over. We knew we didn't want our first film to be another micro-budget zombie or slasher movie, so we decided to tell a story that was more about the characters and that took a more psychological approach. But even our upcoming projects, which do focus on different sub-genres of horror including monsters, will still be very much built off of a solid character foundation. Instead of just giving the audience cookie-cutter types that they've seen over and over again, we want to make sure there is interesting drama going on so that they are invested  in the story even before a monster comes rampaging across the screen."


Q) The film looks amazing - where is the location and how did you find it?

"Thanks. We shot the film in Red Bluff, CA. It was actually the home where our producer Matt grew up. Coming into The Invoking, we had a handful of short films and no money. We knew we wanted to make a feature and so we decided to do something in the vein of El Mariachi or the original Paranormal Activity, where the directors used what they had access to (locations and props) and wrote the film around those things to keep the budget low. So we wrote the script based off of this property we had the full run of. If something wasn't there and available to us at the location, we didn't write about it."


Q) Did The invoking only cost $11000 and one week to make? If so, just how was that managed ?

"Yes. The budget for the film was $11,000 and principal photography happened in Red Bluff over the course of one week. Like I was mentioning earlier, the script was written with this budget and shoot schedule in mind. We only had so much money we could charge onto credit cards and so much time we could take over the location. So keeping to this schedule was easy in one sense because we were staying at our location and everything was shot within walking distance from the house. But, on the other hand, it was hard because we had so many shots to get. Some days we did up to 40 set ups and had a maximum of 3 takes for each shot. Having an awesome crew and a great cast of actors really helped us stay on schedule and get good stuff during the few takes we had."


Q) What productions are next in the pipeline?

"We are actually getting ready to shoot the next October People horror feature next week. It's an alien abduction horror tale entitled The Device. Once again it'll be directed by Jeremy Berg from a script the two of us wrote and Matt Medisch will be producing. It'll be another very low budget picture, but this time we will be shooting all around Washington State with an awesome cast and crew made up of local talent including a nice mix of old friends and new collaborators. The film centres on a fractured family coming together after the loss of a loved one and then spirals into a story of alien terror. We're all big fans of alien abduction mythology and films in the sub genre such as Fire in the Sky, so we're excited to film our version of an alien abduction story. The plan is for the film to be out before the end of the year on home video after playing at a couple of film festivals.

Two months after we wrap The Device, we are going to be moving onto Valley of the Sasquatch. This film is based on a script I wrote many years ago and will be my directorial debut. Jeremy will be the cinematographer (a job he has performed on all of our films) and Matt will be producing. I grew up loving Bigfoot as much as alien abduction mythology (I was a big Unsolved Mysteries fan) and so I want this to be a film that treats the creature seriously. It's not a slasher movie where Jason is replaced by a Bigfoot. The story treats them like wild animals and gives a reason for why they have begun to amass a body count. I think cryptozoology fans as well as horror fans will dig it. It takes a serious look at a monster that has been on film a lot, but not always in the best stories. We will be shooting on our biggest budget yet (although still conservative even by indie film standards) and with some awesome actors that fans of the genre will recognise. The plan is for the film to be completed by the end of the year and then go into a film festival run.
"


Q) If there is anything, and I mean anything that you or the rest of the crew want to add/rant about/get off your chest/shout from the rooftops or just plain big yourselves up about - then here's your chance...fire away!!

"We are very happy with the response the film has got. For a film made for no money in no time, we've gotten many outstanding reviews and won a handful of awards from our film festival run. We even got a distribution deal that put the film out on store shelves and all over the net in a much wider fashion than a film of our size is usually afforded. So we don't have much to complain about. But there are a few misconceptions about the film that people have had since our wide release that I want to clear up. 
Most of the crew of The Invoking

1. We know that the set-up of the film (young people go to a cabin) has been done before. We had a microscopic budget that dictated how many characters and locations we could use. So we went with a classic horror set-up and then moved from there into our brand of psychological horror. 

2. We intended this to be a slow paced, character-driven film. We keep a lot of potential story tangents in the air (Is the house haunted? Will one of the characters snap and turn the film into a slasher? Is everything in the lead character's head?) and slowly reveal the true nature of the plot in order to keep those questions going through the audience's head. If that doesn't sound like your bag (which is fine, different strokes for different folks after all) you might be better off watching something else.

3. We shot the film in January of 2012 under the title Sader Ridge. We had no idea what The Conjuring was at that time as it would not be released for a year and a half. The distributor chose to change the name of the film to The Invoking and designed the key art which sells the movie as a classic ghost story (which it really isn't).

4. The film was shot a year before Texas Chainsaw 3D was released and before we had ever heard of it. The similarity in the plot set-up is a coincidence.

All right, that's all my ranting.
" (laughs).


Q) Finally, Alien or Predator? (This is important!)
"Alien. I think Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett came up with the perfect horror creature with that film. The life cycle is great and keeps the terror constantly evolving. And the fact that the alien has acid for blood was a stroke of genius because the characters had to outsmart it as opposed to outgun it, which is usually the path the ending of a monster movie goes down."


Q) Finally finally, any chance of me getting hold of one of them there The Invoking signed T-Shirts?

"The shirts were made by a great company who I buy most of my wardrobe from called Fast Custom Shirts. You can get one here: http://www.fastcustomshirts.com/servlet/Detail?no=1619

On our Facebook page (facebook.com/theoctoberpeople) we recently ran a contest giving away a signed DVD & a shirt, but unfortunately the contest is already over. But if you buy the shirt and then find yourself in Seattle I'm sure you could find the cast around town and get it signed.

Thanks for the great questions Stu!"

No worries mate, and thanks for the detailed responses and in getting the answer to the Alien/Predator question correct! :-)


I would sincerely like to thank John for taking the time to put up with my vague and shambolic  attempts at cutting edge questioning, hopefully he and the rest of his team haven't been put off too much in letting me see the fruits of their forthcoming productions. However I cannot guarantee that The October People isn't in fact a covert organisation whose ultimate aim is to suck your brains out, luckily I'm safe as I'm often told that I don't have the brains I was born with.......

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