Supernatural exterminators have rarely resorted to scrappier methods than in Darren Orange’s new horror satire, “InSpectres.” It’s an indie production bursting with ambition that has been made to fill a big screen (and will get that chance this week). The story centers on agent-in-training Lucas (Brian Barber) and his mentor, Tracy (Lucas Thompson), as they attempt to prevent Armageddon while encountering everything from “party animal wolf men” to “German gremlins who fix 8-Bit arcade machines.”
Indie Outlook spoke with the director and star about their long journey to a theatrical premiere, the advice of George Romero and the ways in which Thompson’s military service influenced his character.
Q: What is the genesis of “InSpectres”?
Darren Orange (DO): It’s based on a role-playing game. The journey toward making it a movie started in 2005. I met an industry insider named Matt Forbeck, who ended up becoming one of the co-writers of the film. Jared Sorenson is the creator of the game and eventually came to us with the idea of making it into a movie. It wasn’t until 2009 when we started working with the actors, and we shot the film in 2010. Post-production took three years.
What’s different about our production versus many others is that the workflow process is high-quality. I worked with [digital intermediate colorist] Tom Rovak and [visual effects supervisor/sound mixer/co-producer] Sean Czaja to perfect the work in post. We have 5.1 surround sound on this project. We didn’t want to just spit things into stereo and say, “It’s done.” Our post-sound work took between 8 to 10 months to complete, and ADR has been done over the course of two years. Almost everything has been done on Adobe Premiere. My biggest headache as a filmmaker has been the endless transference and rendering of files. Premiere has it all in one place.
Q: Had you experienced role-playing games prior to acting in this film?
Lucas Thompson (LT): Yes, it blew my mind when I went to Gen Con and saw the number of people who were there. It was the biggest party of the year for nerds, and for a jock like me, it was super-cool. I played my first role-playing game [“The Void/Tension”] while I was there, and it kind of felt like going back to high school in a sense. Going into this, I had no idea what this movie was based off of. As actors, we were tested to see if we could provide our time and our efforts with little return at the beginning. Not a lot of us survived, but I did.
Q: What elements of the game transferred into the film?
DO: In the world of this game, you do “confessionals” that foretell or shape the events that will happen in the story. In the film, these scenes take place within the characters’ minds, breaking that fourth wall a bit. They allowed us to preemptively inform the audience on events that were about to happen, while at the same time deepening our character development. When people adapt properties, they often translate them poorly to the screen. They’ll just take the best pieces and that’s it. We really wanted to keep the essence of the story, and in this case, we’re dealing with supernatural entities hunted by heroes who are essentially garbage men. If people want to call this a “21st Century ‘Ghostbusters,’” I’ll take that, but we wanted to make the material believable. There are no proton packs or anything like that. Our characters use raccoon traps and shotguns.
LT: We did a test screening and found that 7 to 12-year-olds really enjoy it. They crack up laughing like crazy and really enjoy my character. I’m a bit of a badass who doesn’t care too much about people’s feelings, but as the story progresses, I start to become invested in the team. I step into the role of a father figure and take the team under my wing. The character played by Brian Barber starts out as sort of a 12-year-old kid. He’s goofy, innocent and unorthodox before we see him grow into a man.
Q: What were the biggest challenges facing this project?
DO: Money is the biggest one. We just didn’t have it. What we had was time. Executive producer Darrik Cupps helped us make what we needed in order to get the project off the ground, and from there, it was all about planning. A principle cast member dropped out the first day of shooting, and we recast the role within a week without losing any shooting days. We had around 16 locations and shot on average two days per location during the month of October. If you’re making a film with horror elements, there’s no better month to film it then in October. Props are everywhere at your disposal. One of the benefits of working on an indie budget is it allows you to be more agile. You can throw whatever you had planned out the window if a new opportunity arises. We changed the location for one scene to a cornfield when a cornfield became available to us, and the change ended up working great for the film.
Q: How were you able to relate to your character?
LT: Darren made sure we were fully prepared before we went in front of the camera. I knew the background of my character, and my military experience came into play. I was in the Marine Corps for four years from ’96 to 2000. We were never in hand-to-hand combat and never got into a firefight. But it’s one of those situations where if you can take it and relate it the role, it becomes a great help. I could relate to Tracy’s need for employment, having had the experience of leaving the military and looking for work. The most unfortunate part about the [current difficulties facing] veterans upon returning home is that it’s really hard to transition. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to start acting.
I wanted to become something different than what I was. Oscar Wilde says that “acting is so much more real than life,” and it’s the truth. You don’t always want to be trapped as “you” in this society where people act so disrespectful. You come back home and see kids mouthing off to their parents, you see people throw trash on the ground or who aren’t looking after themselves. To a normal civilian, it’s probably okay, but to military guys, they’re just pounding their heads against the wall, asking, “Why?” That transition is very difficult for any military person to go through. For me, acting has served as a sort of remedy. That’s probably why this role fit me so well. I was ready to play a guy who could utilize his military knowledge to be able to do something that isn’t useless to the outside world.
Q: What’s the best piece of filmmaking advice that you’ve ever received?
DO: I’ll give you the advice that was given to me a few years ago. If you have the time, go grab a camera and make something that will test your skill sets. Don’t make the same thing every time. You could start shooting things with your cell phone. That was the advice that I was given by George Romero back in 2004. I went to see the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” at the Kerasotes 12 in Bolingbrook. There was a horror festival going on in town, and I had a few friends who were going to it. I got a call from one of them who said there was someone who wanted to speak with me, and George Romero gets on the phone. I was literally walking into the theater to see a remake of his movie, so the only thing I could think to ask him was, “What piece of advice would you have for me?” I think his exact words were, “Pick up a camera and start filming s—t.”