Filmmaking finds secure foothold in NWA
“We shot overnight for two weeks in December in a mud pit in Sonora during the coldest temperatures of the year,” remembers Billy Chase Goforth. “The location was a dry pond, but we had rain just before the shoot, so it turned to slick mud. We had a cast and crew of 50 out there trying to stay warm in 10-15 degree weather. In the dark. Cameras were freezing up. We were running gas heaters just off camera to keep the actors a little more comfortable.”
“It was kind of cold,” admits 10-year-old John-Michael Fisher, one of those actors in “Door in the Woods.” “But we had heaters and food everywhere. It was really fun.”
“Door in the Woods,” one of four showcase films at this year’s Fayetteville Film Fest, was John-Michael’s first feature film role but not his first movie experience. He had already done two short films — which says something about the burgeoning business of filmmaking in Northwest Arkansas.
So does the fact that the film’s director of photography, Blake Elder, and his mom, Kerri Elder, the movie’s executive producer, opened Rockhill Studios this summer in Fayetteville.
“We wanted to take a step in investing in Arkansas’ film industry,” says Blake Elder. “We have great schools at John Brown University and the University of Central Arkansas, so we get great crew that come out of there, but they end up moving to Los Angeles or Atlanta. We’ve got to keep them here.
“I’ve always been into movies and been making movies since I was a little kid,” Elder adds. “And once I got out of college and started doing it professionally, I realized we could make movies here.”
To that end, the Elders found property on Township Street between Gregg and College avenues perfect for a “one-stop shop kind of hub.” It includes a 4,000-square-foot sound stage with a 22-foot ceiling and a cyclorama, an editing suite and hair and makeup salons — “everything from beginning to end,” Elder says.
“We’d been looking for a project to work on together for a while, and this story was a good match for us.” says Goforth, the director of “Door in the Woods,” who also works full time in film and video production. “Ten years ago I made a movie with my friend Houston for about $8,000. It’s a bounty hunter action comedy called ‘25K.’ We realized that technology had reached the point where we could go to an electronics store and buy everything we needed to make a movie, so that’s what we did. We were just out to experiment and see if we could really make a movie.
“It turned out a lot better than we expected. It won some awards and film festivals were eager to screen it,” he marvels. “Filmmaking became my full-time pursuit. ‘Door In The Woods’ is my third feature film to screen at the Fayetteville Film Festival.”
“Door in the Woods,” Goforth explains, “is a story about a struggling young family who install a vintage door in their home, resulting in all kinds of paranormal encounters. It’s more of a thriller than a horror movie. There’s no gore or masked killers hiding in the woods. It’s a paranormal thriller more on the level of ‘Twilight Zone.’
“I’ve always had strange dreams full of poetic imagery,” Goforth goes on. “Since I was a child I’ve had a recurring dream about a door standing by itself in the woods — a door that held other places behind it. Maybe some not-so-nice places.
“Paranormal thrillers and ghost stories are notoriously difficult to end,” he adds. “Very tough to find a satisfying conclusion. The script for ‘Door In The Woods’ came together very quickly after I found the ending. The film has a great ending that I think audiences will find satisfying and will be talking about after the movie ends.
“We shot ‘Door In The Woods’ almost entirely in Fayetteville and Sonora,” he says. “It was a remarkable team effort. Really challenging conditions and no complainers.”
Now, it’s time to debut the film at the Fayetteville Film Fest.
“We’ll be taking ‘Door In The Woods’ to a number of festivals this fall and winter,” Goforth says. “We’re optimistic about finding a distributor to pick up the movie and help us make it available to a wide audience.”
‘Door in the Woods’
WHEN — 8:30 p.m. Sept. 15
WHERE — Chancellor Hotel in Fayetteville
COST — One-day pass Friday, $20
INFO — fayettevillefilmfest.org