Four films by Webster alumni featured in Haunted Garage Film Festival

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The second annual Haunted Garage Film Festival took place Oct. 7 to 9 at the Westport Playhouse. The festival provided a space for filmmakers and fans to come together and celebrate the horror genre.

Photo by John Farish. Left to right: Event host Lilian Schenck discusses “Chest,” which won the Haunted Garage Film Festival’s award for best film, with writer/director Aaron Irons and actor/producer Josh Croft.

The weekend-long event was organized by the St. Louis-based film production company Shift Films. Co-founder and executive producer at Shift Films Franki Cambeletta said he believes there should be a film festival where horror movies could be played without having to compete with other movie genres.

“Halloween is unique in St. Louis, so we need a festival which is specific to the genre of horror,” Cambletta said.

Consider for a moment the horror stories that have come out of St. Louis, such as the Lemp Family suicides and the story that inspired “The Exorcist.” Consider the haunted houses – some of the most popular in the country – and the unique Halloween traditions, like telling jokes when trick-or-treating. Cambeletta’s assertion that Halloween takes on a unique character in St. Louis seems reasonable.

The Haunted Garage Film Festival is also a celebration of talented independent filmmakers. The lineup included three films made by students and four films from Webster University alumni. The event also featured guest speakers who work in the industry, and film production companies, providing a networking opportunity for aspiring filmmakers.

The festival showed a total of 18 short films and six feature-length films. A movie shown on the first night was Brian Cooksey’s short film “He’s Mine.” In a speech following the screening, Cooksey noted that there were just three actors and only took a few hours to film.

Many other filmmakers throughout the weekend expressed the technical ease of making movies. Problem-solving, dedication and creativity were consistently championed as paramount to filmmaking, even able to compensate for a lack of fancy cameras or editing skills.

Photo by John Farish. Left to right: Actor/producer Shawn DaWain Holt and writer/director Alexander Hernandez accept the Haunted Garage Film Festival’s award for most creative monster.

An example of this is a story from Sean DaWain Holt, the producer of “The Journal of Aleksandr Kuzmich,”  who told the audience about the monster the team had to create on the spot when the costume supplier shipped the wrong mask.

Writer and director Christopher Williams, who usually makes romantic comedies, decided to try his hand at the horror genre. To do this, Williams bought a $4 VHS camera app, which he then used to film a found-footage style movie from the perspective of a serial killer who managed to kill the two detectives on his tail.

Another instance of creative filmmaking comes fromform film producer and screenwriter Jeff Bassetti, a speaker at this year’s event.

“All good films start with simply writing them,” Bassetti said.

This is an inspiring message for beginner filmmakers. The attitude at this convention of independent filmmakers was that all you need to make a movie is a vision and a good team.

Photo by John Farish. Practical effects designer Brian Hillard demonstrates his makeup skills by turning a volunteer into a zombie.

Brian Hillard was one presenter who especially emphasized the importance of a good team. Hillard is a practical effects designer who has worked on six Academy Award-winning films, and TV shows like “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Walking Dead.” During his presentation – in which he turned a volunteer into a zombie on stage using makeup and effects – Hillard took questions from the audience.

“This doesn’t usually happen. There is a weird trust that builds between you and the actor when you have to work on their makeup for hours on end,” Hillard said when asked about working with irritated or unpleasant actors.

Hillard went on to describe some of the ways he talked to actors to calm them down.

“I think they trust me because I’m straightforward with them. My parents raised me to be kind, and I think people recognize when they’re talking to me that I’m honest and understanding,” Hillard said.

Hillard said that the way to get jobs in the film industry was to get out there and meet people. The Haunted Garage Film Festival is an opportunity to do just that. It’s a place for networking, and Hillard discussing his philosophy on the importance of teamwork and honesty kept the spirit of that goal alive.

The next Haunted Garage festival will take place next October, but there are similar events between now and then, such as the St. Louis International Film Festival in November. According to Cambeletta, the team at Shift Films is also in the early stages of planning more film festivals throughout the year, including one aimed at promoting student films.

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John Farish
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