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Why This Low Budget Horror Director Just Wouldn’t Quit

It took four years to get to this point.

The release of “Capps Crossing,” a horror/thriller I wrote and directed, has made it to theaters and Video on Demand.

It all started back in 2013 when I was tossing around ideas for a horror film. I have always had a very strong connection to the first “Friday the 13th” film. It was fresh and different, from the iconic sound effect that announces Jason’s presence to the flat-out gore.

Friday the 13th - Trailer

Other favorites include: “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Se7en,” “Hostel,” “American Psycho” and “Saw.” An annual camping trip with friends to Capps Crossing, a real campground in the Eldorado National Forest, became the foundation for the film. It is a private group site with running water and bathrooms that are a step above a Porta Potty. I had the place, but no story until a couple of my friends started geocaching (a GPS treasure hunting game) and I tagged along with them.

Then it came to me.

Geocachers normally find coins and other trinkets. What if they found body parts instead? Then, my next challenge. Why? Why would someone place body parts instead of geocaches? The answer came to me while walking across a historic bridge at the site. A large steel bridge covered with graffiti: “John was here 1990,” “Rob + Amy forever,” “Steve RIP” and on and on.

What were the stories behind those tags?

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Now, I had geocaching, something that hadn’t really been in a horror movie before, I had the main story that would kick everything off and I had the setting. I was on my way. The film needed a special type of killer, and for that I took inspiration from “Psycho” and “American Psycho.”

David, my psycho in the forest, needed to be a chameleon, a philosopher, a smart ass and on top of that, brutal. Casting the role of David was going to be crucial to pulling off this character in the way that I envisioned. (Brian Cory eventually landed the role)

While the script was being re-written the third time, we set up a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. We were successful in raising our goal of $5,000 in 30 days. The rest of the budget would come out of my pocket. We started to recruit cast and crew right away.

capps crossing horror movie
A tense moment from ‘Capps Crossing,’ an indie horror movie that epitomizes the dedication of today’s low-budget auteurs.

With the help of a local producer, I found Alejandro Guimoye, five-time Emmy award-winning cinematographer, to shoot the film. Alejandro brought a few other key people to the team such as First Assistant Director, Rose Hernandez, and we were ready to cast. In just two weeks of in-person and Skype auditions, we had the entire cast booked.

Originally, we wanted to shoot the whole film at the real Capps Crossing campsite. The site sits on National Forest Service land and would have cost us more than $1,000 a day to shoot there. We opted for the next best thing. The group site Sly Park is about 15 minutes away, and it still had all of the beauty we were looking for … plus a lake to boot.

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Another advantage to Sly Park? Power. Capps Crossing has no electricity. We would’ve been forced to run the entire production on generators. That would drive up the expense and cause a ton of audio issues.

It wasn’t planned, but we ended up starting the first day of shooting on Friday the 13th. We shot for four days, took three off and shot for four more. The cast and crew slept at the campground throughout the entire shoot. We worked 20 hour days. There was no way we’d finish if we didn’t pull long hours.

Then, came the unexpected … rain.

We had checked the Almanac and other sources when planning our shoot days. We learned it hadn’t rained in that location during the month of September for 25 years. We lost half a day due to rain, but we decided to make the best of it and shoot what we could. Some of the most beautiful shots in the entire film came from that day. They gave us a feel and texture we never counted on.

Capps Crossing Official Trailer

We finished principal photography on September 23, 2013. After an initial edit, we decided we needed to go back for a day and a half to get some additional footage in 2014.

In retrospect, shooting the film was the easy part. Editing, special effects, sound mixing and composing all took much longer than anyone in the cast or crew wanted. That is the nature of filmmaking on a very low budget. You have to work within the schedules of everyone involved while they hold down full-time jobs and also try to do something besides work. We got it done, and I am grateful for all the hard work and long hours that everyone put in for little to no pay.

At this point, I have probably seen the film over 400 times. I am very proud of the work everyone did on a film that was shot in essentially eight days for 10 grand. “Capps Crossing” premiered in Hollywood on June 9 and had a Northern California premiere on June 10.

Capps Crossing” is available now on Amazon and Google Play with the soundtrack available on Amazon, Google Play and Spotify.

Mike Stahl is the writer/director of the new horror film “Capps Crossing.”

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