‘Savage County’ Guest Blog 2: Five Tips for Making Your First Horror Flick

In advance of the world premiere of his new slasher flick “Savage County” on MTV2 this Thursday, October 7, at 11 p.m. (10 p.m. Central), director David Harris has been guest-blogging on MTV News to share some thoughts on making the film. He talked about marketing the movie in yesterday’s post, and today he offers up some horror-movie-making tips. Come back tomorrow for his third and final blog.

I want to make another movie for all kinds of reasons: It’s my dream to be a director… Maybe I’ll make money at it someday… I want to have one of those chairs with my name on the back… But, more than anything, I want to make another movie because I learned so much the first time around that it seems like a waste not to use that knowledge.

Making movies is now what having a band used to be. A lot of people do it, and with digital cameras everywhere, it’s an accessible way to express yourself. Everybody from Hitchcock to Tarantino has excellent advice on the creative process that’s only a Google search away. There’s nothing I can impart about the art of filmmaking that comes close to them, BUT I’m pretty sure I have some practical advice on making your first horror movie that they couldn’t give you.

Here are my top five tips:

1. Pack a Flashlight
Scouting locations for a horror movie is very much like being in a horror movie. Everyone who knows of a scary, horrible place will suggest you visit — whether it fits your movie or not. Scouting “Savage County,” we found ourselves knee-deep in water in an abandoned basement autopsy room/morgue/body incinerator. Did we bring a flashlight? Nope. We used the flash on a digital camera to light up the room every couple of feet. It was straight out of “Quarantine.” Flashlights are cheap; we were dumb.

2. Buy Waders
These are knee-high thick rubber boots — you can buy heavy-duty hunting versions at Walmart. I never saw leeches before scouting Savage County. Besides, this will come in handy when you turn over a board and reveal the guy pictured to the right.

3. More Blood! More Dirt!
Your cast arrives in the morning. They’re good-looking, fresh-faced, ready to work… You put a little blood on them and they look terrible, but not horror-movie terrible. The actors may look at you pleadingly (“Please, don’t put any more sticky crap on me!”). Ignore them.

4. Sweat the Small Stuff
We had plenty of days when someone could have gotten killed if something big went wrong. But the one day that actually went to hell (our first day — yay!) there were about a dozen small things going wrong. Questions to ask: Was the sound guy in the bathroom when the van left for set? Did the grips bring the keys to their truck? Does the production assistant really know how to drive a van? If not, you might find yourself without a sound guy, or lights, with a van in a pond blocking your access to set. Run through checklists like you’ve got OCD… or hire someone with actual OCD.

5. Shoot Where They’re Excited to Have You
I think it’s still statistically most likely that if you’re reading this, you don’t live in a “production hub.” I live in L.A. now, and there are a ton of advantages to making movies here, but one big disadvantage is that if you’re just starting out, the world isn’t lining up to help you out. When we decided to shoot “Savage County” in Memphis, I didn’t know how lucky we’d be. The town isn’t a stranger to production (“Hustle & Flow,” “The Client” and “Walk the Line” were filmed there), but there are enough creative, talented people there who aren’t often asked to contribute to a film… but when they are asked, they’re excited to help (guys like the REAL Crittenden County Fire Department, who made the shirts pictured for the movie so they’d be authentic). Wherever that excitement comes from, wherever you can find that support — that’s where you should make your movie. It’s easy to take that support for granted, but it could be the thing that makes your first film possible.

Will you tune in for the “Savage County” world premiere on Thursday?