For most people, nightmares about killers lurking in the inky black corners of a library, in the dead of the night, are the types of dreams we wake up to in a cold sweat and try to forget. For P.J. Starks, nightmares fuel his inspiration and drive his creativity. Starks, a professed movie buff, says he has grown up watching horror flicks with none other than his grandmother. When I caught up with him on a Friday night, he was going straight from our interview to her house to watch the remake of Maniac. The writer, director and producer has been the creator of independent films since 2008, when he first took a stab at the horror genre with Hallows Eve.
“I’ve always been a fan of supernatural things – scary things,” Starks said. “It’s exciting to make a horror film. The thing about the genre is you can have other genres built in… drama, comedy, there can even be historical aspects.”
Hallows Eve was met with big success, and that jumpstarted his interest in creating independent horror films. However, Starks’ passion for making films started long before, when he was given a camcorder, and began creating movies with his friends in his parents’ basement. In late 2013, Starks, along with Jim Blanton of the Daviess County Public Library, had another idea; this time for a film school that would give people from Owensboro and the surrounding region a chance to experience filmmaking firsthand.
Together, they developed the idea, called the “Unscripted Film School.” The library was thrilled to be a part of the project, and in January, Starks and his crew created their first batch of films as part of the program. They held a premiere at the library, where the eight-minute horror short, Lucky (directed by Jakob Bilinski, written by Todd Martin and produced by Starks and Blanton) won the “Audience Choice Award.” Now, less than a year later, Starks is back at it with the film school’s second project: Volumes of Blood.
“Ever since we hit the ground with this project, things have fallen into place,” according to Starks. “My goal is basically to bring Hollywood to Owensboro.”
Starks has done pretty much just that with this latest project, bringing filmmakers from Los Angeles to participate in Volumes of Blood. Even though some are traveling from far to work on the project, Starks states there will be nearly 100 people involved in the films, either as cast or crew, and the large majority of those people will be locals.
Here’s the breakdown of the VOB project: five indie horror films shot in five days between August and November. All of the films will have common threads and be linked together into an anthology that will be called Volumes of Blood. The films include: That’s A Wrap! – Directed by Lee Vervoort; A Little Pick Me Up – Directed by John Kenneth Muir; Ghastly – Directed by P.J. Starks; Encyclopedia Satanica – Directed by Nathan Thomas Milliner; 13 After Midnight – Directed by Jakob Bilinski.
“The body count will be higher [than Hallows Eve], the deaths a little more elaborate,” Starks explains.
Already, three of the five films have been shot, including Ghastly, which was directed by Starks himself. He said it was a cram session of sorts to get all of the film’s 180 shots in less than eight hours.
Building excitement has been easy in some regards and a challenge in others, according to Starks. No longer is the horror genre seen as the “ugly stepchild” of cinema and television. With popular television shows such as The Walking Dead and Hannibal, the genre has become really mainstream. PJ Starks managed to raise over $4,000 for the project on the popular crowdfunding website, Kickstarter.
“This is the first real project with a budget,” he exclaims, kind of laughing about his success. “I’m an independent filmmaker. I don’t hate money, but my goal has never been to make money. It’s a testament to the community. People came out of the woodwork to fund this project.”
Most of the money raised will go toward special effects, which he admits can be one of the biggest challenges when working to make a horror movie believable. Having a good special effects supervisor is key, and Starks himself prefers making real props, using real blood and guts over using computer-generated effects. To him, the blood and guts is a huge part of the fun of making a horror film, and he likes making the gore on set.
“From an artistic perspective, it’s more fun to see a real, tangible prop,” Starks said. “You can light it, you can shoot it, you can touch it. I’m not trying to break new ground, I’m just trying to have a good time.”
He says the realism depends on the amount of resources you have… and relying on your audience to suspend their disbelief. So does Starks ever think about taking his talent for the weird and scary to the studios and trying to sell himself as a horror guru? He says being in Owensboro is where he plans to stay, and he enjoys the small-town, small-pond mentality.
“At the end of the day, I’m a dad, I own a home, I work nine to five. I’ve got a lot of factors that don’t allow me to run off to LA or New York.”
In fact, he explains the grass isn’t always greener on the other side… or in his case… may be filled with more blood and guts. Starks has had the luxury of meeting LA-based indie film directors and producers who are amazed with what he’s able to do outside the confines of a Hollywood studio or production company.
With the advent of cheaper high-definition video cameras and other equipment needed to make a film, it has opened doors for the indie filmmaker to produce high-quality movies and release them straight to DVD or online via video websites like Youtube and Vimeo.
Starks is planning a big premiere party for Volumes of Blood at the Owensboro Convention Center scheduled for none other than Friday, March 13, 2015.
VOLUMES OF BLOOD:
A new horror anthology from Verite Cinema.
SYNOPSIS: Five tales of dread interwoven when a sociology student gathers several of his friends at the local library to help him create a new urban legend with deadly consequences; Lily is in for a late night of researching and needs something to keep her going. It isn’t until she’s approached by a mysterious stranger that her luck may change… for the worse; a typical night of work for a librarian becomes a classic ghost story with a modern twist. Sometimes you can’t keep a bad book down; Sidney is allowed to stay after hours to study for a test. It’s not until she suddenly awakens in the darkened library that she realizes the horrifying truth of what lurks among the stacks of books after midnight. She better pray she doesn’t become the prey; Paige faces regrets that she’d do anything to take back. When an ancient and arcane spell book literally falls into her lap, she decides to make a grave decision. Be careful what you wish for, it might just kill you.
ABOUT THE PROJECT: Verite Cinema is in production on a new horror anthology produced through their Unscripted Film School program at the Daviess County Public Library. Volumes of Blood is produced by Jim Blanton and P.J. Starks, the team behind the indie horror short Lucky. The production will take place from August through November 2014; where 5 indie horror directors will create their visions of terror in Owensboro, KY with an all local/regional cast and crew. The films are:
That’s A Wrap! – Directed by Lee Vervoort (The Truck)
A Little Pick Me Up – Directed by John Kenneth Muir (The House Between)
Ghastly – Directed by P.J. Starks (Hallows Eve: Slaughter on Second Street)
Encyclopedia Satanica – Directed by Nathan Thomas Milliner (A Wish For The Dead)
13 After Midnight – Directed by Jakob Bilinski (Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh)
The forthcoming anthology was written by Todd Martin (Lucky & Nightmare Tales). P.J. Starks and Nathan Thomas Milliner (Scream Factory and HorrorHound Magazine artist). The film stars Jim O’Rear (Day of the Dead, Teen Wolf), Jason Crowe (Easter Casket, Back in the Day), Roni Jonah (Overtime, The Zombie Movie), Todd Reynolds (Hallows Eve, Bumsicle), Louisa Torres (Lucky), Kristine Farley (The Creepy Doll), Kevin Roach (Out of the Shadows) and more.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Become a fan on facebook at www.facebook.com/VOBanthology
Help us raise a small budget for our practical fx at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1024621484/volumes-of-blood
You can also follow us on twitter at https://twitter.com/VolumesofBlood