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Halloween Haunts are the Framework for New Horror Film The Houses October Built

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The Houses October Built director Bobby Roe (left) and Zack Andrews.
The Houses October Built director Bobby Roe (left) and Zack Andrews.
Conceived by producer Zack Andrews and director Bobby Roe, both of whom also star in the film, The Houses October Built is a found footage-style horror escapade where a group of filmmakers travel the middle-American countryside in a recreational vehicle exploring popular live Halloween “haunts” which eventually provide unexpected scary surprises.

“Bobby and I had been writing partners for 15 years,” said Andrews. “We had written scripts and financing had fallen through.” Finally realizing that they need to create a project themselves, they turned to their own interests. “What are we passionate about?” Andrews and Roe asked of themselves. “Halloween. ‘And what do we like to do?’ Go to haunted houses. We thought, ‘What if we told this in a documentary style and made it real?’”

Unlike the groundbreaking found footage horror picture, The Blair Witch Project, The Houses October Built would combine both actual content with scripted material. “We thought let’s do this for real – rent an RV, go to real places, talk to real people,” Andrews explained. “Finding an extreme haunt would be the ultimate. We first started shooting in 2010.”

The Houses October Built
The Houses October Built
Locating the project in Texas was the most logical approach for the filmmakers. “Four of the five people were from Dallas, and Bobby and I were from Plano,” Andrews said. “We knew that was fertile ground for haunts. We couldn’t go to five different haunts in a row. We would have to have variety. We tried to plan out a route. There’s so much diversity in the haunts; each haunt owner is really like his own film director with a theme and tone.”

With the five haunts eventually selected for the final film, much of what ended up on screen was acquired on actual locations. “Walking through the haunts, 90% the experience of going through that haunt was how they designed it,” Andrews described. “The lighting was so low in those haunts, part of the scare was not being able to see everything. Our DP Andrew Strahorn has shot a bunch of movies and is fantastic. It was definitely a challenge. He had to be guerrilla with us on the fly. In the movie, there are some scenes where you wish you can see more.”

LR-HOB_STILL_12Not only were the haunts themselves shot largely as-is, many of the haunts’ characters were existing creations as well. “Those are 90% the authentic characters,” Andrews confessed. “Those are their costumes. Why would we invent a character when this character has been mastered five years in a row? This is a credit to the haunt workers. If you go to those haunts, you’ll see them.”

As filming commenced on The Houses October Built, Andrews’ and Roe’s script, with additional written material by Jason Zada, became enhanced by actual situations. “When we started, we knew story-wise the beats that we had to hit,” Andrews stated of the writing process. “With us, we knew what was going to happen on pages 1-5, but we didn’t know 5-15 because we didn’t know what was going to happen at the haunts. With a movie like this, it helps not being too planned. That stuff was more organic. That was the way we wanted to tell the story.”

In addition to Andrews and Roe, Brandy Schaefer and Mikey Roe round out the film’s cast. “We didn’t tell Brandy and Mikey exactly what was going on instead of completely scripting it,” Andrews noted. “We held back from them. The naturalistic approach worked better. We had a more traditional screenplay in the opening stuff, but we were able to improvise.”

Given the combination of scripted and realistic content, the two additional members of the cast were chosen strategically. “Brandy went to USC and studied acting and theater and had done some smaller projects,” said Andrews, “and Mikey had a food show on the Travel Channel, where he would eat around the country in the middle of the night. He knew about shooting on the fly and it being reality-style.”

LR-HOB_STILL_10At the outset of principal photography, Andrews and Roe cued their supporting actors by disseminating only a minimum amount of information. “We basically told them we wanted to go on an adventure in an RV and that we would go to haunted houses and tell them more of the story as we went along,” Andrews detailed. “What would you do at the first haunt? That has to be discovered. Bobby and I were in the movie to drive some story stuff home without [Schaefer and Mikey Roe] knowing what we were saying. Once they got into that role, they could play with that as new situations arose.”

Though the movie was shot guerrilla-style with a sparse infrastructure, a full crew of lighting, camera, sound and set design – specifically for the final haunt – was on set at all times including time spent in the 35-foot RV. “It was a character in the movie,” said Andrews. “We had a bond with it. It was the sixth character.”

With a few thousand miles logged, production shot on Bourbon Street in New Orleans for the final moment of the story. “That was a little stressful,” said Andrews. “We wanted to get the authenticity. It was on Halloween in 2012.”

LR-HOB_STILL_1Once production wrapped, editors Jeff Hall and Cesar Martinez waded through the mountain of footage shot on the road. “There was so much footage, and Bobby went through the lion’s share, keeping that together,” said Andrews. “We knew the story – it was finding the best pieces, going through and getting the best takes. You never really want to say that it’s in the can. If Bobby and I could do more tweaks, we would still do them. At some point, you run out of time. We got it to where we felt very good about it and comfortable.”

In the midst of a cross-country promotion tour, back in an RV, to publicize The Houses October Built’s October 2014 release, Andrews reflected on how his project stands against the stiff competition during the popular horror season. “It is a movie that is in the spirit of Halloween,” he said. “If you enjoy going these kinds of places, come with us and you’ll see some of the coolest things you can do and celebrate this holiday. Then you can go do exactly what you saw in your nearest haunt and live it out.”

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