(This interview was originally published on November 13, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)
(Director Matt Lockhart at the 2011 Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival – photo by John Fackenthal, all rights reserved)
I envisioned the making of “The Watermen” as sort of a “Heart of Darkness” situation in the marshlands of the Chesapeake Bay.
“I was pulling my hair out,” director Matt Lockhart told me. “The generator was busted or something, and we were completely shut down. I was like, ‘I think I could burn a hundred-dollar bill right now and it would cost me more to sit here and watch it than for it to actually burn.’”
And he says that he can’t wait to do it again. When I caught up with Lockhart after the screening of his feature debut at the 2011 Spooky Movie Festival, he seemed anything but stressed.
Filmed in seven weeks outside of Lockhart’s hometown of Newport News, VA, (including Deep Creek Marina)”The Watermen” wrapped in mid-September of 2010, after which it went through a round-the-clock editing process. “John Walls worked with a twenty-four hour team,” he said.
Lockhart wore the many hats of an independent filmmaker: writer, director, producer, ATM machine and even soundtrack contributor(look for his guitar and vocals credit on ‘Sweet Virginia Home‘). With sleep deprivation, budgetary constraints and a lot of night shooting (not to mention all the mud and mosquitos), there’s a certain level of insanity required for making a horror film on a limited budget.
“There’s the physical exhaustion that you go through just being on those night shoots,” he explained. “Your body clock is messed up and you start losing it. At the same time, being the director, you’re pumped with adrenaline because you love what you’re doing.”
He laughed, adding,”The first night [some of the crew] decided to do something crazy and shave their heads into mohawks… I think so that I wouldn’t ask them to to be extras [in the film]. I ended up doing the same thing and dying mine red. We had walkie talkies on the set and my handle ended up being ‘Redhawk’.”
Hence the name of Lockhart’s production company, Redhawk Studios.
“The Watermen” follows six friends whose day trip off the coast of Virginia turns into a nightmare after an engine fire cripples their yacht. Adrift in the Atlantic not far from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the group sends a distress call only to be intercepted by a clan of hostile local fishermen known as the Guineamen.
“The Guinea people are definitely real and deserve a lot of respect,” said Lockhart.
Their lineage dates back to German soldiers who settled in the Gloucester region after the Revolutionary War.
(Photo by John Fackenthal, all rights reserved)
” I went to their historical society and was like, ‘I’m gonna make this thing, and I know the part about chopping people up and putting them in crab pots is kinda real, so I’m just making sure you guys know this is just for fun.’ They actually thought it was kinda cool that [in the movie] they’d be chopping up rich kids and using them as crab bait.”
The film stars Richard Riehle (“Office Space”, “Hatchet”), Luke Guldan, Tara Heston and Jason Mewes (“Clerks”,”Feast”) in a mildly dramatic variation of his character from the Kevin Smith movies.
“Mewes and I were buddies when I lived in LA,” said Lockhart. “We had mutual friends. At one point we were going to produce “The Jay Mewes Show”. [Laughing] That’s a really f***ed up story that I can’t tell right now. But he owed me one.”
Like many independent filmmakers, Lockhart didn’t take a salary, and spent the better portion of his savings to get the project rolling.
“It’s always an uphill battle to secure funding, because you’re not making a movie until you have the money. It’s definitely a learning process. I mean, this is my first feature, it’s not like I went to film school or grew up on film sets.” He added, “But filmmaking is a team sport and you cannot do it without a bunch of other talented, wonderful, hardworking people.”
So what’s with the surprisingly high-end look of the movie? “The Watermen” was filmed on a Red One Camera which uses a digital format called REDCODE RAW. Introduced in 2007, the Red Camera has revolutionized filmmaking for independent studios because it is economical and accessible, a technology that has since been the choice of big names like Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher.
“I bought the camera and all the prime lenses for it,” he said. “I’ve made my money back on that. I rent it out and use it several times a month for what I do for a living.”
Televsion commercials, that is. The “The Watermen” might be Lockhart’s first feature-length film, but he is no stranger to being behind a camera.
“I do a lot of local car advertisements. Everything I’ve ever made from that has gone toward better equipment including the Red Camera, a 2,500 square foot green screen studio, all the lighting and a crane. It really helped facilitate this project. And when you’re on a budget and trying to get into business with people, you can say, ‘look this is legit. A Red Camera package is like $1,600 a day to rent and I’m bringing this to the table.’”
And after equipment, a helicopter at $350 an hour and an expensive color correction, the total damage for “The Watermen” ended up at approximately $1.15 million.
“But that’s after deferments, sweat equity and so forth… that’s just kind of where we landed after adding up the actual cash,” said Lockhart.
That doesn’t take into account friends, family and other services lent to the production, like use of property. I was curious about the waterfront estate used at the beginning of the film.
“One of my very good friends grew up in that house. [Executive producer] Travis Abbitt, that’s his uncle’s house. Then two doors down are my parents. It was a neighborhood endeavor, I guess. I’m sure that’s a common thing with independent filmmakers [laughing]. You know… beg, borrow and steal….”
The aerial shots were a key element in adding quality to the look of the film.
“I milked the s**t out of that helicopter,” Lockhart said. “I got in, and was like, here’s my agenda. We’re flying over here and getting aerial shots of my car dealership clients. Then we’ll fly back and get shots of the boat [for the film]. Then another day a different guy flew out and got some other footage while I was down on the boat. It was pretty worth it. One day I actually had the guy drop me off in the driveway of that house cause I didn’t want to waste another two hours.”
An exercise in economics (and often improvisation), “The Watermen” was initially scheduled to be wrapped up in a month.
“We had four weeks with a full crew and then three with a skeleton crew. It became obvious to me by week four that I’d need more time to film, but I didn’t have any more money. So, coming from all my local commercials, I was like, ‘I know how to light this stuff’...’ The DP [director of photography] had to go to another job, so I was just consulting him. Most of that whole first scene in the woods was just me grabbing the camera and an actress. You can get some of the best stuff that way because it’s just you connecting with the actor, and you don’t have to explain yourself to anybody.”
I was curious about how the finished product was received by Lockhart’s family.
“I know my mom didn’t really like all the nudity, cussing and blood. I’m not really condoning that for anything other than a piece of entertainment. But for a first time for a filmmaker, it’s like, how else do you break into the market?”
“The Spotlight people were saying that Lionsgate UK was interested. I think they’re going to watch it in London at another festival in the next couple of weeks.They were saying they may do a limited theatrical run.”
Lockhart is in pre-production for his next project, “Nazis vs Bikers 3D”. “We just did a 3D test trailer so I could figure out what I was doing.”
My thanks to Matt Lockhart and the cast and crew of “The Watermen”.