Stay & Run by Liam Hall and Chris Carter was awarded Second Place in the Student Filmmaker Division of the 2017 SHAPE AT&T Competition. This short film is a clever mix of humor and horror; it blends domestic scenes with forest creepiness, comedy lightens suspense and terror. With Halloween upon us, and AT&T’s latest competition in full swing, a closer look at the film and its creators seemed (to me) just the thing.
Filmmakers Liam and Chris met as juniors in college at Elon University, in North Carolina, studying cinema. Both were involved in film from early on. Chris recalls creating productions with friends at a young age: ‘I grew up making videos and since I loved it, I slowly started to see it as a career and a passion I wanted to pursue in life.’ For Liam, his father did documentary film work and videos were often a family project: ‘We had a little digital camcorder. I have three older siblings so there were a lot of little parodies and a lot of stuff we made that was just a rip-off from actual movies.’
In 2016, a friend, actress Rebecca Hurd, offered her family’s Georgia cabin as a location for shooting a film. Liam and Chris checked out gear from school (a C100 camera, Fiilex Light Kit, and steady cam), invited along another actor (Austin Larkin), and headed for the woods. The project was spontaneous, and swiftly assembled although the team did have some basic ideas from a pre-departure brainstorming session at Cracker Barrel; they wanted to blend humor and horror, maximize the ‘cool, creepy vibe’ of Rebecca’s family property, and take advantage of their actors’ natural comedic chemistry.
The resulting film was Stay & Run, a short, just under ten minutes, that centers around a young couple. First, the couple casually, and hypothetically, debates the best way to stay alive when facing a horror-movie-style killer and then, they are forced to enact that reality (and resolve the debate) after a friend goes missing. Chris served as the cinematographer, Liam was the director for production and also played the killer. Both worked on the editing. However, as Liam observes, ‘it was very, very, collaborative, because it was so run and gun. We had to be very flexible and use both of our minds for pretty much everything that came up.’
One of the post-production challenges was to make the film scarier, which Chris did, mainly by working with the opening sequence, and incorporating a mix of royalty-free sounds to set the right tone. ‘It’s interesting watching the film at festivals with a large crowd,’ he says. ‘There would be certain times when people would react comically to something that was intended to be more towards the horror side.’ One example of this is the first shot of the cabin, which is almost stereotypically creepy and yet often causes people to laugh. Although the film is frightening, Chris says, ‘I feel like the entire story is pretty self-aware; it’s not trying to hide anything, so people kind of know what’s coming.’
To date, Stay & Run has appeared in four festivals and was honored at the 2017 SHAPE event in Los Angeles. Of the latter, Liam says, ‘the SHAPE conference was incredible. It was so great to have the film mentioned in front of a full theatre by Patty Jenkins. That said, the biggest takeaway for me were the connections with other filmmakers. At a lot of film festivals and events, it’s kind of overwhelming, because there are so many filmmakers there doing their own thing and there’s so much going on. At SHAPE, there was also programming that wasn’t film-related, so the film people were much more concentrated and I was able to really get to know them. I feel like the more filmmakers you’re exposed to like that, in friendship, the better your films are going to become.’ Chris adds, ‘it’s just generally cool to meet people who share the same passion you have, to be able to talk about things from a similar headspace.’
With the prize money, Chris and Liam were able to partially fund their recent participation in the Crested Butte Film Festival, and also support the Stay & Run actors to join them. The funding has also gone to support a recent short, similar in that it was shot quickly, on location in Rhode Island, and, as Liam tells it, ‘On the way up I wrote the script in the passenger seat, and on the way down Chris edited in the back. Urgency is a great way to get things done.’ He and Liam have also nearly completed a feature film (Here On Out), which they acknowledge is more tricky than a short, requiring a balance between ‘openness with also having everything set and done enough to keep the film on the right track.’
When asked what he enjoys about films, Chris says, ‘For one, I just really enjoy making them. But also, I enjoy being able to work on something creatively, to put all that work and time into it, and then in the end, have a refined product, something not exactly exactly physical, but at least tangible.’ For Liam, it’s about understanding. ‘I think you learn a lot about yourself. When you share and see what you’ve created, a lot of things that you may not even know about yourself are going to be represented. Also, you kind of necessarily end up putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and gaining empathy, whether it’s a character you’re creating or the subject of a documentary. Film takes you outside of yourself, which is a really positive thing.’
For young people especially, Chris recognizes that film is an easy way to express yourself and have a voice about things.’ In terms of AT&T opportunities specific to students, Liam notes that they offer ‘really great competitions. I think for students especially, who don’t necessarily have any budget, winning these kinds of of prizes and having these conference experiences can really help you get your next project going.’
Do you have a film project to share? Submit your film to AT&T before November 26.
All photos courtesy of filmmakers and AT&T, unless otherwise noted.