San Diego Filmmaker Gets World Premiere At Screamfest LA
'Things We Dig' will screen at the Plant Drive-In on Oct. 13
Screamfest LA kicks off a season of horror-themed film festivals tomorrow night. San Diego Filmmaker Pia Thrasher will see her short vampire comedy "Things We Dig" have its world premiere on Oct. 13 at the festival's COVID-safe drive-in venue.
Pia Thrasher didn't realize she had an obsession with horror until somebody pointed out that she was like Wednesday Addams in "The Addams Family."
"And I'm like, what do you mean?" Thrasher recalled. "And they said, 'Well, your dad made tombstones for a living and he had tombstones all over the front yard, in the backyard and all these grave things that you put on a grave like little lights and little holy water containers.' And this was in Germany. So I was like, yeah, you're right. I think to me it was always normal to deal with the dark side, death, and we always had people come to my dad's house to talk about the funeral and the planning. So I grew up with it and to me it was normal."
So Thrasher rejected romantic comedies that she said "made me gag" and turned to darker themed things that "made me think more. It made me focus on my own dark side because we all have one, you know, some suppress it more than others, which is not good for you. You need to let it out."
Which Thrasher does through both her artwork and now her films.
"I just loved it. I loved the whole format, the whole idea about just a bunch of ordinary vampires living together and having to deal with regular life stuff," Thrasher said. "And it made me think, what would it be like for four female vampires with all their female issues or whatever you want to call it, living together and dealing with modern times."
The film successfully riffs on "What We Do In The Shadows" while also developing its own particular style or should I say blood type.
But it would take four years from first inspiration for the story to getting the film made and now accepted to multiple film festivals. As a small independent film, there were a lot of challenges in terms of budget with shooting further complicated by some health issues Thrasher had to deal with and then COVID altering the film festival landscape.
Thrasher held an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to get money but that proved to be as much work as making the film itself.
"I had to make a short film for that, like a little pitch video," Thrasher explained. "That alone was like making its own little short film. And then you try to figure out what would get people interested, and find your core audience, and then what would they like for perks? And then you have to order the perks and then you have to make the perks and then you have to figure out the shipping costs and everything. And then once that's all done and once we were successful, then fast forward four years. You still can't forget about those people. So, yeah, I had a running list of everybody who donated on Indiegogo and so four years later, everybody should have their stuff by now."
For full disclosure, I have known Thrasher for years because we bonded over our love for horror and Halloween. This year we commiserated over Halloween having to be different because COVID restrictions are not allowing for home haunts or professional haunts or even horror conventions. Screamfest has had to move its event to a drive-in venue, The Plant Drive-In in Van Nuys, but at least it is sort of an in-person — okay, it's an in-car -- event. At least it's not online like so many festivals have been forced to do.
When Thrasher was in pre-production for the film she posted on Facebook that she needed some very specific props, including coffins and one coffin needed to be child-sized. As a home haunter, I actually had four adult coffins and two child-size ones in my garage.
"You saved the day. So we came over to your place and you had this plywood child-sized coffin that was perfect, but it was very plain," Thrasher said. "So we knew we'd have to dress it up a little bit and you gave me this really thick sheet of cardboard and said see what you can do with that."
Thrasher gave the items to her production designer, Elsa Mickelsen, who worked her magic (see photos above). Mickelson also designed the costumes, built the entire vampire coven in her house, created some of the artwork that Thrasher's character Kuni displays in the film, and just elevated the production value of all around.
In addition to the usual challenges of budget and a tight shooting schedule, Thrasher also had artistic challenges of getting the tone right.
"That was hard because first of all, you have to find a balance of kind of creepy and humor," Thrasher said. "It turned out to be a little bit more funny than creepy. I think. The hardest part was, and I talked to my producer, Steven Mickelson, was how are we going to do this? Because I didn't want to do just found footage style. So we actually break in a bunch of movie laws because we have a little bit from the crew's point of view, but also a narrative camera that is just there to kind of capture everything. So I'm not sure how many moviemaking laws we broke but I just wanted to tell a story and make it so people can just get into it and follow it."
But it also needed to feel spontaneous as if a documentary crew were capturing everything live. So Thrasher would have loved to just let the cameras roll for unlimited improvisation on the set but that was not possible when you only have three days to shoot your film.
"It was definitely not what I first imagined," she said. "At first I wanted to have it kind of like 'What We Do In The Shadows,' just constantly talking to cameras on. But we didn't have that time. We had three days so we had to block everything. We had to make sure we knew where the cameras were going to be. We had to rehearse it a little bit because there were a lot of scenes. And so, yeah, we had very limited time for that. So a lot of compromise and thinking on your feet."
Thrasher speculated on why vampires hold such a fascination for us.
"I think it's because you're faced with immortality or perceived immortality, like what would you do with your time?" she pondered. "And I think a lot of times right now, people are forced to stay at home because of the pandemic, they have more time to do things that they never had time before, like learn a language or learn cooking, things like that. And that's just a few months. But what if you had hundreds of years to live? What would you do and not get bored?"
"Things We Dig" explores that and entertains you along the way.
If you want to see the film on a big screen you can do that on Oct. 13 at Screamfest but the film will also become available at the end of the month through Horror Haus. But Thrasher keeps getting more notifications of film festivals accepting her blood-sucking comedy. Today she just found out that it will be screening at Misty Moon International Film Festival in London and International Vampire Film and Arts Festival.
And if you want a KPBS Easter Egg to look for in the film, then see if you can find me. Hint: look for a creepy clown.