Kool Kat of the Week: Vanessa Ionta Wright Dishes on the Atlanta Debut of Her Film Short, RAINY SEASON, Screening at the Attack of the 50 Foot Film Fest at The Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jun 21st, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Vanessa Ionta Wright, local filmmaker, co-founder and Director of the Women in Horror Film Festival, and horror aficionado helps dish out a night of terror, alongside fellow Atlanta indie filmmakers, with a screening of her short film, RAINY SEASON (2017), during the first ever Attack of the Fifty Foot Film Fest! Hosted by HORROR HOTEL producer and Kool Kat Debbie Hess, the fest features quality shorts created by local filmmakers (HORROR HOTEL episode “Sleep Tight” by Kool Kat Ricky Hess et al; ATTACK OF THE FACE MELTERS co-directed by Blake K. Swell and Tyler Weddle; and MR. LOCKJAW PREQUEL: EPISODE ONE directed by Byron Erwin)! So if you’re looking for a bloody fangtastic time and want to chat it up with some killer local filmmakers, make your way to The Plaza Theatre on June 27 at 7pm!

Wright, both writer and director of RAINY SEASON received full authorization by the King of Horror himself, Stephen King, to adapt his short story, “Rainy Season,” (first published in the Spring 1989 issue of MIDNIGHT GRAFFITI), into a live-action piece of bloody art, for the sole purpose of screening at film festivals in 2015. By way of King’s Dollar Babies program, Wright invested her blood, sweat and tears along with her WIHFF co-founder and Executive Producer Samantha Kolesnik and they are excited to bring the film to Atlanta’s horror film-loving audience!

ATLRetro caught up with Vanessa to chat about her film, the Attack of the Fifty Foot Film Fest, women in genre filmmaking and her upcoming Women in Horror Film Festival. While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a peek at RAINY SEASON’s official 2017 trailer, here.

ATLRetro: Attack of the 50 Foot Film Fest! Sounds exciting and right up ATLRetro’s alley! Can you tell us a little about the event, what inspired it, and how you got involved?

Vanessa Ionta Wright: The organizer of the event, Debbie Hess, wanted to put together a ‘mini’ fest of horror/sci-fi/suspense themed films produced by local Atlanta filmmakers that were either world premiere films or first time in Atlanta proper premieres. She wanted to curate a selection of quality indie films that would showcase and celebrate the talent and production capabilities of Atlanta filmmakers themselves. The world knows Atlanta as a premium destination for studio filmmaking with big budgets but Atlanta also has some excellent and creative filmmakers right here that can deliver the goods on an indie level as well. Collaborating with multiple filmmakers made it feasible to bring these short films to the big screen. The Plaza Theatre seemed the perfect venue with its historic background for such films. She put out a call to submit films for consideration. RAINY SEASON was a good fit.

Care to share a little about the other featured films and their directors?

I haven’t personally met any of them yet, but am very much looking forward to it, as well as seeing their films. Here is all the information I was able to gather with my spy skills: The Hesses (Ricky, Al and Debbie) produce the HORROR HOTEL series filmed in Atlanta. Ricky is the creator and primary director of the series with the first season streaming on Hulu, an anthology feature film of the 2nd season episodes which are available on Amazon Prime and coming soon to DirectTV. Their festival film, “Sleep Tight” is the pilot episode of the 3rd season and promises to creep it up with attack bed bugs! ATTACK OF THE FACE MELTERS, written by Blake K. Swell and co-directed by Tyler Weddle and Swell, features Jack, a lovable comic geek that enjoys his comics more than his girlfriend. Life takes a turn when Jack’s comic book comes to life. And LOCKJAW PREQUEL: Episode One, directed by Byron Conrad Erwin, written by Justin Craig, features a ventriloquist with mundane aspirations of becoming a children’s entertainer who becomes subject to his dummy’s more sinister desire: interrogating and torturing criminals for the mob.

We’re excited to see that your short film RAINY SEASON, adapted from Stephen King’s short story will be screening at the fest. Can you tell us a little about the film and the making of? Any interesting or crazy tales to tell about filming your short?

I feel like the entire experience from beginning to end has been crazy and interesting. I secured the non-exclusive rights back in July 2015 and began work on the script. Once the script was basically locked — I say basically because I was doing rewrites up until a day before shooting — I started putting together a team to get this sucker produced. I

Vanessa Ionta Wright

met Executive Producer Samantha Kolesnik at a film festival in Los Angeles and she was in the process of having her short film THE PRICE OF BONES (2016) produced and wanted to be more involved with production, so I asked if she wanted to jump on board RAINY SEASON.  She went from “Sure, I’ll help out,” to Executive Producer.  This film would not have happened without her. I then reached out to Director of Photography Mark Simon and was honored that he wanted to be a part of this project. Working alongside John Hughes, Mark began his career on some of the most iconic films in history (SIXTEEN CANDLES, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF). We were so lucky to be working with so many talents in this industry.

One of our biggest challenges, being on such a tight and small budget, was the fact that our set had no electricity or running water and we were shooting nights in an isolated location during the hottest days of August.  Thank goodness for generators, port-a-potties and a healthy respect for bats.

And how cool that your adaptation is fully authorized by King. Can you tell us a little about that process and how long it took for you to get King’s blessing?

This wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be. The process was fairly simple. “Rainy Season” is part of King’s Dollar Babies Program, which allows aspiring filmmakers to secure the non-exclusive rights to his work and adapt it for the screen. I looked at the list of available stories and filled out an application and waited. Two weeks went by and I received an email granting me permission to adapt the story. I signed the contract and mailed my dollar bill to the “Master of Horror.”  The completed film can in no way make a profit or be distributed. It is for festival use only. So many people have asked, “Why on earth would you make a film that can’t be distributed or make any money?” I look at this film as a very expensive resume. I felt like this film could be a great opportunity for everyone involved to take the next step. Plus it doesn’t hurt to have Stephen King’s name on your film.

Behind the scenes – RAINY SEASON

Are there any other horror stories you’d like to adapt to film, those that have yet to hit the big screen?

I am always late to the party when it comes to reading. Generally, I’ll read a book and think, “That would make an awesome film!” and then I look it up and it’s already been done. I also read a lot of older books…I might need some book recommendations on new horror releases.

Can you tell our readers what drew you to filmmaking and which filmmakers would you say inspired you most?

I think I’ve been drawn to filmmaking my entire life, I just didn’t realize that it could be a career. I started writing stories at an early age, and the moment our family got a VHS movie camera I started bringing those stories to life. I have always been inspired by those who can take the seeds of an idea and grow it into a visual medium that can evoke an emotional response, be it laughter, tears or fear. I grew up on television and movies.  So much of it was still new. Premium cable television got popular in the early 1980s and I was front and center. I was always drawn to the scarier programs. I remember sneaking around to watch COMMANDER USA’s GROOVIE MOVIES and films like MY BLOODY VALENTINE , FRIDAY THE 13TH III, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, CAT PEOPLE and more. I was also an avid watcher of the early TWILIGHT ZONE series and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I loved suspense more than anything. Gore was fun, but the anticipation of terror got me every time. And the horror of the 1970s and 1980s is so iconic. I watched films by John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper and thought, “I want to do that!”

As an independent female filmmaker working in the horror genre, what challenges have you personally faced that seem to be a common theme amongst women in the industry?

I don’t know that I have faced any challenges in the industry due to being a woman. I think the challenges I have faced are common to all independent filmmakers regardless of gender. There is an audience for every film and I think as filmmakers we are all trying to find the most effective route to get our films in front of those audiences. Filmmaking is expensive, time consuming and extremely competitive. I think for years this industry has been dominated by men at the top, but we are seeing more and more women in these top creative and executive roles. And I certainly don’t think that I, or any other woman, should be given opportunities simply based on our gender. If I get hired as a director it should be because I am the best director for the job, not because I’m a good female director.

It seems that little by little, women are finally getting the attention they deserve when it comes to film, especially within the horror genre, which brings us to your Women in Horror Film Festival coming up in September. Can you give us a sneak peek into that venture and why you think it’s important that these types of events take place?

Samantha Kolesnik and I are very excited to be bringing this event to the Atlanta area. As genre filmmakers, we have noticed an unbalanced representation of women at horror film festivals and at the box office. We decided to create a platform to showcase female genre filmmakers and screenwriters. Not to create a women only event, but to promote those women who are currently creating films and screenplays and to get them noticed in an otherwise saturated market. We are striving for more equality in the industry, a balanced representation of talented filmmakers and writers. We are very excited to be welcoming some very special guests to the event that many horror fans will recognize: Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Horror Producer Marianne Maddalena, Lynn Lowry, Horror authors Mylo Carbia and Meg Hafdahl and famed zombie from AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, Sonya Thompson.  These trailblazing women have been hugely supportive of what Samantha and I have created and we’re thrilled to be working alongside them. The festival will be accepting submissions through July 15, 2017, and the fest will take place September 21-24, 2017, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Conference Center in Peachtree City, just down the street from Pinewood Atlanta Studios and Raleigh Studios, home of THE WALKING DEAD.  Your readers can go here for more information.

Who are your favorite women horror directors and why?

Some of my favorites would be Kathryn Bigelow (NEAR DARK), Jennifer Kent (THE BABADOOK), Mary Lambert (PET SEMATARY), Mary Harron (AMERICAN PSYCHO). I am quickly becoming a fan of some amazing up and coming indie directors like Heidi Hartwig (WONDER VALLEY), Justine Raczkiewicz (WASTE) and Audrey Cummings (BERKSHIRE COUNTY). Why I like these particular directors? They know how to tell great stories. They are able to scare and disturb audiences while also creating thought provoking subject matter. I like them because they make great films. It’s why I like any director. I know I’m leaving people off of my list. I could create a spreadsheet of my favorite horror films and directors and you could offer a centerfold-type fold out for your readers. -Ha!-

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

I love lists! I’m limited to only 5?! WATCHING: THE KEEPERS (Netflix Docuseries); MAKING A MURDERER (Netflix Docuseries); submissions for WIHFF – even though Sam and I are not judging the work, we are watching and enjoying all of the films, so that has been taking up a lot of my screen time; and some of my all time favorite films and TV shows in no particular order: RUSHMORE (Anderson), RAISING ARIZONA (Cohen Bros), HALLOWEEN (Carpenter), PSYCHO (Hitchcock), PULP FICTION (Tarantino), GOODFELLAS (Scorsese), A BRONX TALE (DeNiro), BACK TO THE FUTURE (Zemeckis), SLING BLADE (Thorton), ROCKY (Stallone), DIE HARD (McTierman), ALIEN (Scott). Series that I love and have loved:  THE WALKING DEAD, HEROES, BREAKING BAD, FRIDAY THE 13th the Series, AMAZING STORIES, STRANGER THINGS, GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, V, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, DARK SHADOWS, etc. There are so many more that I will remember after this is printed!

Any advice for women filmmakers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

This advice is for all filmmakers. Get out there and make your films. Find good talented people to work and collaborate with and get your film made.  There are so many resources for funding now. Get your hands on a good script or write one yourself and do it. There is no career in film without the film. And surround yourself with good, creative, talented people. You never know who you might meet, so network like crazy. Go to film festivals, get involved with the local indie film scene, and offer to help out on set even if you don’t get paid. Favors get repaid, so support each other, and treat your cast/crew with respect and kindness.

Getting back to what brought us here, Attack of the 50 Foot Film Fest! Anything exciting planned for fest-goers? Can we expect this to be an annual event, something we all can look forward to in years to come?

I’m not sure if this will become an annual event, but I do hope so! I love that Debbie Hess is giving an opportunity to local filmmakers to screen their films. This is about sharing our work. It’s not a competition and we are all there to cheer each other on and give audiences a chance to see some films they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see. And the Plaza is just a super cool venue, so much history there! Friends, fans and moviegoers will have the chance to meet the filmmakers and even the cast of some of these films, which is pretty exciting in my book.
And last but not least, what’s next for Vanessa Ionta Wright? Any other films in the works we should know about?

Right now I am enjoying the RAINY SEASON ride. It’s currently hitting festivals and I want to enjoy the success of the film before I jump into the next one. And WIHFF is keeping me pretty busy as it’s the first year! My plan is hopefully direct a feature in the next year or two so Samantha Kolesnik and I have been making a plan to make that happen. We are actually currently working on a screenplay together, which I am very excited about. I will be at the Attack of the 50ft Film Fest so please be sure to stop by and say hi, I love meeting people!

All photos courtesy of Vanessa Ionta Wright and used with permission.

 

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ATLRetro’s Haunted & Hellacious Halloween Guide 2016

Posted on: Oct 26th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Calling all ghouls and gals! Come see why we think you should raise hell in ATLRetro this Halloween season!

1. Head Rolling Tunes! Get sinister All Hallows Eve weekend with a helluva lot of rancid rock ‘n roll! Rock out10.29StarBar ghoul-style at The Star Bar with Elzig (Elvis meets Danzig), The Crush and B.S.O.L. (Oct. 27)! Or celebrate 25 hellacious years with their 25th Anniversary Bash rocking out with Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols tribute); Horror Business (Misfits tribute); and Nameless Nameless (Nirvana tribute) (Oct. 28)! And you must boogie on down during their 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll ‘70s Disco Party & Halloween Bash featuring The Biters (as The Disco Bitches), Dinos Boys, Bad Spell and Gunpowder Gray (Oct. 29)! Get horrorified at the Clermont Lounge  as Captain & Maybelle present a Halloween Shock ‘n’ Roll Sideshow featuring terrifying tunes by Fiend Without A Face, Kool Kats the Casket Creatures and special guest Reggie Bugmuncher (Oct. 27)! Or get rocked with Mac Sabbath and Black Juju at The Loft (Oct. 29)! The BadAsh Allstar Team hosts a Halloween Monster Jam at 5 Seasons Brewing (Oct. 29)! Get monstrous and go, go Godzilla on down to the Variety Playhouse for a night with the Blue Oyster Cult (10/29)! The Earl gets sinister and delivers a night of honkytonk rock ‘n ‘roll with their Halloween Party featuring The Goddamn Gallows, Gallows Bound, The Vaginas and Stump Tail Dolly (Oct. 31)!

2. Fangtastic Films!  Catch RiffTrax Live’s screening of Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) at theatres across Atlanta at 8pm [Avalon Stadium 12 (Alpharetta); Perimeter Pointe 10; Hollywood Stadium 24 (Chamblee); AMC Barrett Commons 24 (Kennesaw); Regal McDonough Stadium 16 (McDonough); Carnival of SoulsCinemark Tinseltown 17 (Fayetteville); and Georgian Stadium 14 (Newnan)] (Oct. 27 & 31)! It’s a night of ectoplasmic proportions at Venkman’s with a free screening of Ivan Reitman’s GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) at 7pm (Oct. 27)! Or make your way to ASO Symphony Hall for a screening of Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) with a live performance of the award-winning soundtrack by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at 8pm (Oct. 28)! Venkman’s dishes out a Cartoon Brunch featuring a screening of Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) (Oct. 29)! Or spend the evening with Vincent Price with a screening of Andre DeToth’s HOUSE OF WAX (1953) at The Plaza Theater, running Oct. 28 through Oct. 29! And don’t forget to Time-Warp it up with some uber musically-inclined transsexual aliens at as they continue their tradition of screening THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), featuring the live cast of Lips Down on Dixie at midnight, with special Halloween treats (Oct. 28-29)! Get bewitched with a screening of Kenny Ortega’s HOCUS POCUS (1993) at dusk at Atlantic Station during their “Spooky Film Fest” (Oct. 28)! Videodrome and JavaVino (JavaDrome) present another rare treat with a screening of David A. Prior’s SLEDGEHAMMER (1983) at 8:30pm (Oct. 28)! Get twisted with Kool Kats, The Hess Family with a complimentary screening of Horror Hotel Season 2’s “LIFE AFTER MEN” at Studio Movie Grill in Alpharetta from 6pm to 12am (Oct. 27)!

3. Dance with the Dead and BOOgie down!  It’s Halloween hysteria at Avondale Towne Cinema during Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. ghost host with the most, Prof. Morte’s Monsters of Mock Dance Party featuring Stephen Skipper’s Rolling Stones Tribute, Van Heineken and OC/DC at 8pm (Oct. 28)! Or rattle 10.28Avondaleyour bones during Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX’s Fright Night Halloween Party, dripping with devilish drinks, costume contests and more (Oct. 28)! Spook on down to The Beacon’s Halloween Haunted House Warming Party featuring a haunted house, costume contest, food trucks and rockin’ tunes with Smithsonian (Smiths tribute), Anna Kramer & The Lost Cause and the Rock*A*Teens (Oct. 29)! Make your way to The Howard House in Kirkwood for the 11th Annual Scarendipity Halloween Bash featuring Voodoo Visionary, Mayhayley’s Grave and so much more (Oct. 29)! Rock on down to the Masquerade for their 6th Annual Boos & Brews Halloween Party (Oct. 29)! Make your way to Club Famous for Coffin Classics Halloween: Goth, Darkwave, Industrial with Kool Kat VJ Anthony (Oct. 29)! Grab your favorite boil or ghoul and rock on down to the Red Light Café’s Halloween Prom featuring Roadkill Debutante, Burning Truck and Till Someone Loses an Eye (Kool Kat Aileen Loy) (Oct. 30)! Radio Cult dishes out a “Japanese-Anime” themed Halloween bash at Deep South Deli & Pub (Oct. 28)! Get your ghouls, goblins and ghosts fix at Skyline Park ATL’s Haunted Heights Halloween Bash featuring acrobatics, THRILLER zombies, live DJ, themed cocktails, midway games and more from 8pm-12am (Oct. 29)! Boogie down to Opera Nightclub for their Atlanta Horror Story Halloween Spectacular, featuring costume contests, special drinks, prizes and more (Oct. 29)! Do the Monster Mash at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club’s annual Halloween Dance Party (Oct. 29)!

4. Gothic & Ghastly.  DJ Silkwolf and DJ Merlot will drag you to Hell at Mary’s during their Goth Nite Printfeaturing death rock, post punk, goth anthems and more at 9pm (Oct. 27)! The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra gets phantasmal with their Phantom of the Orchestra event at 3pm (Oct. 30)! Haunt on down to the Historic Oakland Cemetery for their annual hour-long Capturing the Spirit of Oakland 2015 Ghost Tours, featuring music, a fortune teller and more! Come on out and tiptoe through the graves, make a few new spirited friends and hear the hallowed tales of some of their eternal residents, running from 5:30pm to 10:30pm, through Oct. 30! Or spook on down to the Fox Theatre as they get haunted during their annual Fox Theatre Ghost Tours, chilling your bones through Oct. 30!

5. Horrifying Hikes ‘n’ Haunts.  Nightmares are what this season’s9.23 all about! So, spook on down to Netherworld Haunted House in Norcross and spook it up through Nov. 1 (7:30pm-10:30pm week days; 7pm-midnight weekends)! Get terrified at Sinister Suites Hotel of Horror in Griffin, GA, spooking through Oct. 31! A little blood splatter never hurt ya, so trek on down to Carrolton, GA for a helluva lot of haunted hillbillies ‘n’ dead rednecks at Camp Blood, horrifying through Oct. 31! Put on your horrorific hiking boots and make your way to the Dolls Head Danse Macabre Halloween Hike at Constitution Lakes, hosted by The Georgia Conservancy from 7-11pm (Oct. 30)!

6. Thrilling and Chilling Theatrics, Art ‘n’ Parades.  Creep on down to The B Complex for the Art Exhibition and Performance sleepy hollowReception for “Will You Be My Nightmare” at 6:30pm (Oct. 27)! Or wake the dead at the Michael C. Carlos Museum’s Mummies & Mixers event featuring music, costumes, as classic Boris Karloff film and more from 7-9pm (Oct. 27)! Be the Headless Horseman’s next victim and get your bones chilled at Serenbe Playhouse’s thrilling presentation of their immersive spooky attraction and show, THE SLEEPY HOLLOW EXPERIENCE, haunting through Nov. 6 (Wed-Sun at 8pm; Fri-Sat at 10:30pm)! It’s a night of murderous clowns and gut splitting laughter as 1Up Comedy presents the Roast of Pennywise the Clown/Stephen King’s IT at the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge (Oct. 27)! Spook on down to the Buford Highway Halloween Parade and Pop-Up, from 5-8pm (Oct. 29) Make your way to the Atlanta History Center for the Day of the Dead Festival featuring traditional dance, crafts, authentic Mexican food and more (Oct. 30)! Terminus City Tattoo (Duluth) delivers a day full of tricks, treats and tattoos with their 2016 Halloween Bash featuring $50 Halloween tattoos (12-7pm), followed by a killer bash kickin’ off at 8pm, with a costume contest and more (Oct. 29)! Or catch “The Ghastly Dreadfuls” spooking it up with creepy stories, frightful songs and devilish dances at the Center for Puppetry Arts, haunting through Oct. 29!10.27Clermont

7. Tricks, Treats & A Witchin’ Good Time! Cast a spell and make your way to the Mable House Arts Center’s Hogwarts Halloween at 6pm and 8pm (Oct. 28)! Spook on down to Callanwolde Fine Arts Center for their “Halloween Night on Callanwolde Mountain” family-friendly party featuring trick-or-treating, live music with the Callanwolde Concert Band featuring Matthew Kaminski, costume contests and more (Oct. 28)! Maniacal laughter ensues during The Village Theatre’s Halloween Improv House Party featuring an improvised Salem Witch Trial and more (Oct. 29)! Spook on down to the Ponce City Market for their A Haunting on Ponce: Eat, Drink and Be Scary, horrifying through Oct. 31!

8. Decaying Eighties.  Eighties it up at Venkman’s with a Totally ‘80s Costume 10.29TerminalParty featuring Members Only (Oct. 27)! Get strange at Criminal Records during their “Stranger Things: Vol. 1 Soundtrack” Listening Party with special guest Randall P. Havens (Mr. Clarke), a costume contest and more at 7pm (Oct. 28)! BOOgie on down to The Music Room for DJ Jaycee’s Edgewood “Thriller” Michael Jackson Tribute and costume party (Oct. 28)! ATL Collective delivers an evening of rotting flesh as they raise the dead with their performance of Michael Jackson’s Halloween classic, “Thriller” at Terminal West (10/29)! Kool 10.29BasementKat Becky Cormier Finch and Denim Arcade deliver a rockin’ ‘80s Halloween Party, featuring a costume contest, a “Thriller” dance class and more at the Wild Wing Café in Suwannee (Oct. 29)!

9. Get Funky and Groove Like a Ghoul!  Put on those dancin’ shoes groove like a ghoul at The Basement as they get down with forty thousand years of funk during their Keep on Movin’ Halloween Dance Party (10/29)! Get terrified from beyond the grave with Here Come the Mummies at City Winery (Oct. 31)!

 

Category: Features, Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Horror Family Values – The Hess Family Gets Twisted, Raring to Spawn Season 2 of their Award-Winning TWILIGHT ZONE meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Ray Bradbury Web-Series, HORROR HOTEL!

Posted on: May 20th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew10888544_564774920288902_2843828761362776837_n
Managing Editor

Ricky Hess, local geek at heart, jack of all film-trades and series creator/director, has resurrected a living, breathing, monster of an award-winning web anthology series, HORROR HOTEL, where the only recurring character is a menacing dilapidated motor court hotel where “People check in, but they don’t always check out.”And he’s drug mom and dad along for the bloody ride! Inspired by the creepy fantastical worlds presented in THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, HORROR HOTEL delivers that nostalgic deep-in-the-gut suspense and spine-chilling plot twisting angst that gained incredible popularity in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and has successfully seeped into the 21st century psyche with a raging resurgence. From what we hear, there’s always a vacancy at HORROR HOTEL, so check in if you dare and catch Season 2, filled to the bloody brim with aliens, androids, ghosts, psychotic killers – all invading your homes in the very near future!

Ricky, no film-school rookie, has dabbled in producing, directing, writing, SFX – all while creating shorts, web series, commercials and music videos. While brainstorming HORROR HOTEL, he gleaned the business knowledge of mom, Debbie Hess (executive producer) and writing/carpentry skills of dad, Al Hess (writer/set builder), to create one helluva horror filmmaking family and production team! Season 1 of the web series premiered in 2013, spanning 90 minutes of content in six twisted episodes, which can be purchased as a complete series, with each episode running 12-20 minutes in homage to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s style and format. In 2014, the series garnered much attention from the L.A. Web Series Festival (LA Webfest), and won in four categories: Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Sound Design, Outstanding Series and Outstanding Score. And now, with Season 2 in post-production, you’ll have ample opportunity to catch a ghastly glimpse at Atlanta’s homegrown throwback to the masters of suspense and mystery! You owe it to yourself to take a step off the beaten path, check in to HORROR HOTEL and try to make it out alive!

"Aliens Stole My Boyfriend", Season 2

“Aliens Stole My Boyfriend”, Season 2

ATLRetro caught up with the Hess Family for a quick interview about HORROR HOTEL; the series’ homage to ‘50s and ‘60s horror television; and what it takes to create a successful web series. And while you’re daring to take a peek at our little Q&A, get a twisted taste of the making of Season 2’s “Coma Girl” and “Brain Robbers in Love.

ATLRetro: First off, your web-series, HORROR HOTEL is a perfect fit for ATLRetro! We love all things TWILIGHT ZONE, Alfred Hitchcock, Ray Bradbury and more! Can you tell our readers how HORROR HOTEL was born?

Ricky: I was attending a convention in another city and was seeking out an inexpensive place to stay. I ran across several suggestions but some contained warnings about the neighborhood and possible “risks” staying there, etc. I thought to myself, why would anyone want to stay someplace with such a dangerous reputation. The idea occurred to me that it would be fun to make a series about such a place and the odd, creepy kind of encounters that could occur there. The idea for HORROR HOTEL was born from that.

We see that HORROR HOTEL is a home-grown family affair, with Debbie Hess (mom) as Executive Producer, Al Hess (dad) as Writer and Ricky Hess (son) as Creator/Director. What’s it like to come from such a creative family working so closely with each other? And of course we’d like to know, who’s really the boss?

Ricky: It’s great getting to work with my family on the project. It is the most rewarding thing to me about producing the series actually. My mom and dad were somewhat new to the movie making business, but they each had skills that were needed to put a movie project together. My dad and I had for years enjoyed making up creepy stories on long road trips to amuse ourselves and he’s had some previous writing experience. Not to mention he is a great carpenter and builds all our custom props and set pieces. He’s also a good lighting technician from his years of photography. My mom, Debbie, has a pretty good business head on her and had dealt for years in the marketing world working at advertising agencies, newspapers, radio and television. She is a salesperson at heart and can endure the grueling job of marketing and promotion. I had worked for several years on other people’s projects doing everything from special effects to editing. I moved over to doing most of the directing on the series and do most of the editing as well. So together we make a pretty good, complete team.

Who’s the boss? Well, all our decisions are made together and there are always compromises that have to be made on everyone’s part to settle on a direction, but being family, this is probably a little easier since we know each other so well and have respect for each other.

You’ve stated the major influences for the series are THE TWILIGHT ZONE and Alfred Hitchcock. Are there any particular episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or any particular Hitchcock tale that inspired you more than others?

Al: My favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episode is “Invaders” with Agnes Moorehead. Tiny aliens invade an old woman’s house and hurt her. My favorite Hitchcock episode is a Ray Bradbury tale, “The Jar,” where a farmer buys a creepy pickle jar from a side-show that’s got all this weird stuff floating around in it.

"Invader", Season 1 - Troy Halverson

“Invader”, Season 1 – Troy Halverson

Do you have any additional retro/vintage influences for this series or for other projects you are working on?

Al: I’d like to make something showing a near future world containing a utopian/dystopian conflict. Things that used to scare people during the times of Orwell and Huxley, like being controlled by machines, aren’t so scary now that it’s happened. Each new generation of communication devices and surveillance equipment gives everyone a sense of security even though it necessarily strips away individual human rights and privacy.

Since HORROR HOTEL is an anthology series, like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, would you say production is more or less difficult than a straight series, with recurring characters, etc.? What would you say are your biggest challenges?

Debbie: Horror works well in the anthology format because people are ok with a short story that is complete in itself and not continuing. Production-wise however, it definitely has its challenges. For starters, to tell a complete story circuit in each episode and do it well, requires a longer length episode which is always harder to do. HORROR HOTEL episodes tend to run longer than most web series, from 10-22 minutes. The first season contains over 90 minutes of content; the equivalent of a feature length film. We have to recast for each new episode, which takes time. With a serial series and recurring characters, this is faster and easier. We also have to retool the set for each new episode, completely redecorate a new hotel room specifically for that episode (new costumes, new props, new everything).

It’s like shooting a whole bunch of short films all the time. The advantage of shooting an anthology is that people can randomly pick out episodes to watch and don’t have to follow a story arch to know what’s happening. Probably the biggest challenge is simply wrangling all the different cast and crew it takes to do a series like this. First season alone took over 100 people to produce, which is a lot for a web series. It’s always a challenge to fit people into the schedule puzzle and keep a project moving forward to completion. Once we set a production schedule, we will do whatever necessary to keep that locked in and not postpone it. Too many independent film projects start but don’t finish. That’s not an option for us.

"Brain Robbers in Love", Season 2 (L-R) Phil Spartis and Deborah Childs

“Brain Robbers in Love”, Season 2 (L-R) Phil Spartis and Deborah Childs

What are some of the major differences between television/film formats and the web-series format?

Debbie: For a series produced for traditional television, there are specifically timed breaks (acts) to allow for commercials. The standard TV format calls for 22-24 minutes of actual story for a 30-minute program and anywhere from 44-46 minutes for an hour-long program. With a web series, they can be any length because primarily they are streamed online with no required commercial breaks, although many times they do have commercials depending on the platform. As far as the actual production, the same applies for traditional TV or a web series. You use all the same equipment, follow all the same procedures; everything is the same. The only difference is the viewing platform they will be primarily presented on.

Everyone making a web series should strive for as high a production value as you possibly can. With the advent of so many different ways to view digital series now, from your computer to your big screen TV, you want content that looks really good, with broadcast quality, high resolution, good filming techniques, etc. It’s the only way to have a series ever be seriously considered by higher caliber platforms.

What do you think separates HORROR HOTEL from other web series and makes it one-of-a-kind in the industry?

Ricky: Well, the fact that it is a true anthology sets it apart from the majority of web series out there, but we are not one-of-a-kind necessarily. We have tried to bring back old-school storytelling where the plot and story lines matter the most and we just try to fit in special or visual effects to enhance that. Sometimes filmmakers rely more on visual effects and some kind of “wow” factor to endear an audience but that gets numbing pretty fast without a decent story.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about your nominations and wins at the 2014 LA WebFest?

"Life After Men", Season 2 (L-R) Baby Norman, Deborah Childs and Anastasia Pekhtereva

“Life After Men”, Season 2 (L-R) Baby Norman, Deborah Childs and Anastasia Pekhtereva

Ricky: It was an honor to receive four nominations and wins at the 2014 LA Webfest for Outstanding Series, Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Score and Outstanding Sound Design. The decision came after a review of all episodes in the first season, but the two episodes that screened at the festival were “Tilt” and “Guillotine.

What was your process in obtaining the talent for the series? How did you snag up Grammy Award-winning Matt Still, who scored the music on the “Guillotine” episode and actor James Edward Thomas (Al Sharko), who also acted in the ‘80s television reboot of THE TWILIGHT ZONE?

Debbie: We cast for each new episode locally from the large, talented actor pool in Atlanta. We post audition notices first on our Facebook page to give our fans a chance to submit for an audition first. After that, we post on a number of casting sites primarily focused on Atlanta talent. We continue to be amazed and pleased at the truly talented group of local Atlanta actors we have been proud to work with. James Edward Thomas showed up to audition for episode “Houdini’s Hand” and was a perfect fit for the only recurring actor thus far in the series, Al Sharko. He is not only a fine actor, but a valued family friend. He also appears in episode “Invader” as sci-fi writer Rodney Silvers.

It was actually his connection to Matt Still that facilitated Matt scoring episode “Guillotine” which James is in as well. We were so honored and excited to have Matt work on an episode. His reputation as a premiere music producer working with mega stars like Elton John, Madonna and a who’s who of rock ‘n’ roll folks was just amazing and thrilling for us. He did a most excellent job on the scoring of “Guillotine” and obviously it caught the attention of LA Webfest judges. We have been fortunate to have a number of excellent musical artists work on the series including Royal Teague, Kenneth Singleton II and Quinton “Q” Amy in the first season alone.

"Four Eyes", Season 2 (L-R) Jeremy Michael Grey and Michael Gladden

“Four Eyes”, Season 2 (L-R) Jeremy Michael Grey and Michael Gladden

HORROR HOTEL currently has two complete seasons. How can our readers go about getting their grubby little hands on them?

Ricky: Currently the first season is released and can be seen on Hulu, AT&T U-verse, MSN Videos, and xfinity streaming platforms. It also broadcasts on the Shorts Network channel on DirectTV and AT&T U-verse. The new second season is working through post-production, releasing in the upcoming months.

What’s next for HORROR HOTEL and the Hess family? Are there more seasons in the works and if so, can you give our readers some juicy details (without giving away too many details)? Any other projects in the works?

Debbie: We are currently concentrating on post-production work for the second season and getting that distributed, but we are also kicking around some new ideas and worlds we would like to explore. But here’s a little tickler of upcoming second season episodes: Expect cute aliens that crash land their space buggy on the motel parking lot looking for Earth boyfriends; a macabre maintenance man at a convalescence home who falls in love with a comatose patient; a narcissistic businesswoman who swaps brains with a younger business associate; a family of female clones, one of whom has committed a murder; a paraplegic hit-man hired by a disgruntled ex-husband to take out his wife; and an Orwellian tale set in the near future where males are virtually extinct and women rule.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you in an interview but they never do, and what’s the answer?

"Houdini's Hand", Season 1

“Houdini’s Hand”, Season 1

Ricky: Q: What happens to the many props and costumes you have after each episode? A: I’m so glad you asked! We really like our custom props like the “Houdini’s Hand” ornate box, the brain swap machine from second season’s “Brain Robbers In Love,” the custom ham radio from “Invader,” the hand-carved space buggy from “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend,” and a host of other one-of-a-kind props. Not the least of which is our miniature motel model we built for miniature photography seen in episode “Invader” and “Aliens Stole My Boyfriend” to date. We like to display these for visitors to see, a sort of HORROR HOTEL mini museum if you will. Most of the costumes get saved as well, and we have even reused a couple, like the Nazi uniforms and the Rufus Bass costume because you never know when some of these characters might be resurrected!

All photos courtesy of Horror Hotel LLC and used with permission.

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