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THE HAUNTING OF FOUR POINTS

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by Mark Burger

Never mind Ghostbusters, there’s another team of paranormal investigators at work – and they’re doing their ghostbusting right here in the Piedmont Triad.

The Haunting of Four Points, an independent short film, is the latest and most ambitious production from That Endless Horizon Productions and filmmaker Joey Martin. Principal photography commenced in May and has continued throughout the region this summer.

As a boy growing up in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Martin was by his own admission more interested in baseball than movies (Mets, yes; Yankees, no). But once the filmmaking bug bit, he was bent on making up for lost time.

“It wasn’t until I reluctantly made a documentary about my late grandfather’s life for his 90 th birthday that something in me clicked and my creativity and imagination just evolved,” he recalls. “I fell in love with the medium. Combining music, the visuals and the message, it all culminated in a very surreal experience. I knew what it took to make me excited about life.”

In 2009, Martin graduated with a degree in film and video technology from Piedmont Community College in Yanceyville and immediately dove into filmmaking, wanting to learn and experience as much about the process as he possibly could.

“After years of helping other people achieve their creative visions, by either producing, DP-ing (shooting) or editing, I finally made the jump to produce one of my many ideas.”

In 2014, Martin wrote, produced, directed, shot, edited, and even did the makeup effects for Levon, a science-fiction short that he says “encapsulated all the frustrations I was feeling at the time, mostly career-wise.

“While Levon didn’t leave as big a footprint on the festival circuit as we had hoped, it was an official selection at the 2015 North Carolina Film Awards.”

Not one to speculate about what might have been, Martin immediately commenced work on The Haunting of Four Points, a continuation of Levon. The setting is the same town (Four Points) and the main character is again Sarah Evelyn Graham (“Evie”), with Amber Dawn Fox reprising the role.

Set three years after the earlier film, we rejoin Evie as she pursues her dream of becoming a successful paranormal investigator. She teams up with her cousin (Ryan Daniel Thompson) and a couple of friends (Charles Ezekiel and Kelli-Anne Harris) for a night of ghost-busting as they investigate the scene of the most infamous massacre in Four Points’ history.

“I like expanding upon the character of Evie, to find out what’s happened to her, how she’s changed and grown,” says Fox, whose credits include “Nasvhille,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Under the Dome,” “The Originals,” “Realm,” and “The Walking Dead.”

An enthusiastic horror fan – she recently completed the vampire feature Descending in Ohio with Alex Vincent (Child’s Play) and Lynn Lowry (They Came from Within) – Fox particularly enjoyed playing Officer Bello in the fifth season of “The Walking Dead.”

“A great experience,” she says. “I loved it. I’d been watching it since day one.”

And, she notes, “technically, the character is still alive.”

Of course, it being “The Walking Dead,” Deputy Bello need not necessarily be alive to return. “Very true!” she laughs.

Working on The Haunting of Four Points, she says that on and off the set, “it’s a very easy rapport. Just the interaction is really fun.”

That sentiment is shared by the cast and crew, some of whom have never worked together and others who are longtime friends. The one word that keeps coming up with regard to the atmosphere on the set is “comfortable.”

“There’s not a bunch of barking,” says cinematographer Sean Norona. “It’s very laid-back. It’s all about getting the job done.”

When he and Martin convene to discuss a scene, there’s an immediate short-hand. “Can you-?” “Yes.” “What if we-?” “Sure.” “How about we-?” “OK, let’s try it.”

This is not only Norona’s first collaboration with Martin, it’s also his first narrative film. Up till now he’s been honing his skills filming “weddings, music videos, documentaries – you name it,” he says.

How about bar mitzvahs and christenings? “Sure – whatta ya got?” he laughs.

“Film is my passion, and something like this is a great experience. It’s a chance to do something different, to try something new.”

Charles Ezekiel, a relative newcomer to screen acting, plays the wise-cracking Dante, observes: “It’s about bringing your personality to the role. You’ve got to be someone else – but you’ve got to bring your personality. It’s got to add to the character.”

Both Ezekiel and Lynn count the late Robin Williams as a major inspiration. “He could do it all,” Lynn says. Ezekiel adds: “I love any movie Robin Williams has ever done – I even loved Patch Adams!” It was during this time that rumors were rife that Daniel Craig was going to abdicate the role of James Bond, and it was a topic of conversation between set-ups. Like so many fans, Ezekiel’s favorite 007 was the first one he saw in the role.

“When I was younger, I was crazy for Pierce Brosnan,” he says. “He was my Bond.”

As he saw more Bond films, including the earliest ones, he began to examine the character from a performer’s standpoint. Brosnan was lighter than Craig, much as Roger Moore was lighter than Sean Connery. Once again, “It’s about bringing your own personality,” he says.

If there is to be a new James Bond, “he can’t be the same as Daniel Craig – I understand that now,” Ezekiel says. “Now I’m glad Daniel Craig was different than Pierce Brosnan!” Describing himself as “a natural ham,” Ezekiel appreciates Martin’s indulgence when spontaneity strikes. “We work well together,” he says. “It’s a luxury that I can make suggestions, and that’s a great basis for me to adjust my own style.”

Martin smiles. “I’m smart enough to know that not everyone talks like I do, or uses the same verbiage I do. I try to lay a path, to explain and encourage – (and) so long as the message gets across, as long as it gets to the finish line.”

Co-star Thompson was writing and directing commercials when, on a lark, agreed to do an acting role for a friend – “and I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I won’t say it came easy, but it gave me a lot of satisfaction. The more I do it, the more I want to do – and the more I know that this is what I want to do.”

Like a number of Four Points cast members, including Sammie Cassell (he of the Wreak Havoc Film podcast) and Tom Gore, Thompson appears in the upcoming horror anthology Witching Hour II, another North Carolina-based production, and Zach Brown’s The Moleskin Diary, also filmed in the Piedmont Triad. One of his earliest roles was on the AMC Revolutionary War series “TURN: Washington’s Spies.”

He enjoyed working with series regulars Jamie Bell and Angus Macfadyen – “two very good actors and really nice guys” – and found the period costumes and production design absolutely mind-boggling in their authenticity. “It was a fascinating experience,” he says, then quips, “even if my scenes got cut!” “I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t challenging and rewarding,” Martin says. “This is my creative outlet. I just like doing this as a way to express myself.”

Among his inspirations are Zach Braff’s award-winning 2004 writing/directing debut Garden State – although he wishes Braff directed more – and the films of Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, Tree of Life). “I like the way he uses visuals to tell a story.”

Martin is hardly limiting himself to films.

Music videos, episodic television – he’d like to try them all.

“In some ways, TV is more enticing,” he says. “It’s about story development and character development and creating an arc.”

Although The Haunting of Four Points has horror elements, Martin says that that aspect of the film is not necessarily the prevailing one. “It’s character-driven but with a horror mood to it. The horror is the ‘hook.’ I see it as a story with characters I like, a story I want to tell, and a message I want to send.

“I don’t know about everyone else, but I am a bit fatigued with all the horror movies out there,” he says. “The Haunting of Four Points aims to perfectly combine smart and subtle comedy, as well as career, relationship and general life drama that people can relate to. And, of course, we will have the tense, edge-of-your-seat horror. This is a way for more people to actually connect with this project on a more emotional level than just cheap, gratuitous scares.”

He likens it to Neopolitan ice cream.

“The strawberry is the drama, the vanilla’s the comedy, and the chocolate is the horror. You can mix them together or enjoy them one at a time. They all have their place.”

Martin is a firm believer in preparedness and pre-planning. In fact, on the day of this set visit, he admitted that they’d gotten a late start, but as the day progressed made up the time and actually wrapped early.

Equally a firm believer in collaboration, Martin knows that by having everything mapped out also creates probably most important luxury in low-budget indie film making: time. If an actor or crew member comes up with an idea on the spur of the moment, it can be taken advantage of because there’s room to maneuver in the schedule.

“There are so many eyes looking at so many things, I need another pair of eyes to see what I miss,” he says, adding with a smile “I believe in a very peaceful, placid set. That way, we can adapt to certain things.”

As filming continued, everything stayed on or close to schedule.

“Everything has gone smoothly,” he confirms, “so I’m as satisfied as I possibly can be. We need to do a re-shoot of one little scene in September; we were rushing the scene due to weather and I wasn’t comfortable with the way it turned out, but it’s no big deal to pick up.

“The true test comes on our last two official days of shooting (this weekend). It will be the most hectic, as it contains the majority of our production value and includes a plethora of messy practical special effects, unique costumes, and the most cast and crew we will have on set so far.”

(Well, it sounds as if Evie and the paranormal investigation definitely comes across something unusual at the film’s climax —) “There have been plenty of pitfalls, but none of them have been unforeseen,” Martin says. “We have been very good at assessing our plans and knowing which situations are more susceptible to falling through. We have lost locations 48 before filming, cast and crew have had personal emergencies and couldn’t make it to set, and we’ve had to be creative in the way we handle our budget since we only got half of our crowd-funding goal. This was always in the back of my mind as to what could happen, and I was always prepared with a back-up plan. So far, it has all worked out.”

However, he does admit, “if there is any time where an unexpected stroke of luck is needed, our last weekend would be the more appreciated time for it!” Martin had originally hoped to have the film edited in time for Halloween, but has since rethought that idea. “All my time has gone to prepping our shoots,” he says. “For me, filming and editing are two different mindsets that I have to get into, and this has proved to be true during The Haunting of Four Points. Once we are done with all the filming, I will take a month to get a breather and do some video-file organizations along with some planning with our post-production crew. I will probably not get into my ‘hardcore’ editing mode, which involves buckets full of sunflower seeds, until October.”

That’s another luxury of independent filmmaking of this kind. No, not the sun flower seeds, but the ability to carefully and meticulously present the film in its maker’s preferred vision. Martin doesn’t want it quick; he wants it right.

“I am just 100 percent dedicated to completing The Haunting of Four Points,” he affirms. “Experimenting and improving my craft is always something I have on my to-do list.”

Unnecessarily, Martin prefaces his next comments with an “overly pretentious, sappy comment warning,” but he needn’t have. It’s a genuine sentiment and one he wants to share.

“I also just want to mention how appreciative I am of this entire cast and crew,” he says. “One of the more exciting things I’ve noticed when I take a step back is all of their ‘handprints’ on this project. I see people who truly care about being a part of this movie. The one thing that I will truly take from this experience – other than hopefully an entertaining movie – is the way everyone took something I created, made it their own, and showed up every day excited to be a part of it.

“That is a really awesome feeling that makes you want to continue pursuing your art, no matter what anyone says.” !

The official Haunting of Four Points website is: http:// thatendlesshorizonproductions.weebly.com/the-haunting-of-four-points.html. The official Facebook site for the film is: http://www. facebook.com/TheHauntingofFourPoints.

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