By Dana Delgado
A fictional gruesome discovery in the woods of Liberty Hill was the backdrop last Saturday for a student film crew from the University of Texas at Austin.
As a project for an advanced film production class at UT and to enhance their individual film portfolios, 15 film crew members along with three actors descended on Liberty Hill before sunrise April 5 for an all-day shoot of “Weird Shit,” a dark comedy with a touch of horror and woven with deceit.
Production Director Joel Futral said the film is about a small town taxidermist named Mark, who has a troubled past. Mark is trying to settle into a normal married life with his wife, Stephanie. She, however, is besieged by dreams that are being eerily haunted by her husband’s past. While on a hunting trip, the couple makes a ghastly discovery that begins to unveil his past and turns their relationship into a volatile struggle to expose the truth.
From all indications and despite overcast skies and a threat of rain, the weekend film project went according to plan; although Director Futral said “things began scattered” but “picked up momentum and turned out to be a fun-filled, and ultimately productive day.”
Assistant Production Director Benjamin Fox concurred.
“Our shoot last Saturday went really well,” said Fox. “We didn’t get all of the shots we needed, so we will be back up to Liberty Hill this Thursday (April 10). We have a great cast and crew, and Joel, our director, is great at making creative vision come to life.”
Additional scenes will be filmed in a studio on the UT campus and in north Austin.
Fox expressed the crew’s appreciation to the community for its support in the production of the film including Margarita’s Restaurant for providing food for the filming crew and The Liberty Hill Independent for printing some “special” newspapers that were used as props.
The “fake story” placed in non-circulated copies of The Independent last week was about a young man who had killed a buck in the Liberty Hill area that was slated to be among the largest in Williamson County. Fox said the main character in the film is prompted to action based on the story he reads in the newspaper.
Lead Producer Alan Freytag said they are considering booking a screening of the film at the Alamo Draft House when editing is completed and possibly entering the film into as many film festivals as possible. Freytag also produced a short film called “On the Fence” as part of a narrative production class that was recently screened at the Texas Shorts Showcase. He has also been director of photography and an actor for several other student films.
“It’s exciting to be around like-minded people,” said Fox, who wrote the screenplay in February and plans to graduate this fall with a degree in Radio, Television and Film. “I’m learning so much.”
He said he recommended Liberty Hill for the film shoot because of his familiarity with the area. The UT film student has family in Liberty Hill including his father John, step-mother Judy, and twin brothers Mark and Matt who are seniors at Liberty Hill High School.
Fox served six years in the U.S. Army in public affairs where he did instructional films for the military as well as photo journalism for various news agencies.
“I’m proud of my work in the Army,” said Fox, who also filmed memorial services of soldiers who died in combat. “I just knew I wanted to work in film after I got out of the military.”
Fox was stationed at Fort Hood and deployed twice to Iraq. It was in Iraq that a reserve officer recommended the University of Texas to Fox as one of the top three film schools in the country.
The UT film student, who describes himself as an untraditional student, said he has “a lot of goals” including working on television shows, market to networks, get internships with Pixar, and find smaller jobs doing commercials.
“My specialty is to write and produce,” he said. “I visualize what it could be and then make it happen.”
His first job as a video producer and editor was at his church in Houston where they prepared skits. It was here that he learned he was better off behind the camera than in front of it, he said.
Futral, a senior in the Radio, Television and Film school at UT focusing on writing and direction, said the project actually began as a first screen writing exercise by Fox.
“A fellow classmate was concurrently in an Advanced Producing class and selected Ben’s script to be his final project in the course,” said Futral. “Ben is a good friend of mine, and asked if I would like to direct this film. Since the content of the film dabbled in both the horror and dark comedy genres, I immediately connected with it and the initial logistical challenges this production presented.”
Futral said he has been involved in various student and non-student projects over the past few years.
“Before this project, I wrote and directed a short called ‘Grunge’, loosely based on Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain,” he said. “We filmed it in Seattle.”
Futral said he loved building sets with Legos when his grandmother would babysit.
“The entire concept of creating non-existent worlds and filling them with beautiful stories has always fascinated me,” he said. “I would waste multiple packs of Post-It Notes where I would draw pictures at the bottoms of each page to create a moving image once I flipped it.”
At first, he believed it was simply a matter of having a camera and some editing software, but later learned how difficult the process actually is to create a worthwhile product.
Born in Houston but having called Austin home since he was 14, Futral said he spent countless hours writing while serving with the U.S. Navy aboard a fast attack submarine and actually later made two short films based on stories he wrote during those times.
“Ultimately, the leadership, time management and organizational skills required to be a successful sailor on a submarine have made the planning and preparation aspects of film pre-production a less troublesome process for me than what my classmates deal with,” he said.
Futral plans to venture out into the “real world” and do what he loves doing in one of the film heavy regions of the country.