‘Beyond the Night’: Liberty Hill site of zombie attacks

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The cast and crew of “Beyond the Night” from the front steps of 200 Hickman -- the set of the first full-length movie to be filmed in Liberty Hill.  Top left is Screenwriter Michael Hennesy. Front row from left are Producers Daniel Shih and Jason Fought. Shih and Fought are financing the movie that will be available on YouTube later this summer. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

The cast and crew of “Beyond the Night” from the front steps of 200 Hickman — the set of the first full-length movie to be filmed in Liberty Hill. Top left is Screenwriter Michael Hennesy. Front row from left are Producers Daniel Shih and Jason Fought. Shih and Fought are financing the movie that will be available on YouTube later this summer. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

By SHELLY WILKISON

While Liberty Hill residents were sleeping comfortably last weekend, zombies were chasing humans through the streets near the Liberty Hill United Methodist Church.

As the blood-covered people limped toward what they hoped would be a safe haven at 200 Hickman, the zombies moaned as they appeared from the bushes and dragged themselves toward the smell of blood in the historic Liberty Hill home. Despite the screaming and the violence on the corner of Hickman and Church streets, Liberty Hill Police were nowhere in sight, and the neighbors slept peacefully.

“We went to the neighbors and bribed them with Shiner (beer,” said Jason Fought, co-producer of the film “Beyond the Night”.

The full-length zombie movie was filmed using state-of-the-art technology in old town Liberty Hill. Fought said the neighbors were especially supportive, and some joined the cast as extras.

Fought and Daniel Shih are co-producers on the film, but they are physicians by daylight at South Austin Hospital. It’s their second movie project together — the first, “Six Pack Sam”, is scheduled for release at the end of the year.

“The creativity of being a filmmaker is very different from the creativity of being a physician,” said Fought.

Shih, who loves movies and watches five a week, is focused on the technical aspects of the business. He admits he isn’t a horror fan, but he was excited by the technical challenge it presented.

Together, Fought and Shih working as Full Code Productions along with screenwriters Michael Hennesy and Brennen Cowart have created a horror in black and white, with a dramatic plot, some violence and a touch of gore.

“It’s a zombie film that doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional rules of zombie films,” said Fought, whose interest in zombies started in childhood.

He said the film takes place at the very beginning when people start to change into zombies.

Cinematographer Erik Horn and Producer Daniel Shih display the GoPro cameras used to create a virtual reality 360 environment. Using special goggles or technology available on YouTube, viewers will see the action all around them as if they were part of the movie. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

Cinematographer Erik Horn and Producer Daniel Shih display the GoPro cameras used to create a virtual reality 360 environment. Using special goggles or technology available on YouTube, viewers will see the action all around them as if they were part of the movie. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

“And the question is why did they change, and no one knows the answer to this. Ultimately, we have framed it in a way where it’s not always stereotypical. There are different pathways you can go, and different reasons why people turn into different types of zombies,” Fought said.

Without giving away the ending or even too much of the middle, Fought said the movie begins at an engagement party. He added that there is some violence when zombies attack, but no nudity and no “gratuitous violence.”

Screenwriter Hennesy said he and Cowart “tried to put a lot of our voice in it (the story). Stuff that we feel passionate about, like gender issues and sibling relationships.”

The movie is written in three acts, and in each act there is a different situation — a different part of the zombie film.

“So, it’s almost like each act is slightly different, but is one cohesive thing,” Hennesy said, adding that the film is not a comedy, but is very serious, and “very scary.

“There is a lot of dialogue, and there’s more of a story than just pure violence and terror,” Hennesy said.

“Beyond the Night” pays homage to the original zombie film “Night of the Living Dead”. In fact, the 1968 movie runs on a television in the background of the current movie set.

Looking for the 1950s-1960s horror film experience, the producers decided to screen the picture in black and white.

But what makes “Beyond the Night” unique, and possibly more terrifying, is that it’s filmed in a 360 environment. In fact, it is the first in the horror genre to be filmed this way — another first for Liberty Hill.

New technology

Shih explained that two wide-screened GoPro cameras are placed back to back on a tripod. The camera remains still in a central location and the action takes place around it.

To view the movie, one needs special goggles or it can be seen on YouTube, which has 360 technology.

“There’s no real platforms for that out there now,” Fought said, regarding how the movie will be distributed. “But we’re approaching companies making the goggles to see how they can utilize our content.”

When complete, “Beyond the Night” will be posted on YouTube and Facebook, which is also in the process of incorporating the 360 technology into its website. Additionally Sony PlayStation is releasing its virtual reality device at the end of the year, and Microsoft is working on its version of the technology.

“This whole virtual reality, 360 thing…all the big technology companies are betting on it as the next huge step in technology,” said Shih.

He said the release of the new technology and devices was a primary motivation for the timing of the production of “Beyond the Night.”

“Mainly we’re doing it for the experimentation and the love of this sort of thing,” Shih said. “At some point it would be nice to recoup some of our investment, but we’re doing it for art.”

Full Code Productions, the company formed by Shih and Fought, is financing the movie to the tune of about $30,000.

Shih said 360 movies won’t replace regular two-dimensional movies shown at the movie theater, but the format is appealing to viewers looking for an experience where they feel like they are part of the movie.

“The viewer can see all around them, like virtual reality. The viewer has control of the movie so to speak, based on where they look. The camera is up to you. It’s a very different way of watching movies,” he said.

“It’s really fun watching someone doing this for the first time,” Fought added. “They are looking all around the room. They get immersed and forget they aren’t inside the movie.”

For directors and screenwriters, directing the viewer’s attention to a certain point in the action so they can “get what’s going on” is also different in the 350 environment.

Thus the added importance of lights, sounds and certain movements.

“You might miss what we’re trying to get to you, so we have to direct people to what’s important,” said Shih. “If you’re watching a play for example, if the action is happening on the side, but you happen to be looking on the other side, you’re not going to get what’s going on. On the live stage, they might use spotlights to direct your attention.”

Fought added that watching a movie filmed in this way can at first, be a physical challenge.

“If you turn too quickly to see, you might feel sick to your stomach if you move too much. Moving your head disrupts the balance and sense of being in the right plane,” he said.

And moving the camera while filming is even more disorienting for the viewer. The goal of the director is to keep the action within a personal range.

Unlike two-dimensional movies shown on a big screen, when the characters in a 360 film are involved in an emotional moment, the viewer can avoid it by looking away. With all of the technical challenges, the pressure is on the screenwriter to keep the plot engaging. And in the case of Liberty Hill zombies, intense.

Using back-to-back GoPro cameras to create the 360 environment poses another challenge for editors. Shih said joining together two hemispheres in the middle without leaving a line in between can be tough. Shih is editing the film. While filming is happening, he often stops the action to view the footage to see how the two halves will line up.

Another challenge with the new technology is special effects.

On a traditional movie set, the lighting, microphones and special effects equipment are off stage, often above the set, and can’t be seen by the viewer. However, in the 360 environment, there is no place to hide.

Shih said the challenge for lighting and sound crew for “Beyond the Night” was to hide those devices on the actors themselves, and under stairway handrails, windowsills and other places.

Special effects and makeup for the film were done by Jenna Green, a freelance makeup and special effects artist based in Austin.

In addition to bloody makeup, she equipped actors with devices that triggered fake blood when they dropped to the ground or “took a bite” from a human.

From Bastrop to Liberty Hill

“Beyond the Night” found its way to Liberty Hill through the new owner of the house at 200 Hickman, David Furry.

Owner of a limousine company in the Austin area, Furry is dating an actress in the movie. When he heard that the producers were looking for a second location to film, he showed them photos of his new home and the neighborhood. Furry had not yet moved into the house.

The first part of the three-act movie was filmed at a home in Bastrop.

Shih explained that the feature-length film is being shot as if it’s real time. So unlike a traditional movie where scenes and action start and stop frequently, “Beyond the Night” is continual. And it’s filmed entirely at night.

The transition from Bastrop to Liberty Hill takes place when the main human characters escape the zombies there and seek refuge in a secluded country home they believe will be safe.

In Liberty Hill, scenes were shot in the kitchen, on the front porch, the front room and lawn, upstairs, in the backyard and the storm shelter. The zombies also chase their victims down the street in front of the Liberty Hill United Methodist Church.

Fought said views of the church and the neighbors’ homes won’t be part of the movie. Shih said the movie has eight to 10 key acting roles with plenty of zombie extras.

A local flare

Fred Fierro of Liberty Hill played a zombie extra in the movie “Beyond the Night”. Although he doesn’t have a speaking role in the movie, Fierro said he had rehearsed zombie moaning. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

Fred Fierro of Liberty Hill played a zombie extra in the movie “Beyond the Night”. Although he doesn’t have a speaking role in the movie, Fierro said he had rehearsed zombie moaning. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

Shih said Liberty Hill residents did play acting roles in the movie, but mostly as extras posing as zombies. On Saturday night, there were 20 zombies, and 10 on Friday.

Fought added that the community had been especially hospitable, noting the generosity of Liberty Hill United Methodist Church, which had offered its parking lot and facilities to cast and crew.

Fred Fierro played one of the zombies, who was positioned in front of the group of zombies as they made their way toward the house and toward the camera.

Green said applying the intricate makeup on Fierro Saturday took about 45 minutes.

Laura Cannon, who grew up in Liberty Hill and lives near the house where the movie was shot, was recruited to be a zombie after Fought and Shih learned of her acting experience.

“I always thought this house would make an awesome place for a movie,” she said.

Laura Cannon, also of Liberty Hill, is an actress playing in her first horror film. Makeup and special effects for Cannon and Fiero was provided by Jenna Green. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

Laura Cannon, also of Liberty Hill, is an actress playing in her first horror film. Makeup and special effects for Cannon and Fiero was provided by Jenna Green. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

On Friday night, she attacked the humans as they tried to get into the storm cellar in back of the house.

“I never worked on a movie like this before. It has been a lot of fun. I was eating a guy, and the blood packet tastes like raspberry,” she said, laughing.

Cannon, who is a regular in performances at Way Off Broadway in Leander, as well as Sam Bass Community Theatre in Round Rock, has also done acting work as an extra in “Friday Night Lights” as well as other TV programs and movies filmed in Austin. She has a degree in theater from Texas State University and auditioned for graduate school in New York in February.

She said she hopes “Beyond the Night” might spark a new interest in community theater in Liberty Hill and cause others in the industry to notice the town for its artistic possibilities.

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