Logline: Left for dead in an open grave, Emilia struggles to keep both her life and her sanity.
Length: 79 min
Director: Christopher James Lang
Producer: Christopher James Lang, Kevin Crick, Rachel Veznaian
Writer: Christopher James Lang, Amanda Todisco
About the writer, director and producer:
This is Christopher James Lang’s 3rd feature and first in the horror/thriller genre. This is Amanda Todisco’s second lead role in a feature, and first time writing a feature length script. It is Kevin and Rachel’s first experience with film production.
Key cast: Amanda Todisco, Russell Fenton, Jeremy Sless
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Buyers, Distributors, Journalists,
Funders: Production team
Release date: June 4th 2016
Where can I watch it at Dances With Films or in the next month?
June 4th, 11:45PM at TCL Chinese theaters in Hollywood, CA
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Chris: This is my third feature, and second working with Amanda. Previously, I leaned more towards uplifting drama films, but have always wanted to move a little darker in my story telling. After we wrapped on our last film, Amanda and I became very close, and decided to collaborate on this script together.
Her fearless style, and no-compromise storytelling lead both of us towards something much rawer and personal. It’s gritty, dark, bleak, but at the same time honest and not totally hopeless. I’m not sure what she thinks, but working together on this went a long way in helping me find my voice, and putting it out there. And that’s why we make any film; we have something to say, and this is the medium with which we choose to say it.
Amanda: What it comes down to is I want to express myself through acting. For me, the roles out there available to someone without any larger works attached to their name are minimal. I get called for a lot of extra work, and I used to do it, but extra work is not acting. The other roles I often get called for are roles requiring comfort with nudity and sexual objectification, i.e. ‘topless girl at party,’ ‘stripper at club,’ ‘prostitute who simulates blow job…’ and I don’t want to get put in that category (if I’m going to be naked, I’m going to be playing ‘Rose Dewitt-Bukater’).
I’m rambling…I want to play characters who have a major purpose and allow me to expose myself as an actress, and co-writing a script with one of your best friends definitely makes this easier.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Chris: We bill this film as a survival thriller/horror, but those labels came after production. We set out to create a complete, interesting story that will challenge audiences to think, and experience the world through someone else’s struggles. In this case, my inspiration to create a crime/kidnapping story came from my work on crime recreations for TV.
While these TV recres were interesting and emotionally draining, because of the TV medium’s limits and censors it was hard to fully express the devastation a victim of an intense crime can go through, and the way it can change a person.
I wanted to show what someone could realistically experience in life, and the limits/breaking points that given the most horrific situations, can damage us beyond repair. It’s not an easy film to watch, but audiences will hopefully appreciate the honest outlook that sidesteps the traditional Hollywood ending, because sometimes there is no ideal outcome.
Amanda: Because it’s good and I’m in it… Oh, a serious answer, you say? Well, there are a lot of messages we’re trying to get out there with one little film; it challenges morality, it draws a line between choice and fate, and it asks the question, one that comes up so often in life: are you inherently good or evil? There’s love, violence, religion, action, gore, loss, grief, rage, and some hot guys, so I’m sure we’ve got something in there for everyone.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Chris: Ditches, because of the nature of its production, is a very personalized film. Most of the movie is one character, struggling to survive. She makes both good, and bad decisions throughout, and even when a better answer is evident to the audience, she often takes a long time to arrive at it, if ever at all. This is because, put in a survival situation, the mind doesn’t always make the most logical choices.
You address immediate needs first, and don’t always think in the long term. It’s a very personal struggle for survival where we see more and more piled on top of our protagonist, all the while wondering when her final breaking point will come.
Universally, there are a lot of undertones of misuses of power, and manipulation to oppress those who are weakest. This is something that Amanda really brought into the story, with adding in religious themes, and imagery. We have a protagonist who has been manipulated, and put down through out her life, all under the guise of things that are supposed to be positive and uplifting: parental love, friendship, religion.
To me, it’s this misuse and abuse that cuts deepest, and creates the greatest strain on our main character’s sanity. And it speaks volumes to how society as a whole will manipulate a positive message to suite their own needs at the expense of others.
Amanda: A lot of people will relate to Emilia. Not because she’s a kidnapping victim, her boyfriend has been murdered, and she’s left for dead…but because she’s scared. She has lost a parent. She fears her father. She has experienced first love. She’s young and impressionable, and everything that happens in her life at this point shapes her. She wants to do right and be good and, most importantly, be happy…but life happens. And this is one way of dealing with it.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Chris: Greatly. I wrote the first outline, which was a very straightforward kidnapping; jilted lover kidnaps ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, and terror in the desert ensues. I sent it to Amanda who then took out most of the more traditional horror elements, and added in a new spin, making our kidnapper much more interesting and deep as a character. We then passed it back and forth over a few months until we arrived at the shooting script we went out with.
We set out to shoot knowing we only had half of the budget, but right before principal photography started, our co-producer Kevin, called to let us know he had secured just enough funding to get us through the whole script. The relief I felt from that phone call was a feeling I can’t even begin to describe.
We had planned to come back and finish the shoot after a kickstarter campaign, but being able to just shoot it all in one go made everything more fluid and more connected. The one thing that never changed is that we always knew we’d be filming this on a tiny budget. While it’s a lot of money for us, currently to date we’ve spent 35k on a movie that is set to open with a slate of films with almost 10X that.
Amanda: This script was TERRIBLE (offense out of love, Chris). Here’s the story of how it started (enter dream sequence mode now)…we met a distributor who is really into horror, so we started with a horror script. Chris came up with the story, and then he turned it into a hollow outline of what was to be Valley of Ditches. Although I am a writer, I’ve never much favored screen writing. So, Chris gave me a script and made life a hell of a lot easier.
Then I turned a $30,000 movie into a $3,000,000 movie, and he crushed my dreams and removed my 100+ person scene in a location we couldn’t get with actors we couldn’t afford. From there, I learned to write well while writing affordably. We passed the script back and forth, putting pressure on one another and encouraging each other by doing a lot of FaceTime whisky shots.
I wanted to incorporate religion, and he took that and found a scripture that worked with what we wanted. We then worked around II Kings 3:16, and from there, we made the movie we have now.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Chris: We held a preview screening of the rough cut in my home town of Astoria OR a few months back, and had a tremendous response. Because I knew most the people in the audience, the most typical response was “Wow, that movie looks amazing! But did you really make this Chris? I’m not used to your stories being so dark.”
I have a pretty upbeat and positive personality, so I think the subject matter may surprise people. But it’s probably just that I have to vent my negativity somewhere, and that seems to be in my writing and filmmaking these days.
Also, our trailer has been getting a lot of attention as well, due to the imagery mixed with Russell’s (our antagonist) expertly delivered monologue.
Amanda: For the most part, people have loved it! I think we are our own worst critics. For me, our biggest issue is that it’s a bit short.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Chris: The trailer feedback is what is most surprising and exciting to me, because it’s come from sources who don’t know us personally as filmmakers. This is the first time we’ve had a film that seems to appeal to a massive audience outside of those who we can tell directly about the film. Hopefully that fire continues to spread.
Amanda: Nope. Lovers gone love. Haters gone hate.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Chris: We just want to get the word out. We are small, and limited in our resources, but I feel like given the right channels, our voice can carry to a large audience who is searching for this sort of story.
Amanda: We need love love love love, crazy love. Realistically, we just want people to come see it. We’re not asking much; we want an audience. We want a voice. We want to represent what independent film really is.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Right now we are most focused on getting our film out in the world, so that means distribution. We’d love for anyone interested in our film to come check it out, and particularly encourage distributors, journalists, and buyers to show up. But also we are looking to towards the future, and I have a new script ready to go the moment we sell this one, and can fund the next.
Working with Amanda, and Kevin on our team has built confidence in our own voices, and we want to keep growing and amplifying what we have to say as artists, and that all starts by getting this film out in the world, and having the next one on deck.
Amanda: For this film, we truly need distributors more than anything. We want this film to sell. However, we have another work in progress, and for that, we need everything.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
Chris: From the beginning, as a filmmaker, my goal has been that people feel some genuine emotion from the things I create. Even if it’s not what I intended, if someone has a legitimate laugh, or tears, or anxiety, then we were a success because that’s an effect we had on someone who wouldn’t have had that, at that exact moment, had we not made a film. Building on that, if we can get people thinking about why they had that reaction, then all my goals would be met.
Amanda: Well, I'm hoping a positive one. I want people to leave thinking and feeling, which is what all films should ask of a (paying??) audience. I want people to understand that you’re not the only one responsible for creating who you are, and you’re certainly not the only one affected by it. I honestly don’t care how it’s received because reception means it has been seen.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Chris: The usual narrative in stories is that extreme suffering, pain, and evil can cause the greatest good to emerge. But what happens when it doesn’t? What happens when negativity destroys whatever it touches, and leaves behind something even worse. Does looking at it from that perspective make us more or less likely to challenge ourselves to stop these things before they start?
Amanda: Will people always find a way to excuse their actions?
Would you like to add anything else?
I just want to add that while Amanda and I may be the voice for this project, that is only because of circumstance. This film is the result of a collective effort from a talented cast and crew that came from all over the continent, willing to work for a minimal wage, to be a part of a story that they believed in telling.
When you look at the visuals, you are seeing the pure talent of Jack, our DP. When you hear the chilling score, or feel the rush of excitement or tension in the movie’s flow, that is our composer Khris, and our Editor Dan. When you squirm at the visual effects, that is Jane our on set make-up and Josh, our practical effects designer. When you hear the clear sound, which contains NO ADR, that’s because of our talented on set recordists Matt and James, and our mixer Danny.
Amanda, Jeremy and Russell all draw the audience in with their convincing, and haunting performances. As do all our supporting actors. And the whole reason anyone is even seeing this film is because of our production team. Kevin and Rachel producing, and Mat, Kyle and Sarah who crewed for us in the field. So I would like to add that when you see this movie, you are seeing all of these folks coming together with their ‘A’ game on a film that we are all proud to have been a part of.
Amanda: Definitely a thank you. To you, and to anyone else who has listened to our annoying outcries for attention.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
We are developing a number of shorts, and TV pilot projects. Chris still works on crime recreations, currently for Discovery Network in Washington DC. He has just completed his next feature script, and plans to apply the same principals that allow him to shoot on a minimal budget with maximum results. Production is slated to start this fall, pending funding.
Amanda: Ohhhh, #wearemovingstories…you will see. YOU WILL SEE!