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Some say the off-season in the Hamptons leaves something to be desired. It’s deserted, barren, cold and, oftentimes, downright spooky.
And so, it was by no accident that Manhattan-based director Jack Heller chose to shoot his latest film, the horror-drama “Dark Was The Night,” right here, starring a new monster no one has ever seen before—one whose description its creators are keeping close to the vest.
On a misty, overcast afternoon in Southampton Village earlier this month, Caliber Media Co. partners Mr. Heller and producer Dallas Sonnier left Catena’s—the film crew’s quasi-headquarters—crossed Jagger Lane and then Main Street to get to their latest shooting location: the United Methodist Church.
“Aesthetically, from the outside on a day like today, you couldn’t ask for a better motif,” Mr. Heller, a lifelong summer Southampton resident, noted as he crossed Jagger Lane, eyes on the church. “It just looks haunting.”
Filming wrapped up this week on “Dark Was The Night,” marking the close of Mr. Heller’s third consecutive year making low-budget movies on the East End, he said over a late lunch at Catena’s on Thursday, March 1. With two other films under his belt, including last year’s drama, “Refuge,” the 29-year-old director is already thinking about his next Hamptons project, he said.
“We want to make a new movie here every winter,” he said. “And with this budget, there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars coming to the town, the local businesses. The other films were a little smaller, but this one is really pumping it in, especially in terms of food and hotels,” he said, later adding that “there’s nothing big budget about this film,” though it is the largest budget thus far and considerably better-funded than his first East End film, the thriller “Enter Nowhere,” which was made with $200,000.
“There’s definitely guys who give what we do a bad name and abuse everything, but I’ve been coming out here my whole life and this is our third film here,” Mr. Heller continued. “We just want to be part of the community. We’d love to be that group of people where it’s, ‘Oh yeah, it’s February. Those guys are back.’”
The key to filming on the East End is first finding a script that fits into the “Southampton box,” Mr. Heller explained, with a laugh. There is not a particularly scientific formula behind it, he said. It is more about practicality and a gut feeling.
“It’s not ‘Transformers,’ right? We don’t need a New York City skid row kind of thing. We don’t need a high rise. We don’t need outer space,” Mr. Heller said. “Every location in this film, I instantly, as I read, said, ‘I could set that there, I could set that there, I could set that there.’ It was just perfect.”
“Dark Was The Night,” penned by Tyler Hisel, is a horror-drama set in a remote, northeastern woodland community in fictional Maiden Woods County. The film’s premise focuses on an unknown evil unleashed on the town when a greedy logging company encroaches on the surrounding forests.
Meanwhile, the local sheriff—played by Kevin Durand from the films “Real Steel,” “I Am Number Four” and the television series, “Lost”—is dealing with the death of his oldest son that is slowly ripping his family apart. In order to repair the damage, and to save the town, he needs to face the demons of the tragedy—which is where the horror element comes in—as well as a much more real, internal fear, Mr. Heller explained.
“Think of the monster as a personification of the sheriff’s fear,” Mr. Sonnier explained. “It’s not directly related to the death of his son but it becomes his opportunity, involuntary at that, to regain his mojo and fight back.”
The film co-stars Lukas Haas, who starred in the film “Inception.” His character is a New York City cop who blames himself for the death of his partner and has run away to this small, very blue-collar town to escape his fears.
“This is really a family drama that ultimately has an angle to it where the family’s deepest fear has become true,” Mr. Heller said. “But everyone has to face their inner demons and tragedies, and accept them, and not blame themselves in order to fight the bigger fight that the film is about in the end.”
The cast and crew—Mr. Heller’s largest yet, coming in at more than 60 people—began shooting on Sunday, February 19, and the filming will wrap on Saturday, March 17. The time frame gave Mr. Heller and Mr. Sonnier four weeks to make the movie, a week longer than they allotted to make their previous East End feature films.
According to Mr. Sonnier, the film is right on schedule. He and the crew have been shooting 12-hour days at various locations around Southampton Town, including Catena’s and the United Methodist Church in the village, The Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton, Scorpion Farms in North Sea and all along Middle Line Highway in Sag Harbor. The cast and crew will finish up at East Hampton Studio in Wainscott, he said.
Mr. Sonnier and Mr. Heller joked that, because of their rigorous shooting schedule, they’ve become practically nocturnal.
“This is like morning to us,” Mr. Sonnier said at just after 4 p.m. “Our days and nights are all screwed up.”
“There’s no sense of reality when you’re making a movie,” Mr. Heller said, noting his erratic sleep schedule. “It’s like we’re not making reality and we’re not living reality either. It’s totally deserted, as long as you’re not on 27 going through the contractor parade every morning. And the trees out here, there’s some set of trees that we always seem to find that look like they’re out of a Tim Burton movie. They’re crazy, wickedly looking.”
When the cast hasn’t been shooting in the woods, year-round residents may have seen them around town—Mr. Heller driving the Maiden Woods County sheriff’s Chevy Tahoe, a car that didn’t allow the director to get anywhere fast, he said, or dining at the crew’s favorite Italian restaurant, La Parmigiana in Southampton.
“The first night that Lukas Haas came in, because he loves Italian food, I said, ‘I’m literally going to take you to a place that is my favorite restaurant of all time,’” Mr. Heller said. “I talk about this restaurant to everyone on the planet. I said to him, ‘Are you ready to have your mind blown?’ Now, during lunch breaks, I have to hunt him down to make sure he hasn’t snuck out to La Parm. Last night, they snuck out. The night before, they snuck out. This is a daily thing.”
Once the film wraps, Mr. Heller and Mr. Sonnier will take it to Manhattan for editing and visual effects, which will finish in September, the producer said. Then, the team will submit it to the midnight sections of major film festivals, such as South by Southwest, Sundance Film Festival and Tribecca Film Festival, where Mr. Sonnier said he hopes it will be snatched up by a buyer. Its earliest release date would be summer 2013, he said.
“Jack wanted to direct something commercial, which means it has a chance of getting a big release, instead of doing something really indy feeling. And we knew we wanted to make it out here. And I really wanted to make a scary movie,” Mr. Sonnier said. “We made ‘Enter Nowhere,’ which is a ‘Twilight Zone’ kind of movie, and then we made ‘Refuge,’ which is a straight-up drama. And every time I’m out here in winter, I’m thinking, ‘It would be really scary to shoot a scary movie out here. It would be really fun to shoot a scary movie.’ And, yeah, it was. We even made our own monster.”
When pressed for details about their new creation, Mr. Sonnier simply smirked and replied with a quick, “Nope,” making it perfectly clear that he had no intention of letting any hints slip.
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