Summer Moore believes in paying it forward and she credits that philosophy for helping her successfully mount her latest film, "The Warning."
"I believe very strongly that what comes around goes around," Moore told Headlines & Global News in an exclusive interview. "I was working really hard to find jobs for other people and help other people be successful and it didn't matter what industry it was in. I really believe that that basically laid the foundation for me to make this film."
"The Warning" follows a TV reporter (Moore) who travels to Manitou Springs, Colorado, to cover local legends – specifically, whether the Satanic Panic that swept the nation in the 80s and 90s is still happening in this small town.
The horror-thriller is the first full-length feature script written and produced by Moore who found more people willing to hop aboard this project than any other script she'd ever pitched.
"Usually people will say, 'It's a good idea. That's great,' and then it doesn't go anywhere," Moore said. "This one was just like a hot button. Everybody wanted to be a part of it."
HNGN: WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR "THE WARNING" COME FROM?
Summer Moore: I grew up in Colorado and there were always accounts of thingsgoing on in Manitou Springs – the so-called "Devil Worshipping capital of the Western World." I don't know if it was commonly known that waybut Geraldo Rivera called it that, so I knew there was satanic worship in that neck of the woods. That sort of stayed with me throughout my life and, as I grew up, I thought, 'What if I could do something that's a little bit different in Hollywood? A different kind of screenplay?"
I thought of the Satanic Panic that had swept the nation and wondered, 'Why has no one ever done a film on it?' There were so many parents who were scared that their kids would get involved in satanic worship. I went and interviewed around 50 people to see what transpired when they went to Manitou. Some of the people had stories but a lot of them stayed away from there. The idea just sort of came to me – just in trying to do something different.
IS THE MOVIE FICTIONAL OR A DOCUMENTARY?
It's fictional but it's based on true accounts. There are stories and things that I've got in the movie that did transpire. But it's not a documentary. I took some of my own stuff and these events that transpired and then wove my own story out of it.
DID ANYONE HAVE RESERVATIONS OR COMPLAINTS ABOUT YOU MAKING A MOVIE ABOUT THESE TRUE EVENTS?
Well, it's interesting because I kept a number of non-disclosure agreements so anyone that was involved didn't really know what they were getting into (laughs). Now they've seen the movie and I've had great responses from people around Colorado Springs. I'm sure there are people who aren't so happy that I'm bringing up these past events, but all the businesses are happy about it. They can use it to advertise and try to get traffic into their locations, which is what I really wanted – to drive tourism back into Colorado and to bring filming to Colorado.
WHAT WAS ONE OF THE MOST SURPRISING THINGS YOU FOUND OUT IN YOUR RESEARCH?
I had to talk to the Church of Satan because I was trying to get the rights to the Satanic Bible. There were several times that I had to get in communication with them. Through my research watching rituals and learning about satanic worship, I found it interesting that the satanic religion doesn't have a devil. The devil is not the same thing as Satan for them. So that was surprising to me. They don't condone sacrifices. They're more about being hedonistic and giving into their own pleasures instead of the negative stigma that goes around satanic things.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE HORROR GENRE?
I have been a big horror fan for my entire life, but I never thought horror was something I could write. Dirk Hagen, the film's director, and I became friends on another movie called 'Wheelmen' (2005). I really wanted his expertise because he's so skilled at what he does – scaring people. He does zombie blood runs, makes mazes for Halloween and does mansion parties. I thought we were just going to do improv because we had such a short shooting schedule. Instead, everybody wanted a script. So that's why we have a 90-page horror script that we shot in seven days. It was crazy but we did it.
WHAT WILL PEOPLE WHO ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE SATANIC PANIC – OR WHO MIGHT NOT BE BIG HORROR FANS – FIND IN THIS FILM?
I feel like it's very thriller oriented. It's not necessarily horror because I wrote it with the idea that what you don't see scares you more. So the noises and the things like that – what's in your imagination – is so much better than what you can visually put on screen. I didn't put a lot blood and gore in. I don't believe that's necessary; it's more the scary stuff of a thriller. The actual events did take place and then this transpired based on that. That's number one that kind of pulls you in: 'Wow, this really took place.' I know a lot of films make that claim but this really did take place so there's an authenticity to it.
HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR FILM CREW?
I wanted to use as many local people as I could. We brought out the major actors and some of the essential crew from L.A., and then we hired locally. Finding actors in Colorado is a lot harder than it would be in New York and L.A. because they don't have a system. I had to really get resourceful. Everyone really enjoyed it because it was a Hollywood film coming to Colorado.
DID YOU BRING IN DIRECTOR DIRK HAGEN EARLY ON IN THE PROCESS?
It was funny because when I first came up with this idea and I was pitching it, everybody wanted to jump on board. So I had a lot of different directors that were really interested. Some of them were interested just because they were challenged by [shooting it in] seven days.
Dirk had always been someone I used as a consultant because he's so great at being able to scare people. But he was organizing a zombie blood run at the exact same time that we were going to film. He said, 'I can't film it but I'm here as your resource.' And then – low and behold – the shooting got pushed back enough that said, 'Dirk, come on.' So he jumped aboard relatively late in the game. He came up with a lot more great ideas because he's great at making props. He can come up with all these things that I think maybe other directors of other genres couldn't necessarily come up with.
WAS IT DIFFICULT TO SEPARATE YOUR ROLES AS LEAD ACTOR AND SCREENWRITER?
It was difficult. I was writer-producer-actress and then I did other stuff on top of that – location scouting, casting, wardrobe. I mean, it goes on and on. As a producer for a low budget film – micro-budget – you're wearing so many hats. My plan was to do all my producing before I got to Colorado and then my line producers would take over. I was going to come to Colorado for a few days to really work on my character, work on my lines, but Colorado had record flooding that washed out some of our major locations. So I had to go location scouting. It was horrible. I was getting updates in L.A., like, 'It's flooding here. Do you know it's flooding? What are you guys going to do?' I
I said, 'I'm going to talk to God and ask him to stop. (Laughs).' I was getting maybe three hours of sleep a night. I was first actress on set, last actress on set. I was just worn to the bone. But you're in survival mode; you just have to get the project done. I will never produce another film by myself again.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE PROCESS SINCE YOU COMPLETED THE FILM?
SM: We released it on March 14. We had a premiere in Denver. We had a DVD release as well so it's on Amazon. You can stream it on a site called Film Canal and download a digital copy. We had an L.A. premiere on April 8.
WHAT GOES INTO SECURING DISTRIBUTION FOR A MOVIE?
It's long. A lot of filmmakers don't realize what distribution is really like. People work on a project for year and then it turns into just a commodity to the sales agents. If you go to a film market where they're trying to buy and sell films, it just becomes like a gallon of milk. They'll say, 'I don't want to buy your movie for that much, but if you throw in another movie then I'll take it.' And the other guy says, 'Ok, sure. You can have both these movie.' That's what would make most filmmakers cringe because that's their work of art – what they slaved over and it's just thrown in so they'll buy another one.
I actually went to one in Hong Kong to see how it works. The deals take a long time. There are 60 to 90 day minimums and by the time you get through that they have to go through quality control. Let's say Amazon gets our film and take so many months to decide if it's ok. If it's not, you have to go back to the drawing board. You have to fix whatever it is and then resubmit it. So it's a long process.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THE OVERALL PROCESS?
You have to really love a project because you're going to be married to it for years of your life. I worked probably 16 to 18 hours a day on it for seven days a week. You have to be very creative to come up with ideas: 'How can we market this? How can we get it sold? What's going to make this different?' Because there's so many indie projects out there – they're a dime a dozen. They're really nothing special unless there's a huge celebrity in it. All they really care about is who is in your movie. So that made it extremely difficult, especially for this kind of film. We didn't want any "names" in our movie, but nobody will ever listen because that's the first question out of their mouths – 'Who's in the movie?'
BUT SCREENING YOUR MOVIE FOR AN AUDIENCE HAD TO BE SATISFACTORY IN THE END – RIGHT?
It was exciting to sit in the premiere and listen to people – to hear where they were getting scared at or what they were laughing at. It's always at different places than you'd expect.
Moore will be screening 'The Warning' at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on Thursday, May 28.