A YellowBrickRoad Exclusive Interview

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Writers, Directors Jesse Holland & Andy Mitton

One upcoming feature we’re curious to check out is YellowBrickRoad from writing/directing duo Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton. The indie pic delves into the mystery of a small New Hampshire community that, in the fall of 1940, walked together up a winding mountain trail and into the wilderness, never to be seen alive again. The only clue left behind was a single word etched into stone near the forest’s edge: YELLOWBRICKROAD.

In 2009, the coordinates to the trail were declassified and a team of researchers sets out to find out the truth behind the town’s disappearance. (See the trailer here!) The film stars Cassidy Freeman (Smallville), Anessa Ramsey (The Signal), Laura Heisler (Numb3rs), Michael Laurino (Past Life), Clark Freeman (Simulacrum), Alex Draper (Joshua), and Lee Wilkof (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead).

On the cusp of their premiere at Slamdance Film Festival on Saturday, January 23, Shock got the opportunity to get some more details on the Blair Witch-esque indie straight from both directors.

Robg.: I’m really intrigued by the premise to YellowBrickRoad. The idea of this entire town of 400 people walking into the woods and never being heard from again. It’s got a very urban legend quality to it. What was the origin of this story for you guys? Did you base it on anything factual?

Jesse Holland: Only the impulse to walk off into the woods and leave society behind. Like Krakauer’s “Into The Wild”. That’s really where the idea came from, but then after discussing it and turning it into a story we were researching and found many, many examples of things like this actually having happened. Real life encounters like this and that helped us shape the details of our story and gave us creative lift.

Robg.: So did you cull anything from those real cases once you found them or did you just use them as a rough template for your story?

Jesse Holland: Well, we balanced the folk lore story (of YellowBrickRoad) with the present day characters and really focused on them. We definitely borrowed some details from real stories.

Andy Mitton: There’s one in particular about an Eskimo village where the whole town had gone missing and there are these really gory details like they’d left their dogs behind tied to their posts, and their money and essentials were left behind. We definitely drew on that, but really what we gained was that hopefully it’ll ring that bell with people, kind of like an urban legend and help draw them in.

Robg.: Michael Laurino plays Teddy Barnes and he’s the present day character that leads this group into the woods on the same path as the townspeople that disappeared in the 40’s. What’s his motivation for going on this quest? What’s he hoping to uncover?

Jesse Holland: At the center we have Teddy and Melissa Barnes (Anessa Ramsey) and they’re married and they’re authors who tend to write about the outdoors and mysteries of this sorts. We wanted our characters to be professionals, that was important to us. We didn’t want college kids going into the woods to get drunk, we wanted to follow professionals and see how they react when circumstances break down.

Robg.: I wanted to talk about casting. You’ve got Anessa Ramsey from The Signal. Did you know her already or any of the other members of the cast? Was it people you auditioned or people that you worked with before or a combination of the two?

Andy Mitton: Definitely a combination. Anessa was the rare case where we got to grab someone from a horror movie we really loved. The real joy with that was we didn’t know her. We had worked with a lot of the other actors in theater before, so there was kind of a common language we knew and a level or trust we all had that we knew would exist to some degree, but Anessa showed up and fit right in as if we’d known her already. It was a very great dynamic with the cast. It consisted of some people from our theater past and then people like Anessa and Laura Heisler, who’s a great New York theater actor, as well as Lee Wilkof who’s a great character actor who came and took time off from his role as the Wizard in Wicked.

Robg.: The story takes place in New Hampshire and you guys also shot there. How’d you find the ideal location?

Jesse Holland: We got to shoot the movie right where the movie is set, its set in New Hampshire. And we were shooting 3 and a half hours from any airport, pretty much with no cell phone reception, very little internet connection and I think it informs the way the characters were. It comes across on screen, it comes across in the performances, people living in this kind of setting really living for this project and being cut off from the outside world. And it also gave us the opportunity to shoot in a part of the woods that’s never been seen (on film) before. This is the first film to be shot this far up North in New England.

Robg.: During the shoot itself, was there any (dare I say it) “odd phenomenon” on set? Or did the shoot go smoothly?

Andy Mitton: [Laughs] There were no ridiculous disasters or anything. We got everyone out alive, which was a relief!

Jesse Holland: Like with any film on a limited budget, in this kind of environment, there were hurdles every day. There were bugs every day. There was a day we got thrown off a location we were scheduled to shoot on for four days. Luckily this local family with a 300 acre farm invited us to shoot and stay there instead. We have a bunch of little stories like that where we were saved and got lucky. We also just had a great production crew that was able to get us through. Most of the time, they were able to get us through the hurdles before we even had to know about them. We found our groove.

Robg.: I personally have a wild imagination, so if I was shooting in the woods like you guys shot in, I’d probably see a lot more then was really there!

Jesse Holland: [Laughs] Yeah, there was a little bit of that. There was a plague of nightmares. A lot of the crew started losing sleep and having nightmares, which was weird. We shot mostly sequentially, so it had us gradually going further and further into the darker material. So, it was sort of a parallel experience we were having with our characters where we were getting deeper into the muck as they were. That was the fun of it though. You have to find a balance. You have to stay sane, you have to stay controlled, but you also have to take advantage of your setting and that you’re living inside your main character. What a unique experience to get to do that and not be in a studio. Our actors couldn’t get comfortable and just go home every night.

Andy Mitton: We weren’t too method though!

Robg.: You just mentioned you shot the movie in chronological order, and judging from what I’ve seen and read of the movie, it looks like a slow-burn horror movie. What other horror films served as your influence in terms of setting the tone?

Andy Mitton: Certainly The Exorcist and The Shining. And Deliverance is worthy to be mentioned. These 1970’s films that are character driven and have a slow burn effect that just builds and builds until it becomes a roaring fire by the end. As a matter a fact, in terms of ensembles breaking down, it’s a lot like Alien or The Thing.

Jesse Holland: Yeah, I think there’s not a lot of love these days for patience before the pay off, and we thought maybe we could utilize that for ours. I think another movie that dynamically is a great example is Carrie. It is a long time before that bucket falls, but man… the suspense leading up to it is amazing.

Andy Mitton: It’s worth saying that The Exorcist is our favorite movie of all time, for both of us. Not just in terms of horror. In general.

Robg.: Right on. Do you prefer the original? Or the “Version You’ve Never Seen”?

Jesse Holland: [Laughs] I like the new one too!

Andy Mitton: I like the spider walk! [Laughs]

Robg.: Obviously you’re both co-directing this film. What is your working history prior to doing this film together? Did you guys work in theater or on shorts before this?

Andy Mitton: We met in college, we both went to Middlebury college in Vermont. We were in the same class there and very quickly we were collaborating and putting up our plays along side each other. There was a time where I moved to Los Angeles and it was a few years before Jesse came out and we got to collaborate again. The other thing we’ve been doing is work in media. I’ve directed one short and Jesse was doing a lot of titles and visual FX for trailers and that sort of thing. I also work as an audio engineer, so we have those post-production skills to bring to the table. Really, we’re just old friends that have the same taste, we shoot the same kind of things and we work together very well. So that’s how this came together.

YellowBrickRoad premieres at the Slamdance film festival in Utah on Saturday, January 23 at 10pm in the Main Screening Room at the Treasure Mountain Inn. An encore screening is planned for Monday, January 25 at 3pm.

Visit the official movie website here.

Source: Robg.

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