Shortly after my review for The Invoking, I was contacted by John Portanova, one of the film’s writers and producers. Applauding my review, he was happy to give me some of his time for a short interview regarding the film and its production.
DIABOLIQUE: Apart from the cabin-in-the-woods setting, what were some of your influences regarding the film?
JOHN PORTANOVA: The Invoking was a script that began with an idea by Jeremy Berg (the film’s director) and Matt Medisch (the film’s producer). They are big fans of the slower paced, more subtle horror films of the late 60s and 70s, such as Rosemary’s Baby. When I was brought on-board, the three of us hammered the outline into what you see now and then Jeremy and I began to write the script.
There weren’t any specific influences I can think of that I personally had in mind when working on the script for The Invoking. Instead, Jeremy and I had a few rules, things we wanted to make sure not to do because they had aggravated us in other horror films. This included making sure the characters weren’t all jerks. If the audience doesn’t like the characters, why would they care when they start to die? We also didn’t want to make the film a brainless bloodbath instead of telling a good story. You see this a lot in micro-budget films, of which we were definitely in the same category and didn’t want to fall into the same traps. Jeremy and I watch a lot of movies and tend to learn what works and what doesn’t for us more from the bad ones than the good ones.
DIABOLIQUE: As an independent filmmaker, what were your experiences making the film? What did you learn?
PORTANOVA: The Invoking was my first produced feature film as a writer, producer, and assistant director, so I learned a lot. Jeremy, Matt, and I (collectively, The October People,) had little money and even less time to make the film. We knew that the only way we were going to be able to break into feature filmmaking after making shorts for years was to do something along the lines of Clerks or Paranormal Activity and write the script based around things we had access to. Not having to worry about location fees helped us keep the overall budget way down. What we knew we had was a house and a piece of land in northern California that would cost us nothing, so we made that the setting for the film. If something didn’t exist on the property, it wasn’t in the script. Without these constrained location and story rules, we never would’ve been able to get the shoot done in the 7 days that we had to shoot the film.
A couple of other factors help us accomplish this crazy schedule. We used crew members who we had worked with in the past and knew how we ran a set. This helped us avoid the first few “feeling each other out” days that usually happen at the beginning of a shoot. We also had an extremely talented cast who were able to do amazing work in just a few takes. To keep us on schedule, I had to make sure that at most we only ever did 3 takes of a scene. And many times, Jeremy would call “cut!” and say we were moving on after the cast nailed a scene on the first take. A few weeks of rehearsals between Jeremy and the actors were essential in making this possible.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you have anymore projects in store for 2014? A possible sequel for The Invoking?
PORTANOVA: We have a few exciting features coming up in 2014. The first is an as of yet untitled alien abduction story. As with The Invoking, Jeremy will be directing from a script he and I wrote, and Matt will producing. The film will be a collaboration between The October People and Ruthless Pictures, the company who acquired The Invoking and helped us get our distribution deal with Image Entertainment. I am a big fan of alien abduction films, such as Fire in the Sky and Intruders, and am excited to bring our version of this unappreciated subgenre to life.
Later in 2014, we will be tackling another one of my favorite subgenres with the film Valley of the Sasquatch. I grew up on shows such as Unsolved Mysteries and In Search Of, so I’ve always been interested in telling a horror story about Bigfoot that didn’t treat the creature as just a bloodthirsty monster, but is instead based on eyewitness accounts of how it would act. I wrote the script many years ago and will be making my directorial debut with the film. Matt will be producing once again and Jeremy will be the cinematographer, a position he held in addition to director on The Invoking.
As far as a sequel to The Invoking, there are no plans at the moment. The film won’t be out in wide release on DVD and digital in the US until February 18th, and then the UK will follow sometime around May. If the numbers are good, then maybe we’ll have requests for a second installment. Jeremy and I have definitely had discussions on what could happen to the characters following the final fade out, but are currently focusing on telling different stories with our upcoming films. We aren’t against the idea of a sequel though, we would just want to make sure that we make a worthy follow-up to the first film and not just a cash-in.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you have any advice for anyone trying to make it in the independent film scene?
PORTANOVA: No matter what limitations you have, make a film. As long as you are telling a story from your heart that has even a modicum of truth in it, people will respond to it. On The Invoking, we had 7 days and $11,000 to make something, and now people are including us on lists of the best films of 2013 and the film has worldwide distribution. Even if your film doesn’t achieve that kind of success, it can lead to meeting great people who can help you make your next film even better. By surrounding yourself with the right cast and crew and setting realistic goals for your pre-production, shoot, and post-production you can accomplish anything. That may sound super cheesy, but I just want to have some more good indie horror films to watch. So go make ’em! [laughs]