Hailed by Fangoria as the hardest working man in horror and confirmed by those who know him (does he even ever sleep?), Gregory Lamberson pulls no punches and tolerates no distraction when it comes to creating horror. First well known for cult classic SLIME CITY when he was just nineteen years of age, Greg has since collected a respectable stash of awards for his slew of novels and fan-favourite films such as JOHNNY GRUESOME, KILLER RACK and SLIME CITY MASSACRE. Also the founder and director of Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, Greg still somehow found the time to take Richard Chizmar and son’s novella and adapt it into a scary ghost story full of on-screen chills and genuine dread.
Enjoy as I discuss with Greg how the film came about, what makes it work so well, and his overall experience with filming in a haunted lighthouse during the making of WIDOW’S POINT.
To get things rolling, Greg, with so many great stories out there to choose from, including your own, how did the plan to adapt Richard Chizmar and his son, Billy’s, novella into a film first come about?
Richard Chizmar and I have had discussions about doing something together in the past. He’s invested in some of my films, and I think he realized that I would see a collaboration through to completion no matter what. So many people in this “business” talk and talk and talk, but when I commit to something that becomes my life. He sent me an advance copy of the novella, we agreed it was a movie we could do on a certain budget, and I proposed that I write the adaptation, because he’s a busy man and I wanted to get things rolling fast.
How much influence did Richard and Billy have on your screenplay and how their story was adapted?
Richard is one of the two executive producers on the film (the other is Erin Elizabeth Heald), and he could have insisted on changes at any point. He’s a very easy person to work with. I probably wrote 20 drafts of the script, and all of them were very similar to the first one I pounded out in a couple of weeks. He asked the right questions, and I guess I gave him the right answers. Billy is a film student and is having success with short films, and I think he was happy too. They both visited set and were congenial to everyone; Billy played a small role in the film and gets a real “moment.” They have a film community in Baltimore, and we have one in Buffalo, so we’re all doing things in the field outside Hollywood. I think they both realized that as an author myself, I would treat their material with respect even while putting my own spin on it.
For a lot of folks, including myself, who’ve wanted to see what you can do with a decent budget, it’s fair to say you answered that in spades with WIDOW’S POINT. How did the financing come together for this project as compared to your previous cinematic efforts?
WIDOW’S POINT had about the same budget as JOHNNY GRUESOME, which was actually a tougher shoot. Richard brought in some investors, I brought in some investors, and it all came together pretty quickly and with greater ease than usual.
What specific impact would you say the bigger budget had on bringing your creative vision to life that a lower budget may have hindered as far as getting everything exactly as you saw and heard it playing out in your mind?
The chief benefit was that we were able to cast Craig Sheffer. The rest was down and dirty, as usual. We actually had more equipment on JOHNNY GRUESOME, so I had to compromise in some areas of WIDOW’S POINT that I wasn’t expecting to, but you always have to compromise at this level. Filmmaking is trouble shooting, so when we couldn’t do what I wanted we found a solution to do it another way. You always want more time. We had two locations on one day, and the first location was a nightmare: we were shooting in woods, and 200 feet away from us this giant machine I’ve never seen before was tearing down trees. It was total LIVING IN OBLIVION. We got through the scene, but I had to give up the “money” shot I had been planning. That hurt, and there was no time or money or logistical room to go back and re-shoot it.
Is it safe to say you had a bit more room to gather extra shots, allow more takes, and otherwise provide more options during the editing process? How long did the entire shoot take?
I don’t know what you’re talking about! We shot this film in 15 days, and had planned to do it in 16. Most of my other films were shot in 18 days, and some of those had pickup days. When I didn’t have a plan for a scene going in, or if circumstances dictated I couldn’t do what I wanted, we had to commit to a plan on set and stick to it. At this level there is no such thing as shooting a scene multiple ways and then figuring out its design during editing. We shoot as many takes as we need, until the cast, crew and I are satisfied. Some scenes we nailed in two takes, and I can think of at least one fairly simple one that we spent three hours on, to get the timing right. As far as the editing process goes, I’ve been working with the same editor, Phil Gallo, for 24 years. We have a shorthand way of communicating, and I trust him to fix my mistakes. Chris Cosgrave, who does a lot of visual effects for me, also fixes in my mistakes. So, some things can be fixed in post, as much as people are loathe to admit it. But the fixes I’m talking about are those you don’t discover until you start editing. We always try to get it right on the day.
Fans of your work will be happy to see a lot of familiar faces working on this film. How important was it for you to have as many people whom who’ve worked with before on set with you again?
Not so important! I’m a storyteller, and everything serves the story. You have to cast people because they’re right for a role, not because they’re your friends. As I write a script, I know when some of my “regulars,” like John Renna, Paul McGinnis, Michael O’hear, and Bill Brown – are right for a role or not. When I read the novella, I knew immediately that Michael Thurber, John, and my daughter Kaelin were perfect for their roles, and when I reached that card game set in 1933, I knew some of the other guys would be perfect as Depression era fishermen. But I had to leave some people out because I just didn’t see them as characters in that particular world. This one was a nice blending of “new” actors and Lamberson veterans.
You definitely picked a gorgeous location to shoot at with Dunkirk. That real-life lighthouse was such a perfect backdrop to the ghost story. Since it was a heritage site, was it difficult to land the site and were there any additional precautions or modifications to filming on the site you had to make?
No and yes. The people at that lighthouse are great, and I loved the prospect of working with them there. Then a lawyer got involved, and everything became frustrating and down to the wire. One week before production, my production designer, Frank Coppola, still didn’t know what location I expected him to dress. But we worked everything out, and it was probably the most pleasant location I’ve ever been able to shoot in – and it’s haunted, and we experienced all manner of weird phenomena, even in the daytime.
Care to elaborate on what weird experiences you and your crew had while filming?
The lighthouse is a functioning one, with active weather equipment, and we were warned that if our drone got too close it might end up in Lake Erie. We were careful, but even at a distance it acted wonky. Additionally, all of our batteries were constantly drained of power in record time. A strange glitch developed in the footage when we were shooting in the tower, something the camera crew had never seen before with that camera. A PA was standing alone in a room and felt breathing on her neck. All little things, but they added up. And my daughter befriended the ghosts of two children who drowned in the lake many years before. They do ghost tours there, and our rep knew the full history and kept us entertained.
If you made one thing clear, it’s that nobody is safe from your ruthless muse, not even your daughter, Kaelin, who plays young Delaney Collins. Considering the intensity her role required, some of which is quite violent, what was it like for you to watch her on set, absolutely selling it for all she was worth?
Hey, Richard and Billy decided to kill that character, not me! To be clear, no violence is done to Kaelin’s character on camera; we intercut the murderer with Craig Sheffer’s reactions. I had to clear Kaelin’s casting with the producer, Tamar, who happens to be my wife, and she would never have allowed an on-camera death. I never doubted Kaelin could pull it off, or I wouldn’t have cast her. But finding another child actor here would have been a nightmare. She did a great job; Craig provides the drama and she provides the heart.
In my review of the film, I mention how your leading star, Craig Sheffer, who plays desperate author Tom Livingston, seems to channel his inner Jack Torrence as his character spirals into madness as the ghosts of the lighthouse begin to take hold. First of all, how great was that to watch while filming, and what factors led to such a convincing, effective performance?
Craig is a pro, and like all professional actors, he showed up with his character fully realized. He had to deliver his craziest moments on Day two of filming. The character evolved from Richard and Billy’s prose to my script, to Craig’s interpretation. It was amazing to watch. I knew he would be great and he still exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t say what he processed to deliver that incredible performance, but it was all internal – he didn’t need me sitting in the corner coaxing him. As for Jack Torrence, sure, both characters go crazy, but that goes back to Lovecraft and Poe, doesn’t it? Both characters find themselves willing victims of extreme isolation. The difference is, Jack has his family with him, and Thomas is all alone with his ghosts. The ghosts at the Overlook want Jack to hurt his family, while the ghosts at Widow’s Point want Thomas to hurt himself.
I know musical scores in films are a very integral part of the experience for you, and ensuring your films have soundtracks to back up the story you’re telling is crucial. WIDOW’S POINT showcases a fantastic score that is backed up with a 5.1 mix. What can out tell us about what went into putting such an effective score together and the difference it made to the overall viewing experience?
Armand Petri and Joe Rozler did the score, just as they did on JOHNNY GRUESOME and KILLER RACK before that. Three very different scores. I wanted THE SHINING, and Armand wanted a more Italian-influenced score. The film features both. It was actually a long process – five months – to get to something that made all three of us happy. They used some unique instruments, like a harp guitar, and Joe is a pianist, and Mary Ramsey, from 10,000 Maniacs and John and Mary, sang some vocals and played the viola. It’s a haunting score. One of the most effective cues involves the murder of the lighthouse keeper’s family in 1933: Joe played the piano, and Armand decided to play it backwards – very creepy. Adam Bloch did our sound mix, and it really is effective. Again, we spent a lot more time on it than we would have liked, but it was important to get it just right. The subject matter certainly provided opportunities to get creative.
Although your roots are firmly planted in horror, most of your films also have degrees of campy humour to them. By contrast, WIDOW’S POINT is a straight-ahead horror film with obvious influences from Peter Straub’s Ghost Story and the world of HP Lovecraft. How did the experience compare between the different styles of film making?
The filmmaking process is generally the same regardless of genre, and there are similarities between comedy and horror – setup, delay, punchline. I suppose the atmosphere may have been more intense, as much from shooting schedule as content, but there was still laughter between takes. I got into this to make horror films, and because I’ve always had such small budgets in the past I tended toward goofy material. So, this was an opportunity for me to go in a more serious direction, which I embraced. I enjoy comedy, and I’m proud of those films, but if I’m able to continue making films they will be straight horror.
As your film continues making the festival rounds, where do you see things going from there as far as distribution and a wider audience goes?
We missed the AFM because we were still tweaking the sound mix. After our premiere, I decided to cut two minutes from the running time and re-order two scenes, and that caused delays because the post crew had moved on to their next gigs and I had to wait for them to become available. I felt it was important to get everything just right, though. We have someone showing it around now, and if he isn’t able to get us a deal we’ll have to sign with a sales agent. So, the commercial release is pending, but it will happen. I feel this film deserves special care, not just to be thrown up on VOD platforms.
And with the success and awards your most ambitious movie to date has been garnering, where do you plan to go from here in terms of future film projects?
The awards are nice – real nice! – but play no role in future projects. I’m going to do what I’m going to do regardless, as long as I can find the money. My Jake Helman Files books are with a producer who has been developing them as a potential TV series, and I’ve been developing CARNAGE ROAD as another potential series with Craig. But these are big, lifechanging projects, and things move very slowly in Hollywood until they move fast. I’ve found over the years that I can’t wait for other people to get things going, so I do my own projects as well. I know what I want the next one to be, the one I’m actively developing, but you never know what else may come along. KILLER RACK and WIDOW’S POINT both came to me through other people.
Thanks so much as always for your time in doing this, Greg! Any final words about WIDOW’S POINT that you’d like to add?
This is a movie of creeping suspense, a classical ghost story that makes a hard turn into cosmic horror. It features an amazing performance by Craig Sheffer, who is surrounded by a talented supporting cast. It takes a village to make a movie, and I’m proud of what our village made on such a tight budget and shooting schedule.
For updates on WIDOWS POINT and other work from Greg, be sure to check out his author page over on Facebook and hit the “like” button.