Greetings, readers. Now, you may remember a few months back when I covered the Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival. It was a very big deal for the independent filmmakers of Buffalo, NY, bringing together a lot of artists and forging friendships and partnerships. One such filmmaker is Sam Qualiana, who walked away from the festival having screened a gritty short crime film called NO ROAD OUT and having won the distinction of being named “Filmmaker to Watch.”
Well, Sam is showing us once again why he earned that award, as production moves forward on a full-length creature feature ideally suited for the terrain Buffalo is best known for: snow. This film is elaborated from a short Sam and his friends made seven years ago, which also serves as a prequel. The originally idea of the Snow Shark, Sam explained as I questioned him, came out of a youthful fear of sharks, and the question, “What if they could get you on land, too?” Rather than going the SNL route, Sam envisioned a predatory fish capable of swimming through snow.
Producer Greg Lamberson extended an invite to me to visit the set, talk to the cast and crew, and give a write-up to the whole experience.
The cast and crew gathered at Sam’s house at 9 am, then made our way next door to where shooting would take place for the day — a garage-turned-bar belonging to a neighbor. It was the only interior scene in the whole film. Emil J. Novak was on hand, setting up cameras and also handling much of the day’s filming, lending his experience to Sam, while behind the scenes photography was handled by Jason Beebe and Michael O’Hear. By about 10:30 we were ready to begin shooting, first simple inserts to show the liveliness of the bar. During this sequence, I was press-ganged into working the slate — you know that little clapper thing, with the scene number and take number on it? Yep, that’s the slate. I quickly mastered the art of holding it at the right angle for each camera and saying, “Inserts, Take 1! Inserts, Take 2!”
Over the course of what turned into an eight hour day of shooting, we hammered out five major sequences making up the bar scene: Inserts; an emotionally charged conversation between the hero Mike (played by Sam) and his sister Daphne (Jackey Hall, veteran of such films as CHAINSAW CHEERLEADERS and DORM OF THE DEAD); commentary on the relative sanity of the main characters between the bartender and character “Neil,” whose actor I choose not to reveal at this time; Mike being pulled from the bar by his friend Steve (Julian Dickman) to talk with some other friends, Chuck and Ed; and finally, Mike’s meeting with the film’s Quint, Professor Hoffman, played by “Buffalo’s Donald Pleasance,” Michael O’Hear.
On set handling make-up was John Renna, another local filmmaker who appeared as the Mayor in SLIME CITY MASSACRE. John will be handling the construction of the Snow Shark. Let me repeat (Greg asked me to emphasize this point), JOHN RENNA IS BUILDING THE SNOW SHARK. This is to ensure he does not procrastinate. He briefly discussed with me his plans for “blood guns” in the Shark’s mouth, to trigger and spray methyl cellulose “blood” when the shark bites down on a victim. However, if the weather seems likely to turn warm quickly, he has stated that he will paint himself gray, strap a fin to his back and swim naked through the snow to represent the shark. Given John’s Shrek-like proportions, this is surprisingly feasible.
An actor who’d agreed to appear in the film in the role of Chuck failed to arrive on set, and I was asked to take his place. So readers, when you see SNOW SHARK (and I know it’s a matter of when, not if) you’ll get to see my acting debut. Funny story; we couldn’t run the heat in the bar while filming, because the noise of the heater picked up on the mics. So while filming, it got a little chilly in the bar. Sitting in the booth with Julian, we decided that, with the studio lights focused on us, we probably wouldn’t need our coats during our scenes. We were wrong. Between takes we were blowing into our hands, stamping our feet on the ground to keep feeling in them, and huddling in our coats. There were even a few shots of Southern Comfort passed out for warming and calming effects, particularly in Sam’s case, who spent so much time running around making things work that he was having difficulty focusing on his lines.
For lunch on set, Sam’s grandmother made enough chicken and biscuits to feed the entire cast and crew of a Spielberg production, let alone our little independent group. It was a fantastic meal, made all the better by the fact that we were huddled in our coats while stuffing our faces with hot shredded chicken in gravy and thick, stick-to-your-ribs biscuits. Between my experience on the set of SNOW SHARK and what I’ve been told about the catering on the set of John Renna’s recent short IT’S IN BACK, I think Buffalo feeds its filmmakers better than Hollywood does. I’m not ashamed to say I pocketed a few leftover biscuits for the drive home.
All in all, I had a fantastic time on the set of SNOW SHARK: ANCIENT SNOW BEAST, and I am deeply grateful to Greg Lamberson and Sam Qualiana for making it happen. As it so happens, SNOW SHARK: ANCIENT SNOW BEAST is still accepting donations via it’s IndieGoGo page. Additionally, John Renna invited me to do a similar set visit on his upcoming action-thriller, THE WRONG GUY, so if you want to see more pictures of John making weird faces, you can support that film likewise here.
John Renna, pictured here holding one of my favorite elements of the film — Because we couldn’t show real beer labels, Sam steamed the labels off brown glass bottles of root beer and made new ones, each featuring a reference to Buffalonian independent cinema. John’s holding a bottle featuring the name of his own production company, JFR (John Fuckin’ Renna), and an image based on his film IT’S IN BACK — the bottle bearing the slogan, “It’s what’s in back.” Mostly I just wanted an excuse to show another picture of John making a funny face. Julian and I had some fun with these bottles during a sequence in which we were asked to improvise some additional dialogue — you’ll have to see the film to find out what was said!