By Shi Bradley
This year, the Phoenix Film Festival made its annual return at Harkins 101 in Scottsdale. The Festival is a fantastic opportunity for indie filmmakers to get exposure and connect with audiences and filmmakers alike.
One of the films that was presented at the Phoenix Film Festival was “From Black,” a horror film about a recovering drug addict who goes on a search for her missing son and in turn deals with many dark and sinister turns and is forced to make a horrifying decision.
I got the opportunity to speak with the creators of this film, including director and writer Thomas Marchese, writer Jessub Flower, and producer Kelly Frazier about their careers, the process of creating and releasing the film, and their involvement with the Phoenix Film Festival.
Tell me all about yourselves. How did you get involved in your current careers? What have you worked on previously?
T: I worked as a detective first actually, which really inspired me to get into that sort of suspenseful writing. I pull a lot of elements in from my previous career, so a lot of my work has that horror and thriller inspired element.
J:I had a lot of love for theater, so I worked in theater for a while, then I worked in business, but I always wanted to work in screenwriting. So I wrote a few scripts that got me represented by my manager. Thomas and I actually found each other on Craigslist. We had both posted looking for a short script, and he sent me the pages, and I immediately fell in love. Now we are basically lovers, we work together so well.
K: I came from doing a lot of smaller things, lots of country music videos, lots of westerns back in Texas, and then I worked in a lot of Food Network type shows and reality TV. Now I finally have gotten back into working into film, which I really loved. Normally I don’t really like horror but Jessup’s script was so good I fell in love with it.
What was the inspiration behind the film? How did the script come about?
J: If you talk to 50 screenwriters, you’ll hear 50 different answers on inspiration. For me personally, I can be inspired by just a single image. For “From Black” specifically, it took us four years to get the script into shooting shape. During COVID, we had time to really hone the script into something better, the pandemic was actually something of a blessing for our script. I came to Thomas with maybe the first act done and just went from there.
T: When Jessup originally pitched it he said “I want to start off ‘True Detective’ and end ‘Hereditary.’ And that helped me come up with the process of creating the story. Anytime you add something supernatural, the story writing just becomes really fun.
Talk a bit about the process of other jobs on set. What was the process of finding actors and other crew members like?
K: Thomas said “Hey we want to bring a DP from New Zealand,” and at first, I was like, dude, this is a low budget we can’t do this. But I met him and he was the nicest, most jolly guy, and I knew we had to hire them. From there, we just had to bring a lot of people in basically, filming in such a small town, but we were fortunate to work with such a good group of people.
T: We were so lucky to have such a hardworking group of people come in, especially with our budget being so small we really lucked out.
J: Definitely. We needed it to be small. But we definitely lucked out with the people we got.
Talk about the actual creation of the film. What was it like to actually film and be on set?
K: I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m really accustomed to it. Thomas and Jessup are amazing to work with and we all set the tone of working together like a family, so we all set out to just work with a small, tight crew, and just really to have fun with it. The crew was just filled with good humans, which I was really grateful for. Normally there’s like a heart attack a day on a set, and on this set, there were only really like two of those, which was good. But even without the stress, it was also just a lot of work. Everyone thinks the business is so glamorous but there’s a lot of work going into it. And it’s amazing but most people don’t know the process.
J: Having those actors around, bringing the script to life, is just really cool. And honestly, it became a really incredible product. The film does not look like it came from such a small budget and crew.
What was the process of releasing and promoting the film like?
T: The toughest part is the state of the industry. It’s not steady because of the pandemic, everything is streaming-based. Massive productions go straight to streaming. So every filmmaker wants to see their film in the theaters but streaming is just bigger now. So we are grateful to partner up with AMC but yeah, now our focus on promotion isn’t until it goes out in theaters already and onto streaming really.
K: It definitely is a funky time right now. With this film, we are trying to do a lot of interviews and podcasts. More and more we have to be scrappy, because big films have a lot of PR and advertising behind them and indie films just don’t have those same resources.
What do you help audiences take away from your film?
T: The ending is not ambiguous but I want audiences to put their own interpretation and spin on it. In general, I just want audiences to feel it as an intense experience and feel it being visceral.
T: Agreed. I just want to bring up a discussion, I love when people talk about a film and bring all their theories and questions. I want people to come away from it feeling tense, just holding their breath and seeing what’s gonna happen.
K: To me, it’s a very real story. I don’t like horror but at the heart of it, it’s just a woman trying to get her child back and her intentions and actions become believable and understandable. You can really put yourself in her shoes.
Is there any final touch any of you want to share about the film?
K: I’m so excited for people to see Anna Camp in a different light. Also, John Ales, it was in the first movie I produced, and it was really great to showcase his talent again. We introduced Eduardo Canpirano, who’s so cute and so talented. And yeah, just letting people see that talent and how these actors brought the story to life will be really exciting.
T: Agreed, I’m really excited for people to see these performances. As a director I want people to see everything. The score, produced by Luigi Janssen, is just incredible. But I’m proud of the whole thing.
J: I just want people to get their AMC subscriptions ready. Everyone should get ready to see this. And, yeah, I’m just really stoked.
“From Black” is out now on AMC+ and Shudder