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Donny's Day Trippers Diary

Updated: May 8, 2023

When I first met my wife, she let me read a short film script that she had written called, Bloody Haze. It was a cold open for a throwback horror film. It made me fall for her even harder than I already was. As we progressed in our relationship, we often talked about that script but for some reason, never attempted to shoot it. Fast forward to the pandemic, Erin, and I are looking for a way to be creative during the incredibly boring days stuck at home, and of course, we started talking about Bloody Haze again. What if we got a small group of like-minded creatives together and spent a weekend bringing Erin's bloody cold open to life? The more we talked about it, the more we wanted to do it, so Erin went to work on the script. It needed some cleaning up and a few things needed to change for us to be able to shoot it quickly. After fiddling with the script for a bit, she sent me the new draft, and I knew we had something. It was a throwback to the cold opens we both loved (Friday the 13th, The Burning, etc.), with a lot of Erin's personality thrown in for good measure. The only thing I didn't love about it was the title. However, there was a line in the script where a character mentioned a day trip, and that was it. I suggested Erin change the title to Day Trippers, and she agreed. We had a script that was ready to shoot. The next step was putting together our film family and getting Erin's depraved love letter to the slasher genre in the can.

We sent the script to our Mallow partners, Wicken, Patrick, and Tyler, and waited to hear back. It didn't take long for the gang to get on board the Day Trippers train, and we were off and running. We knew we needed a top-notch special effects artist, so we enlisted the help of the highly talented Kaleb Lewis. He read the script and started talking with Erin and me about what he'd need to make the gore gags happen. Next up, we knew we needed a great director of photography, not just one that was good, but one that would work with Erin to realize her vision in the best possible way. My brother from another mother, Gabe Veenendaal, had worked with us in the past, and we shared a similar work ethic, so he was my first choice. I ran it by Erin, and she agreed. We talked to Gabe, and he was excited to help us bring Erin's vision to life. Everything was coming together nicely, but there were still a few pieces of the puzzle we needed before we could be ready to shoot.

Casting can be tricky, but Erin knew who she wanted to bring her bloody affair to life. She wanted our partner in crime, Wicken Wickenheiser, actor/stunt driver Jeff Pearson, and actor/producer Thomas Johnston. Because we'd worked with everyone in the past and loved the experience, we reached out, and everyone said yes. Another significant position to fill was sound, so we reached out to Andrew DeRidder, and luckily he signed on as well. The last pieces of the puzzle were a few new members of our film family, Jerik Thibodeaux, who would act in and shoot our behind-the-scenes videos, Kylie Bhim, who would be our set production assistant; and last but not least, Brandon Taylor, who would be our cook, production assistant, driver, and expediter. We also enlisted our son, Payton, for grip and electric and our old friend Will Artall to pilot the drone. We had our dream team and were ready to go out into the woods and have some fun.

With the crew in place, we started looking for locations, a vehicle (it plays a big part in the movie), and wardrobe. Jeff had a friend that ran a campground, so we went out to the country to check it out, and we loved it. While we toured the grounds, Erin took a tumble in the mud, and I got eaten up by mosquitoes. We decided to book a room there and cart the crew out to make it happen. The only problem was we still needed an old road completely covered by brush and trees. A friend of mine, Matt Creswell said he might have what we were looking for, so he sent us a few pics. We dug the pics but figured we should drive to his place and check it out. Tyler and I loaded into my Prius, and we headed out to see the road. It was perfect. I couldn't believe this road and an entire wooded area existed right behind his house. Once there, we realized we could shoot the whole film and not have to pay for rooms. We could sleep in our own beds! I called and canceled the room, and we committed to shooting at Matt's.

Erin started putting together looks for the characters. She sent me pictures of wardrobe choices and hairstyles. She collaborated with Wicken on her overall look, and after we got sizes for everyone, we ordered three of everything because we figured we'd need extras for when things got bloody. I met with Kaleb to talk about how we could make the crazy kills work on screen, and he put together a list of supplies he needed, and I went to work getting those supplies. One of my friends, Chad, is a knife-maker, and he did some custom work for us on one of the stunt knives we'd need to make Kaleb's effect work. Everything was moving in the right direction. With all that work done, we still needed a car for our day trippers. Erin originally wanted an old Scout or Bronco, and we found one online that we were thinking about using until our friend Paul sent us pictures of his orange VW van. It was perfect. It would give us room to put the camera and have a unique look that would add value to the film. Erin and I went to look at the van in person, and it was everything we could have wanted. Plus, Paul is a nice guy, and working with him was a bonus for everyone involved.

Growing up in the '80s, I have always loved poster art, and I'm not particularly eager to skimp on the graphics and marketing materials that support the films I make. With that said, I started to search the web for an artist that would be perfect for our needs. Finding the ideal artist for the look we were going for in Neil Fraser didn't take long. I drew a rough diagram of what I wanted with some sample photos and instructions, and a week later, he sent a rough back to me that blew us away. We gave him a few small notes, and he returned with the current Day Trippers poster. With that done, it was time to start planning the shoot and determining what gear we'd need to make this film happen.

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Wicken, Erin, and I had a Zoom meeting with Gabe about his camera needs. We were initially going to shoot on the RED, but after talking about it, we decided to go with the Sony A7SIII because of its ability to shoot in low light. Since we'd be spending most of our time in the woods with minimal lighting, Gabe figured that the camera would better fit our needs. We put a list of equipment we'd need to rent, booked Gabe's plane ticket, and gave ourselves a shoot date to stick to. With all that nailed down, Erin, Gabe, and I started working on her shot list. We planned regular coverage and also decided to shoot most of the film handheld. With the shot-list underway, Erin scheduled the movie. We were on our way to making this film that Erin and I had been talking about for eight years.

I sent Tyler a list of all the gear we needed to rent, and he took care of getting the order in. I called Thomas and asked him if we could use some of their Titan Tubes to film in the woods and control the light without worrying about power. Brandon had a small generator that worked like a charm for the equipment that needed power. We decided to shoot in November because the weather would be chilly, but not too cold, but not hot. The day before filming, the rental equipment showed up, and I dragged it into my living room so Tyler, Gabe, and I could do prep once his plane landed. After picking Gabe up from the airport, we headed to the house to grub and prep for the shoot. It was great to see Erin working out her vision with Gabe. The two of them quickly developed a shorthand that felt natural and put a massive smile on my face.

I woke up early for the first day of photography, made coffee for everyone, and got started packing up the car with the gear. Everything was going according to plan, and all we had left was to pick up the van from Paul. Because Jeff and I were the only ones that could drive a stick, I got stuck picking it up. I went back to the house and parked it so I could finish helping everyone load up the gear and craft services. After loading everything up, we got ready to head out, but I couldn't get the van to start. I called Paul, and he came out and helped Gabe and I push start the van. Erin and the rest of the crew were already on location, getting the home base set up and blocking everything out. About an hour later, Gabe and I showed up with the van. The energy on set was contagious. Everyone was so happy to be there, and everyone worked hard to make sure we made the best no-budget short film we could. Tyler and Gabe built the camera rig, I helped set up the power and lights, and a little before noon, we started rolling.

The first day was mostly spent shooting Wicken and Jeff in the van arguing. Erin and Gabe shot the hell out of it, and Wicken and Jeff killed their performances. The only hiccup we had was that we couldn't keep the van running and had to push start it multiple times, which made for great behind-the-scenes laughs. Brandon cooked terrific food, Kylie served up hot coffee, and everyone else worked their asses off to make sure we got what we needed that first day. About 12 or 13 hours later, we wrapped and headed home to get some rest. Erin spent a few hours working on her shots and schedule for the next day, and Gabe and I looked at the day's footage with her. We realized we'd need to do a few pick-up shots, but overall, we had what we needed.

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Day two started without a hitch. We got to set, and Tyler and Will began to take the drone shots we'd need to establish our location. We spent the day shooting the rest of the van footage while Brandon and Payton dug a hole to put Jeff into. Kaleb worked his ass off getting the components ready for the effects gag, and the rest of the crew was firing on all cylinders. As soon as the sun was gone, we moved into the woods to shoot Jeff's big death scene. From the very beginning, Erin said that she wanted there to be a fog that would itself be a character in the film, adding to the '80s throwback vibe she was working to capture. So, we borrowed a fog machine, got to work filling the woods with thick beautiful fog, and then set about shooting Jeff in it. We got Thomas into the wardrobe, and Erin started blocking him while the rest of us figured out how we would kill Jeff later. When we put Jeff into the hole and Kaleb began to work his magic, I was like a kid in a candy store. I felt like all the people I'd seen posing with their creations in Fangoria magazine. I looked at Erin, and we both gave each other that look that said we were doing what we were meant to be doing. Once Kaleb put the finishing touches on our hero, Gabe, Erin and I set about capturing his death in a beautiful fog-filled 4K.

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Day three began a lot like day two. We set up, Kaleb started working on the next gag, and we shot pick-ups in the van while we still had daylight. We had to put some gas in the van, so a handful of us headed to the nearest fill-em-up, and after topping the tank off, we push-started it back up and drove back to set as quickly as possible. We knocked out the pick-up shots; then, it was time for Erin to block with Wicken. We fogged up the woods, blocked the shots with Wicken, then Gabe and I started practicing with the follow-focus to ensure I'd hit the mark as Wicken walked into the camera. After a bit of practice, Erin decided it was time to take the shot. Everyone got into their positions, and we were off to the races as soon as Tyler clapped the slate. We did the scene three or four times, then moved on to the final shot of our bad guy disappearing into the dense fog. It was probably the most fun I've ever had on a film set of any size. I watched the love of my life do the thing she'd been talking about since I'd met her, and I was surrounded by my favorite people on the planet. It doesn't get much better than that. We officially wrapped photography (except for a few small pick-ups), so we packed up the gear, dropped off the van, and said our goodbyes.

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The day after wrap was bittersweet because Gabe would leave the next day, and we weren't on set anymore. However, Gabe cut together a few short scenes to show us, and after checking them out, we knew we had something special. After Gabe left, I started syncing the audio and putting together an assembly cut so that Gabe could jump in and clean up the cut and make it his own without having to comb through all of the footage. Erin sat behind me, guiding the cut, and we both met with Gabe through Zoom as often as we could to talk about where we wanted to take it. It was coming together pretty well. We decided to get together with key crew members, have some wine at Wicken's house, and look at the rough assembly cut I'd put together. Everyone could see that it was heading in the right direction, but it wasn't quite there yet, and I knew going in that my rough needed a lot more tender loving care. Overall, it was a great night filled with wine, fantastic company, and a glimpse into what was coming.

A few weeks after wrapping up, we went back to our friend Paul's house to shoot a pick-up scene with Jerik in the van. It was just Erin, Tyler, Jerik, and me. We shot Jerik in the van for about an hour, and after Erin felt like she had what she needed, we called it and went home to look at the footage and send it to Gabe. A few months later, Gabe sent us the film's first cut. We loved it! Erin had a few notes that Gabe could take care of quickly. He was also the music supervisor on the film, so the final cut came complete with the killer tunes that are heard in the movie. With that part of the post process finished, it was time to send the cut to Tyler for color grading.

For a few weeks, Tyler worked on the color in his spare time. He'd send Erin footage, she'd give notes, and he'd move forward. When the color was finished, we sent the cut to Andrew to do our final sound mix. He worked on the mix for a bit, then called us into his studio to check out what he'd done. It sounded amazing. There were a few sections that needed more sound effects, so Erin helped pick out the type of sounds she'd want, and we scheduled an ADR session with Wicken for a tiny section of the film. Maybe a week later, Wicken came to Andrew's studio with us and did the ADR, and a few days later, we had the final cut of Day Trippers. Everyone had worked their asses off on the film, and we were excited to show it to the world at our family and friends screening.

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Mallow met to plan the family and friends screening and determine our film festival plan. We outlined the strategy and figured out the best way to roll out the film. We printed some posters, scheduled the venue, and invited people to view the movie. The screening went off like gangbusters! Everyone loved the film and stayed behind after it was done to talk with Erin and get signed posters.

After the friends and family screening we all met up to work on a festival plan. Tyler and I worked for about a week figuring out what festivals we wanted to submit to, and creating a plan to pay for it and track our entries. The Mallow team looked at our plan and we outlined the exact festivals we were going to submit to and made a calendar so we could keep track of it. We had a great mix of dream fests, fests we could drive to, and international festivals. Overall, our experience on the festival circuit made 2022 a really fruitful year.

Erin had a few dream festivals that she knew were a long shot, but if she got in it would mean the world to her. Those were Overlook, Salem, and Chattanooga. She got into Overlook. I’ll never forget the day it happened. I was laying in bed with Erin watching some TV when I got the text that we had gotten in. I let out a huge gasp, and scared her, but once I regained my composure and let her know what I was gasping at, we both jumped around the room like teenagers. When we got to the festival we found ourselves surrounded by like minded horror nerds and got to enjoy some of the best the genre has to offer. We kicked some ass at horror trivia, and won some awesome blu-rays, watched some great films and shorts, Erin rocked the Q&A sessions for Day Trippers, we handed out bundles of swag, and enjoyed the wonderful food and culture of New Orleans. It was a great experience and a festival that every horror fan should try to check out.

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Besides getting into some fantastic festivals in Australia, Canada, and India we got to spread our love of horror locally at the Iberia Film Festival, and won “Best Horror Film.” Unfortunately, Erin and I got Covid, so we weren’t able to attend, but Wicken, Brandon, and Tyler were there to represent team Mallow.

On top of all the festivals, and meeting fans and fellow horror nerds Erin got interviewed by one of our local newspapers, letting everyone in our neck of the woods that she's coming for the horror crown. I'm so proud.

It's not often you get to make something with your friends and put it out into the world without an ounce of drama or stress, but Day Trippers was one of those rare experiences that I'll never forget.

The future of horror is female.

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