Making the Movie

13Aug/094

Making the short film Stull

UPDATE: DVDs of Stull are now available! Buy one today.

Stull.  Four teens went looking for a gate to Hell.  They found it.After working on Bunker Hill, I was thinking about short projects that could be shot in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas with some of the same crew. That October, I had an idea for a short that would be 100% unique to the area. Halloween was approaching and in Lawrence, Kansas, Halloween always brings new tellings of the legend of Stull...

A gate to Hell

Stull, Kansas, is a small, quiet town not far from Lawrence. Unfortunately for the residents of Stull, local lore has it that the old, abandoned church there is one of five -- or seven or nine, depending on who you ask -- gates to Hell.

Growing up, it was practically a rite of passage for high schoolers and Kansas University students to creep through the church graveyard at night and throw beer bottles -- contents recently imbibed -- at the walls of the old church. One of the most popular tales was that if you threw a bottle at the church wall and it didn't shatter, that meant the Devil was in residence... and you'd better run!

More often, drunken devil-taunters were chased off by the residents of Stull or the local sheriff. The neighbors must've been baffled by the persistence of the thrill-seekers, who circumvented ever-larger fences and kept bringing friends.

But I wasn't surprised people kept going out to the old church. There was something strange about that place. I heard a half-dozen first-hand accounts of nocturnal visits to Stull, and every one of them, while lacking a face-to-face with Satan, had supernatural elements. The feeling of cold hands, strange winds that sucked you into the dark church, otherworldly screams, a wraith-like mist... People who went to Stull looking for something evil -- they found it.

The legend comes to life

This local legend of the old Stull church had the distilled potency of a tale honed as it is passed from generation to generation. But how get that story on film? And then it clicked... If you're going to make a movie about four high school students knocking on the Devil's door, why not have the Devil answer?

And he wouldn't walk out wearing a sticker that said "Hi, my name is Lucifer." He's too clever for that. He would try to trick them into that gate. These teens wouldn't know if the mysterious stranger they met at the old church was the Devil.

There would also be a player from the other team, running interference. I took an oft-repeated bit of the legend, that Pope John Paul II once ordered an airplane he was on to change course to avoid crossing over the 'unholy ground' of Stull -- and made it into the movie's opening. The Pope, fully aware of the Devil's trap, would have an agent on hand to throw up roadblocks. But in the end, it would be up to the free will of the teens. Which authority would they follow?

The whole piece was sparked off by an image -- an idea I had for how to reveal which of the two strangers was the Devil -- and to reveal it in a visual way that fit perfectly with the legend of Stull. This shot was going to require some serious special effects, but it would be worth it. Want to know what that image is? You'll have to watch the film.

Making "Stull"

The 10-page script was written in a single sitting, following that initial burst of inspiration. I refined it with feedback several trusted readers, including producer Greg Hurd and my good friend, t.v. writer Andrew Chambliss.

Preproduction was rushed, because I was only back in Kansas for little more than a week, and several things, as they often do in showbiz, threatened to come undone at the last minute. The big one was a special insurance certificate, without which we couldn't rent the crystal-sync generator needed to run the lights in our light kit.

It all came through in the end, and in an epic afternoon-through-sunrise shoot, I'm proud to say we shot every single element that you see in the finished short. (Should the shoot have been two days? Yes, in hindsight. Then again, this would have nearly doubled the budget.)

I am now putting the finishing touches on the DVD for "Stull" and plan to start entering it in festivals -- especially horror genre fests and international competitions that take place in Catholic countries. (I had enough bilingual friends to get translations into six languages.) If you run a festival, or know of one that it would be a good fit for, please let me know at makingthemovie AT-SIGN gmail DOT com.

MORE:
I've been blogging about "Stull" as I worked on it, and will continue to do so. All of these posts are collected below.

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IN ADDITION: "Stull" also has its own website, with trailer, photos and more. Check it out.



About J. Ott

John Ott is a writer, filmmaker and technology geek. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
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Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Can not let this go without comment. Myself and several others in Highland Park High in Topeka made up the legend of Stull in 1964. At that time horror movies were every night at the drive ins, we made several legends at that time and it to several years to really get going. Stull is the best ever. So in truth Stull legend is the result of a big JOKE

  2. Anonymous Highland Park High,

    I'd love to interview you about your part in the legend. You can contact me at makingthemovie AT gmail DOT com.

  3. hi !

    I’m a radio tv student! I need a sample of a short film budget to make mine for a project. can you send me the budget with its actual costs?

    thanks you

  4. @moh,

    I don’t have it handy and I’m not sure it would be accurate any more as to costs. Just use the free budget template I provide and look up the current costs for things. (Calling around for prices on things is called “Producer School” and may end up being the most useful part of your film and tv class.) :)


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