DCFF ’12: ‘Below Zero’ Filmmakers Signe Olynyk and Bob Schultz

“With the start of any writing process I decide what themes I want to cover and then try to figure out how to best use zombies to explore them”-Bob Schultz

Jack "the Hack" (Edward Furlong) is on a serious deadline.

Method-writer Signe Olynyk had an idea for a story about a man locked in a meat freezer but a serious case of writer’s block. Her next step would have been completely obvious to just about no one. She locked herself in a meat freezer and came out five days later with a fully formed script. “Sometimes it’s really about commitment and keeping your butt in the chair,” Olynyk said of what her production partner Bob Schultz jokingly referred to as, “a completely insane writing process.”

Shot in a small town in Alberta, Canada (Olynyk herself hails from Alberta), ‘Below Zero’ sees screenwriter Jack “the Hack” (Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong) impose upon himself the aforementioned conditions, by which he can’t leave the freezer of an abandoned slaughterhouse until breaking through a debilitating case of writer’s block with regard to his latest script. (Yes, there’s a reason it sounds familiar.) Inspired by his surroundings, Jack begins to weave a terrifying tale centering around a gruesome killer played by horror-legend Michael Berrymen (The Hills Have Eyes). But Jack’s isolation begins to play with his mind and the audience experiences two narratives blurring into one as the startling images of his own nightmares take more and more effect over his reality.

Olynyk and Schultz are quite accustomed to working within budgetary constraints and tend to gravitate towards ‘man in a box’ stories (not all of them quite so literally) that necessitate as little as possible in terms of the total number of characters, special effects and the scope of sets. Indeed, Schultz asserts that when it comes to actually getting movies made that, “you have to have production in mind from the moment you write ‘fade in’,” but as opposed to some type of cynicism, that it’s those same constraints that can lead to a surprising amount of, “dynamic creative opportunities.” Case in point, Olynyk did not just lock herself in any old freezer but the very same freezer in which the film would eventually be shot. Through this process she was able to gain an incredibly intimate understanding of the physicality of the location that thereby informed specific plot points as well as general insight as to what could and couldn’t be done with the space.

Michael Berrymen is at the heart of Jack's terror. And mine.

‘Below Zero’ has been widely celebrated since its earliest premieres but often within two very different communities. Namely, the immensely passionate horror scene alongside the greater independent film market at large. Olynyk shies from labeling her project a “genre film”, preferring to describe it as a psychological thriller with strong horror elements, but her partner Bob Schultz is a little less bashful. A self-professed mega-fan of Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ and general horror guru, Schultz likes to visualize making a successful genre-crossover in much the same way one would a political campaign, saying, “first secure the base and then expand into the mainstream.” He explained that Berrymen was the obvious starting point for the former part of the puzzle, with his near superhero-status among hardcore fans, and then identified Furlong as someone who might not be at the peak of his career in terms of notoriety but is nonetheless, “a recognizable and talented figure who’s been making great films for a long time.”

In addition to their bustling film careers Olynyk and Schultz have also found the time to give back to the writing community by way of their involvement with The Great American Pitch Fest, which has grown to be the largest screenwriting conference in Los Angeles and puts aspiring word-smiths face-to-face with 120+ agents and industry professionals. Pitch Fest returns to LA for its ninth annual iteration June 1-3rd, 2012.

Up for an intimidating three awards this weekend, including Best Feature Film, Edward Furlong for Best Actor and Kristin Booth for Best Actress, ‘Below Zero’ closes out the Derby City Film Festival on Sunday (Feb 19) at 6:00pm in the Eifler Theater. Full schedule and ticketing information available via DCFF’website.

LouisvilleKY.com wants to send you to Friday night’s screenings FOR FREE. Head over to LouKY‘s facebook page and comment on the Derby City Film Festival thread for a chance to be one of two winners to snag a pair of tickets. Deadline for entry is Thursday at noon, at which point the winners will be chosen at random from all of the commenters.

Check back later today for the second part of our ‘On the Radar’ Festival Preview, with a spotlight on a couple documentaries and international entries. And stay tuned as our series of filmmaker interviews continues throughout the week.

LouisvilleKY.com will also be covering DCFF over the weekend with live-blogging via twitter @CT_Smash.

More articles by me here.

Chris Ritter <<<< twitter.com/CT_Smash <<<< ctsmash@gmail.com