Local Musician/Author Josh Malerman Teams Up With Ambitious Filmmakers on New Horror Project

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Still of "Not Well," starring Detroit native Erin Cummings

Still of “Not Well,” starring Detroit native Erin Cummings. (credit: Alicia Gbur)

From the creative, dark, and mysterious mind of author Josh Malerman (you know him from the Detroit rock band The High Strung, and this May, he made his literary debut with his new HarperCollins book Bird Box), comes a new project: a short film. Entitled Not Well, it’s an eerie horror story about monsters. Today, monster movies are making a big comeback – and we couldn’t think of a better location to film one than the gorgeously grim and enchanting city of Detroit. A city filled with 20th century Gothic architecture and stunningly haunting abandoned buildings, Detroit makes the perfect backdrop for any movie – especially, oh, would you say, a horror film about monsters?

That’s exactly why the new film, written by Josh Malerman and directed by young indie Detroit filmmaker Luke Jaden (who, mind you, is already a credited writer, director, producer, and actor…at the age of 18!), is being filmed right here. More specifically, they’ve focused on the Boston-Edison district of Detroit, a beautiful part of the city that includes over 900 homes. Most of the homes were built between 1905 and 1925 and range in size from modest two-story vernaculars to beyond impressive mansions. Imagine, a breathtakingly beautiful and spooky home in the heart of the Boston-Edison district…sounds quite fitting, right?

The movie’s tagline reads, “What goes on inside the haunted house BEFORE the family moves in?” and we couldn’t be more intrigued. As most haunted house films focus on what happens once a family moves into a creepy, old house, this film will focus on the before - it’s everything that’s normally left out, and that leaves so much room for imagination! We were lucky enough to speak to writer Josh Malerman, director and producer Luke Jaden, locations manager Josh R. Jones, and Chad Stocker, the man behind the film’s original music and score.

Let’s take a look at what they have to say:

LJ – Luke Jaden
JM – Josh Malerman
JJ – Josh R. Jones
CS – Chad Stocker

1.    Firstly, tell us all about you lovely men:

LJ:  I am the founder of the Detroit film production company, SOS Productions.  I’ve directed the film The Neverlands starring a few of the mains from Low Winter Sun along with Langston Fishburne, Laurence Fishburne’s son, who plays the lead.  My documentary, Madman or Martyr, stars Phillip Edward Van Lear (from Prison Break) and Tim Holmes (Oz: The Great & Powerful) on John Brown in Detroit recently got picked up by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.  I’ve also been producing and casting a few films lately.  I try to do it all or at least know everything behind the camera and in front of the camera.  In this business, you have to be diverse and very well-rounded.  I believe to really succeed in film, you should know or at least be familiar with everything and how it works.  So, I try to learn it all and know each position to the fullest, and I am currently out of Northern Oakland County.

JJ: I graduated from Rochester College in 2012 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Mass Communication. I am passionate about healthy living, so I also work for Whole Foods Market as a Grocery Developmental Supervisor. I grew up in a small Irish town in Northern Michigan. I moved to the Detroit area when I was 18 to attend college and get into the film industry.

CS: I am a musician. Guitar and bass. I have played for 27 years. I have been an active member of the High Strung since August 2000. Playing bass mostly. Some guitar. Some production. We’ve been a touring and recording entity for 14 years and have managed to do quite a bit. We made an epic practical joke by “donating” our tour van to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We drove it up the front steps and ditched it there. We toured public libraries for 4 summers. We landed the song as theme for the Showtime original series Shameless. We’ve toured the country probably 50 times around, slept on floors, mingled with the locals, and completely shredded the doors off of a thousand bars, clubs, and venues! I am a producer and sound engineer, working out of my home studio, Finchey Studio. I grew up in West Bloomfield, born in Oak Park, MI.

2.    So, tell us about the film – what is about? Where did this idea come from?

LJ: It was quite bizarre how it all happened, but awesome at the same time.  I think of it almost as a domino effect.  That’s the great thing about the film industry – that you’re constantly meeting new faces every day.  It was just one of those moments where it felt like something….Golden!  But, I met Josh [Malerman] through his drummer at this local wrap party back in July.  We quickly knew that great things we’re going to come of our collaboration.  We teamed up to tell eerie and imaginative stories. As you can tell by the tagline/description, it isn’t your average project; it is a unique entree into a darker and more humanized side of a monster that invades the space of a normal family.  It grabbed my attention even when the concept was just a fledgling paragraph describing a monster-occupied home with a certain realism that I’ve never encountered before.

JM: The last time I watched a haunted house movie, it opened with the family moving in. Like everyone else in the theater, I kind of accepted this as how scary movies start. Right? The movie looked good, felt good, and I love the director, so I strapped myself in but not before a thought crossed my mind: Okay. The family has moved in. But what was happening in the house BEFORE the family moved in? Something must have been going on. My first reaction was to text myself, leave a note, urging myself to write a novel with “no characters.” An empty house. Except for the entity that lives within. This was thrilling to me, the idea of watching the entity from across the room, rather than as a character who’s inevitably going to face it. How does it behave when it’s on its own? Does it hate itself? Rejoice? Does it destroy? Does it nest? Does it prepare? I started writing the book, and I’ll finish it, but a script kept calling me from the other side of my desk. Hey, hey, write me! Write me! I’d make a great movie! The music alone could be so fun to play with.

3.    This question is for the director. Tell us about your pick for the location…and why?

LJ: There’s a few elements that are key for the location.  We wanted something that looked like your quaint, boutique-y home from the outside, but when you entered, it’s a whole other universe you’re introduced to.  We needed something defunct, magical, gritty, desolate, but it had to have a sense of beauty that would catch a family of three’s eye to purchase it.  We actually, believe it or not, just locked the house a couple days ago. We actually just locked our only location, which is a house.  We’re shooting in one of my favorite parts of Detroit – The Boston Edison District.  It’s probably my favorite neighborhood in all of Detroit, and the all of the people there are just so accommodating and very supportive…film-friendly.

4.    So, Josh R. Jones, locations manager, how did you get this location secured?

JJ: I had a Locations team of nearly 10 assistants from Oakland University, Michigan State University, and Specs Howard School of Media Arts.

5.    For a horror film, music and score is extremely important, tell us about your role working with the music, Chad…

CS: The score has many cue, and is a huge role in the movie. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, and like any film, especially a thriller/horror film, the music is extremely important. Josh has written into the script ideas for score, and Luke has lots of ideas we will be collaborating on.

6.    What excites each of you most about this project?

LJ: We’re literally shooting this thing on bare bones…or maybe pebbles, in this case.  So, I mean, it’s a very, very deep and very ambitious story we’re going to be tackling.  But, in the end, I know it’s going to look beautiful, and I believe it’s going to create a new style of cinema that no viewer has ever seen nor experienced.  So, I am super excited about this film and we’ve got a great team already…and, I definitely know I could not do it without every single one of them.  I think it gives the style and tone of the film an even grittier effect when we really have to get creative with everything in order to make this dark and haunting story that we’re being swept into come to reality producing a nightmarish thrill within all of our minds.

JM: Literally EVERYTHING. The goal is to make a really scary movie. That’s it! The kind you wanna turn the lights off for, blast the sound, scare your sister with.

JJ: I am most excited to be working with recent graduates from film programs across the state. I believe in empowering people to become the best they can be in their chosen careers. I don’t know if I’ll be working locations forever but I want to enjoy the ride with as many awesome people as possible and help kickstart their careers.

CS: I love the idea that so many people in my immediate circle are working on this. The script is outrageous, and I just want to do my very best work to make it the best production it can be.
So there you have it, Detroit Proud readers – the inside scoop on this new, exciting, and extremely ambitious film project! They are scheduled to shoot the entire film in three days this summer, and we should expect a premiere sometime this fall. (Don’t worry – we will keep you posted with updates!)

With all of the talent going into this project, we are quite sure there are great things to come. Josh Malerman’s fiance, Allison Laakko, is also helping with top-secret special effects, and Chad Stocker’s girlfriend, Jessica VanAssche, is doing costumes and more…with everything involved in a fake-blood, murder-by-Snowglobe scene together that we’re told was “electrifying.”

…Can’t wait!

To find more information on the film, visit the official Facebook page for it here!

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