How It All Got Started
Now this is an interesting story. One I’m sure many filmmakers can appreciate when they reflect back on how they got started with their first project. Well this is the story of how my first feature film Edge got made.
This story starts back in my senior year of high school. I had known what I wanted to do with my life for as long as I could remember. I had made many short films in high-school, or even prior. Some you can even find here on this website or on my YouTube. During high-school I was starting to feel unsatisfied with the speed at which I’d be starting my career. Most people probably laughed because I was technically still a kid. Little did they realize that I’d finish Edge before I was barely 19. So my teenage angst, or career angst, whatever you want to call it, lead me to taking a college film class at Saddleback College while I was still a senior in high school. I ended up fitting right in. I was only a year younger than most of them after all. It would be in this class that I made the film Brother’s From Creatures Unknown which I was told aired on the local Saddleback College TV channel as well is becoming a class example film for future classes.
But even “skipping” to upper level film classes wasn’t satisfying me. I decided that I was done waiting around to start my film career. So I was going to make my first feature film on my own. I had tons of high school graduation money coming in that could help fund it. After all, who needs textbooks in college anyway, right?
(As a side note, I never once looked at a textbook in college. How’s that for an auditory learner?)
So I gathered all my resources and prepared for my first feature film Reload… Hu? Yep, that’s right. It took me two tries to get it right with Edge. My first attempt at a feature was a cheesy war film that I was planning on filming in the local trails around Saddleback Mountain. The plot was that the Nazi’s were back and a group of soldiers have to fight off robots in the forest. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I was going to accomplish this film on no budget. The most amusing story from the preproduction for this film was that I held auditions in a park. To my luck, a dog show was happening at the same time and I had to convince the vendor to let me stay since I had no way to contact the actors. This is where I met Scott Butler and Eric Christensen who would go on to star in Edge. Ultimately the project fell apart mostly because the crew I was trying to get involved wasn’t interested.
A few months later I started a horror blog with an old buddy, Tyler Dean, called Kings of Screams. After I dropped Reload, we began to discuss ideas of collaborating on another feature to be thriller or horror focused. I wanted to use the props I had already purchased for Reload, so we narrowed in on police related concepts. After many months of spit balling ideas, we finally settled on a concept originally called Rellik. The idea would be that an old woman would be running from people attacking her in a house only to find out in the end that they were defending themselves from the killer woman. The detective would figure it out by realizing that Rellik is Killer backwards… Thankfully we were self aware of our ridiculousness and this quickly became just a base for the script. It got much better as we worked on it that summer.
I worked on a lot of the character development and Tyler developed the plot. The first scene I wrote was the jail confrontation between Jack and Lynch. I was on a family skiing trip in Laughlin when I developed this scene on a pad of legal paper in my hotel room. I still have those original scratches. The rest of the film was built off of this scene. I wanted Lynch to have the size and strength of Michael Myers from Halloween, but with the personality of the Joker from Batman. Eric Christensen ended up nailing this character.
After months of prep, we began production with “the murder house” scenes. Tyler’s dad and step mom were on vacation the week of Thanksgiving, so we had free reign of their house to film in. I thought this week was exhausting at the time, but had no idea what awaited me during the zero sleep 2 week police station shoot. The house was filled with endless production days of prep, bloody makeup, rain on our equipment, and police lights that refused to work. But somehow we got it done.
After some time to recover, we picked up again at my uncle’s police station during our Christmas break. Most of us were college students, so we had to time the film around semesters. My uncle was a captain at that time for the La Palma police department. Being his nephew, I had access to the entire police station as well as some vehicles. With limitations of course. What began at that station was one of the most exhausting experiences of my life. It’s not that the shoots went over, it had more to do with my responsibilities in working with my resources. We could only shoot at the station during the night shift. This worked out because the lighting equipment was borrowed from my old high-school which had some top of the line Arri’s at that time. The problem was that they still had class in session. So I had to rush from set to drop off the equipment in the morning, take what of a nap I could, pick up the equipment precisely when class got out, and then drive an hour back to set to reset the lighting from the day before. Often by myself or with one other person. I maybe got 1 hour of real sleep a night during those two weeks. As a sort of ironic anecdote, I purchased those same kits off of the school for a deal about 10 years later. No need to return them daily now.
After working such long hours, the team started to get loopy and do crazy things like lock crew members in the jail cell. Over all, we made it a fun shoot. Not many can say that they filmed inside a real police station. What’s even crazier is that we were allowed to fire a real gun in the interrogation room. It was a blank, but that’s still not something most people would get away with around a police station.
The following spring we were able wrap the film up with the remaining chase scene and added a final confrontation between Andrew and Jack that was written in during production because it felt like something was missing. This ended up becoming my favorite scene funny enough. Originally we had Jack kill Andrew, but our focus group, family and friends, didn’t feel that it made sense. Jack’s character just doesn’t get there emotionally. So after the original premiere, I reedited that scene and reversed Andrew’s dialog sequence on the ground to just make it look like Jack shoots past him as a warning shot. The scene then worked and wrapped up the film perfectly.
Post did take a full year because the editor David Molina and composer Nicolous Heron, were working probono. I of course, wanted to respect their time dedication to the project. I have to say looking back that the whole crew was amazing. They put up with a lot and helped to make a pretty decent film. It was a first feature for all of us and I think we pulled it off well.
Shortly after we had a premiere for the cast and crew. That’s a story in itself. The theater was a fun location over by the warehouse we shot parts of the film at. However, when it came to the screening, things quickly started falling apart. I had tested the film on their system about a week before, but on the day of their system went haywire. I ended up having to quickly bring in my own DVD player from home to hook up to their system in order to get the film to play. Once that was fixed, we discovered that the projector was heavily out of focus. We had to ask audience members to evacuate their seats so that they could get the tallest ladder I’ve ever seen to change the focus on the projector. By the time the film was actually allowed to start, I wanted to pass out from emotional exhaustion. I ended up sitting in the screening booth the whole time because I didn’t trust anyone to trouble shoot it if something else went wrong. Luckily, that was the end of our troubles. During the screening, Tyler had brought two glasses of Champaign to share as a celebratory moment between the two of us. What’s funny is he had to ask my mother’s permission because I was still only 19 at the time. It was a much appreciated gesture. Unfortunately my stress got the better of me and I drank that glass like a shot. I almost immediately started to feel better, but also felt bad when I saw the shocked look on Tyler’s face. Trust me Tyler, it didn’t go to waste. We ended the night with a fun Q&A panel where we discussed the fun moments of production and awarded my uncle Jim a signed poster by the cast and crew as a token of our appreciation.
Selling The Film
Distribution was a bit of a nightmare. We started with one company at the time called Filmbreak where you uploaded a trailer to their platform and you had to get so many up votes per hour/day to get the film to a certain score. Once you accomplished that, the company would distribute your film. So I pulled together my marketing resources and created an Up Vote Day event. Utilizing Facebook I invited everyone I knew to upvote the film once an hour. Bingo, we got the score we needed and it maintained on their website.
So I followed up with the company and spoke to the CEO who invited me to the company’s next rooftop mixer in Los Angeles. This was extremely exciting. I had felt like I was officially going places. But that didn’t last long. When I met with the CEO at the mixer he told me that he was impressed with how I utilized a marketing campaign to get my film the votes. However, the film itself was not of a quality that they felt they could distribute to the current known platforms. I was of course crushed. I finished the drink he offered me and left. Wasn’t much up for socializing at that point.
He did offer me a letter of intent for my next film as a “consolation prize.” That aside, this company closed it’s doors maybe a year later and the same board opened a film finance company. It was probably because too many filmmakers beat their system as I did, so I can’t really blame them. I did try to get him to honor his letter of intent later, only to be invited to another mixer to have a very similar conversation. Unfortunately I let these experiences put a bad taste in my mouth for mixers in general. So I usually won’t go to one unless I know someone there. I think I’ve only met one guy at a mixer that I still talk to and that was mostly because he was a friend of a friend.
Anyway, after that big disappointment, Tyler and I did some more research and came across a guy starting his own Netflix type of site for independent filmmakers called Twistflix. We paid something like $200 up front and got our film onto the platform for “shared revenue.” The website launch party was pretty fun and I did actually make a contact or two there. As far as any profit from Twistflix though, there was none. As far as I’m aware of anyway. Not to long after the website went down and I think the owner claimed bankruptcy on it. It definitely had potential, but it didn’t seem like the owner wanted outside help to make improvements.
So after this, we kind of moved on and called Edge a “resume piece.” It did help in getting future producing work, so I can’t complain. For many years it just sat on YouTube because I wanted people to be able to see it.
In 2017 I was invited to the premier of a film Scott had stared in called Holy Terror where I met the director Gregory Hatanaka. I always love making new contacts, so I made some effort to continue a relationship with Greg, but it took some time to earn his trust. I later came to find out that Greg used to work for a distribution company and now runs his own small distribution company called Cinema Epoch.
About mid 2018, Greg asked Scott if I had any films that needed distribution. Scott had mentioned Edge and sent him the YouTube link. I was then invited to have lunch with Greg and his lovely wife to discuss the purchase of Edge. Of course I was very excited to finally be able to do something with the film.
I made a couple of new cuts on the film, shortening a few scenes I hadn’t been happy with, and sent it off to Greg. It wasn’t long before Edge made it up on Amazon Prime Vimeo followed by an Edge DVD/Blu-ray, and later available “free” on TubiTV. It took 8 years, but Edge had finally been “officially” released. I guess this is what they call delayed gratification.
The New Release with Never Before Seen Behind The Scenes Footage
With the DVD release of Edge, I started speaking with Greg about releasing another version that would include bonus features, since I had a handful of behind the scenes footage from the original production. The new DVD never happened, but I began to collect present day interviews with the cast and crew who wanted to reflect on the production of Edge.
In 2021 I started doing some research on Vimeo On Demand which allows for easy distribution to foreign countries as well as bonus features just like the DVD I wanted to create. Based on some feedback I had gotten from Amazon reviews about the film being too dark to see, I updated the film’s color grading and brought up the brightness. Now, with an updated and refreshed look, Edge is now available on Vimeo On Demand worldwide with never before seen footage from the first production set I ever had the pleasure of working on. I will forever look back fondly on the process it took to make this film.
Where To Watch The Film
You can check out Edge at:
Find more information on Edge at: whitleyfilms.com/edge