Every low-budget horror filmmaker’s dream is to have his or her work seen by producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, Whiplash). In the case of New York Film Academy alumnus Chris Lofing, this dream was transformed into something even bigger than he could have imagined. On July 10, his debut feature The Gallows, co-written and co-directed by Travis Cluff and produced by Jason Blum, will be released nationwide and in over 50 countries.
Chris and Travis gave New York Film Academy’s students a sneak preview of The Gallows, and discussed their movie’s journey from a micro budget to 2,700 screens.
In 2010, the future horror auteurs met while making Chris’s NYFA thesis film. This wildly ambitious project had a tight budget, necessitating Chris’s shooting in the more affordable city of Fresno. A call for stuntmen led to his meeting Travis Cluff, a recent champion on ABC’s Wipeout. Soon after their first collaboration, Chris and Travis discovered they were perfect teammates and created their own company, Tremendum Pictures.
For several years Chris and Travis produced commercials and industrials, but always had an eye on making feature films. Inspired by a tragic high school tale Chris heard from his father, The Gallows was born. The plot (no spoilers, we promise): Several years ago, a high school student named Charlie was killed in a horrific accident during a performance of The Gallows. Cut to present day and the school is resurrecting the failed play in an attempt to commemorate the tragedy. When a few students break in one night to stop the production, they discover that Charlie’s “performance” is far from over.
Embracing the found-footage style employed in films like Paranormal Activity, Travis and Chris have created a horror film which is scary and remarkably grounded, featuring a cast that comes off as real high-schoolers trapped in a truly horrific situation. Chris and Travis explained that they did not write a traditional script, but instead used an outline, which allowed the actors to better inhabit their roles and sell the film’s realism.
When Travis and Chris initially shot their film, they could afford only one location: a beautifully gothic theater in Fresno. Once they posted their trailer on Youtube, people in Hollywood began to take notice and the calls came rolling in. Major production companies reached out including Management 360. Suddenly the filmmakers who were by their own description “sleeping in their van” while visiting LA were a hot commodity. All of which culminated in a meeting with the modern day godfather of low budget horror, Jason Blum. The producer hosted a screening of their film that was met with a rapturous response. Realizing they had the potential for a wide release, the filmmakers (now teamed with Blumhouse Productions) went back to work.
With a larger – though still minute – budget, the filmmakers could now shoot scenes in an actual high school. The crew got a little bigger, but the do-it-yourself attitude remained the same. However, one major change occurred in the recasting of a principal role, which necessitated filming most of the movie a second time. With every new cut, the filmmakers realized there was still more they could do and continued to shoot more material.
Once the film was finalized, New Line & Warner Bros. came on board to distribute The Gallows. As the directors explained, The Gallows is the lowest budget movie to ever receive such a wide opening weekend release.
Chris said the work he did at NYFA in directing so many different projects and having to be a “do-it-yourself” filmmaker gave him the preparation needed to get The Gallows made. After riding his bike every day next to Warner Bros. en route to school, he’s now got the privilege of seeing his own movie’s poster adorning the Warner Bros wall.