Q&A with Abandoned Mine Director Jeff Chamberlain
By Jonathan James
August 15, 2013
Abandoned-MineAbandoned Mine starts its VOD and limited theatrical release today, and we caught up with writer/director Jeff Chamberlain for our latest Q&A feature. He talks about taking on Abandoned Mine as his first feature film, creating the legend and characters from the movie, and the challenges of filming in an actual mine:
I’ve read that the story for Abandoned Mine came from Scott Woldman. How did you two get together for this project and why was this a story you wanted to direct?
Jeff Chamberlain: One day I was sitting in the office of my producing partner Mark Victor (Poltergeist). We were discussing the kind of project I was looking for to direct. He pulled a script off the shelf called THE MINE by Scott Woldman. I loved the title and the concept – the way Mark described it. After reading it, I still loved the concept. But the story, characters, themes, and tone were very different from what I was looking for. After some back and forth with Scott, it was decided that we would option his story, and I would write my movie. 20 drafts later we began principal photography.
I was drawn to this genre and story because it represented an opportunity to connect with a younger audience – something I was personally interested in.
This is your first feature film as a director. Was it always something you intended to direct and write? Which side of filmmaking do you find to be more challenging?
Jeff Chamberlain: I was originally hopeful to find a script ready to shoot. I’ve written several screenplays and as a technical writer in the business world, I know how painfully tedious writing is. I was not anxious to be consumed by the process at that time.
Writing is always more challenging. We shot the movie in 11 days. Writing the script spanned over 2-3 years. Of course shooting in real abandoned mines was immensely challenging as the producer/director. But I feel very comfortable on the set because of working in front of the camera for years as an actor early on.
Crafting the kind of script I wanted to direct, was more than challenging because of self-imposed restrictions and personal objectives.
From the beginning I knew I was taking a huge risk with my creative vision. I intended to deviate from the formula of a very tightly defined genre – horror/thriller. By definition genre is usually all about formula and audience expectations. Creating a “genre bender” risks alienating a core audience, as well as the cookie-cutter mindset of the distribution and marketing folks.
What kind of research did you do for the town and legend in the movie? How much of it is based on real events?
Jeff Chamberlain: The legend is a complete fabrication of my mind. The choice of the town and rural community referred to as “Happy Valley” was purposeful. Beyond the story’s surface narrative, there is an allegorical tale woven throughout as well.
While the characters are intentionally archetypal, I wouldn’t consider them completely stereotypical for this genre. The parochial world-view of these characters, set in this rural setting, allowed me to present my worldview and the allegory embedded.
I have to laugh at some critics who’ve expressed disdain in their reviews for the way I have drawn certain characters as very non-PC . Doing so was necessary and purposeful in order for me to construct the themes and social commentary I wanted.
Ironically it’s the lock-step, PC crowd who become so obsessed with form, that they are oblivious to substance. Needless to say, my characters’ world view is not my world view.
Your star is Alexa Vega, who has been acting since the age of five and has worked with numerous talented individuals, including Robert Rodriguez. What was it like working with a young actress who has that much experience and why was she perfect for the role?
Jeff Chamberlain: I loved working with Alexa, along with the rest of our very tight ensemble cast. Alexa is an extraordinary talent and human being. Her generosity as an artist under very challenging circumstances was impressive and so appreciated. And I could say the same thing about Reiley, Saige, Adam, and Charan. They all worked together at the very highest level of professionalism and are largely responsible for our ability to “shoot this movie out” on schedule. I couldn’t be more pleased with their performances.
Can you tell me about your experience filming within a mine for this movie? Did you encounter any dangerous situations because of the location or was there anything about filming there that was particularly challenging?
Jeff Chamberlain: From the beginning, I knew I couldn’t shoot this on a soundstage. I was going after a very real, authentic, dusty, grimy, scary environment.
Each of our interior mine locations were carefully chosen. I scouted many many mines with my spelunker friend Paul McGray. He also served as our safety expert on the set at all times. He established protocols which were strictly observed by cast and crew.
If someone wandered off and was separated from our party, there is no question dangerous conditions existed in different parts of the mines. We were sometimes shooting 1-2 miles inside the belly of a mountain. In some cases there were 45 miles of tunnels to get lost in. I’m pretty sure all of our crew made it out.
We have many stories to tell. The tight shooting conditions were more challenging for those who had claustrophobic tendencies. But of course what you see on the screen doesn’t represent our actual work conditions. The characters in the movie had it far worse than our actors in real life. Although listening to our actors describe it, you may wonder.
With Abandoned Mine being released in the US, are you looking at another project to write and/or direct any time soon? Will you be sticking with the horror/thriller genre?
Jeff Chamberlain: I have several upcoming projects in development. Aside from 2-3 treatments for ABANDONED MINE sequels, none of the other projects would be considered straight-up horror genre. One is a paranormal/supernatural thriller however. That one is very exciting to me right now. I was also just approached by an outside company to write and direct a larger budget feature in a completely different genre. Fun!
“In Abandoned Mine, five small-town school friends celebrate Halloween with an overnight adventure into the legendary “haunted” Jarvis Mine. Local legend tells of the angry spirits that have occupied the mine since a family was murdered for still mysterious reasons exactly 100 years ago. But that doesn’t stop these young adrenaline junkies from exploring the unknown – and bringing mini-cameras to capture their every move.
Yet once deep into the mine their best-laid Halloween plans go awry, leaving the adventurers trapped without escape. Are their misfortunes purely accidental or is the legend true and something more lurks in the darkness? Nothing is what it truly seems as the past and present collide in this psychological thriller written and directed by Jeff Chamberlain and starring Alexa Vega, Reiley McClendon, Saige Thompson, Charan Prabhakar, Adam Hendershott, and Valerie C. Walker. The film will hit theaters and VOD August 15th.”