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  • Writer's pictureNerys Muller

Far Beyond the Horizon

A year ago today, I released my first, big independent film ... time to take a look back and reflect on the experience

"Where the Horizon Lies" ... probably one of the greatest and craziest production experiences I've had to date in these early years of (what I hope and pray will be) my extensive film career.

Not only was I blessed with a magnificent (and ... might I say PERFECT!) cast and crew to trudge through the trials of film production during a pandemic, but the vision I'd dreamed up so long ago finally came to life right before my eyes.

Now that's called being #blessed.

I’ll take you all back to January of 2020. Ah ... simpler times, right? Well, for me, it was crunch time!

I began pre-production for my film a year in advance of shooting to ensure I had the most time to prepare. The first draft of my script was a story I’d been wanting to tell for ages ... combine the psychological-thriller sub-genre with the foundations of "Night of the Living Dead" ... my horror fanatics get the picture.

Pictured: Michelle Principi as Delilah on location at Camp Inawendiwin in Tabernacle, NJ.

"Where the Horizon Lies" tells the story of a mixed-race sibling duo navigating a post-apocalyptic world where the classic “virus” responsible was rooted in racial prejudice: a different take on your classic zombie movie.

Getting back to our production timeline, you might as well call me psychic, because later that year in March ... well ... you know.

All things aside ... a big question was looming over all of my peers' heads once we were able to come back to school that fall ... How on earth were we going to pull off filming in the middle of a pandemic?

Well, for me, my script (and production vision) would have to undergo numerous changes to adapt to the circumstances.

Now, I’d have a smaller cast and crew and with that in mind, much of what I’d originally planned went out the window. By the time I’d start principal photography, I’d be at draft number 10 of my script.

After many rewrites and peer review sessions, the script was finally complete in October of 2020 and it was time to get a roll on pre-production. To start, we needed a budget!

Films are not cheap, especially when you want to make a movie about the apocalypse, zombie makeup and all! The film’s final budget called for $6000.

In the grand scheme of things, compared to big pictures, this film costs NOTHING ... but for a work-study college student on an academic scholarship, it's quite difficult to pull together.

So, crowdfunding became my best friend!

I created an IndieGogo page to help promote the project and gather donations everywhere I could. I was so grateful to have pulled in over $1000 in contributions, cutting down the out-of-pocket cost tremendously.

Next up, I had to gather my crew. I was extremely grateful to have two amazing producers (much love to the amazing Stephan Hatchett and Carter Gil de Rubio) who helped do this part for me. They put together the best possible team to tell this story!

And ... onto the cast!

Casting is one of my favorite parts of the filmmaking process. Normally, we’d hold auditions in person, but because of COVID-19, we had to do them solely over Zoom. The script called for three characters: Keelin (our cautiously reluctant lead), Lars (her protective half-brother), and Delilah (the mysterious seductress).

Pictured left to right: "Where the Horizon Lies" cast members Juliana Battaglia, Michelle Principi, Spencer Steeby, and Nile Assata Harris.

My producing team and I were floored by the amount of talent we saw on audition day, though our three actors practically jumped out of the screen when we heard them read.

The film’s final cast consisted of Nile Assata Harris as Keelin, Spencer Steeby as Lars, and Michelle Principi as Delilah.

With filming set for the first weekend of February last year, the last thing we needed was a location to film.

I wanted to keep things close to home, so, as someone born and raised in Southern New Jersey, I turned to my old Girl Scout camp to set the scene: a run-down cabin, overgrown forest, and an eerie lake? What more could I ask for?

I talk a lot about the location scouting experience for "Where the Horizon Lies" in another #B2Blog post here "Sometimes You Just Need to Look in Your Backyard", so definitely check that out if you're interested in reading more!

The day before filming, my team and I had a hefty equipment pickup. Although super tedious, we tried to make the most of the situation in extremely cold weather. We packed up our 10-foot truck and were ready to hop on the road.

Oh! And remember the cold weather for later. It makes a very dramatic comeback.

So, now we move on to our four-day shoot in the middle of winter ... and before you ask, YES. It was extremely cold outside.

Our use of HotHands hand warmers and an endless supply of warm meals from craft services (special shoutout to my parents for catering through #B2P), kept us going for the long weekend.

Now, we can’t forget about the pandemic and all of the strict guidelines and protocol in place to ensure our set was safe. In addition to the special training certifications my peers and I received, we required all cast and crew members to isolate for two weeks before production and provide a negative PCR test to be allowed on set.

Nonetheless, we didn’t let the pandemic deter our fun. My cast, crew, and I enjoyed every minute of production, whether we were reviewing takes, setting up drone shots, getting into zombie makeup, or sitting in the snow to shoot some closeups. Our team was unparalleled!

Our final day of shooting was hectic, but also the most fun!

Remember the cold weather I was talking about? Well, we ended up shooting in a full-on blizzard.

My car was idling for my actors and crew to warm up in while I stayed outside the entire time to make sure everyone was okay. We were working so fast and efficiently we finished two hours early.

For those of you who don't know, in film production, we call the final shot of a film a “martini” because everyone celebrates when it’s done. My team and I kumbaya’d in the cabin with a nice warm meal and hot chocolate before heading out.

I made special gifts for everyone to thank them for all of their hard work on the production.

You’ll see here, I even painted custom jean jackets for my actors to have as a keepsake! :)

Production is often the hardest part of the filmmaking process, but for me, it was the ride home. I got into a car accident on the way back. Luckily, it was just me that was hurt with some bad bruising on my leg, but I felt so blessed my passengers and I were okay.

I didn’t let that tarnish the experience though. I was still over the moon that we’d completed production!

A couple weeks later, the promotional photos came in for the poster and I cannot tell you how loud I squealed when I saw them. Our photographer, Tiana Vanrossum did a phenomenal job capturing every character as I had imagined them. From here, the film’s official poster was released for promotions.

Editing was LOADS of fun, too! I took the task on single-handedly as post-production is one of my greatest loves. Was it overwhelming? Absolutely. But worth it? 100%.

From the project’s rough assembly to sound design and coloring, “Where the Horizon Lies” was completed in May 2020 with a total runtime of 17 minutes.

Here's my insane editing timeline. You can see just how much work it took me to put this project together.

I entered “Where the Horizon Lies” into numerous festivals across the country and was very lucky to win a few awards and official selections along the way.

I even had the privilege of being mentioned in Variety Magazine for completing production successfully and safely during COVID. It was such an honor to be recognized for my work!

As of today, it's been a year since "Where the Horizon Lies" premiered at its first festival and it’s nice to take time and reflect on the experience as a whole.

All the bells and whistles attached, it's hard to put into words how rewarding this experience really was for me. I can't thank my cast and crew enough for all of the hard work, time, and effort they put in to help bring my story to the silver screen.

In the meantime, it’s onto my next project!

And for those wondering? Yes, my car is much better, thanks!

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