Black Holler is a Kickstarter-funded horror-comedy feature film produced in Nashville, TN starring Tamiko Robinson as La Femme Laquita Johnson. It was written and produced by Nashville comic / producer / playwright / actress Heidi Ervin, and shot in locations all around Nashville. Lead actress Tamiko Robinson Steele, who is currently starring alongside NFL legend / Broadway veteran Eddie George in a production of A Raisin in the Sun at the Nashville Rep, is supported by a cast of Nashville actors, comedians and improvisers.
The film will premier at The Belcourt April 24th with two showings including a red carpet event, a q&a with the cast and crew, a meet & greet with cast and crew, and a late “rowdy” screening when audience participation is encouraged. Tickets are on sale now.
The film synopsis on The Belcourt’s website reads:
Street-smart Laquita Johnson (Tamiko Robinson Steele, Nashville Repertory Theatre’s A Raisin in the Sun) has high hopes for a fresh start at a new school, but those hopes are halted when the dean (Brad Edwards, Still the King) forces her on a field trip with the cheese-loving, dim-witted students of Archepology 101 led by the daffy Professor Thompson (Jesse Perry, HG Chicken and the Chronological Order).
On the bus, each 80’s student archetype is present and accounted for, but once the group makes it to the haunted woods of Black Holler, roll call becomes nearly impossible!
The campers were warned that the woods were dangerous, but they were all too busy hooking up, drinking beer and eating cheese to get the message.
With her classmates disappearing left and right, and with everyone seemingly oblivious to the dangers around them, Laquita has to confront her troubled past in order to fulfill her destiny, escape the horrors of Black Holler, and save…er umm… some of the students along the way.
It’s about to get campy, in this comedic homage to the horror movies and pop culture of the 1980’s!
Here’s a trailer:
Nashville StandUp has only seen the 45-minute rough cut sneak peek Heidi screened in her back yard to a small group of cast and crew on October 24th, 2016, but that was HILARIOUS.
Nashville comedy fans who remember the shows at the Bar Car in Cummins Station in the early to mid 2000’s, or “The Skeleton Crew” improv troupe at Zanies and The Sutler will be delighted to see “Mangy Dog” sketch comedy show creator / comic Jesse Perry as buffoonish Professor Thompson. Jesse hasn’t performed on stage publicly since 2009, but the man The Tennessean once called “an improvisational genius” has produced top notch comedy periodically since then, notably his brilliant but short-lived “Jesse Is Terrific” podcast and the “Sunday Night Stupid” live streaming web show. On set, Jesse riffed consistently and gave subtle scene suggestions that were appreciated and integrated.
“To have someone as hilarious and as knowledgeable of film as Jesse Perry is – in your movie, excited about it and supporting the hell out of it, is ENORMOUS to me,” said Ervin. “I’m a Jesse Perry FAN.”
Brad Edwards, host of ULTIMATE COMEDY Tuesdays at The East Room, plays a supporting role as school administrator Dean Dean and contributed off screen as well. Heidi praised Brad saying, “I knew that in addition to being incredibly funny that he also made props and practical special effects, so we used him for all his talents whenever we could. Oh, and of course, [Jesse and Brad] are both responsible for improvising lines that are much better than the ones we gave them. So, they just brought up the quality of the script and the production just by bringing all of their skills and wit to the table.”
NashvilleStandUp’s Chad Riden talked to director Jason Berg and producer Heidi Ervin about the film via email:
NSUP: Could you describe Jesse Perry’s contributions on set?
JASON BERG: Working with Jesse was great. Firstly, because the guy is one of the most effortlessly funny people I’ve ever met, and secondly, due to his complete dedication to the project. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of film and an enthusiasm that only comes from a true love of the process. It’s that attitude that you always hope for as a filmmaker, where you can just tell he is enjoying himself, even when the day is long or the elements are against you. I mean, when you film outdoors during the summer in TN it’s going to be hot, but Jesse probably had it the worst. I never heard him complain once though, and he managed to deliver great performances despite probably suffering heat stroke. We ran a very collaborative set, often allowing for improvised takes after the scripted lines were filmed, and as a seasoned comedian, Jesse really brought it. His fingerprints are all over this movie, and I feel like the film is better for it.
NSUP: What was it like working with Brad Edwards?
JB: Brad doesn’t have a huge role, but he absolutely murders in every scene he has. He was always a pleasure to have on set, his style was a perfect fit for the role of the Dean of O’Fish Community College, and he improvised one of my favorite lines in the whole movie. As we transitioned into post, I kept finding myself wishing we had more scenes with him, especially with he and Jesse together. Early on, he helped us out a lot with the construction or wrangling of some of our main props, which was huge given our small budget. That’s really the story of this project; no one did just one thing.
NSUP: What were your favorite moments during production?
JB: Honestly, and this may sound like I’m pandering, but the cast and crew made this experience for me. We really reached with the scope of this project, and we had a lot of trying times because of that. Hell, Heidi and I both started actively practicing elements of Buddhist philosophy to keep from stepping out into traffic. That said, the adversity instilled in us this sort of foxhole mentality. I care about these people and genuinely like all of them as individuals. I’ve watched them grow up in cases, seen their lives change, shared their dreams at points, and faced fears together at others. I feel like the ideal for most filmmakers is to make cool things with their friends, and despite knowing only a handful of the people involved with this at the beginning, that’s what it feels like I did, and that has been my favorite part.
NSUP: How’s it like working with amazing actors like Tamiko?
JB: We got very lucky in our casting, and as we’ve put this thing together in post, I’ve been really pleased by the performances turned in by this entire group. Every one of these actors worked their asses off for us and shed some combination of blood, sweat, and tears for the project. Tamiko was a rock; she’s tireless on set, and it’s impossible to spend any length of time with her and not be struck by her talent and genuine good nature. We could also make a short from the pile of footage we have of her dancing during sound holds. I have to give mention to the incredible Brian Russell as well. That guy sent chills up my spine as Gus, and he really helps to rev up the horror quotient of our film. I simply can’t say enough about this cast;each one of them is outstanding in their own right.
NSUP: So many Nashville comics got into this thing.. and people who are kind of around the scene like Dale Rainey. How did tapping into Nashville’s comedy scene help (or hurt!)
JB: I absolutely think it helped us to have so many talented comedians! We’ve got a veritable who’s-who from the local scene in roles both great and small, in front of and behind the camera, and that’s in big part to our writer/producer/all-around badass, Heidi Ervin. She was instrumental in tapping that resource as she already had relationships with so many local stand ups from her own experience performing here in town. I also think it made comedians trust the project more already knowing her established work and talent. We set out with the idea that this film would be a comedy first and a horror movie second, so putting as many funny people in it as we could just made sense.
Heidi Ervin: I love that it’s a mix of comics, theatre people, musicians and just game, funny people giving it their all. The comics were great at making the characters their own and at keeping their cast-mates on their toes with their delivery and improvisation. I wouldn’t want to see this movie without Jesse Perry or Brad Edwards in it.
We wrote characters with actors and comics we knew in mind and pitched it to those people. Pretty much everyone said, “Yes!” Then in the summer of 2014, we pitched the project to Jason Berg, a freelance videographer and music video director whom Rachel knew through the Mass Comm dept at MTSU. Jason loved the idea of directing a horror-comedy with Blaxploitation elements, and we knew early on that my brother, the very talented Bruce Ervin, would do the soundtrack and score. One of my best friends, Katie Gant, is one of the greatest and busiest theatrical lighting designers/technicians/ stage managers/ prop managers in town; her knowledge, work ethic and connections were critical in bringing this story to life, AND she’s hysterical as the horny bus driver Sher in the movie to boot!
So, with that team in place and all of our connections combined, we began shooting the short version of the script in the Fall of 2014. Simultaneously, we launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $6k. Our fall shoot had several scheduling issues, and it was clear that we were not going to be able to complete the movie before the season changed. Because the majority of our movie is set outdoors, a season change would have caused major continuity problems. So, when we reached our Kickstarter goal in October 2014, we stopped filming and began rewriting the script as a feature film with Jason. We spent the winter writing it and began filming in late April 2015. Yada yada yada- we’re premiering the movie in April of 2017!
Although Jesse and Brad have the most screen time, there were lots of amazing comics involved in this movie, and I wish there were more!
On October 17, 2014, after less than 1 month of fundraising and with the help of over 111 backers and the Nashville Fringe Festival, Black Holler surpassed its Kickstarter goal with over $6,000 raised and production began. In August 2015, the Nashville Scene reported that production was halfway done as they sought more funding via an IndieGoGo campaign that raised over $2,500.
Although raising $6000 is an unbelievable achievement, we still need all the help we can get! If you’d like to contribute your time and energy or just a lump sum of cold hard cash, feel free to contact us or contribute right here on our website www.blackholler.com!
“In 1989, 11 students ventured into the Black Holler woods on a scholarship competition, but they didn’t know they’d be competing for their lives.”
We’ve got a polished screenplay, an amazing group of highly skilled performers and artists, a great director, a sound designer and soundtrack producer, and with your help, we’ll have a movie. Give what you can or spread the word. We’re really, really close to having everything we need, and your donation will afford us the equipment and power to really make this movie happen.
Black Holler was written by Heidi Heidi, Rachel Ward and Jason Berg, will be directed by Jason Berg of Elton Pictures, and will star Tamiko S. Robinson, Jesse Perry, Sarah VanArsdal, Nicholas Hadden, Rachel Ward, Heidi Ervin, Bruce Ervin, Elizabeth Williams, Jon D Bumpus, Cee Jus, Stacy Gazenski, Shawn Cornelius, Katie Gant, Vivi Ven Detta, Lee McCue Al-d Words, Justin Spice-j Tarrents, Leah Fincher, Steve Parnell and more!
NSUP: I know you’ve written and produced standup shows and theatrical stage plays before but is this your first film? How different was this project from what you’ve done in the past?
HE: Black Holler is my first feature-length film. As far as video projects go, before Black Holler, I’d never written or produced anything beyond the YouTube or public access TV level. So, the main difference between those projects and this one would be that this one took way, way longer, and it was way, way harder to do.
In college, I wrote a full-length musical called Underwear: the Musical! (later called Underwear: A Space Musical!) with Brandon James Gwinn. We spent a few years writing it, and MTSU produced it in their black box space in 2008. That summer, it was accepted into the NYC Fringe Festival, so Brandon and I co-produced its NYC premiere. Underwear was produced a couple times after that, but that 2008 NYC production was similar to Black Holler’s because we were total newbs who had to find a cast and crew, raise money, promote the show, figure out where we could afford to rehearse in NYC and how we were going to lug around set pieces on a Metro Card budget. Like Black Holler, it all felt very exciting, stressful, and high-stakes. However, unlike that production of Underwear, Black Holler was not completed in one summer.
NSUP: How did this project start?
HE: Short answer:
Rachel Ward Heggen said, “Hey, we should write a horror movie!”
Rachel and I went to MTSU together and reconnected through Cult Fiction Underground fandom years later. Rachel is a very game actress, dancer and just a genuinely funny person, so she quickly became a featured player in most everything I had a hand in putting together, namely Storybook Heroin shows.
So, one night we were hanging out at her house, and she said, “Hey, we should write a horror movie!” I’d had an idea for a horror-comedy called Shaniqua Dies Last, and basically, it was about an intelligent, cool, funny African-American woman who was surrounded by a bunch of Caucasian idiots in a typical horror movie setting. Kind of like the voice of the audience thrown into the action and not having it. I’d had an idea for a scene where she’d be packing for the doomed trip, and you’d see her throw in her suitcase: a wig, a machete, a Magnum gun, a magnum condom, a different wig, a bottle of HERnessey…you see where this is going. ANYWAYS, the movie certainly evolved from that and turned out a little less offensive than that one would have probably. That title went away pretty quickly too because there were a few movies with similar titles floating around (John Dies in the End, Tom Wants to Die), and the Shaniqua character became Laquita, “La Femme Laquita.” Tamiko Robinson Steele had been in a few productions I co-produced, and she was just such a next-level talent who didn’t turn up her nose if she wasn’t asked to play the lead, or if the venue of the show was a bar, or if the rehearsals were in my attic apartment.
Setting the movie in the 80’s was a no-brainer too, and although, it was a beast to costume, prop and set-dress a period piece on a shoestring budget, this movie would not work in any other time period. We also knew that we wanted to make it about a camping trip because we were big fans of Wet Hot American Summer, Friday the 13,th and the Sleepaway Camp movies.
Rachel and I wrote a short version of Black Holler and an extended trailer at Café Coco– where all the great scripts are written.
NSUP: You had 2 successful fundraising campaigns that brought in over $9k- do you know the total budget of the film? What were the unexpected expenses you couldn’t project?
HE: I’m estimating the total budget of the film at $15k. We raised over $6.45k with our Fall2014 Kickstarter campaign and over $2.5k with our Indiegogo campaign. Additionally, we were sponsored by the Nashville Fringe Festival, who gave us another$1000. We begged for or borrowed most of our props, costumes and people, but there are some things you just can’t get out of buying, and there are some things you borrow, break and have to repurchase! We also had to rent some technical equipment, although most of it was borrowed from the great people of Sun House Films or supplied by Jason and other crew members themselves. But it was always something… Example! We filmed several scenes at Omega Lab and recorded most of our ADR there as well in the winter of 2016. Their studio was heated by propane tanks, so we ended up buying a few of those. It was a VERY small price to pay for what we got for free, but things like that added up and pretty much occurred everywhere we went. Gas money here, a new canopy for a picnic table there, someone sat on a bullhorn, that’s another $20 there. Someone cut their hair, that’s a $25 wig there.
However, most of our budget was spent on food and drinks. If you’re asking people to come out to the middle of nowhere to be filmed for no money on their one day off work, you have to feed them. We had to keep this cast and crew moderately happy to get them to come back to us every weekend, and that wasn’t easy to do in 90 degree weather in a tick-infested field with no indoor plumbing insight. So, we always tried to have food. It wasn’t always great food, but at least people weren’t starving.
It took over 70 film shoots to complete Black Holler, and when you have that many shoots and that many Little Caesars pizzas, the dough just seems to vanish!
We knew we would have to pay for all of the Kickstarter and Indiegogo prizes out of pocket after we spent all of the donations on the actual making of the movie. Theatre rentals and film festival entry fees are not cheap either, but we’re hoping for a successful premiere and that people will buy some of our merch! But even if we don’t make any money off of this movie, no one went broke making it (yet!), and it was a HUGE education for the price it cost us financially. Emotional damage is another story;)
NSUP: How did tapping into the Nashville comedy scene for roles on camera and off help or hurt the film?
Ha! Or hurt… I love the cast of this movie! I love that it’s a mix of comics, theatre people, musicians and just game, funny people giving it their all. The comics were great at making the characters their own and at keeping their cast-mates on their toes with their delivery and improvisation. I wouldn’t want to see this movie without Jesse Perry or Brad Edwards in it.
To have someone as hilarious and as knowledgeable of film as Jesse Perry is- in your movie, excited about it and supporting the hell out of it, is ENORMOUS to me. I’m a Jesse Perry FAN. The same goes for Brad. Brad cast me in a few sketches back in the day, and we worked on some of Joel Wilson’s projects together. I knew that in addition to being incredibly funny that he also made props and practical special effects, so we used him for all his talents whenever we could. Oh, and of course, they are both responsible for improvising lines that are much better than the ones we gave them. So, they just brought up the quality of the script and the production just by bringing all of their skills and wit to the table.
Although Jesse and Brad have the most screen time, there were lots of amazing comics involved in this movie, and I wish there were more!
Chad [Riden], you are so funny in that truck, wearing that wig, and you made the one line you had much funnier than the one you were given. Not to mention that you helped on set many times and always brought a great attitude and work ethic with you. Bryce Damuth is in a couple scenes, brought a lot to his character, and helped out behind the scenes when we needed some heavy lifting.
Fun fact: Chad and Bryce dragged Heidi Ervin across a field by ropes while she was on a sled with a camera attached to the end for the scene where Rebecca is being yanked around by the possessed woods.
We were so fortunate to have DJ Buckley and Brad Hinderliter in the movie as well. They are in one of our funniest scenes with Chad. Everyone is just so enjoyable to watch in that scene; it’s one of my favorites! I chuckle every time I see DJ lick Sarah’s face. You know she’s a germaphobe! Now, that’s an actress!
Holly Amber, Andre Lemont Churchwell, Brian Bates, Landon Lyon, Daniel Swinney were on camera as well, had great attitudes on set, and I think, are all in the final cut of the movie!
SO many comics helped! Carter Glasscock was our first A.D. on several film shoots and contributed in numerous ways early into our production process. Dan Whitehurst let us shoot several scenes in his backyard, and after he moved, we still needed to use it, sohe gave us the info of the new home owner, and THAT guy let us use the property too. We splattered blood all over his barn, actually, and he was really cool about it. Jessica Carter had Jason and I on her radio show, Friday Night Drama, to promote our screenplay reading at TWTP’s Women’s Work Festival in 2015. Most recently, Marcus Quit Playin Jones has agreed to photograph our red carpet premiere!
Michael Hampton, Leslie Nash and Dan Whitehurst were filmed, and I hope that they will pick themselves off the cutting room floor and work with me again because their scenes were cut for time, not because they weren’t amazing in them! (Look out for them in the DVD!) Sean Parrott was also involved in the movie, but the character he was going to play was scrapped before he was filmed, unfortunately for us.
Michael, Sean, Brad and Gary Fletcher helped us with our Kickstarter fundraiser by making a very funny video and by agreeing to put on a Popcorn Pals fundraising event for us. I think that video will be a bonus feature on our dvd as well.
And that’s just to name some of the comics involved with this project. We had several donate to our crowdfunding campaign and propel us forward by demanding, “Where’s my t-shirt? I want my koozie! Finish the damn movie already!,” and you know what that did kind of hurt, actually.
NSUP: What were the most fun moments making the film?
HE: There were definitely some fun times on set, but I think I enjoyed the Kickstarter phase of the project the most. Everyone was the most excited about the project then, and it felt incredible getting the donations and feeling the love and support from our community. I really enjoyed all of the individual videos that cast and crew members made to promote the campaign as well. We all got to be creative and contribute to the campaign in our own unique way. Bruce made a couple clever parody videos, one as Bruce Springsteen and one as Prince, and CJ Stanley made one as Axl Rose! Then, we all parodied 80’s celebrities for our “We Made Our Goal” Kickstarter “thank you” video, which parodied “We Are the World,” and was filmed in Sarah VanArsdal and Ben Jacoby’s house. That was a really fun time.
I enjoyed the rehearsal process as well. We were all in the same room back in those days, which was fun.
Set life was different because it was kind of a different group every shoot, which was fun but also a little scary. Production was trying for me because I am a people-pleaser, and it was difficult going from the fun person who was providing people with this exciting, unique opportunity, to the person managing a large cast and crew on a project that sometimes felt completely out of my control and endless.
But wait, you asked me about the most fun moments! Other than any time that Nic Hadden was on set (true story), I have to say that it was just incredibly cool to watch something like this grow from the ground up. Watching people that I loved and admired bring the story to life was indescribable. People with Hollywood budgets don’t have that kind of creative control sometimes. And there are things happening in post-production that are REALLY exciting, the soundtrack is amazing!!! I can’t wait for everyone to see and hear the final product! The handful of people who have seen rough cuts have responded with genuine laughter and, “Wow, this is a real movie!” Nashville Film Festival didn’t have that reaction, but hey, it’s not for everyone! 😉
At the end of the day, Jason made a very silly movie on a shoestring budget look like the real deal, and it’s kind of unbelievable.
NSUP: What do you want to work on next?
HE: I’d love to see Black Holler get some distribution. I think there’s an audience for it outside of the people in it. We’ll, most likely, show it a few more times in town, perhaps at some festivals too, and it’s very important to me that all our crowdfunding prizes get to the people who invested in us. We’re going to be late on our delivery, but we don’t want to give crowdfunded projects a bad name. The dream has always been to see Black Holler on Amazon, Hulu or Netflix, but now there’s Seeso and Shudder and lots of other streaming services and networks that might want it!
Outside of the Holler, Brandon and I want to revamp Underwear. I’d like to get it published, so that any production company could put it on for a very reasonable fee. I’d love to see an all-drag version of it as well! I’ve been kicking around an idea for a screenplay that I think I could produce locally. Part of me can’t believe I’m saying that, but then, I’d be crazy to throw out everything I learned making Black Holler, right?
Rachel and I are also trying to write a Christmas screenplay together this summer, we’d love to see CMT produce that one actually. So, CMT folks if you’re reading this and looking for something to get people in the mood for the jolly, give me a shout!
Jesse Perry’s been writing a horror-comedy movie too, and I think he’d like to produce it and get some of the BH gang back together to perform in it. . That sounds pretty fun time to me, and I hear it isn’t set outdoors. So, that’s a plus!
NSUP: Anything else you want to say? I just want to try to promote this thing the best I can. It’s cool and funny, and I’m really proud of you guys.
HE: Thank you so much, Chad! I just want to let people know to set an alarm for 6pm on 4-24-17, so that they can wake up after their nap following the Broken Record Show Vol. 3 and head on over to The Belcourt for a really good time.
Black Holler premiers April 24, 2017 at The Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee.