Interview: The Seventh Spectrum Writer/Director William Hellmuth Talks “Valley of Mist”
Anthony Parisi | On Oct 03, 2013
In addition to being the Online Editor of the Cinema & New Media Arts, I also collaborate with program director Joshua Sikora and his independent film company, New Renaissance Pictures. Recently, we began releasing an anthology of short films online at Hulu and our website. I was the editor on each of the films along with being an executive producer, cinematographer, and director on select entries.
The series, entitled The Seventh Spectrum, imagines a universe made up of different “spectrums” of reality. The short films within the series chronicle mysterious events that occur when elements or creatures from other spectrums of reality intrude on our normal world. As an anthology, each film explores this concept from a different angle and the stories come to life through a variety of tones and genres. Some of the stories are light and full of humor, while others venture into darker, more suspenseful territory.
In this ongoing feature, I’ll conduct interviews with key filmmakers from the series. The following is my talk with William Hellmuth, who directed the premiere film “Valley of Mist”.
How did you and your wife first come up with the idea for this film? Why were you interested in telling a story about Native Americans?
I first thought of making a film about two Native Americans during our very first meeting when we came up with the idea for The Seventh Spectrum. I loved the idea of creating an expansive series of shorts that could potentially cover a period of time from the beginning of the world to the end.
I wanted to make a film set a really long time ago and present something that felt kind of like a “forgotten story”. I came home after our first Spectrum meeting that night and started talking to my wife, Kerri, about my desire to make a film about a Native American couple who is traveling into the Los Angeles basin for the first time. From there, she started offering some really great ideas and we collaborated on the story from that point on.
What made you choose to go for a purely visual experience? Why did you leave out subtitles when the script did include some written dialogue?
The decision to not use subtitles was actually kind of a goal of mine from the beginning, even though I didn’t make the final decision until you and I were well into the editing process. I was inspired to make this without subtitles, first off, because I love movies that just drop into the middle of a story, don’t wait for you to catch up, and make you sit and observe what’s happening and figure a lot of it out for yourself. Then, I remember watching Passion of the Christ, and hearing afterwards that Mel Gibson considered using no subtitles in that film. My immediate reaction was “Wow, wouldn’t that be incredible?” I loved that idea. I’ve traveled so many times to other countries and watched people interacting in languages I can’t understand. For me, guessing what’s going on between them is a lot of fun.
I wanted to tell a simple story in a purely visual way while creating a cinematic experience that would feel like being immersed in a different culture. We actually wrote the dialogue in English, so that the actors would know what it was they were communicating to each other.
How were you able to fund the film? What was the budget for this?
This was a very low-budget film. I didn’t have the resources to fund it myself and I wanted to keep it from ballooning into a huge production so I tried keeping my goals modest. I raised about $2,000 on Indiegogo. The cool thing about this is that my original goal was only $1,000, but I met that goal in less than a week and just kept getting more donations. For some reason, people really connected with the premise of “Valley of Mist” and wanted to get behind it.
So it was very low-budget! What was the most difficult aspect of production for you? I remember a lot didn’t work out as originally planned.
This was definitely a film shoot filled with difficulty. We shot the entire film in the mountains bordering Los Angeles, including all of the night scenes. I really wasn’t prepared for how difficult those night scenes would be to shoot. I’ve shot an entire feature at night before, but the night scenes presented entirely new challenges because we were so remote and had no power, bathrooms, or heating. Just lighting a single shot seemed like a monumental challenge. And it was really cold. So everyone was pretty miserable. Looking back, I’m actually really proud of the crew and how they pulled through to make everything from those night shoots look so good.
By that point, you were far behind schedule and didn’t have any more days with the main crew. How did you feel?
Yeah, we originally planned on shooting the whole film in one weekend but got so far behind schedule that we only ended up getting the night scenes and the closing scene shot. I was really discouraged and felt like I had completely failed. Thankfully, I got a lot of encouragement from Josh and ended up finishing the film. I had to take two more trips up into the mountains over the next two months to fill in the gaps. Our cinematographer’s schedule didn’t allow him to make those trips with me but I was able to convince you and Kevin to substitute for him and pick up the rest of the footage that had to be shot.
Those days went really well. I got so lucky on my first pickup shoot with Kevin. There was some incredibly dramatic weather that day (the intense mist in the opening of the film, the gorgeous sunsets) and we always seemed to be in the perfect place to capture it. Also, because our crew was so much smaller, I was able to get some of those really cool intimate moments between Alex and Krissy that I was hoping to create. Then you shot all of the close-ups of the creature with me on the final trip and that rounded out the production perfectly.
You also directed “Attic” which was released with “Valley of Mist” as part of the series launch. Do you see there being any similarities between the two stories?
It’s interesting, because even though there isn’t an obvious connection between “Attic” and “Valley of Mist,” they have similar themes to me, personally. “Valley of Mist” is really a film about the hardships in life and the fact that, even when you may not see it, there is a force guiding and protecting you. This is something I’ve found to be true in my own life. I’ve experienced some real hardships, some by my own doing and some from completely external sources. But in all those situations, I’ve found often times that the hardship is something God is using to guide me to the place He wants me. I think that’s why I wanted to have the creature helping the couple in the end. Because I’ve learned that often times, the very hardship that you think is oppressing you is actually a pathway to peace.
Similarly, for me, “Attic” is a film about not letting go of the past, not moving on, and ultimately being consumed by whatever hurts you are holding on to. So they both address, in different ways, life’s difficulties and how we may handle them, get through them, or not get through them.
Are you working on any upcoming projects? Do you think you will contribute any more stories to The Seventh Spectrum?
Currently, I’m working on another film with the writer of “Attic”, Dave Halberstadt. It’s a feature-length western and we’re really excited about its potential. Since that’s been taking up so much of my attention, I haven’t made plans to make another Spectrum film yet. But we’ll see! Maybe after watching all of the films in the first batch, I’ll get inspiration for another. That’s the cool thing about The Seventh Spectrum, each film opens up new possibilities in the series’ world. As you experience that world opening up, your imagination starts to run wild. And ultimately, that’s where every movie starts.
Thanks for reading! Check back next week with an interview from David Halberstadt, the writer of “Attic”. In the meantime, watch “Valley of Mist” online for free at Hulu and The Seventh Spectrum website.
Anthony Parisi (@AnthonyParisi) is an independent filmmaker, photographer, and writer. For many years he has collaborated with New Renaissance Pictures to create a variety of web series, feature films, and television series. He also has a prolific background in documentaries, contributing to many National Park films seen across the country. As an artist and storyteller, he is deeply passionate about the visual arts and new possibilities for cinema in the digital age. Visit him online at www.anthonyparisifilm.com