Oh, the Horror!

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MTT News's picture
Matt Geiger
Director Natalie Pohorski, center, on the set of "Field of Screams."

A blood-caked shoe sits in a pool of viscous crimson, resting at the foot of an old metal locker. Several undead men in baseball uniforms mill about, waiting for their scenes. A few conspicuously alive people gather around a clipboard, reviewing their plans for the night of filming as darkness falls upon the Bowling Green athletic fields in the City of Middleton.

Filming on “Field of Screams,” a giddily campy horror short film, was well underway, and it transformed a local athletic complex into the stuff of midnight movie madness.  The premise is simple: “A woman tries to sell the baseball field she inherited from her parents at a young age, but the team isn’t ready to let it, or her, go…”

 “The idea came from the location,” explains director Natalie Pohorski. “While I grew up in Middleton, I had never been to Bowling Green fields so when I showed up to a friend’s softball game last fall, I couldn’t believe this amazing filming location was right in my backyard.”

Pohorski immediately started snapping pictures of everything she saw. She sent those photos to her filmmaking partner, Alex Jacobs, a Memorial High School graduate.

“I couldn’t have taken him more than a week or two to crank out the first draft of ‘Field of Screams,’ entirely inspired by those photos,” she recalls. “Over the next nine months we evolved the story a bit, but the majority of it remains.”

The filmmakers reached out to Terry Knight of Bowling Green fields, then launched a successful crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter.com, raising  $2,143 and finding local actors. They also found business sponsors to help keep the cast and crew adequately caffeinated and fed. Even young talent got involved.

“The true rock stars were Cristopher and Jackson Koppen, and their mother Polly Koppen, who stuck with us for the full nights on Saturday and Sunday of filming,” Pohorski  says. “I mean, it’s not every day you find kids willing to sit through makeup, getting microphoned, screaming into a camera lens, etc.”

The shoot also served as a kind of homecoming for Pohorski, who returned to her hometown after spending time working in the Los Angeles entertainment industry, specifically in the area of horror movies.

“I was born in Madison and grew up in the Atwood neighborhood until my dad, who had previously been working as a photographer and videographer, decided to go to film school - in Canada!” she explains. “He’s originally from Vancouver, and so the family aspect combined with the school’s reputation made Vancouver Film School’s program a good fit for him.”

Pohorski and her family moved to Middleton when she was starting the fourth grade, after her father had completed school in Canada.

“My sister and I, another MHS alum, didn’t grow up with a lot of ‘kid classics’ or TV shows,” she recalls. “We were watching the classics. However, my mom was very adamant that we were not allowed to watch horror movies. So naturally I would watch at friends’ houses - sorry mom.”

“Aside from a terrifying Goosebumps experience in second grade, I remember the first true horror experience I had was watching ‘Poltergeist’ on a sleepover with a friend. I was mesmerized,” she continues. “Horror didn’t become my genre of choice until much later, though.”

Pohorski made movies with friends in the neighborhood, as well as often serving as an extra or helper on her father’s sets.

“He never pushed me in that direction, so it took him by surprise when I told him in high school that I wanted to pursue a career in film in L.A.” she explains. “Once I decided and chose Biola University for my undergrad education, I tried to take advantage of getting more experience in my last two years of high school.”

She had learned AVID editing software by the age of 15, and she went on a business trip with her dad to Seattle when she was a junior in high school, working as a production assistant for a documentary he filmed there.

Then, in Spanish class as Middleton High School, students were tasked with making a Spanish language TV show entirely in the studio at MHS.

“I took the project head on as director and producer,” she says. “Deanna Kruger mentored me with using green screen and Final Cut Pro. I had been helping with the morning announcements as well, so Deanna allowed me to play the TV show trailer on the morning announcements. I was in my element and so excited to leave for film school.”

Pohorski worked on a variety of projects while in L.A. But she always had a soft spot for horror.

“My true favorites and biggest inspirations are the ‘80s slashers,” she says. “Black Christmas,” “Friday the 13th,” “Happy Birthday to Me,” “The Fog” and “Insidious” all served as inspirations, to some degree, for “Field of Screams.”

“There is nothing like seeing a horror movie in the theater for the first time,” Pohorski observes. “The excitement, the chaos, the camp. I strongly believe that as a true horror fan, you … should … not just love the good scary stuff, but all horror - down to the poorly made and disgusting.” It’s at this point that Pohorski pauses to give a shout-out to “Troll 2,” an icon of bad filmmaking and her “personal favorite horrible horror movie.”

There is another element of horror that intrigued Pohorski – the marriage of theology, spirituality and the macabre.

“My love for horror films really re-surfaced in my last couple years of film school,” she explains. Biola University is a Christian college that began as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in the heart of the downtown. It has since moved south to La Mirada, CA and is a liberal arts university known for its dedication to theology and Christian philosophy.

Pohorski says she was surprised to find a film program that integrated faith and film so well, enrolling in a class called “The Philosophy of Horror.”

“This really sparked my interest. The class instilled what could be a called a personal vendetta in me, to preach the gospel of horror,” she says. “A quote always stuck with me from Scott Derrickson, horror filmmaker and Biola University alum. Paraphrasing, [he] said horror is the genre where you can discuss good and evil openly.”

Pohorski began interning for the horror network called FEARnet at Lionsgate.

“I started helping with marketing and production, moved up to a paid consultant position and then, when they launched their linear channel, I was promoted to staff production coordinator,” she says. “I lived and breathed horror and became immersed in the very tight-kit horror industry family in L.A. I worked on a few horror projects of my own, but nothing that really bore fruit.”

When she later returned to the Middleton area, it was with a new perspective. She eventually landed a job at Madison Media Institute and taught multiple production management classes for their independent digital film degree.

“It has been strange learning what it’s like to live in Madison as an adult, as I feel I really ‘grew up’ in Los Angeles,” Pohorski muses. “But the main reasons I moved back were to get more opportunities to partner with my dad and to be able to work on more independent projects versus the studio pictures and shows.”

“Field of Screams” is the first major culmination of those dreams. It is an opportunity for Pohorski to work with her dad, as well as other Middleton High School students and graduates. Maddi Stoppleworth, an MHS alumnus, worked on production design, while Lucas Kostecki, a current MHS student, helped on the set as well.

“My main mission as a producer is connecting and empowering people through media production, it is truly my greatest joy,”  Pohorski  says. “With Field of Screams I had the opportunity to connect colleagues, my friends and family, coworkers, students and local businesses – that’s the dream, that’s the goal.

The complete film will be around eight minutes long and we will be submitting to several horror, short and local festivals.

“We will begin submitting to festivals in January of 2016 and anticipate a local premiere summer 2016,” Pohorski said. Then the film will be available online.

“We will be dropping the first trailer on Halloween,” she added.

View the trailer here: fieldofscreamsthemovie.com.

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