For the 31-year-old UCF alumnus and instructor, it was his first visit to Los Angeles, his first feature film and his first time winning a top prize at a film festival in Hollywood.
Bi-coastal winner Zachary Beckler, writer and director of Interior, delivered an acceptance speech earlier this month for Best Horror Feature Film at Shriekfest 2015, LA’s oldest and most prestigious genre film festival.
“You get a big head when that happens,” he said. “I don’t know if you can [do] better than that … in that setting, in that city … it felt like it was all worth it.”
Beckler, who currently teaches Cinema Survey and History of Motion Pictures, produced Interior as his master’s thesis film before graduating UCF with an MFA in 2014.
The film was produced entirely at UCF, from pre-production, which Beckler did as part of his post-graduate research, to principle photography, during which he recruited talent and crew from UCF students, to post-production.
Everything was done in house. So when Beckler needed to hire a director of photography, he tapped the knowledge and experience of Jon Arthur Bowen, operations manager of the UCF Film Program.
“It’s an interesting challenge, and of course you hit a lot of obstacles along the way,” Bowen said. “It is a difficult journey trying to create these works that require so much from the people participating — they do it with less resource … so it’s really about rendering down and teasing out the elements of what makes a film successful … they think about what they’re trying to create ... so they can actually achieve it.”
Interior is what Beckler terms an “alternative” horror film. Less obvious in structure, it uses the digital medium to its advantage by exploiting the way digital capture works as an uber “found footage” film. Playing on the connection between supernatural energy and the electronic energy of video, the film follows one man’s experience while spending the night in a haunted house as he tries to capture evidence of a sinister ghost.
For each student involved, it was a rigorous and challenging shoot. Allyson Dickerson, also a UCF graduate, was an assistant camerawoman on the film.
“It was enjoyable in hindsight, but grueling while I was there,” Dickerson said. “I am definitely proud to be a part of a film that was very successful.”
All last year, Beckler was promoting his film by submitting it on the festival circuit, a realm in which he said the turnout and fanfare can vary greatly.
“It was really gratifying,” Beckler said. “I’ve played at a lot of festivals, and they’re really hit or miss when it comes to the audience.”
Out of the 10 festivals in which Beckler has screened his movie, which include Freak Show Horror Film Festival in Orlando where the film won the Freaky Award, Beckler said Shriekfest was one of the first festivals in which it was very well attended.
Earlier this year, Interior won The Grand Jury Prize at the StarLite Film Festival in Winter Garden and on Sunday, Oct. 25, he grabbed the Audience Award at the Knoxville Horror Film Festival.
After many rejections during the film’s early stages, Beckler now sits in a chair, lit by the warm glow of a paper floor lamp, stroking his bristly beard as he relives the moment. Surrounded by a litany of Freddy Krueger puppets and scary action figures that look at him approvingly as he reminisces, he said he is proud of his accomplishments.
“The audience really gravitated toward it,” Beckler said. “[They] were vocally affected by how scary it was … a fantastic audience response.”
As for the future, Beckler said he hopes to continue working on a couple of shorts he wrote while traveling, and he’ll continue teaching because he loves working with students. After learning a lot from Interior, he now also has two new features in the works.
“I want to keep making work,” he said. “Making features, making shorts — and use those experiences to pay that knowledge forward. Just because I’ve seen it [before], doesn’t mean I can’t do it a new way.”
Micheal Walsh is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.