What happens when the people of your home area are turned into vicious creatures and you find yourself fleeing into the woods for safety?
The answer is revealed in shocking detail in "Within the Woods of Undead County," an independent film currently in production in the Tamaqua area and other locations eastern Pennsylvania.
The original story and characters of the horror/zombie film were created by Tamaqua's Justin Stephens.
"Seeing this come to fruition is a dream come true, it truly is," says Stephens.
Principal filming is taking place just outside of Tamaqua, although scenes were shot in Wilkes-Barre and other locations.
The film is funded by the filmmakers along with donations by arts supporters and movie participants.
"I wrote script 10 years ago, put it on a shelf and walked away," says Stephens. "Three years ago I went back to that shelf and read what I had written. It was a very big script, we could not accomplish such a script on such a small budget. So, I decided to take the idea of four characters surviving the initial days of an outbreak of sorts, and place them in the forests of Schuylkill County."
The film is being shot digitally on a Panasonic DSLR camera in full anamorphic, which typically features creative distortions and perspective.
"We have a group of people that work hard every single day to create something out of nothing. We do not do this for money or fame; we do it because it is our passion and because we love it," says Joshua Michael Solarczyk, Lehighton, producer.
The goal is to distribute the film by DVD and other mediums by October 31.
In fact, one immediate goal is to premier the movie on October 19 at the Angela Theater, Coaldale, with proceeds donated to the American Cancer Society. A percentage of DVD sales also will be donated to the ACS.
"The makers are trying to do the best we can with what we have, as professional as possible. No one on the set is being paid. We are all here because we love what we do, explains Solarczyk.
A learning process
Solarczyk said the project began as a short film "to educate ourselves and have fun in the process."After word spread, the effort turned into a big sensation, he says, bigger than imagined. Zombie-themed productions have their own cult following and there was no keeping the project a secret.
"We began to have fans," he says. "Our fan base has and still is climbing to a huge level in the thousands."
Featured among the film's performing talent are Gabriella Harry, Michael Motyl, Cory Handelong and Angela McCormick. The movie represents coordination among Clear Motion Productions, Pontastic Films, Yurkunas Cinemas and Lavender Lady FX.
The group filmed in the summer of 2012 nonstop every weekend. Some weekends they filmed 24 straight hours.
But the reality of finances has hit hard.
"We thought we could make it on our own, but unfortunately it has not come to that. When you are trying to make a name for yourself in the movie business while producing a professional movie, it is hard to do alone. We worked hard all day at our jobs just to spend it all on equipment," Solarczyk admits.
"We fell short of our goals raising money for the budget independently. To me, and all the others that have worked so hard, we cannot let this project go unfinished; we cannot let down our fans," he adds.
Stephens credits the enthusiasm of his associates, all of whom have become very close.
"I could not have done this without such an amazingly talented cast and crew," says Stephens. "And the greatest thing about this whole project is that we have all become one big adopted family. And that is kind of what the characters are like in the film, they become their own family. This whole project has been a learning process. I have learned new things on set everyday and stepped out of my own comfort zone to improve my special effects skills. I would not give up the blood, sweat and tears for anything."
The group hopes to raise an additional $5,000 for various production and postproduction needs.
"The direction, special effects, and cinematography are amazing in quality within this film," says Solarczyk. "Everything we do and use is professional; this is why we do not want to try and finish with low-grade attributes. We created something out of nothing but pure love of what we do."
In addition to authoring the story, Stephens is in charge of special effects through Lavender Lady FX. Other principals include Jarred Yurkunas, producer and Nicholas Pontonski, director, and artist TJ Chinaski. Many locals have served as extras during filming sessions.
The production jumps to life with vivid, realistic special effects.
Specifically, the movie tells the story of Jocelyn, Ashm, Matt and Kelly, four characters very different from each other, who escape into the woods after their county is hit with an unknown plague, turning residents into vicious creatures of the undead. This event forces the four characters to survive in the wilderness together in search of safety. However, in their attempt to find safe haven from the outbreak, they're followed by the creatures they were trying to escape.
More information is available at: www.withinthewoodsofundeadcounty.com , and on Facebook.