Interview with the talented writer, director and star of the inspired Friday the 13th fan film that has the horror community buzzing, Never Hike Alone
For years, Friday the 13th fans have had their spirits lifted and then dashed upon the rocks by the continual saga of multiple thwarted attempts to resurrect the franchise. Not since the hiatus between Jason Goes to Hell (1993) and Jason X (2001) have fans had to wait so long between iterations of the film. Perhaps it’s because the next film would be the 13th in the series.
Could it be that the supposed bad luck associated with said number has somehow derailed all previous filmmakers’ attempts to bring Jason back from the grave?
Well, filmmaker Vincente DiSanti, founder of Womp Stomp films and the writer, director, and star of the Friday the 13th fan film Never Hike Alone (2017) certainly does not suffer from Triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13), as his film is being considered canon by many die-hard fans who have enthusiastically embraced both film and filmmaker into the bosom of horror fandom.
As a huge fanboy of the franchise, I jumped at the opportunity to interview DiSanti, and he generously granted me an hour of his time to discuss how Never Hike Alone came to be.
INTERVIEW WITH VINCENTE DISANTI
Black Cat: How did your film company come about and why the name “Womp Stomp Films”?
DiSanti: It was a cheat code on a Star Wars game on the Nintendo 64 that allowed you to turn into a Wompa Stompa (a Yeti-like creature that lives in the caves on the planet Hoth) and wreak havoc in the game. Later on it became my Twitter handle and my online persona, which really fits my personality in general in that I’m into living big. My wife and I started the film company to create our various projects under, but once Never Hike Alone became a reality it pretty much took over the last few years of our lives.
Black Cat: Tell me about your Kickstarter journey.
DiSanti: Our first attempt fell short, which was actually a good reality check and great learning experience, as we had to be much more realistic and focused the second time around. We learned to keep the rewards simple—you give at this level, you get this in return; if you make things too complicated and have too many levels, it overwhelms prospective supporters to the point where they just don’t know what to give. Also, running a successful Kickstarter campaign is a full-time job. You need to be responsive to your supporters, keeping them well-informed with constant updates and news.
Black Cat: On your Kickstarter page you reference the Star Trek fan film that got shut down by Paramount. What measures did you take to ensure that your production would not suffer a similar fate?
DiSanti: We emphasized how we are not profiting financially in any way from this film. In fact, we are donating any money left over to the Penny Pines Reforestation Program, which is a nonprofit organization that replants trees in areas devastated by forest fires, which continue to burn in areas of California to this very day. Also we emphasized how we are not trying to compete with the actual franchise; rather this is a fan film that’s being put out there for free for the love of the fans.
Black Cat: Never Hike Alone combines handheld point-of-view found footage style shots along with traditional shots. What was your original idea and how did you settle on this approach?
DiSanti: Originally we were going to do a film set in the 1980’s with the main character writing in a journal with a voice over, but we then went in a much different direction. As far as the handheld camera idea, I was inspired by films such as The Martian or 127 Hours, in which portions of the movie are shot using a GoPro, which I thought was pretty effective. We didn’t want the entire film to be a “found footage” film because sometimes it’s awkward to try to justify why the person keeps on filming, even when they’re being attacked or killed.
Black Cat: Tell me about your approach to playing Jason Voorhees.
DiSanti: I always loved how Jason had this “freight train feel”, in that he was always moving forward destroying everything in his wake and nothing could stop him. I enjoyed the way Jason was portrayed by various actors and stuntmen over the years; obviously Kane Hodder’s portrayal was iconic, especially since he did it for so many consecutive films, but I’ve always liked the way C.J. Graham played Jason in Part 6, which is also my favorite of the series.
Black Cat: So where did you get the hockey mask from and how did you decide upon its look?
DiSanti: The mask is actually custom made and we modeled it after the hockey masks of the 1960’s. We looked at everything from the color to whether or not to put chevrons on it to the shape of the eye holes. There’s actually hockey equipment in the camp, so as to make it plausible that Jason could just pick it up from his surroundings to wear on his face.
Black Cat: Tell me about the make up job for Jason’s look.
DiSanti: We settled on a supernatural Jason, as opposed to the Jason that might still be alive, which I never thought made much sense. We went with a look reminiscent of Part 4, with a hood created by special effects studio CFX in Louisianna, and we would paint my face black so as to not show anything through the holes in the mask. For the “reveal shot” of Jason’s face we used a mask molded to my face by Kelsey Arts that is all disfigured and rotted away. We shot it partly in shadow because sometimes it’s better to leave something to the viewer’s imagination, so that they fill-in-the-blanks themselves in their heads.
Black Cat: Tell me about the role of the stunt people in your film.
DiSanti: Originally Drew Leighty and I were all gung-ho about doing all of the stunts ourselves, but we were quickly dissuaded from this because we were made aware that with so few actors in the film, if either of us got injured, that would shut down production for an extended period of time, which we could certainly not afford. So, the portrayal of Jason was like 50/50. I did most of the acting, but the stunt person did the more dangerous work. However, when Drew’s character punches Jason in the face and he shakes out his hand in pain, that was a real punch. You’re actually supposed to punch past the person’s face and miss it, but he mistakenly punched the mask for real.
Black Cat: In some shots—especially in the fight scene in the lodge—you look absolutely huge compared to Drew. How did you achieve this size differential?
DiSanti: Well, I stand at 6’3” and Drew is 6′, so I have some height on him there, but also the Jason costume also makes you physically larger as well. In some shots we cheated and had Drew squatting down a bit and in others I stood on slightly higher ground to appear larger.
Black Cat: In this film Jason steps very heavily—why did you decide upon this, as opposed to a more stealthy Jason?
DiSanti: We really wanted the audience to “feel” Jason coming. There were a lot of other little sounds we wanted to bring out in post production, but due to time limitations—especially since we wanted to release the film on Friday the 13th—what you hear is what we settled on. Still, I am happy with how the sound turned out.
Black Cat: Tell me about your star Drew Leighty, who portrays Kevin McLeod in the film.
DiSanti: He was a PA on a film I was part of, Rock Dog, and it turns out we had horror films in common. I was making a Jason costume at the time, and I asked him if he wanted to shoot a Friday the 13th short, so we went out into the woods about 3-4 years ago and shot the short, but we didn’t have the right cameras and a lot of the shots were unusable. I felt really bad that I had dragged all these people out into the woods and had little to show for it and I beat myself up about it for a while, but it was ultimately a great learning experience. Drew brings something extra to the franchise, as he has his own fan base from the fact that he does some modeling and has actually appeared on the cover of various romance novels, so he brings a more female audience to the film.
Black Cat: Tell me how you came to be involved with the actors Katie Schwartz and Robert Dubois who portray the paramedics.
DiSanti: I first worked with Katie and Robert when we filmed the horror short The Red Room in 2015 for the 48 Hour Film Fest. We wrote ideas for the film and planned it out on Friday night, then shot Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning and turned it in Sunday afternoon. Katie played the lead whereas Robert played the neighbor. I actually knew Katie from the gym I trained at.
Black Cat: So, you scored Thom Matthews, who portrayed Tommy Jarvis in Jason Lives—how did you get him?
DiSanti: One of my biggest backers on Kickstarter knew someone who knew Thom, and went out to dinner with Thom one night and showed him the trailer. Thom was enthused about the idea of making a cameo in our film and we hashed out all of the details over lunch one day. It was cool because Thom’s kids had never seen him act before, so that was nice. The scenes with the ambulance were very complex and difficult, but we shot most of Thom’s shots in one night and shot the more complicated stuff later.
Black Cat: The original score was really great and incorporated certain elements of the original soundtrack without being too derivative. Tell me about the composer.
DiSanti: We were originally going to use Trevor Bebeasi, but we had scheduling issues, so someone I knew from the gym, Ryan Perez-Daple, volunteered his services to create an original score. Harry Manfredini used the score of Psycho as inspiration for his score, and we ended up using a different Hitchcock movie, Vertigo, as inspiration for our score. We wrapped up shooting in August of 2017 and Ryan whipped up a great score in 8-9 weeks.
Black Cat: The cinematography on this film is so professional looking and crisp. How did you achieve this on such a tight budget?
DiSanti: One of our backers loaned us some really expensive Red Digital cameras. We also bought a drone, which was provided some integral aerial shots which helped to emphasize the sense of isolation—this camp is really remote and no one will be able to easily get to Kevin to help him out.
Black Cat: You found an abandoned camp in which to film?
DiSanti: Yeah, we were filming in the San Bernandino National Forest and some people who lived in some cabins nearby said that there was an abandoned camp that got shut down in 1987 about a mile away from where we were shooting. It was only accessible by ATV and we spent many months that summer cleaning up the site and planning out shots.
Black Cat: I noticed that you also filmed in Arizona as well. Why Arizona?
DiSanti: There’s the scene where Jason jumps out of the water and attacks Kevin; well, in California we needed all of these permits to film in the water and a scuba diver for the foot of water I would be standing in. In all it would have cost us $10,0000! I have family in Arizona and it turns out they have really lax laws that required no permits, so I went there and we filmed at this lake at the bottom of a hill at a rest stop and no one cared.
Black Cat: There are numbered police crime scene “tags” that mark the scenes of murders from the first film. Can you identify them for me?
DiSanti: There’s the tag with the bunk bed where Kevin Bacon’s character gets killed, then in tree the tag marks where the guy in the rain slicker hangs down from a branch, there’s a tag for the girl who gets the axe in the face in the shower and there’s one in the kitchen where there’s a tarp—that’s the shower curtain that Alice’s friend was wrapped up in when she was thrown through the window.
Black Cat: Was the head Kevin found in the bed Pam Voorhees’ head?
DiSanti: Yes. Really, Jason would rather that Kevin had just passed through the camp and moved on, but once Kevin disturbs the head, Jason perceives it as a threat to his mother and he attacks as a result.
Black Cat: Where would you like to see the franchise go from here?
DiSanti: Well, I’d like to see a Never Hike Alone 2. Another idea that I think would work very well would be a 6 part miniseries on Netflix. That way you could explore various aspects of the franchise and even do some fun stuff that’s not canon. For instance, one hour long episode could be Pam Voorhees’ story. You could also explore what happened to Paul Holt or Chris Higgins.
Maybe you could even look at what occurs after Jason wakes up in the sewers of Manhattan and how he gets back to Camp Crystal Lake. Or how about what happens once Jason goes to Hell or maybe a Jason X 2?
Black Cat: Any other projects or things we should watch for?
DiSanti: We’re going to be holding theatrical screenings of Never Hike Alone all over the country, so watch for that. So, fans can keep tabs on any developments by visiting www.wompstompfilms.com, or by following us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram @wompstompfilms.