Last week, we told you about the awesome new Friday The 13th fan film, Never Hike Alone. Today, we’ve got an exclusive interview with writer/director/Jason, Vincente DiSanti of Womp Stomp Films. He was nice enough to chat with us about Never Hike Alone, including where the idea came from, the unique challenges they faced during production, and of course…what’s next?
Everything Action: How did this project come about? Was this something you had always wanted to do, or did the opportunity present itself?
Vincente DiSanti: I made this because I felt disconnected from Jason for a long time… The Jason I knew and remembered… The Jason who scared me. I felt like I hadn’t seen him in a while. And I had a feeling we could bring him back if we could execute a couple of key things right. A year and a half ago, it was just a theory.
It kind of grew over time. I’ve always wanted to make an F13 film. It’s why I got my start in the film industry. I love the discontinuity. I love the behind-the-scenes stuff. Really, the DVD commentaries on those movies were the beginning of my education about the film industry. And even though my career took a different path when I moved out to California to work in the industry, it remained my main goal.
EA: How did it start to come together?
VD: The more I learned, the more realistic the idea of a fan film started to become. I kept saying to myself, “we can put together a five-minute short, a ten-minute short…build a little crew.” I met Andrew [Leighty, who played Jason’s new rival, Kyle McLeod] at work. He was my PA, and I knew he was into horror and wanted to be an actor.
So a few years ago, we went out and just did it. But we quickly found out that we didn’t have the right equipment… We didn’t have the right cameras or even the right stuff to look at what we had shot that day. There was a lot working against us, and it fell apart. But we learned a lot.
About two years later, I was hiking with my wife. We came across the abandoned cabins. Being an F13 fan, you know where my mind went immediately.
EA: “Are we going to die?”
VD: Well, they were really creepy and cool and reminded me of Camp Crystal Lake. That idea stuck with me after hiking. What would’ve happened if we just happened upon Jason’s house by accident? Would we just be murdered and never heard from again?
That idea stuck with me. And since failing to finish that first project, I had learned a lot and met a lot of really talented people. So we set out to shoot just a trailer. This was the one we released in May 2016. But the people living in the cabins we found actually tipped us off to something even better. They’re the ones who pointed us to the abandoned camp we wound up using in Never Hike Alone.
EA: Wow, what a great find. I was going to ask how you managed to get the vibe of Camp Crystal Lake so close to the movies.
VD: The architecture of the camp was amazing. And when we found it, that’s when everything changed. It went from, “hey, let’s make a short” to “we have everything we need to make something special.” So we slowly but surely started building set pieces while we scouted it out and got familiar. It was a very organic process where the discovery of what would become our main set drove how the film progressed.
EA: What was the biggest challenge you faced during filmmaking?
VD: There were two challenges. First was money. Nobody was paying us to do this. We didn’t even have the money for good equipment. So we had to raise money via Kickstarter just to be able to afford the stuff that would make Never Hike Alone feel like a professional production, you know?
The second challenge was scheduling. We all had nine-to-five jobs while we made this. So this became our weekends. We’d leave work at 6 pm on a Friday and drive two hours straight to Big Bear. It was like having a second job. That’s fine when you’re a group of five people who can fit into a jeep. But where it really became a challenge was when we had extreme makeup effects, night shots, stunts… Things that required a crew of 25 people. It was a lot to coordinate. Logistically and from a continuity standpoint, there was a lot to juggle.
Not to mention it gets freezing at night, the camp had no electricity, and we all had to share one outhouse that was once part of the camp.
EA: It’s so awesome that you guys were able to pull this off despite the challenges. Speaking of challenges, as a short, stocky Italian dude… I’m never going to get to play Jason Voorhees. But you did. What was that like? For a fan, that must be the ultimate cosplay.
VD: Playing Jason is the most fun in the world. The costume is a pain in the ass, don’t get me wrong. But once you slip the mask on, everything clicks. I would practice out in the woods while my wife took photos. She was my coach. “Fix your posture,” she’d yell at me when I wasn’t doing it right. I would practice his walk, his turns… It almost because easier because the more you did it, the more you could understand the way the costume wanted you to move. Once you get into the groove and get the nuances, it became a lot of fun. I’d come out of makeup and scare the crap out of people on set. I usually picked on Andrew.
EA: Well, yeah. You have to keep him on his toes.
VD: Oh, yeah. But everything about me would change once I was in costume. It scared people. And that’s the point! It was a lot of fun. I did share the role with an awesome stunt actor by the name of Bryan Forrest. We worked together. He watched how I moved to get a feel for how we wanted Jason to look and act. We essentially created our version of Jason, the way we wanted to see him. As an F13 nerd, it was the highlight of my career.
EA: So, the cameo…
VD: Haha, yeah.
EA: I’m not going to spoil it for readers who maybe haven’t seen Never Hike Alone yet. But you know what I’m talking about. And we need to talk about it. Was this something you knew you had to include from the beginning?
VD: Actually, it happened along the way. I ended up meeting an Executive Producer via our first Kickstarter campaign. It failed. But they came on as a private backer and had some connections. One day he told me that he was going out to dinner with [REDACTED] through a mutual friend. Well, he showed him the trailer and he loved with. And he asked if he’d do a cameo. He said he’d think about it. I went to lunch with him, pitched him the story… We had shot about half the film by then and showed him what we had.
“Where do I fit in,” he asked. So we came up with a way for him to fit into the story we already had, spending a few months passing scripts back and forth. Eventually, we settled on what ended up in the film.
He was a pleasure to have on set and was great with the other actors. We’ve become pretty friendly and has been an amazing supporter of the project. I got to work with my favorite actor from the series. But as a creator and director, it allowed me the chance to bring a lot of value to the project that we didn’t have before. Now, we’re essentially hijacking the franchise. At first, we were running parallel to the canon, but now, if we wanted to, we could connect this to the film canon in a logical way.
EA: Well, it hit like a ton of bricks and I think it had the effect you were after. One of the really fun things about it was doing the math in my head, wondering where Never Hike Alone could technically fit in.
VD: Thank you.
EA: Was there anything that you guys wanted to include but ultimately couldn’t?
VD: Things like weather… Lightning, rain, that kind of stuff. The budget made that hard. We wanted to keep the production quality top-notch, so we didn’t want to bring it down with cheap-looking rain effects. But the same goes for our stunts and effects.
Originally, we wanted Kyle to stab Jason. But just that simple idea led to so many extra complications, we ultimately decided to exclude it. Of course, with more money, we could’ve gone deeper on a couple of gory things. But the film isn’t lacking because of any of these factors. It was important to me that we spent money in places where it would give the film the most mileage in terms of production value.
EA: And that was such a smart call because there’s this inherent cringe that comes with “fan” things… Fan films… Fan fiction… But at no point did your film feel like an amateur production. So even with any limitations you had, we never see them. The production value never suffers. That makes it easy to just sit back and enjoy the film.
VD: Right, that was important to us.
EA: So what’s next for Womp Stomp Films? Do you think you’d want to give similar treatment to another horror icon? Or is there maybe some unfinished business at Camp Crystal Lakes…
VD: Oh, I’d love to make Never Hike Alone 2.
EA: Well, we’d love to see that.
VD: Yeah, so I’ve actually been contacted for a couple of projects. All very early stages, I can’t really talk about them. But this has been a very nice avenue for me to present myself as a director. A lot of it goes back to the cameo. We had to come up with a reason for him to be there. And in the process, we came up with what became a sequel.
If we were given the ability to step into the actual Friday The 13th franchise, we’d be ready to tell a story that is a continuation of the originals… We want to finish telling the story that the franchise has wandered away from while searching for new storytelling hooks. But as we’ve seen, nothing has really captured the fans’ imaginations.
But this is only the start. If we’re able to make Never Hike Alone 2, I think the fans will lose their minds.
EA: Do you have any advice you’d give to aspiring fan filmmakers?
VD: The simple advice is to never give up. For us, the production value was the biggest challenge. I wanted to push myself and our crew to get out of the rut. Everybody shows up and gives it their best, but most fan films never feel like what you see in the theater.
I wanted to create the same imagery and the same experience. Once we figured out how to do that, everyone was really energized. We got every scene in the film up to the standards we set for ourselves without staying safe or repeating mistakes.
You have to be willing to put yourself out there, and you have to be willing to fail.