Artist interview: Writer and independent filmmaker Brock Heasley
Brock co-created the online comic Monsterplex, which went on to win DC Comics’ Zuda competition. His writing has appeared in the Independent Journal Review and at ForEveryMom.com. Brock’s debut short film, The Shift, about an ordinary man receiving sympathy and a job offer from the Devil himself, is screening at the First Glance Film Festival.
Where did the idea for The Shift come from?
One morning, the DJ I listened to on the radio was completely absent from the airwaves. No one was saying anything about what was going on or why he was gone or what had happened to him, and I felt like a crazy person for thinking he was ever there in the first place. That got me to thinking about parallel worlds and how you could really screw with a person if you were to move them between parallel Earths without their knowledge. It was a short leap from there to thinking about how, if I were the Devil, that would be a really great tool in my arsenal to not only create conflict but to amass power. The Shift is basically a story about a man who meets the Devil, has all this explained to him, and then gets the mother of all job offers that can only come about through "shifting."
How did you fund the project?
Short answer: I really didn't. I kept the script simple and asked for a ton of favors to get The Shift done. In the end, I spend about $500 of my own money on a couple of wardrobe items and food. Everything else—locations, equipment, talent, was funded through people just believing in the project. I've been incredibly blessed and fortunate.
How has The Shift been received so far?
Very well! Since it's my first movie, it was a total crapshoot as to whether it would be any good or not, and people seem genuinely surprised when I tell them I've never done a narrative film before. The most common response I get is people not believing it runs 21 minutes long. Every single person who has seen it says that it feels more like 10. They really enjoy the experience of watching it and the characters, and they want more after it's over. To me, that's mission accomplished.
What has been the most rewarding thing about working on this project?
Number one is having done something with a decent degree of difficulty I never thought I would do, and pulling it off more of less successfully (nothing's perfect!). A close number two has been the experience of working with my cast and crew and the community we share together as creators of this film.
Who have been your collaborators for The Shift?
The guy who contributed the most to making The Shift a successful film is my Director of Photography, Kyle Gentz. The man is a wizard behind the camera. I also worked closely with Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff, Directors of the Blumhouse film "The Gallows" to help me figure out to put a film together in the first place. Travis even did me the huge favor of starring in the film as Satan! Actor Gregory C. Tharpe, who plays the main character, Kevin, was the original inspiration for doing all this in the first place when he approached me one day and said, "So, I hear you're a writer..." Three days later, I had a script. Tina Johnson, a vegetarian, played Tina the Waitress, who is forced by Satan to eat steak. I had no idea the tears were real until after we wrapped! Brandon Jones, our Sound Designer, works on big movies like Transformers and Live By Night and made a HUGE impact on the film. The music came from a couple of very talented dudes who deserve a lot more work after this, their first score: Josh Mendoza and Justin Rosander. My wife, Erin, of course, was a huge help and inspiration, putting up with my late nights editing and doing me the favor of playing Kevin's wife, Molly.
At what stage did you start engaging with your audience?
As soon as we started submitting to festivals, we started to build our online presence in a big way. Associate Producer Richie Mirelez handles that, and the dude knows how to reach people far and wide in a way I've never quite managed on my own.
Is it difficult to build buzz when the film is embargoed until after its festival run?
Yeah, I'd say so for sure. Everyone really just wants to know how they can see the film and the answer always has to be, "Well, if you go to Vegas..."
Where have you been promoting the film?
Do you have different strategies for connecting with audiences on different platforms?
For sure. For Facebook, we can be a lot more detailed and it's much easier to engage with our audience. Instagram is great for that quick hit. A photo and one or two lines of text seems to do the trick. Richie is great at figuring out what will appeal best to the different audiences we go after. I've learned a lot from him.
Do you use any paid advertising to promote the film?
A little. Stuff gets expensive real fast and I don't know that we've proven it's worth the expense.
How will The Shift be distributed once it’s finished in film festivals?
Great question! We're just at the beginning of our festival run and we're definitely interested in distribution. Short films are tricky for that, but we're hoping something comes our way and makes sense.
Do you have targets for how many people you want to see The Shift?
I mean, we'd love for everyone to see it!
Does The Shift fit into a broader filmmaking strategy (ie do you have a feature film based on a similar topic or are you using The Shift to demonstrate your directing or writing prowess)?
I would love nothing more than to turn The Shift into a feature film. The short film is a complete story, but there's a really compelling story waiting to told about the characters that would fill out an exciting, emotionally-charged feature. I know exactly what I want to do with it. Thankfully, anyone who sees the short film practically begs for the feature. Now, I've just got to get the right person to see it and help me fund the thing!
Why do you make films?
Because, as it turns out, I'm a storyteller. When I was a kid, I wanted to be either a banker or a lawyer. I guess I was a weird kid. So, to be so consumed by creative endeavors in my adult life is ironic and strange and wonderful. I make films because, for me, there's no better way to tell a story. I love other mediums, books, comics, spoken word, but, I'm sorry, nothing matches the way a great film moves you up and out of your chair and into a new world.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
Right now I'm only a few days away from rolling film on my second short, "The Two Hundred Fifth," about a college party girl who discovers her best friend and roommate is a badass with a dark secret. It's been a fun challenge to line this one up with the help of investors and try to actually pay people this time! I can't wait to get started.