Three Miles – Interview

The short film Three Miles has just released a trailer – which you can see below. We got to ask writer Nicholas Philippa & Director Taylor McNelis about this short film came to life.

How’d you meet Taylor, the Director?

NP: That’s a crazy story as I’m based in Australia and Taylor is based in West Virginia. It’s a perfect example of social media in action, and shows how awesome the screenwriting community is.

I’d written some scripts, including some shorts like Three Miles, which was originally called Five Kilometres as it was based in Australia.

It was a 19 page short and a lot of articles and a friend in the industry said write more features and pilots, so I took that advice but thought I’d get some last notes on the script before I filed it away forever. I was really happy with it, but always looking to improve as a writer. 

So I posted it in the Reddit screenwriting subreddit. I didn’t even put it in the ‘produce my screenplay’ subreddit, where a lot of writers and directors etc meet, as I didn’t think it would ever get produced. So, I was just happy to maybe get some good notes. 

It was about three hours later, Taylor had messaged me saying hey I’m a Director and I’m interested in making this script. I was heavily skeptical of course but then he sent through his reel and from that moment I was all in.

It was one positive story from Covid-19 as Taylor was about to shoot a feature with a cabin in it, and I’d written my script with a cabin in it too, so it was crazy luck. Due to Covid-19 Taylor unfortunately had to cancel the feature shoot, he had everything ready so it somehow all fell in line.

So what now? 

NP: Taylor really liked the story, so I read the script again and thought it could make a super low budget but very scary feature, so I started the carding process and I’ve just finished the feature version. We decided to team up and show the short at some festivals and hopefully around town (LA) as a proof of concept, and slide across the feature script if there’s interest. 

Who would you like to produce it if you had a choice? 

Np: Blumhouse would be my first pick, it’s right up their alley and I listen anytime Jason Blum is on a podcast and really like their operating model, specialising in low budget horrors, usually with limited sets, and focusing on fresh ideas or fresh takes, I think Three Miles ticks all those boxes. 

What was it like seeing the trailer? 

NP: It was a cool moment, I haven’t seen the finished short yet as it’s in the final stages of editing, and I’ve had a couple previous projects fall through after initial interest, so it’s the first script I’ve written that has been produced and I have to say it’s completely surreal to see it come to life. Taylor, Tory Key (lead Actor) and the crew did a fantastic job on a shoestring budget in just five days, particularly having to mostly shoot at night, during Covid-19 conditions. 

Has the trailer gotten much interest? 

Yeah it has, so far though the biggest thing is that John Zaozirny from Bellevue Productions saw it through Twitter and said he was keen to see the finished short, so we’re hoping to reach out to John with the short and the feature script. He’s a top tier Literary Manager, so who knows, hopefully I’ll get a top tier rep like John as a result of this project. That would be great. And you never know, possibly Taylor and I will get to be on a set one day watching the feature get made, that would be a dream come true for both of us.  

 Do you have any other horrors in the works?

Yeah, I’ve got two features I’m currently working on, one I’ll start carding tomorrow morning and the other I’m still fleshing out the main beats etc. I aim to write four features minimum in 2021. 

Director Taylor McNeils also answered a couple of questions for us.

What drew you to the script?

TM: The ending.  I’m a fairly big fan of horror and have been wanting to make a horror film for a while but haven’t had a chance to really sit down and write anything.  So when I read the script, what initially attracted me was the tagline.  I’m into more of the supernatural, psychological horror movies which is what this falls under.  Don’t get me wrong the slashers are fine but they dont scare me like the others do.  As for the script itself it was the overall build up and creepiness to the ending that enticed me more and the ending sold it.  I don’t want to give away spoilers but there’s a particular moment about the ending in the script that hooked me.  It reminded me of the Evil Dead (2013 remake) which is one of my all time favorites and as soon as I read the line of dialogue I was like: “yep, I have to make this”.   I think many readers may have overlooked some great aspects of the story since the draft Nicholas shared was a work in progress; and I’m not trying to toot my own horn but I saw the potential of the script at its core.  I saw a unique story that was scary and could be done on a no-budget set.  I think sometimes people spend too much time nitpicking at format, and grammar and pacing etc which can all be fixed.  But I took the story for what it was and was able to visualize how scary we could make this.  I’m glad he was cool with me taking a shot at creating his story; it takes a lot of courage to give someone you don’t know the greenlight on a story you are passionate about.  I was a little nervous that having to put an american spin on it since I don’t have any Aussie or European friends here in Virginia he wouldn’t go for it but hey, here we are.

What were the challenges with shooting at night and in a short time frame?

TM: There were a lot.  I’ll do my best to be concise here but this will be a long answer.  Our crew has worked together multiple times on no-budget short films and have been under extreme time crunches so this was not our first rodeo by any means; but it was definitely the most mentally and physically exhausting.  I’m proud of how everyone on set handled themselves and stuck with it because it wasn’t easy.  We wrapped filming at 430am…it was getting to the point we were afraid the sun was going to be up again and ruin the final scene before we finished, so yes we were stressed out haha.   To give you a better idea, we shot this in 2.5 days.  The first day it rained and so we actually had to cancel most of Day 1 which was supposed to be hiking scenes and reschedule that for another day; this seems to be a trend because when we filmed Mount Skylight almost 3 years ago it also rained on the first day and we had to shoot that in just 2 days.  When we filmed “Lunch Break” almost 2 years ago it snowed on the first day, leaving us just 2 days to film.  Anyways, day two was a long day from about 8am to 10pm and then the final day we actually shot from about 2pm to 430am.  Luckily our sound guy, Nate, is also a barista so he hooked the entire crew up with coffee all weekend.   On the technical side we are obviously a no-budget crew and used whatever we own.  I recently bought the Z-Cam E2 in the spring and it has a native ISO of 2500 which helped for low light shooting in the dark.  It is an incredible camera, I absolutely adore this thing.  Best camera I’ve ever bought and no they aren’t paying me lol but seriously if you’re on a low budget and need something on par with the pros check it out.  I had some cheap LED lights from Neewer that I also purchased back in the spring for a photoshoot and for costumes we sourced ourselves for hiking gear and went to Goodwill for the dresses.  I did buy all the makeup and fake blood; but believe or not we didn’t even have a makeup artist.  We just kinda worked together on set to apply makeup.  I worked on all the scar tissue wax and blood while Madison Tolley, Morgan Flanagan and Molly O’Toole did the hard stuff like makeup, blending, brushing…basically making it look realistic.  So props to them they did all the real work.

The other very difficult problem we had which ended up being a HUGE reason it took us so long was the fire.  We had to have the fireplace going inside the cabin for the dialogue scenes to properly light the space;  we didn’t want the cabin to have electricity in the movie because if I’m a character in the movie and something scary is happening, then hey let’s just turn the lights on.  The fire was tough because we had to constantly keep it going to keep up with continuity throughout the scenes and it also made filming out of order very difficult and just delayed shooting because we didn’t have the manpower to throw logs in while we set up.  So we would have to stop setting up to tend the fire and then go back to our places.  It also got very hot which not only made it uncomfortable but when it came time for makeup…the scar wax started melting.  Which was an issue.  We were saving the final scene for last since it’s the only scene you see the demon up close, that way we only had to apply makeup once.  Well, we did her makeup while we ate dinner that evening at around 11pm and continued shooting scenes 6 and 7 and all of a sudden Morgan (playing the demon) comes up and says the makeup is beginning to melt.  So we had to quickly change the entire scene around and start the fire back up for the final scene and set up scenes 15 and 16.  Shoot that and then tear it all down and set up scenes 6 and 7 again…it was a nightmare.  Also we got yellow contacts for the demon’s eyes and they ended up not fitting her eyeball and actually caused an allergic reaction so we ended up not using them.  And she had to deal with hiding under the bed where a brown recluse spider just was…honestly the fact she still likes working with me after this is a miracle haha.

Apart from expanding Three Miles into a feature what else is in the future for you?

TM: We’re also expanding Mount Skylight into a feature as well.  That’s pretty much number 1 on everyone’s list right now as we’ve been trying to raise money for production for a couple years and COVID-19 really put a damper on the progress.  We’re continuing to put out more short films because we believe if we can continue to show how talented we are with what we have, potential investors will be more likely to invest in Mount SkylightLunch Break was a very successful comedy that was accepted into a couple festivals.  Our crew also participated in the Richmond 48HR Film Fest in 2019 and we won the Top 10 Film Award for 1059 another comedy.  Mount Skylight, the short film is very successful so far in the short film circuit and I believe Three Miles will continue that trend.

Three Miles is going to be great.  It will scare you.  And when you find out we shot this in two and a half days on zero budget you will be stunned.  Visually it looks better than anything we have made, which is saying something since we shot most of it in complete darkness.  Our crew was on the top of their game and I think their hard work on set is going to pay off and show itself when you watch this. 

We have a couple more short projects lined up for the Spring.  One of them is a drama called A Girl from Another World and the other is an action/drama/zombie called Going West and written by our very own Morgan Flannagan who you’ll recognize in Mount Skylight and maybe not recognize her in Three Miles.  I’m also talking to Nicholas about a third one too that is another horror but we’ll keep that on the low for now.

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