With a combination of campiness, cheese and Middle Tennessee, the locally-made film Black Holler made its big-screen debut at the Belcourt Theatre on April 24.
A satirical take on the camp-slasher genre, Black Holler marks director Jason Berg’s first voyage into full-length films. Starring local actress Tamiko Robinson Steele as the street-smart LaQuita Johnson and written by a Middle Tennessee crew of Berg, Heidi Ervin and Rachel Ward Heggen, the horror spoof showcases a group of campers being picked off on a seemingly innocent field trip. Berg said that the entire cast and crew shared a passion for both the corny and classic movies of the ’80s and films such as Sleepaway Camp and The Evil Dead, with character tropes from The Breakfast Club among their inspirations.
The movie opened with two screenings at the Belcourt, the first boasting a bloody, red-carpet experience with a Q&A session following the movie, while the second, a rowdy, late-night showing, permitted the audience to interact with the onscreen characters by shouting out responses to visual cues and catchphrases in true Rocky Horror fashion.
Berg said that despite some technical difficulties with the first screening, he was quite pleased with the turnout and the audience’s reception to the film.
“I was really happy to see it up there on the big screen and see people laugh at the jokes we wrote,” he said.
Ervin echoed his sentiments, adding that the crew was just five seats shy of a sellout for the first showing and had a half-packed room for the second, a turnout she said was not bad at all for a Monday night premiere.
Both production members agreed that when it came to premiering Black Holler, there was no question what venue they’d select. They cited the Middle Tennessee appeal that meshed well with their local production coupled with the flexibility of rental screenings that the Belcourt offers made it the perfect venue to host their event.
“The entire production team is from the area,” said Berg. “Belcourt’s always been a staple for us. There really wasn’t a whole lot of decision-making to be made. We’re definitely going to do it at the Belcourt.”
But before it transitioned from the Tennessee woods to the Belcourt, Black Holler’s roots ran deep at MTSU. Many of the cast and production crew attended MTSU and met each other there, meetings that ultimately led to the 3-year project that turned into Black Holler.
“Rachel and I met through MTSU, and Heidi and Rachel met through MTSU, so you could really say that without MTSU, this particular formation would never have happened,” said Berg.
It started as a short film, about 21 pages worth of content that Ervin and Heggen brought to Berg which was soon worked into a 45-page script by the trio. After they began filming, they soon returned to the drawing board when they realized there was plenty more story to be fleshed out. Dimensions to the story were added, depth was given to characters and a feature film was in the works.
A certain degree of cheesiness certainly permeates the film, literally and figuratively, both forms that Berg said were intentional. As the tropey characters stumble their way through the woods, slipping and falling and constantly making poor decisions in true horror movie fashion, there’s constantly some form of cheese being shown or eaten by the characters. Square cheese, squeeze cheese, all cheese is fair game in Black Holler.
“We really wanted to put these people in a situation to be their dumbest selves, and the cheese thing was mostly just an onscreen representation of how we felt about the movie,” said Berg when asked about the inclusion of all that scary dairy. “We set out to make a movie where these characters are tropes; every single one of them is a trope from ’80s cinema. It’s really just a personification of a characteristic of the movie.”
Moving forward from the premiere, there are plans to submit the movie to film festivals to pick up some more traction. Ervin mentioned hopes of having the film eventually be available on Netflix or Amazon while Berg noted that becoming a cult classic like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Room would certainly be an achievement. In the nearer future, there is a second screening at the Looby Theater in Nashville for the Tennessee Women’s Theater Project’s eleventh annual Women’s Work Festival on Sunday, May 7 at 2:30 p.m. for those who missed the premiere or just want to take another trip into the holler.
To purchase tickets for the May 7 screening, visit twtp.org; for more information on the film, find Black Holler on Facebook or visit blackholler.com.