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Diving into "The Dark"

A few images of director, actress and visionary business woman, Christina Marie and her activities.
A few images of director, actress and visionary business woman, Christina Marie and her activities.
Oscar Benjamin

There are many claims of unexplained phenomenon that have plagued some movies over the decades dealing with supernatural themes. Films that immediately spring to mind include, The Exorcist, The Crow, Poltergeist and The Omen. Although such tales are perceived by many to be Hollywood stunts designed to add to the bottom line, could there actually be a true unexplained element that is stirred to action when a group of filmmakers attempt to examine supernatural subjects on film? It was this topic and many others that this sat down with maverick visionary filmmaker, Christina Marie and executive producer, Craig Stapleton.

Actress, Stephanie Hyden and actor, Christopher J. Miller explore in "The Dark"
CMJB, Cow Town Film Productions

Christina Marie is a celebrated filmmaker and actress who is based in Sacramento, California of the United States of America. Her impressive resume includes many productions that were made in Southern California when she was based in the Los Angeles area. She decided to relocate to the capitol of the state to carve out a uniquely different film sensibility from that which can be found in the L.A. area. It is a film culture that she is ushering in with what she has dubbed, Indiewood.

One must understand the premise of The Dark to understand the decisions taken that resulted in a new film making record and an indication of the possible future of the film business in Sacramento, California. On the surface, The Dark tells the tale of a group of ghost investigators that do not believe in their encounters documented for a reality program. Christina Marie clarifies, "what if all those paranormal television hosts didn't actually believe in ghosts anymore because they never found any? What if they faked all the haunting activities for ratings? What would happen if they finally ran into a ghost?" Their next investigation takes them to an abandoned hospital that may or may not be truly haunted. What happens to the group is at the heart of The Dark.

Christina Marie recalls the origin of The Dark. She speaks, "The Dark began when a friend of mine said to me that we should do a feature length film in forty-eight hours! West Ramsey and I were in a bar and West says how about if we do this over a weekend. I told him that if you show me a script that is worthy and a location that is interesting-then we will do it. I didn't want to make it in somebody's house and I didn't want it to be some found footage bulls**t!" She continues, "we found a script and it came together really fast! I came back from the very first AFM I ever went to with a homework assignment from distributors and they said we think you really have it and you need to make a movie under your own brand."

The gauntlet was thrown and Christina Marie had seen it as an opportunity to display what she believes Sacramento filmmakers can accomplish. It would also give her crew the chance to best a record set by celebrated and legendary director, Roger Corman. Christina explains, "I had to have the perfect location and we found it in Tuolumne General Hospital in Tuolumne, California. We thought we could make camp here for three days and beat Roger Corman's record which was set in 1960 with Little Shop of Horrors. I knew that if he could do it in seventy-two hours loading celluloid in cameras then I knew we could with digital! We did in fifty-eight hours!" Christina Marie further adds, "the Guinness people ultimately have not approved our record yet because we did not pay this exorbitant amount of money so their adjudicators could come out! You have to have a camera simultaneously record while you are filming-that's ridiculous! We know what we did and Roger Corman knows what we did!"

What are the nuts and bolts that are needed to break a film record and have the results be of professional and coherent quality? Director and producer, Christina Marie details, "To do a film is fifty-eight hours and preserve the stunts, the gore, the trick shots and all that jazz takes a lot of pre-production and talent. We did that! We hired on Justin Crose as a director because this is a black comedy and very tongue-in-cheek. We hired him because he has comedic timing and makes his films look good. We knew he was ready for something like this." The Dark was filmed with three camera units running simultaneously under the direction of co-directors, Christina Marie and Justin Crose. Marie continues, "when we were hiring crew, we started interviewing cinematographers and we told them all that they would all be filming principal photography." Both directors divided directorial tasks according to interests. Christina explains, "we divided it unit by unit and situation by situation. If there was gore, that fell under me. I am into that Japanese crazy horror influence. Those long slow pans down the hallway with that creepy kid and that crazy Japanese woman freaking out! On the other hand, Justin was so good at comedic timing. That part of the horror film where you really like the character and you hope that they aren't killed off! Justin was the set 'em up and I was the knock 'em down!"

The filmmakers were able to secure the use of the abandoned hospital by supplying all the necessary insurance documents. On a photo scouting expedition, Christina Marie was informed of the hospital's supposed supernatural elements within. Marie recalls, "the maintenance man started making comments about the place being haunted and we just brushed it aside thinking the man was crazy. When we there for the photo scout-photographer, West Ramsey was shooting stills for me and halfway through the shoot the camera stopped working and it was new! He tried new batteries and reloading cards, but nothing worked! When we got back in the car, West was devastated! Halfway past the hospital, West noticed that the camera was working again and he got all the footage back." The saga takes another turn! Marie continues, "we started to review the photos and I started to flip through the shots and a lot of the shots were jacked up-slightly off kilter."

It is the subject of unexplained phenomenon that sometimes creates further interest in a film dealing with the supernatural and The Dark appears poised to ride that unexpected whirlwind. Christina Marie explains, "as a sensitive I can walk into a room and feel if the energies have been depressed or depleted or I can feel if it is exciting or happy to be in! I knew at the photo scout that we were in trouble. I told myself to ignore your gut because everyone wants to believe that a location is haunted. We weren't going there to capture proof. We were going there to break a record and film a movie!" Christina continues, "at the photo scout I first felt the cold presence of the hospital and I just thought it was abandoned, but the maintenance man told us that they keep the thermostat on because it is cheaper. The child's ward was the worst-bar none! If they know that they are affecting you, then they are going to do more because it is fun and they are getting a reaction."

This columnist further questioned Christina Marie for specific examples and she obliged. Marie reveals, "the first thing that happened was that doors wouldn't stay open and these things were held open with sand bags! And then it was the printer-this dot matrix printer. This printer just started going off by itself. There was a point where it kept printing up system error, system error, system error!" The crew returned from a dinner break from a local buffet in Tuolumne and resumed filming. Christina Marie's voice stiffens when she begins to tell the tale of her daughter's debut on the film as a demon. Marie intones, "they did not want the child in the ward. They saw that Audrey was playing a demon and didn't like the back-story for her. They didn't like what the clown was doing. Apparently with ghosts, if you refuse to acknowledge them even after you have felt their presence, heard them or seen them-it's like lying to them and they get pissed off. The better approach is to acknowledge them and they should be kosher. The problem was at the hospital there were several malevolent presences there. They liked to play games and do mean things. They didn't like us there and didn't like the idea of bringing the kid on set to play a demon!"

The Dark is currently in post production and the producers of the film have ambitious goals for the movie. Executive producer, Craig Stapleton explains, "we need to get a world wide distributorship going and a market. The only way we are going to do that is to do a major sell point internationally at one of these film festivals. We need to get the film crew out there and we have got to be able to sell this film. This baby needs to get born! The only way we are going to get that is get to Berlin. People don't realize how much time it takes. And if takes time, it needs money and if it needs money, it needs investors! That is the other side of The Dark which is the green side and that means that there needs money going in, effort going in so it can get to Berlin."

The Dark is perhaps the first shot in Christina Marie's ambitious goals for a unique unification of the greater Sacramento area's filmmakers. Indiewood is an effort by the filmmaker and members of her group to realize a physical studio location that would enable area filmmakers to manifest their projects on a professional Hollywood grade studio environment. Details have been drawn up and Christine Marie will be the first to humbly state that she is just a player in the grand scheme of the plan, but there can be no doubt that many who have worked with and for her know that she would and could be the logical choice to lead such an ambitious venture. After years of documenting and watching Christina Marie in action, this columnist can confidently state that she would be an inspirational head of the proposed film make-over of the region. And so it begins!

If you wish to contribute to complete the post production phase of The Dark please follow this link-

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