Michael Rock, the star of Horror Nerd Productions’ newest film, GHOST, sits on the couch, nervously
tapping his rifle. The camera focuses on this simple hand gesture – the normally stoic and hardened
former Green Beret is now vulnerable and contemplative. He struggles to find the words about his
mother’s death, something he clearly hasn’t spoken much about and isn’t comfortable reminiscing on.
He quickly snaps back to reality when I yell “Cut!” and we review the footage together. This was the
moment I saw Mike’s acting abilities elevate from someone who had a little stage acting experience to
an actor capable of leading an entire film.
We shot the film over the course of five months, usually just on weekends or when I could get
away for a few hours before needing to be home to take on my duties as a new dad when my wife had
to leave for work. Balancing a budding film career, my current full-time position as a Program Analyst
for the Department of Defense and a parent has been a challenge, but that’s all part of the fun of
finishing a film and releasing it to the public. All the hard work coming together because likeminded
people found each other and wanted to tell stories.
Horror Nerd Productions was founded on the principle of working to create films by any means
necessary. To date, GHOST is our largest budget, and it sits under $6,000.00, including post-production.
When Mike and I collaborated on our previous film, a bigfoot mockumentary called TAHOE JOE, we only
spent $800.00, and the film found a huge audience and went nuts on Tubi and Plex. This gave us both
the confidence to tackle the biggest story I had in the bank, resulting in GHOST, an ode to 1980’s low
budget action/horror films, complete with macho-men good guys, over the top bad guys, large shootout
scenes and practical monsters. All this coming together for under six grand seems impossible, but when
you have a team of actual war veterans, first responders and literal “heroes” at your side, the term
“impossible” ceases to exist.
Hiring veterans (Ghost showcases members of the Army, Airforce, and Marines) over trained
actors to play characters in a film might seem risky – quite honestly, it is – but the reward far outweighs
it, especially when you see the film taking shape around servicemembers using their real-life
experiences in unimaginable situations to drive their performances. We have also learned that acting
can be used as a form of therapy to combat PTSD, allowing those suffering the chance to step into the
role of someone they’re not and live in a world that doesn’t exist. If only between the “Actions” and
“Cuts,” many of these men and women can take on a version of themselves that doesn’t have those
gnawing thoughts sitting at the back of their brains. Watching them work together in a fictitious and
ridiculous setting, hunting demons and cultists, is incredible. With their training and past experiences,
they move together and efficiently, trying to painstakingly create a sense of realism. But when they get
to go down in a blaze of glory or pulled into the abyss by a creature from Hell, the ensuing laughter
when the camera stops rolling is a sublime experience to sit and watch as a director.
GHOST tells the story of a mercenary for the Catholic Church, part of a secret organization
created to keep demons and spirits and all sorts of evils from wiping out humanity. This mission takes
our titular character, Ghost (Michael Rock), and tasks him with finding his old partner, taking out a
religious fanatic using reverse exorcisms to create a demonic army and combating a fallen angel before
it can find the vessel it needs to walk amongst the living. Genre veteran Vernon Wells of MAD MAX and
COMMANDO fame joins the cast as Ghost’s father, a tormented man with a past in the business of
hunting demons. Newcomer Amanda Morgan plays the newly assigned partner to Ghost, appropriately
named Eve, and professional wrestler Joshua Myron-McKinney takes the reigns as the film’s main
antagonist, The Chosen One. The film is produced in conjunction with Horror Dadz Productions, with
frequent collaborators Joshua Brucker and Hunter Nino acting as producers.
I wanted to have monsters, as creature-features are my favorite films, but on such a small
budget we had to be smart. The incredible artistry of Immortal Masks out of California allowed us to
create a great creature design for our finale, which blends PREDATOR with something out of RESIDENT
EVIL or DOOM. We also filmed a lot of the action in full POV to give the viewer a first-person shooter
video game experience and the results are an action-packed romp on a miniscule budget and aimed at
viewers who grew up on VHS cheese, presented through the lens of Found Footage.
It was terrifying to make this film. I didn’t have the classically trained acting team to do the
heavy lifting. I didn’t have the money to hire an FX team to do everything in post or with green screens.
I didn’t have trained stuntmen and women to do the fight scenes. But what we did have was far greater
than anything money could buy: a team of dedicated friends and family who came out to support us and
jumped in wherever we needed them. From extras to speaking roles, people came out to help us just
for the sake of creating art.
And as for the acting performances of hardened military vets? A subtle twitching of his fingers
answered a thousand questions.
GHOST begins streaming on July 9th
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