Just in time for Halloween, here’s a horror film with a local connection. American Gothic, a feature film by Ventnor-based producers Dina Engel and Sherry McCracken, will be available on cable systems’ video-on-demand platforms on Tuesday.
American Gothic is the third feature film that Engel and McCracken teamed up with Stuart Connelly and Mary Jo Barthmaier to produce. The film came about as part of a challenge set by producing partner Stuart Connelly. Could the team produce an entire film on one site – Connelly’s Pennsylvania farmhouse? The four-person team’s previous two feature films had been costly to produce – this time they wanted to see if they could keep costs to a minimum and increase the return on the film.
Connelly came up with a script for a horror story that would be drawn out over a 24-hour timeline, reducing the need for costume changes. Setting the film in Pennsylvania also meant they could use the state’s tax-credit for filmmakers, as well as use actors and crew who had worked with the team on their previous features. The film features Ned Luke, best known as the voice of Michael in the mega-selling video game Grand Theft Auto and Slate Holmgren, just coming off a role on Broadway starring alongside Daniel Craig.
American Gothic won Best Horror Feature, a Best Actor Award for Mark Barthmaier and Best Cinematographer at the Atlantic City Cinefest last year. “It shows that you don’t need a super-big budget to create something that’s visually pleasing and interesting,” said McCracken in an interview last week.
McCracken and Engel, who co-own Little Rock Films + Studios on Atlantic Ave in Ventnor, are also talking to other outlets about releasing the film. Their next project is filming a pilot for a TV series set in Atlantic City, 48 Blocks – The Series.
“I’d love to be able to make more movies like this around here,” McCracken said. “And I really do think there’s the talent to make these movies. Both in front of the camera and behind the camera – we’re just not doing enough with that.”
McCracken and Engel hope that New Jersey’s next governor could help the state introduce a tax-credit program that would support local filmmakers. A bill with bipartisan support was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie last year. McCracken said that schools in the area such as the Atlantic County Institute of Technology are producing students with the talent and skills to work on film and TV crews, but with no jobs in the industry locally these students move to New York or Philadelphia. A tax credit – even if just for Atlantic City – could lead to local jobs for some of these students, she said.
Little Rock Films + Studios is still fundraising for 48 Blocks – The Series. For investment opportunities, contact Dina Engel.