Suburban Desolation: Filming a Post-Apocalyptic Thriller in the Abandoned Neighborhoods of Georgia

ANDREW ROBERTSON – FILMMAKER

There are abandoned and deserted homes all over Atlanta. They’re everywhere, covered with vegetation and thick overgrowth, as if nature were reclaiming the land with a vengeance. This is my hometown.

“I moved to Atlanta back in the 80’s with my family, along with hundreds of thousands of others pursuing the promise of jobs
and cheap real estate.”

 

I moved to Atlanta back in the 80’s with my family, along with hundreds of thousands of others pursuing the promise of jobs and cheap real estate. Since the 80’s, the landscape itself (like much of the country) has been marked by the sight of brand new sub-divisions, freshly constructed on top of where there was once a small forest of pines. Over the last few decades, the mantra has been “affordable homes with a garage and maybe a tennis court at the end of the block for all.”

The Mansion – Trailer : www.themansionfilm.com from Passerby Films on Vimeo.
Everything changed in the last 3 years. Foreclosures dramatically increased, construction suddenly halted and the period of real estate decay began. Over these past three years, during my return trips home to see my parents, I’ve been struck by just how many abandoned homes and deserted developments were scattered across the region. They were just… there…static amongst the rest of the dynamic world.

It was during our holiday visit last December that my wife and I came up with the idea to make a film and set it amidst the decay we were witnessing. The post-apocalyptic genre has always been a favorite of mine, along with the western. The backdrop and setting of both genres offers lawless lands, the absence of civilization and the struggle to survive in a setting where you never know who you can trust. The stakes are always high and the potential for conflict is always looming.

And so with this inspiration of surreal decay existing alongside thriving strip malls and Super-Targets, we wrote our film, The Mansion.

“The Mansion follows a family struggling to survive in the wake of the proverbial unnamed catastrophic event. There is no explanation for what exactly has happened to lead to this mass desertion, it is just a given that something
catastrophic has occurred.”

 

The Mansion follows a family struggling to survive in the wake of the proverbial unnamed catastrophic event. There is no explanation for what exactly has happened to lead to this mass desertion, it is just a given that something catastrophic has occurred. The family lives a lonely existence, struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy as the world around them is slowly disintegrating.

We wanted to tell a story that didn’t exist in the quite the same bleak space as most films that you see in the genre. We wanted to do something much more in the tradition of a fun action-thriller a la early Sam Raimi and John Carpenter. ?

With a the goal of making something akin to their early career type of low-budget-indie-thriller, we decided we would cull together our resources, gather a film crew, raise as much money through Kickstarter as we realistically thought we could and head down south this autumn.

We set our goal at $25,000. This is an absurdly small amount of money with which to produce a feature film. The reason we believe we can do it for this amount is our access to equipment, our small, committed crew of friends that all work in the film and commercial industry, and the advantage that I will be editing the film myself. I’m currently the senior editor at an international ad agency in the city and have everything I need readily available.

Beyond these factors, all one really needs is a budget for production expenses and the will to make it happen. Oh, and actors, of course. That is where the bulk of our budget will go. The indie-low-budget SAG rate is roughly $100/day, so we are trying to raise enough to bring on the best family of actors we can muster. The level of talent you can get depends on who is willing to work for you for $100 a day. Let’s hope those top-tier thespians like our script.


“Selling a convincing apocalyptic world presents some big challenges to those shooting on a budget. Obviously, you need access to abandoned locations that really sell the look of world that’s been deserted.”

The Challenges and Benefits of Low-Budget Filmmaking

Selling a convincing apocalyptic world presents some big challenges to those shooting on a budget. Obviously, you need access to abandoned locations that really sell the look of world that’s been deserted. The story exists in three acts. The third act takes place on the road, as the family journeys in search of a mansion they’ve heard of that may or may not exist. Their trip takes them through the desolated landscapes that was once their community. For these locations, we will shoot at and around the abandoned homes and apartment complexes we’ve been marveling at during every trip home over the last three years. We will also film amongst the beautiful, overgrown fields and landscapes across north Georgia.

Shooting in these various locations will be a logistical challenge, as we’ll be doing it mostly guerrilla-style. But the larger concern going into this shoot is where to find a home to film the first two acts of the story. Acts 1 and 2 take place in the family’s home, where they try to etch out an existence in the absence of any kind of external world. As the story progresses, they become increasingly paranoid that they’re being watched and eventually must plan their escape from a group of surrounding marauders in the woods.

We knew we didn’t want to shoot in an actual abandoned home, because we needed the house to seem lived in. So we decided that we would film in one of our family member’s homes, dress the interiors to look aged and then use Adobe AfterEffects to age all the exteriors to match all the practical locations we knew we would use for the family’s journey across the desolated countryside.

We finished our script in May and have spent the summer work-shopping it with friends and colleagues. Last month, we took a road trip down to Atlanta to lock down our locations and now we are in the process of raising production funds through Kickstarter. Our fundraising goal is set at $25,000.

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Utilizing the natural landscapes and the existing decay scattered across the state, we will be able to create our end-of-the-world backdrop for the cost of fuel to carry our actors and crew to and from locations.

In the next installment, I will talk a little bit about the process of digitally aging environments using. We’ll discuss the benefits and challenges of working with AfterEffects to achieve a convincing match to the natural environments.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about The Mansion and/or become a backer of our film, please visit here.

BIO:

Andrew got his first taste of filmmaking at the age of 12 filming a litany of low-budget horror films culminating in his trilogy opus, 1985’s Totally Demented 1 – 3. In 2003, after spending his post-collegiate year abroad filming a documentary about his experiences as an English teacher in South Korea, he moved to NYC and helped produce the launch episode for MTV’s popular series Made.

In 2004, Andrew came to the global Advertising Agency Wieden+Kennedy, where he has gone on to help build Joint NY, W+K’s own Production/Post-Production studio. Acting as senior editor, he has taken over lead editorial on ESPN’s award winning SportsCenter ad campaign, as well as editorial on dozens of spots ranging from Nike to the MS Society. As a director, Andrew has produced content for ESPN, Nike, fashion brand Theory as well as many others.

In 2008, Andrew produced and directed The Battle for Georgia, a feature documentary about southern, small town politics in the age of Obama.

The Mansion is his first narrative feature film.  Check out The Mansion’s Co-Writer and Producer Lilly Kanso’s site here.

 

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