The COVID-19 pandemic has been a brutal learning curve for film production, with a number of studio productions forced to hiatus, shelved indefinitely, or relegated from theaters to a streaming service. But for independent films and filmmakers, the pandemic has been considerably worse as smaller productions, already operating on limited budgets and resources, have found themselves literally locked in locations, stripped of crews and isolated as the virus takes hold. was spreading rapidly in the global community. .
But as they so often do, many in the independent film industry have spent the pandemic and resulting lockdowns redefining their perspectives and skills in order to operate in the “new normal”, cultivating creativity rather than disenchantment.
One such outfit, California production company Sestero Pictures (according to the namesake, Bedroomof Greg Sestero in the cast of the film), in partnership with Woof Cat Films, directed by Australian Robert Livings, not only managed to produce the horror feature film Infrared during COVID restrictions, but also effectively leveraged a cross-genre promotional flow that metaphorically echoes the film’s pandemic origins; embracing both found footage and wildly popular ghost hunting reality TV genres.
Infrared is a departure for Livings, who serves as producer and co-director of Supernatural Sleeper, along with producing partner Randy Nundlall Jr.
“COVID. It was COVID. It was about keeping the crew small,” says Livings when the topic of sneaking into the overworked found footage trope comes up. “Randy and I had made a movie around August 2020, entitled The other girl. We really enjoyed doing it and actually had all these plans for another movie. But that all fell apart when COVID hit. So we said to ourselves: ‘Let’s make a film where there is only a team of three and a cast of three’.
“We really wanted to make a genre film. And we were like, ‘Well, how do you reduce the crew? How can we get the team to be the cast? And it was like, ‘Okay, this could be our solution.’ Because Randy, who is in the film, is my co-director. So it was just me and him in front of the cameras. And we had a sound guy, Austin [Blank]who plays our sound engineer in the film – anyone you see doing something in the movie is actually what they do to the movie – and that was it.
“That meant Randy was able to direct on set as well. And it seemed to really work, it kept everything great content, which was really, really nice.
“Obviously we know there’s this stigma about doing found footage. A lot of people are immediately put off by that. And that’s fine. We know it was overdone for quite a while in the early years 2000. So we just needed to make sure that it’s character driven and that those characters have a purpose, and we don’t just encourage them to die, that was basically our goal.
“But we did a lot of research before we started, because we wanted to hit the right fan base. There’s actually so many good found footage movies out there. And I think people just don’t seen a lot of good ones.
Finding their way into a viable narrative proved to be the least of Livings’ problems, as his team began the daring task of securing a viable location, which ended up being an abandoned old school building, and trying to shoot a feature film during a city-wide lockdown. , which effectively had the production operating as a guerrilla unit.
“I mean, we’re kind of still locked down here in Sacramento,” the filmmaker jokes. “A lot of things were restricted… There was a very small window where it looked like the restrictions had been relaxed. But the school owners were like, ‘You can’t do it. You can not do that. Hello, the restrictions are lifted. You can do it.’ So it was suddenly like, ‘Oh shit. Is everyone available? Let’s settle this.
“So we fired. And then two weeks later, the place became unavailable again, back to another confinement. We followed standard protocols, but it was such a small crew and cast. And most of us are also all friends, so everyone was like, ‘Okay, let’s be careful.’ And we just saw it that way.
In his heart, Infrared is a family story, exploring how family relationships can affect our growth and increase our insecurities. In this particular case, Livings’ tale focuses on estranged siblings Wes and Izzy Wheatley – played by Jesse Jansen and Leah Finity, respectively – as an aspiring ghost hunter and his psychically gifted sister. After an awkward reunion, orchestrated by Wes’ producer (Randy Nundlall Jr), the two agree to team up to investigate an abandoned building with an infamous reputation, only to find themselves entangled in the fabric of the building’s dark mythology.
just like InfraredInitial COVID production continued to hamper indie horror with inconsistent lockdowns and audience caution, leaving many theaters and venues unavailable for genre fans hungry for new content. Set to make his debut next month at the Luna Leederville cinema in Perth, Livings, from Western Australia himself, seems resigned to the current reality, lamenting his disappointment at likely having to attend his film’s premiere via a virtual appearance. .
“I used to work for this theater, so we’re doing a premiere there,” says Livings. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s screened in the outdoor theater, so it’s a really cool vibe. It can hold 160 people, so that should play well. And the cast and crew then do a zoom Q&A.
“I have read the news that Perth is keeping its borders closed. I was so supportive of everything they did, because it protected my family and friends. But then setting a benchmark and not living up to that benchmark,” he dwells on Western Australia’s continued isolation from the rest of Australia and the world… “…it’s frustrating. I am very pro security, pro vax, pro all that. But it comes to a point… It’s been almost three years since I’ve seen my family. And I don’t know if it’s just me being selfish, or if I’m… I don’t know. It’s a difficult thing.
“It will suck to see everyone at the screening and not be there myself, but it will still be nice that they can see Infrared before everyone.
Tickets are now available for the world premiere of Infraredscreening on Friday March 4, exclusively on Luna Cinemas, Leederville, WA