Thomas Harvey and Josef Beeby are guerilla filmmakers with a dream, a video camera and the support of friends and family who will go far to see them make their movies.
They met at Halifax Grammar School in grade seven and bonded over their love of film, especially low-budget straight-to-video horror. “There’s a special quality of people trying to do horror with low budgets that’s just unbelievably entertaining,” says Harvey. By grade nine they had begun making shorts together, eventually forming a production company, Fearful Symmetry Films.
“We made a short anti-smoking film,” says Harvey. “We rented a camera for this—in the midst of filming, we grabbed it and filmed our own quick martial arts project. We knew nothing about filmmaking, but we had a blast. Later Josef got a video camera for his birthday, and it’s slowly evolved, first a hobby, now a career.”
Their new shot-on-video feature, entitled El MonsterCabras, is a spoof of those mini-budget horror films. The plot follows five teenaged friends, three boys and two girls, who go on a camping trip into woods where a genetically engineered monster has been killing people. Harvey, whose credits on the film include cameraman, gaffer, foley supervisor, stunt driver, first assistant director, set decorator and props, also plays a mad scientist, as well as the titular monster, a googly-eyed thing that looks suspiciously like a skateboarding fur coat. Beeby directs, acts, does his own stunts, as well as operating the camera, dialect coaching, sound mixer (on camera mic), special effects and chief hairspray technician.
Beeby aspires exclusively to directing in the future, but knew that casting himself in the picture would mean he could rely on his lead actor to be there every day. Also, he credits his cast for inspiring moments he wasn’t originally expecting to be in the movie.
“Every straight-to-video monster movie we were parodying has a scene where there are women taking their clothes off. It was an awkward discussion because we felt like jerks asking our friends to rip off their shirts on camera,” says Beeby. “It kind of slid in as an inevitability. At a point it became them convincing us to put it in the script. One of the scenes, the cast member in question pretty much wrote the thing herself.
“Everything we did, we tried to emulate what we saw on the big screen. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but mostly it’s a retrospective learning experience. I think filmmakers just starting out expect to be perfect the first time around. That’s entirely the wrong strategy. You should just get out there, film as much as you can, do as much as you can. Be proud of what you did right.”
Harvey concurs. “We’re both ridiculously proud of EMC being our first screened-in-theatre film. It’s this awesome fusion of doing this professionally and the sort of things we did as kids. It’s this really cool transition point.” The film was funded through contributions from family and friends, especially Harvey’s father. “He had made a lot of money and decided to finance a very large chunk of the film with it,” he says.
Harvey, 20, has just completed his second year in the Dalhousie acting program, with a minor in film, and Beeby, 19, has applied to Ryerson in Toronto, where he now lives. When Beeby is in town, he stays at Harvey’s place, an apartment in Harvey’s parents’ basement, which was also their production office while El MonsterCabras was being shot in May and June of last year.
“Last summer, Josef and I lived in my room,” says Harvey. “When we weren’t filming we were setting up for the next shot. It was almost a disaster area—you couldn’t walk through.”
They admit they did take a little time off from the shoot. “We camped out at the line-up for Star Wars,” says Harvey of Revenge of the Sith. “Twenty-six hours, we were in tents at Bayers Lake.” They enjoyed the wait to get in more than actually watching the picture. “We had never camped out overnight for a movie before, and it seemed like the appropriate one,” says Harvey. “We choreographed a lightsabre fight, to show off. We just had a lot of fun in the line-up—it completely overshadowed the movie.”
El MonsterCabras screens May 13 at The Oxford, Quinpool at Oxford, midnight, $5