The Filming of Employment

This is a long overdue post dealing with the shooting of my forthcoming short film, Employment. Progress has been slow for a variety of reasons (a fake trailer contest, a trip home, a girl, etc.), and I think recapping events up to this point would be best for everyone.

Shall we?

Not long after I moved to Nashville, I found out about this really great abandoned prison just north of town. It’s practically a castle, and is currently owned by the Tennessee Film Commission and very hard to actually find much information on. It was the filming location for The Green Mile, Ernest Goes to Jail, The Last Castle, and a lot of other films.

Me, being a guy with a camera who loves horror, started to think it would be a splendid setting for something. Having made a few comedy-horror (light on the horror) shorts with some friends, I wanted to do something a little more serious and a little bit longer. What came of it was a 26-page script in which a guy works at a prison, helping out this thing that may or may not live in the basement. In most of the pictures from the set, I’m pointing at things. Why? Because that’s what directors do, they point.

The prison itself is “free to film in”, which really just means that the Film Commission doesn’t make you pay them anything extra. You do have to have insurance to shoot there, which can get pricey. After talking to three different insurance companies, I got the price down from $1400 to $630.

I’m but a poor 20-something with creative pursuits and didn’t have the money to do it myself, so I shot a scene from the script with a few friends and started a Kickstarter. Kickstarter’s a wonderful thing – particularly when you have generous friends and family – and with just less than a week left until the deadline, my goal was met.

One actor flaked, we had an audition session at Vanderbilt, and then he was replaced. I recruited some more friends, bought some lights and created some things out of PVC (light stands, and a stabilizer rig). I took a tour of the prison and, at long last, saw the inside. Yes, it is creepy.

We had a few table reads with the full cast, in which we all got comfortable enough that those long arduous nude scenes wouldn’t be weird (there are no nude scenes). Then finally came the weekend, the second-to-last in May, that we would actually shoot the thing. I rented a generator from Home Depot (and, while helping me load it into my car, the employee told me she didn’t want the carbon monoxide from the gas fumes to kill me before I got to where I was going. I assured her that I was like-minded.)

I had to pay a correctional officer $20/hr (more than I make) to be on-site with us at all times. This sort of peeved me since he literally did nothing and I would love to sit around a possibly-haunted old prison for $20/hr. 

When I showed up, Andrew and I sat and watched the INCREDIBLY LARGE ravens attack one another for command of the window in the central tower at the top of the prison. Everyone else arrived and our officer led the way through enormous doors that everyone independently agreed were probably the basis for the huge doors in Jurassic Park. Over the next two days, any time we passed through them, we all had to sing the theme song.

When I had taken a tour of the place, I was shown the areas we could film in (about five buildings), and told that the other areas were off-limits due to asbestos, chipping lead paint, re-animated corpses, collapsing stairwells, and ravenous animals. Once the whole crew had arrived, we went around and scoped out our locations.

We shot a lot of Jack just walking around being creepy in the old place, got really sweaty, then broke for lunch. It wasn’t nearly as hot as it now is, but the lack of air-conditioning in all but one building certainly took its toll on us. We powered through anyway, and, after shooting a few dialogue scenes and putting the generator to good use lighting a pitch-black hallway, we found ourselves on schedule with a little bit of time remaining.

I had the idea that we all dress like ghosts and improv something around a joke that Doug Benson continually makes on his podcast, revolving around Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. He says how they all observe Ghost Protocol and put their hoodies up so they can run around like unseen like ghosts. From that came this:

After shooting that, we gathered all of our equipment, went back through the Jurassic Park doors, and headed to a restaurant downtown, where we ate a lot of food for a lot of money (it was for morale!). Afterwards, we went our separate ways and pretty invariably collapsed into our beds.

Until the next morning!

After assembling the troops, we again decided to improv a short. This time we had literally no plan, but, thanks to Eli becoming such a strange hunched-over man in a blanket, something eventually happened. This is the result:

Then we got back to Employment, filming all of our car scenes and a lot of dialogue. There was a scene in the script that was basically just Chris chasing Ashley, but it quickly turned into an elaborate chase – a chase that’s going to look very good in the final product.

During the filming of our chase, random people started showing up. They all said they knew our officer, who had promised to give them a tour of the prison. We had heard nothing of this and were far less than enthused, and once another car showed up and unloaded a few kids (who inexplicably decided to run towards the building screaming), the lack of enthusiasm turned into a very real presence of anger.

“They have to stay quiet,” I said to the officer.

“I know, they will be,” he replied.

“No, really.”

“They will.”

Then a kid yelled.


To his credit, he did keep them quiet, but it certainly wasn’t nice to know I was paying the guy $20/hr so that he could give all of his friends a tour of what was essentially our film set.

Anywho, once that situation blew over, Susan showed up. Susan is only in two scenes of the movie, but they’re fairly crucial. And no, I’m not saying what they are. Our make-up artist applied make-up to our three main actors (including a pretty wicked cut on Ashley’s face), and Andrew and I got busy lighting our final scene. We shot it in the gym, where firefighters train now and where some bats hang out and look creepy. Using a 100-foot extension cord, we stuck the noisy generator outside and were able to have just enough slack to get our lights where we wanted them.

The final scene went extremely well, and, by the time we blew out the candles (literally) and stuck the generator back in my trunk, we were done shooting at the prison. In all of the mayhem of us packing up, I left my reflector screen behind. A few days after wrapping at the prison, I called the officer to see if he could find it for me. It wasn’t where I thought it was and he never saw it. I sure hope the ghosts are enjoying it, at the very least. Here’s a picture of me with it:

We left the prison, I zipped across town to return the generator (with 10 minutes to spare!), and then I met back up with everyone at Noshville downtown. We ate sandwiches and sat there until they closed, enduring our strangely grumpy waiter so that we could film our final scene for the day. It went quickly, but not quickly enough for the accommodating manager to make it home in time to Skype with his daughter (sorry Charlie!), and then we all went our separate ways once more.

The insane weekend of filming had come to a close, I wasn’t totally out of money, and – at least as far as I know – no one hated each other.

The remaining scenes were knocked out the following weekend at Ashley’s apartment, and, though it was even hotter on that day, we were just shooting in an apartment and car and everything seemed to be more manageable.

Great, you say, but now what? Well, now I edit. In fact, I’ve been editing for quite some time. I had to break, as I mentioned before, because we decided to enter a fake trailer contest. We worked really hard to make our fake trailer, which was more or less lost in the shuffle of other applicants (ours was too smart and too wordy). Here’s our entry:

I don’t regret doing it, but the mad rush of editing sort of put me off the grind of it all for a bit. I know, lame excuse. But now I’m back to it! Rejoice!

Where it sits right now, I have a little under half of Employment done. It’s super rough, with all kinds of audio problems, but it’s a start. Soon I’m going to have a meeting with my composer (which means I’ll call my brother), and I’ll probably make some monster sounds with a friend. That’s right, make some monster sounds.

This weekend is the 48 Hour Film Festival, so stay tuned for that finished product.


~ by Jonathan Forisha on July 10, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Filming of Employment”

  1. What happened to the finished product!

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