Racing to achieve your goals before time runs out is a powerful theme that applies to all aspects of the upcoming horror movie, ‘Inoperable.’ Not only does lead actress Danielle Harris‘ protagonist rush to find a way to break out of a hospital that’s actually trying to hinder her prognosis, instead of help it, but director Christopher Chapman also had to hustle to find a way to get the drama made independently. Despite its indie nature, the filmmaker, who also co-wrote the script with his fellow producer, Jeff Miller, crafted a tense and gripping story for his first foray as a genre helmer.
The World Premiere of ‘Inoperable’ will begin at 7pm tonight during FEARnyc, and will serve as the festival’s Closing Night Film. Following the screening at the festival, which is being held at The Producer’s Club Sonnet Theater in Manhattan (358 W 44th St), Chapman will participate in a Q&A, to answer inquiries about the filmmaking process.
‘Inoperable’ follows Amy Barrett (Harris) as she tries to leave her Florida town before an approaching Category 5 hurricane makes landfall. But she becomes stuck in a traffic jam during the mandated evacuation, and tries to find a way out of her car. Just as she plans to make her escape, she unexpectedly finds herself transported to a deserted hospital, where she’s pursued by a foreboding crew of surgically-equipped nurses, doctors and orderlies.
Amy starts to believe that because the hurricane slammed into a military research center, paradoxical time anomalies have been unleashed. As a result, Amy is forced to repeatedly return to the place where she and two other loopers, including dutiful cop Ryan (Jeff Denton), and the woman in his custody, Jen (Katie Keefe), possibly met, or will meet, a bloody death.
Chapman generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview to talk about writing, directing and executive producing ‘Inoperable’ at a café in New York City yesterday morning, before the horror film has its World Premiere tonight at FEARnyc. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how Miller asked him if he wanted to work on another horror movie together after they co-produced last year’s horror thriller Clowntown. Chapman also expressed his gratitude that ‘Inoperable’ is having its World Premiere in the Closing Night Film slot of FEARnyc
The conversation began with Chapman explaining how the script for ‘Inoperable’ was conceived, and what the writing process was like for him on the movie. The filmmaker noted how he was one of the producers on ‘Clowntown,’ which Shockya had the pleasure of seeing for the second time at last year’s FEARnyc. “I met Jeff Miller during the development of that film, which was shot in Ohio. Jeff has made a lot of horror films on that level as a producer. While we were in Ohio, Jeff and I started talking, and we discovered that we went to the same college, the University of South Carolina. He graduated two years before me, but we never knew each other, because it’s a big university,” Chapman explained.
“Jeff then asked me if I was interested in directing a horror film,” but Chapman hadn’t considered it at the time, because he was never previously a big fan of the horror genre. “But I have become a big horror fan now. He asked me if I’d consider working on another horror project with him, and would also take a stab at writing the script.”
When Chapman agreed to work on the screenplay for ‘Inoperable,’ Miller “gave me some key items that he might be interested in seeing, like the supernatural. So I started writing the story for ‘Inoperable,’ and Jeff was certainly a part of that process,” the scribe also shared.
Chapman also added that he “based the story on some experiences I had when I was younger. I also included some things that were creepy to me, as opposed to what may be more formulaic in horror films…I don’t think that the standard horror film is that interesting, but some of them can be more creative.” But the filmmaker did utilize the uneasiness and creepiness that he did find to be effective in other horror movies for the story that’s featured in ‘Inoperable.’
One of the other main driving forces for the story Chapman created for his latest film occurred about 13 years ago. “I had gotten food poisoning from whatever I had eaten, and there was also a hurricane that was coming up the coast of Florida,” which is where Chapman lives. “I think it was Hurricane Charley, if I remember correctly. We were in the outer bands of it, and the winds were picking up. We hadn’t yet known if it was going to hit where we were, but it eventually ended up hitting further south of us.”
In the midst of the hurricane, the scribe ended up having to go to the hospital. While there, he had what he describe as being “a weird feeling of high alert concern from the staff, but they were still highly professional. I still felt helpless, however, because I don’t think that I could have escaped.” He laughed as he added that he started “freaking myself out. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a serial killer on the loose?!? No, it’s not cool! So my mind started messing with me. So that was the original framework for ‘Inoperable.'”
Chapman added that he lauds films that are largely driven by atypical female characters. He explained that he likes seeing intelligent-thinking women on screen, so he “wanted to place that type of person in this framework.”
In addition to Miller, Chapman then also praised the rest of the cast and the rest of the crew from ‘Clowntown.’ The filmmaker noted that he also worked with ‘Clowntown’ actor Brian Nagel on a romantic movie that he wrote, directed. produced and starred in, this year’s romantic drama, ‘The Accident,’ as well as on ‘Inoperable.’
Chapman added that he’s sure he’ll work with the cast and crew from ‘Clowntown’ and ‘Inoperable’ again soon on another project. “You meet a core filmmaker group that you really identify, and have fun, with, so you always want to work with them. I really love working with” Miller and Nagel, the director affirmed.
“There’s also Ashley Eberbach, who was the AD (Assistant Director), on ‘Inoperable,’ as well as the love story we shot. She’s also a producer on all of our projects, including a short we made together (the 2015 action-adventure film, ‘Morgan Pickett’s Charge’),” Chapman also shared.
The filmmaker added that “They’re my usual go-to team when I start production, and they’re my first phone calls. I also call Giorgio Daveed, our cinematographer” on ‘Inoperable,’ who also served as a producer and the editor, as well as “our production designer, Bobby Marinelli.”
Chapman then delved into the experience of then directing ‘Inoperable’ after he worked on penning the script. “I happen to love the creative process of writing. Any writer, especially in fiction, creates problems” within the story, and “I love the process of solving those problems. So you have to visualize the scenes as you’re writing them.
“The way I write, which probably frustrates some of the people I work with, is to write the story in narrative form first. Then someone else will convert it into screenplay format,” the scribe revealed. He admitted that he doesn’t think in the typical screenwriting way, as he’s “more descriptive.
“I knew in my head what ‘Inoperable’ was supposed to look like” as he was working on creating the story, the filmmaker shared. “But the problem is that it doesn’t necessarily translate into script format. So you have to have really good communication with your camera department, and certainly your cinematographer, so that things come out looking like they should.
“As a director, you also have to recognize that your cinematographer is a trades person, and are way more gifted in cinematography than you can ever be,” Chapman emphasized. “So what I like to do is have a lot of meetings with the cinematographer before we begin filming, so that we’re in the same mindset. That way, once we get to the location and begin filming, I don’t have to do that much communication with the cinematographer, other than technical stuff.” The helmer added that he feels that his collaborations with Daveed as his cinematographer on ‘Inoperable’ worked well.
Another important aspect to successfully translating the story of ‘Inoperable’ to screen was finding the right cast for each role. “Jeff was dialed into that process, because he has produced a lot of horror films,” Chapman noted. “I would say that about 75 percent of casting the leads in this film is a deferral to Jeff. We started talking about different names early on in the process…and we wanted to have some high level talent.
“Names were important, but the talent of the actors was the most important thing, especially for the lead female role” of Amy. Once the director began discussing the casting process for the horror movie’s protagonist with Miller, “Danielle Harris was brought up. I knew who she was, but like I said, I wasn’t a huge horror fan…But when her name was brought up, Jeff said she’s wonderful. He handled most of the casting process for her, as it should be, because he knows what he’s doing. I think I just ended up talking to her manager.
“As far as the other two leads, including Ryan, who’s played by Jeff Denton, and Jen, who’s played by Katie Keene, I already had a working relationship with both of them. They were both in ‘Clowntown,'” Chapman pointed out. “Jeff has a good and familiar look about him, so it was a good fit, because we were casting for a law enforcement officer. I just wanted someone who looked like a sheriff’s deputy. So Jeff Denton was a good choice to play Ryan, and I didn’t get any kickback about that choice from Jeff Miller.”
The filmmaker added that the process was the same for Keene. “I don’t want to be too sterile about this, but we needed an attractive supporting actress who was also real and believable. Katie has a wonderful personality.”
Casting actors who have a previous background together is something that’s also important to Chapman. “Since they already have a friendship, their on-screen relationship, including their interactions and banter, is a little more believable. I love working on sets where everyone loves each other, and gets along.”
One of the benefits of having many of the actors know each other before filming on ‘Inoperable’ began was that they didn’t need to have much rehearsal time, which was something that wouldn’t have been easy to fit into the filming schedule. “We shot the movie in Tampa, but a lot of the actors are from L.A…But they’re all naturally amazing actors, and we had a lot of conversations leading up to the shoot,” the helmer revealed. “The fluidity we had between the cast and crew was important, because it allowed us to have a higher grade of efficiency than if we hadn’t worked together before.
“The only actress I hadn’t worked with before this movie was Danielle, but she’s amazing. She knows the horror industry better than I do,” Chaptman admitted.
In addition to working with the actors on the emotional arcs of their characters, the filmmaker also collaborated with the performers on their physicalities. “When we talked about the stunts, we were focusing on the take-downs and shoot-outs. So we hired a martial arts instructor who had done stunt work before. He’s local to Tampa, and owns a martial arts studio. He visited the set a few days before those scenes were shot, and worked a lot with the actors on the proper techniques. I wanted the stunts to look realistic, but didn’t want anyone to get hurt in the process.”
Aside from the visuals, music is also an important aspect in creating the scares for a horror movie. The director then delved into the process of creating the score for ‘Inoperable.’ “I love the score, and think it’s amazing. It features a great piano throughout, and in the opening sequence, there’s a great guitar piece.
“Giorgio, our cinematographer, and I like Jonathan Price for scoring. So we sent the script to Jonathan, and he just went at it. He asked us what we were generally looking for, since I didn’t have anything specific in mind. I loved the overall score that he ended up developing,” Chapman divulged.
“I liked that the score has a bigger budget, cinematic feel to it. It has a harder, in your face feel to it at times, and then switches to a softer, piano feel. That’s really the story for ‘Inoperable.’ There’s some weirdness to it, and there’s also some in-your-face gore,” the filmmaker also shared.
Further speaking about filming ‘Inoperable’ in Tampa, Chapman admitted that finding the locations where they shot the drama was difficult. “Besides script development, location scouting is a way, from early on in the production, that you can make your movie look as big as you want it to look, assuming that you have a realistic expectation. The locations is where your hard work really pays off,” the helmer noted.
Chapman noted that since ‘Inoperable’ mainly takes place in a hospital, “logic would say to find a hospital that nobody’s using. Well, good luck with that! Or, find a set that’s often used as a hospital. We did that, and it was in L.A. It was good, but the problem was that it was too expensive for us for what it was. If we had a much bigger budget, it probably would have been okay, because we could have designed it a lot better. But It wasn’t worth the money for us for what it was.”
So the filmmaker found the next best thing that served the needs for the horror movie through some connections that he knew. “Saying that the now-sheriff of Hillsborough County, who I’m friends with, is nice and helpful probably the understatement of the century. He helped connect me with the person who helped secure the locations where we ultimately shot the movie,” Chapman explained.
“The location was a vacant, county-owned building in Pasco County, Florida. Tampa’s in Hillsborough County, and Pasco’s the next county north. Pasco doesn’t have a film commission, but they have a tourism board,” the director noted. “I became connected with someone at the tourism board, and she helped me get the ability to shoot in this building. The location had actually been a hospital a long time ago. It was small, and only had a couple of floors,” but it served the needs for the drama.
The hospital was actually for demolition, but Chapman was able to secure it to make ‘Inoperable’ before it could be torn down. Since it was set to be demolished, there was nothing in it, “so the production design department had to spend about a week prepping the area with equipment and paint, so that we could make it look like how e wanted it to look. The way we ended up designing that location was perfect,” the filmmaker divulged.
“The Pasco County officials really accepted us. I would love to make another project in that county. That location has a special place in a lot of our hearts, because it made the film,” Chapman added. “To think that the last thing that happened in that hospital was that our movie was shot there is amazing. It was still there last spring, and I drove by it, and I had this good feeling. I had wonderful memories of being there.”
The helmer also expressed his appreciation of having ‘Inoperable’ have its World Premiere in the Closing Night Film slot of FEARnyc. “It’s great to be able to show the movie to audiences for the first time here in New York City. This festival is one of Jeff Miller’s favorites, so we definitely wanted to show it here,” Chapman divulged.
“What I like about festivals is that the experience is very humbling,” the filmmaker admitted. “It’s nice to hear the feedback from the audience about your movie. Your film is like your child, and you love talking about it.”
The director then revealed that ‘Inoperable’ has already been picked up by a distributor (ITN Distribution), and will receive a theatrical release by the end of the year. “From what I’ve been told, it will play in at least 10 U.S. cities, including New York and Tampa…I’ve never seen one of my films in a theater after it’s officially been released. So I can’t wait to go my local theater, and watch my movie there!”