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Filmmaker John McLoughlin tells us about "Underwood"...and gives tips to filmmakers


Ray Garton
Jonathan Maberry
Trish Wilson
Nancy Kilpatrick
Joe R. Lansdale

Article from filmmaker John McLoughlin, exclusively written for The Horror Zine

film poster

As a Florida-based indie filmmaker, I was grateful when The Horror Zine editor Jeani Rector invited me to contribute an article about the many challenges of making indie films. The timing could not be better since I just so happened to be shamelessly promoting the recent release of my latest feature film, a supernatural thriller titled “Underwood” starring Michelle McCurry, William Grefe and Dennis Friebe. 

Something I should tell you from the start about filmmaking: critics can be really vicious. They can make you doubt yourself and your talent if you let them. I try to just ignore the negative reviews unless it is something constructive to help improve this film or the next one.

If you’re planning to use a dog as a character, make damn sure that dog can follow commands. Otherwise you really need to leave an extra few hours open for every scene that dog is in. I still love you, Bella!

I learned so much from my mistakes, and there were many. This is a very challenging art form. You need to think like a chess master, or on shoot day, you are scrambling and scrambling. You find yourself saying things like: “We’ll fix it in post” or the like, just to survive the day and get the shots you need…as opposed to doing all you wanted accomplished. So remember, Murphy’s Law is very real if you don’t prepare properly.

If there is one thing I can advise to anyone starting out as a director is to seek out the guidance of someone that has done it before and found creative ways to get films made on microbudgets. There are so many loose ends that you need to be aware of when planning a shoot. And unless you have an experienced crew that operates with little or no direction, you learn very quickly that people can’t read your mind and in most cases, have not thought of the things that you may need done or prepped by and on shooting day.

On most shoot days, I was just grateful to get people who could lend their time and show up so I didn’t require a lot of prep meetings or walk-throughs. Those would make my job much more difficult on shoot day because I was then training and delegating jobs which definitely affected my ability to get everything I wanted done on camera during some shoots. Thankfully, as we shot more together, we tightened up and  managed to pull off some complicated stunts and scenes that really defied our budget constraints a few times in the film and I’m proud of that effort by my entire cast and crew. 

Among the most notable talented people to lend their time to “Underwood” is 89-year-old Florida Grindhouse filmmaking legend William Grefe. Some of Bill’s classic cult status films include “Mako- Jaws of Death” and “Stanley.” After decades as a writer, director and producer, Bill agreed to join the cast and play a major acting role in “Underwood” after reading the screenplay. Having Bill on set was truly a priceless asset to my young indie crew offering everything from lighting tips, camera angles and a lifetime of great filmmaking stories that kept the cast and crew in stitches on some long and tiresome shooting nights. Even since filming Bill offers me advice and acts as a mentor to this day. 

Finding locations that fit the story that we could afford was challenging. There are dozens of locations in the film and it took quite some time to lock them all down. 

We also had a major setback about halfway through production. The camera bag that was packed and holding my cameras, lenses and the all of the footage from the scene we had just shot was actually stolen from the set that day. My fault for not realizing that it was left in a spot where that could happen…but we all know the saying: “if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger.” Took a few months, but we eventually got some more gear and got back to shooting the movie.  

Fernando Rio, the talented actor and musician who plays the role of Sheriff Reyes in “Underwood” was also my friend and another creative mentor to me in recent years. Fernando began the project with me and supported my vision from the start. I wrote the Sheriff role for him and like the good friend and consummate performer that he was, Fernando called me in early 2018 to remind me that the missing scene work which was stolen along with the cameras a year prior was in fact an important scene for his character in the film. The care and concern that my friend showed toward “Underwood” trumped his own discomfort and pain as he was reaching the end of his battle with cancer. Fernando’s lovely wife, Dianna brought him to my house so that we could get his final dialog reshot before he passed a few weeks later. I love him for his friendship and generosity even in the wake of much bigger and more important things for him to care about.

Our goal with “Underwood” was to make an indie that looks feels like a studio release—including fights, chases, car crashes, gun shots, ghosts, drowning scenes, numerous VFX shots and a really big surprise ending. And we got them all in. Keep in mind, this was all accomplished on my already tapped out credit card… so we had to find creative ways to tell the story and cheat the expensive stunts and big budget CG shots to create an “illusion of possibility.”

Michale Bay has the resources and money to visually WOW his audience beyond belief through sheer spectacle, but you simply don’t have that luxury on a micro budget. 

"Underwood" is an entertaining movie if you can appreciate what was accomplished with what we had. If you’re looking for horror, this is not your movie. If you're looking for giant scope and action, this is not your movie.

But—if you like character driven plot lines, we have that! Thankfully some reviews have been favorable from those who embrace this type of film and budget and look at the story and performances over eye popping effects.

“Underwood” recently launched on Amazon and in June of 2019 registered almost 50,000 views. We’ll be adding itunes, Google and other major platforms in the coming months. Please visit http://Underwoodmovie.com to watch “Underwood.”


Grindhouse film legend William Grefe (left) and John McLoughlin

About John McLoughlin

John McLoughlin is an accomplished actor, writer, composer and director with over three decades of experience working in the entertainment industry. After co-writing and producing the critically acclaimed feature "Along the Way" garnering high marks with critics, John then wrote and directed a dark comedy titled "Temporary Insanity". After being nominated for a 2017 Emmy Award for his work on a powerful doc film titled "Lifelines", in 2018 John completed production work his original feature length script titled "Underwood" - a dark supernatural thriller in the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King and Rod Serling's brand of storytelling scheduled to release in early 2019.

John has also expanded into producing reality television with his production company Inertia Digital Media. Inertia's first show signed an exclusive shopping deal with Emmy winning Austin Street Productions for a reality series John co-created titled "Painted Lady". John has also shot a long list of regional commercials for Allstate Insurance, Bethune Cookman University, Florida Healthcare Plans, City of Daytona Beach, LAD Imaging, St. Paul Church and many others.