Newly retired costume designer, Helen Rowan moves into a small farmhouse in the Massachusetts countryside: all is quiet until a string of paranormal events prompts Helen to research the home’s history. Connecting the dots between her research and two vivid nightmares, Helen discovers the fifty-three-year-old remains of a previous tenant.
Interview with Brandon L. Pennick:
Name and what you did in the film?
My name is Brandon Pennick, and I’m the writer, director, and cinematographer of Sedalia.
What inspired you, or attracted you, to work on this film?
I had set out to write a film about the classic vampire—something that felt real and looked organic. And through my research, I read a gothic tale in the “Supernatural Omnibus” by Montague Sommers about a University student who discovers the remains of a man in the garden of the old house he has rented for the use of quiet study. Smitten by the story, it inspired me to write, Sedalia.
What do you like most about the story?
Narratively, I like the story’s structure, namely the two plot points, which are two nightmares that tie the acts together. Aesthetically, I like the film’s natural look, which I think works best for the horror film.
How did you get involved in filmmaking?
In 2006, while on a football scholarship at a school in San Jose, CA, I took a trip to Universal Studios in Los Angeles, CA, and caught the film bug. The following week, I walked into my coach’s office and gave up my scholarship to pursue a career in film. I started in stop motion animation and photography, which slowly progressed into writing, directing, and cinematography.
Tell us about your process? Where do you start? In terms of writing, if I don’t already have a concept in mind, I’ll pull various books from my library and hunt for an idea or story thread that excites me and go from there; I never wait for an idea to hit me. As far as directing, I like to pre-direct the film before principal photography, which allows for more creativity on set.
Tell us some difficulties during the process or a unique story that happened? I experienced a few eerie incidents while filming Sedalia. There is a sequence in the film where the protagonist discovers an amateurish website while researching the history of her new home. One of the pages is dedicated to a fictional, child-murdering preacher, which is a stock photo I animated so that when you click on his page, his eye holes turn black. A few days after completing the fictional website for the film, that image was emailed to me from an unknown sender. I was the only one who knew about the site at the time and hadn’t shown it to anyone—I still can’t figure it out.
Tell us how important independent filmmaking is to you?
I think my narrative style depends on the freedom of independent filmmaking. I like to play with story structure and try new things narratively. I enjoy the autonomy of being an auteur.
What are you currently working on or plan to work on in the future?
Currently, I’m in pre-production of my new film, a horror-thriller that deals with mental health and is styled structurally after the popular 1940s cartoon Tom and Jerry. I’ve also been working on a new novel, which I would like to adapt for the screen and shoot eventually.
What are some filmmakers, directors, writers that inspire you?
I admire the work of the late great Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. I also study the works of realist painter Andrew Wyeth. During the final nightmare sequence of Sedalia, there is a shot of Sedalia, pre-death, sitting in the front pew of a church, alone. Wyeth’s painting Maidenhair was the inspiration for that shot.
Any advice to filmmakers just starting out?
I would tell new filmmakers to never lose their essence. Like a fingerprint, your narrative voice is distinct to you—be yourself and make the stories you want to make.
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