[Publisher’s note: As a reporter for the Greene County Daily World in Linton, Indiana, Patti Danner covers many of the people, events, and communities in southwestern Indiana. However, she never expected her reporting would land her a role in a horror film. After writing a couple of newspaper articles on Moonlight Films, a film-production company based in Linton, she was cast as a character in one of its movies. While Monroe County is becoming a notable filmmaking center, Danner shows us how Moonlight Films has made Greene County a hotbed of horror movies. Moonlight Films will premiere their latest film, Blood Cove, at the Tivoli Theatre in Spencer at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 27.]
James Stevenson and James Ian Mair are passionate about making movies. But the limited film-production resources in rural Indiana force them to rely on their wits, creativity, and determination.
“Our first film starred a pizza, and was called ‘Police Anxiety,’” Stevenson says with a laugh. “It was in black and white. I played a cop, and the cop had a pizza. These two hooligans, played by Ian [Mair] and his brother Ben, stole the pizza, and it was basically a nonstop chase to get my pizza back.”
Mair laughs at the recollection of their first attempt at filmmaking, saying, “[James] had a long, black trench coat and a derby hat. At the time, we were both obsessed with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, so the soundtrack to that can be heard playing throughout. It was a terrible, terrible movie.”
Lifelong friends, growing up together in Linton in rural Greene County, Stevenson and Mair met in second grade at Linton-Stockton Elementary School and began their cinematic careers when both were just ten years old.
From such an auspicious beginning, Mair and Stevenson now have 16 movies under their belts: 13 feature films, 10 under the banner of their production company, Moonlight Films, which they formed in 2008.
Their genre has almost always been horror, although the pair has, on occasion, veered into drama and short films.
In their day hours, Mair is a full-time educator, working as a fifth-grade teacher at Linton-Stockton Elementary School, and Stevenson works as an IT specialist. At Moonlight Films, both men play multiple roles, including writer, producer, director, editor, public relations, photographer, and actor.
“As is common in many independent film companies, the founders wear many hats through all aspects of production,” Mair says.
The two friends call themselves fortunate to have met makeup artist and special-effects (FX) guru Deron Morgan.
Morgan is the perfect Dewey to Mair and Stevenson’s Huey and Louie, using his creative mind to devise makeup effects, authentic costuming, and camera angles to make movies on a microbudget. While films considered “low budget” can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make, a typical microbudget film is made with just a few thousand dollars. At Moonlight, Mair says each film has different expenses, but most of their budget goes toward special effects and props, food and drinks, the manufacturing of DVDs, advertising material, and reimbursing cast and crew for gas.
“The thing about doing FX for a microbudget film is you have to know your limitations,” Morgan says. “Sometimes it’s about the right camera angles, knowing how much to show for how long, trying to make things look as realistic as possible and pulling off the illusion.”
With limited funds, the trio has had to stretch creativity to its limits and have been fortunate to have attracted and retained a core group of loyal Greene County talent to assist them, including local actors Jeff Angel, Cassandra Schomer, Ben Mair, Katie Harbridge, Tara Bixler, Eddie Dean Fish, Jonah Fish, Homer Abrams, Kegan Inman, Kristen Inman, Martha Lee, Grant Karazsia, John Danner, Dan Turpen, and Alex Phipps, as well as the late sci-fi writer Ruby Moon-Houldson and actor and veteran film musician Virgil Franklin, who has done work for the SyFy Channel and PBS.
Several Bloomington-area actors have appeared in Moonlight Films productions as well, such as C.A. McGregor, Jeff Johnson, David Michel, Kai Au, and Jerry Nees.
Moonlight Films relies heavily on the graciousness of locals not only for actors and support crew but also property owners willing to lend their homes and land for filming.
“The hardest hurdle to overcome is to find people willing to join a project with no real pay,” Stevenson says. “Our actors are given gas reimbursement and food and snacks, but no real paycheck. When you are lucky enough to assemble a crew and get all of your roles cast by people who aren’t getting paid, I think you get some amazing performances. These people are acting because they want to, not for a paycheck, and they are as passionate about filmmaking as we are. I think that’s what sets us apart from other low-budget filmmakers.”
In addition to local actors, Moonlight Films has cast B-movie actors of the past, such as horror film veterans Jim O’Rear, George Stover, and the legendary Lloyd Kaufman, who in 1974 co-founded Troma Entertainment, an independent film-production and distribution company in New York City. Stover lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and Mair and company fly there to film his scenes.
Moonlight Films has held premieres for new movies in a rented building in Linton and, more recently, at the historic Tivoli Theatre in Spencer. Past premieres have filled the restored Tivoli, with as many as 105 fans paying $5 for a seat at the showing of a new film.
“An average premiere is about 80 people,” Stevenson says. “Of course, we think more is better.”
They get more viewers — a lot more — on the Moonlight Films YouTube channel, where their feature films have received more than a combined 2.5 million views. Their 2015 release of A Whisper in the Dark has more than a million views to date. Mair says the ad royalties on YouTube help to sustain the company, which helps to pay for things like movie premieres at local theaters.
Although Linton has a modern movie theater, Mair hesitates to hold a premiere there. He says he has the responsibility of being a role model to the impressionable fifth graders he teaches.
“As a school teacher, I try to distance the scarier parts of the films from my day-to-day as ‘Mr. Mair’ when my students ask me about the movie making,” he says. “They are so interested in what I do, but I do hesitate showing the films so close to home, to keep the two careers a little more separate.”
“Specializing in horror films is kind of an oddity in the area we live in,” Mair adds. “It seems like everyone around here is either involved in sports or farming, and here I am, running around with a camera, carrying monster props and fake blood in my car. But I think the community gets a kick out of seeing what we put on the screen.”
The Greene County trio, accompanied by their cast members, will premiere their latest film, Blood Cove, at the Tivoli Theatre in Spencer at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 27. Admission is free and open to the public, although Mair does not recommend it for children under 12 years old, “as the movie is a slasher film and does contain violence and adult language,” he says. The film can also be seen on YouTube at 9 p.m. on Halloween night.
“Blood Cove is one of the best projects we have done to date,” says Stevenson. “With each new project, we run into new obstacles and jump new hurdles, but by expanding our creativity this way, we become better filmmakers and the films get better and better each time. Our main hurdle is always lack of funds, but you find creative ways to create with a lack of money.”
For more information about Moonlight Films, visit its website, Facebook page, or IMDb listing. For information about Spencer’s Tivoli Theatre, visit spencertivoli.org. Click here to see a report on Moonlight Films by Terre Haute television station WTHI-TV.
A synopsis of Blood Cove, issued by Moonlight Films, reads:
“The plot is a throwback of sorts to the slasher films of the 1980s. Joanie Craven, a young news reporter, is struggling with an incident that happened at work just months earlier. From the guidance of her trusted therapist, Dr. Alicia Wallace, Joanie decides to take a weeklong road trip, ending up in the Mayberry-like Beansboro, Indiana. Once there, she enjoys the scenery of the lakes and intriguing swampland. But lurking in the woods is a mysterious masked man, known as the Skull, who was believed to be long dead. Joanie disappears, and now her father, Michael, must enlist the help of crusty police detective Greg Fontana to help him locate his missing daughter and finally bring an end to the Skull’s reign of terror. But will they find her before it’s too late?”
Moonlight Films has released the following 16 films:
• The Man With Two Faces (2008)
• Bloodstone (2009)
• Bloodstone II (2011)
• After Dark (2012)
• Meridian (2014)
• Night Terrors (short film, 2014)
• Weaver’s Crossing (2015)
• A Whisper in the Dark (2015)
• Night Crimes (2015)
• The Shadow Zone (2016)
• A State of Mind (short film, 2016)
• A Whisper in the Dark II (2017)
• Graveyard Stories (2017)
• Legend of Demoniac (2018)
• The Maker of Monsters (2018)
• Blood Cove (2019)