Our second Just Scare Me short, Autoslay, was our biggest production (as of press time), but was almost mired by a real-life death.
*NOTE: This post will be updated with the video link for Autoslay once the festival circuit has been completed. Until then, watch our other shorts here.
After the success of our inaugural Just Scare Me entry, — the horror-comedy short, Sir Stirs — we wanted to go full-on horror for our sophomore attempt. After that first showcase, I knew that I never wanted to miss a single event if I could help it, and was going to make a short no matter what every two months.
As for the concept of this second entry, well, Erica and I still had a few ideas that needed more time to bake in the oven, and so, we brainstormed for a few days asking ourselves, “What would scare us?
Erica came up with the idea of being home alone watching horror films at night, and we wondered how we could take that idea and evolve it into a fun horror concept. We quickly imagined our character watching a horror streaming app, and with every title selection she made, she kept seeing herself as the star of each short.
What’s worse than watching horror films at night home alone? Becoming the star of every single one.
Erica and I spent the next few days tweaking the script, then we dove headfirst into producing. I reached out to an old contact in the make-up department of American Horror Story and 9-1-1 to find a make-up artist, and Erica began the search for the costumes & props.
The special effects make-up was difficult to nail down at first. I didn’t have a clear vision for “The Entity” at first because I knew I wanted our makeup artist to help design it. My contact got me in touch with a phenomenal make-up artist named Brittany Fontaine, and after an hour-long discussion and scouring her frequent prosthetic design shops’ websites, we landed on the look for “The Entity.”
Meanwhile, Erica worked with our actors, “Cassie,” Chloe Rosenthal, and “The Entity,” Kyle Vonn Elzey, to find their wardrobe. She must have spent a week finding all of the costume changes needed for the many short films depicted within our meta short.
Meanwhile, I booked the very same production studio to shoot one of our on-screen murders where we used to showcased our Just Scare Me shorts, Tiger Lab Studios, for an additional level of meta-horror for those in attendance.
Erica and I had thought of everything and were so excited to shoot this short as we had spent nearly $2,000 between the two of us. We were set to film on Saturday, November 7th, 2021.
All was well in our timeline too, until my Dad died of Stage Four Cancer, on October 29th, a day after his diagnosis. Erica and I flew out Thursday night for the Friday funeral, a day before the shoot. No one wants to meet their partner’s family during a funeral, but here, she had no choice. And unfortunately, she never got to meet my Dad at all (save via FaceTime). We had already planned to fly out a few weeks later for Thanksgiving, and I vowed to uphold that plan. But first, what to do with this short?
Everyone, including the cast & crew, asked if I wanted to postpone the shoot, but I had already secured the location, spent too much money, and knew that Dad would have wanted me to carry on and “shoot the damn thing.” He was an extremely vocal supporter of my move out west to pursue my dreams, and I wasn’t going to stop now. So that decision meant that we were to fly six hours East, and drive another three, to be in Maine for a grand total of thirty-six hours.
The ceremony was bittersweet. Erica indeed met my entire living family, including some folks I hadn’t seen in years, but again, it wasn’t under the best of circumstances.
After the funeral, we flew back into LAX and immediately Ubered to set in the San Fernando Valley to begin shooting. We were exhausted, both by the emotional toll of my father’s funeral and by the physical lack of sleep and jet lag. To make matters MUCH worse, we were shooting on the night before Daylight Savings Time when we turned the clocks back an hour. It was going to be a long night.
One of our friends was gracious enough to pick up our catering orders for craft services and met us at Tiger Lab Studios. When we arrived, Brittany immediately got to work on the makeup for Chloe and Kyle while we hashed out our camera movements & choreography. Celeste once again graced us with her presence – this time as 1st AC – as we had asked fellow Just Scare Me filmmaker, Jonathan Lewis Louis, to DP on this project. And my other friend, Talon, was the gaffer, did on-set sound, AND shot the behind-the-scenes stills.
The makeup took longer than I had planned. It was to be expected, but my estimation was frequently off. I had the Studio booked for Four Hours which I thought would cover make-up applications and shooting, but I had to book another two extra hours to cover the final shots and cleanup.
We were set to move to an arterial street I had scouted to use for one of the shorts, but I feared getting police attention for a non-permitted film shoot. So, after we wrapped inside, we shot the second portion just outside of Tiger Lab Studios in the quiet side street. This section also took longer than expected, so it was a good thing we were in a remote part of LA.
Finally, we returned to our apartment for the final two segments. We shot out Kyle first (upstairs in the bathroom portion and in the lone shot in which he appears in the living room), so Brittany could remove his prosthetics and clean him up. Kyle and Brittany were wrapped soon after, but we still had the largest portion of Chloe’s work to shoot in our living room as she watched the on-screen horror unfold.
The lighting took longer than I had planned, but as I mentioned, I wasn’t the best at timing all this out. Finally, we shot the bathroom scene, and I had to cut a few shots that I knew we either couldn’t get (due to spacial limitations) or didn’t need.
We wrapped at 7 AM PLUS another hour thanks to the additional hour of Daylight Savings Time.
After a few weeks of editing, and exchanging notes with Celeste on the color grading, we submitted the short film minutes away from the deadline (a habit I hope to avoid), but we still had some tweaking to do after the fact.
I sent the short out to the show’s moderator, Buz, and eagerly anticipated watching people’s faces react when they saw Tiger Lab appear in our short. The showing was on December 1st, and we were flying back from Thanksgiving on November 29th. But we soon found out that a relative we were staying with was diagnosed with COVID soon after we left their place. So we got tested as soon as possible, but didn’t get our results back until the morning of December 2nd. So we couldn’t go and see people’s reactions, and it fucking sucked.
We wanted to submit Autoslay to horror film festivals, but none were open at the time. So we waited a few months, finished some tweaks to the edit, and submitted it in the spring. Here’s hoping we can get some more eyes on it!
Synopsis: A killer streaming app turns Cassie from a horror fan into a horror star.
“Autoslay” – Just Scare Me #10 (12/01/21)
Starring: Chloe Rosenthal as “Cassie”
Kyle Vonn Elzey as “The Entity”
Alex Howard as “The Body”
Produced, Written & Directed by: Erica Vitullo & Jamie Gagnon
Cinematographer: Jonathan Louis Lewis
1st AC & Color: Celeste Cassidy
Gaffer/Sound/BTS Camera: Talon Rudel
Special Effects Creature Make-up: Brittany Fontaine
Creature Designed by: Motion Picture F/X Company
Contact Lenses: SAS AUVA VISION
Nails: Dental Distortions
Throat Rip Prosthetic: Tinsley Transfers
Costumes: Erica Vitullo & Mourice Martin
Set PA: Alex Howard
Music (All Songs Used with Written Permission from Authors):
Daemon Hatfield “Beware the Daemon”
Enola Fall “Twisting the Knife Away”
Other Music and Sound Effects: Jamie Gagnon and Pond 5 (via license)
Buz Wallick & Just Scare Me
Skylar & Dawn w Tiger Lab Studios
Edited by: Jamie Gagnon
Copyright – GuyOnAWire Productions 2021