How to Make a Cross-Genre Supernatural Thriller Indie Film

By August 6, 2019Blog, Featured, Podcast

With directing, producing, cinematography and editing credits, award-winning filmmaker David Tarleton is truly a maverick in the indie filmmaking world and beyond. David has worked on projects for Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, 3Net, Fox, Comedy Central and many more reputable outlets. He is the executive producer, director and editor of the new media comedy series Dorkumentary, starring his wife Adria Dawn, and edited the Webby Award-winning Muppets series Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony.

Offering advice from his 35,000-foot view of the entertainment world, David sat down with The Filmmakers Podcast to share his words of wisdom on building tension, finding the right collaborators, dealing with financiers and the journey he took to directing his first feature film Hunter.

Listen to the full podcast here:

Here are 5 key takeaways from the interview. 

Communicate with your collaborators…

“Adria and I started in 2004 with Tarleton/Dawn Productions… Different projects come from different places but we’ve done so many projects together that, at this point, we really know how each other work… we communicate well – she’s going to take care of these things, I’m going to take care of these things and we’ll talk about these things, but these other things we don’t really need to talk about because we trust each other to take care of those… we just organically end up breaking up the responsibilities between us.”

You never know what you’re going to get… 

In his own words, David has always worn many hats while on the job. After coming off of directing and producing Dark Secrets, a 3D television series on 3Net, he and Adria received a script to read and give notes on. Of all the subpar scripts that had come across David and Adria’s desks, this script turned out to be quite good – it was Jason Kellerman’s who would eventually go on to star in the film Hunter.

“I ended up meeting with Jason initially just for script feedback / talking about the project and just offering some advice and we hit it off. He and his producing partner asked me to direct it… and if I wasn’t into the script, I wouldn’t have wanted to do this, but I was like yes, let’s do this and we found a way to put it on screen. 

You have to bring people on board who are finance people…

We ended up connecting with another producer who had a background in finance and that made an enormous difference… there was some sort of investment write off in the state of Illinois that was due to end [at the end of the year] so there was this real impetus for people to write checks…”

As David states on the Tarleton/Dawn Productions website, “Hunter was filmed in the freezing cold Chicago winter,” which cemented the look, tone and feel of the film.

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Stay true to tone…

“I knew that because we didn’t have a big budget, the look of the film would be very dependent on location scouting… I wanted the film to feel gritty, realistic and textured… I also knew that I wanted Hunter’s world to be very de-saturated… I knew I really wanted to play with the look of it in post-production. The color grade on this was the most extensive color grade I’ve ever been involved in by far… the color correction took 9 months for this film… there’s something like 2400 shots in it… It just took that much time to get the look; we were going for a very extreme look. 

Paired with the extreme look and tone, David’s film Hunter also offers a master-class in tension building.

Building to breaks…

“The story itself is a little cross-genre. When asked to describe it I’ll say thriller/supernatural thriller, but there’s also a strong relationship at the core of it, there’s mystery and horrifying elements, action sequences… with building tension, there’s a couple of things that are really important. One of them is point of view: when I’m thinking about how I shoot and cover it, I’m always thinking about whose eyes am I seeing this scene through. 

So much about [point of view] is withholding information. We’re seeing [a scene] through [Hunter’s] eyes and Hunter has an incomplete picture about what’s happening, but the pieces that he’s getting are very scary pieces. Fear is slow; action is fast; comedy is fast, but fear is very slow. Think about The Shining…the film is slow, but you’re at the edge of your seat because you know it’s coming.

That’s the kind of thing that I was trying to play with in the scary moments… You know it’s coming, but we slow it down to know that the thread is there to put us in the eyes of the character… but you have to be careful with that because you can build it up so much that the audience doesn’t want it anymore. Whatever you’re building… you have to give the audience breaks… there have to be these moments where you give the audience breaths.”

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On Acting & Directing… 

“I’ve cast a lot of things over the years… I’m looking for someone who if I was going to shoot tomorrow, they could do it. It’s dangerous to cast somebody who’s 75% of the way there… I want someone who’s 97% of the way there… 

I also think it’s important to give actors space to contribute… to recognize that they are co-artists creating this thing with us. No matter what ideas I have in my mind, I’m interested in what they have to bring to the table. Because they’re just focused on this one element, they’ll just have ideas that have never occurred to me.”


Andrew Schwartz is a marketing professional and script reader working in the entertainment industry. He has written and read for outlets such as The Blcklst, BlueCat Screenplay, Final Draft and more. Find him on Twitter at @writingshorts or his Instagram page dedicated to The Sopranos, @sopranosgram.


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