10 years ago today a motley crew of filmmakers arrived and set up base camp at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, CA to begin the “22″ grueling days/nights of filming HATCHET. I need to put the number 22 in quotes because in reality the shoot for HATCHET was more like half of that amount of time. Though the film was originally intended to film earlier that year in the winter time when we would have full nights to shoot our little night-for-night production, as things tend to go in the indie world, our production pushed back and pushed back until we wound up filming in the spring and shooting at the absolute worst time of year for this particular kind of production. To put it into perspective, 90% of HATCHET takes place outside and at night. In the Spring in California you’re lucky to have 8 or 9 full hours of shootable darkness as opposed to the standard 12 hour film shoot that often also comes with the option of shooting even longer and into overtime if necessary. Factor in that we couldn’t afford enough transportation vehicles and drivers to quickly travel our cast and crew from our set deep in the woods down to our base camp, and every single night our lunch break wound up taking anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes no matter how hard we tried to expedite the process. But that wasn’t our only set-back with time. We got pummeled with rain just 3 nights into the shoot and lost half a night of shooting when our set all but washed away. (This would happen to us again on HATCHET 3, only even worse.) To add one more major obstacle during production… one night we arrived to find that a major network television show had unexpectedly taken over and placed a full-size helicopter right in the middle of our set. Even our carefully laid out electrical cables had been unceremoniously pulled up and moved aside in a pile and the entire night was chalked up as a loss for us. How can that happen, you ask? Well, in the indie world when you have very little money, sometimes your location can screw you over in the middle of your shoot when a bigger production suddenly shows up with a much bigger pay check to wave in front of them. From the random set-backs… to the fact that we were shooting such an ambitious film on a meager budget that included rain towers, extremely complicated make-up effects, stunts, fire, animals, children, underwater photography, and various other things that slow a production down to a crawl… to the fact that we would show up on set each evening to find that a porno flick (that sadly probably had a bigger budget than we did) was shooting on our sets without our consent… and hopefully you can start to see why the making of HATCHET was anything but typical or easy. By the way, I wish I was joking about the porno story, but there were many nights that we had to eat “breakfast” while watching strangers have sex on our sets and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it as it was too late to find a new ranch to shoot on or to move our entire production elsewhere.
I’ll save all of the untold stories for the big “10 Year Anniversary” blog (or perhaps novel with the way I tend to write) for the 10 year anniversary of the film’s theatrical release (September 7, 2007) since that is the date that “Victor Crowley” was truly born to the mass public, but I couldn’t let this pivotal day in HATCHET history go by without acknowledging and celebrating it at least a little bit.
Filming HATCHET may have been extremely difficult but it was also one of the greatest times of so many of our lives. Perhaps it was due to the fact that our core crew was so fresh, young, and naive that we were just happy to be living the dream of making a movie and nothing could break our sprits. Perhaps it was due to the fact that my intense enthusiasm and love for this project was contagious enough to make even the most jaded and skeptical crew members start drinking my “Crowley Kool Aid” and believing that the film we were making was going to actually matter and be remembered someday. A decade later there are more interviews about the production of “Hatchet” available to read on-line than I can even begin to count and the DVD/BLU-RAY release is so jam packed with incredibly comprehensive documentaries and commentary tracks about how the film was made that it is truly the next best thing to having had been there on set with us.
Our set photographer Christel Golden did a phenomenal job documenting every single moment of the production and there are literally thousands of photos to go through, so just choosing a few images to encapsulate what the excitement of that first day/night of production was like is extremely difficult to accomplish. Day 1 wound up being the film’s flashback scene that accompanies “Marybeth’s” tale of the legend of “Victor Crowley.” It was a split day that began with a day-time shoot of the scenes with “Young Victor Crowley” and finished with a night-time shoot where we shot the crucial scene of the Crowley house catching fire and “Mr. Crowley” accidentally killing “Victor” while attempting to save him. Ambitious, sure. But nothing could prepare us for our very first unexpected challenge. A challenge that set the stage for the difficulties that were to come. Let me explain…
The Crowley house and accompanying shed was built on our main set deep in the woods at Sable Ranch many days in advance of the shoot. It probably goes without being said, but building a house of any kind is a LOT of work. As is protocol when dealing with fire safety, a fire marshal came out and approved the location and the fire stunt in advance of HATCHET’s Production Designer Bryan McBrien starting his build. (We did things right and always put safety first.) However, on the day of the actual shoot a different fire marshall came out to supervise the evening and noticed that one branch (ONE branch) of a nearby oak tree was hanging ever so slightly over the Crowley house that our crew had built. Though the chances of the branch catching fire were extremely slim, there was still a chance. We couldn’t simply cut the lone branch as oak trees are apparently protected in California. So mere hours before cameras were set to roll, Bryan and his crew had to literally slice off the front of the Crowley house and somehow move it down into the ranch’s parking lot. It was a feat to accomplish to say the least and in the end Bryan and his crew actually wound up building a new Crowley house facade in a matter of hours. In the finished movie you would never know that half of the iconic sequence is on the real set and half of it is in a parking lot… but that is the magic of filmmaking and sometimes a crew’s most heroic efforts go completely unnoticed (at least if they did their job right).
… audiences fully believed what they were seeing. When we did promotional interviews leading up to the release of HATCHET 2 we told the press that the sequel was mainly shot on a sound stage and then watched how some reviews claimed that “the sequel doesn’t feel like the original because it wasn’t shot in a real swamp like the first film was.” The original HATCHET was shot in a combination of desert parking lot and a stretch of California desert woods with just a handful of swamp plants, trees, and Spanish moss dressed in for effect on camera. In fact, if you watch the first film closely enough, you can actually see the pots that the swamp plants are still in. HATCHET 2 was primarily shot on a sound stage which allowed us full shooting days and much more time to film the sequel’s extravagant (and numerous) death sequences. For the sequel, McBrien’s crew created a completely authentic swamp inside the stage and every plant and tree seen on screen is real. Save for the roof over our heads (which is obviously never seen in the film) HATCHET 2 was actually shot in a far more realistic swamp setting than the original film. Lesson learned: don’t tell the press how you actually made something until after they’ve seen it.
After making it through the massive clusterfuck of having to quickly rebuild the front of the house on Day 1, I clearly remember saying that “at least we got our major set-back out of the way on the first day” but I’ve since learned the perils in saying such words and the various jinxes that speaking them out loud can bring down upon a production. If I only knew then what the next decade had in store for the HATCHET story. Each film in the saga came with it’s own set of difficult production obstacles and random crazy release hurdles that were almost too ridiculous to believe. ”Ben’s” famous line in HATCHET 1 (“You gotta be fucking kidding me?!”) was a phrase uttered by many of us behind the scenes far too many times over the next decade of making the trilogy.
The most important aspect of the HATCHET saga to note is that every single step of it was willed into fruition. Not a single thing ever just “worked out” or went our way and at some point when all of the true behind the scenes stories are finally told and made public, you’ll see that the horror, comedy, and drama depicted on screen is nothing compared to what we lived through behind the scenes ourselves. HATCHET’s eventual success and each sequel’s eventual completion had to be fought for tooth and nail at every turn. And for that, I’m not only prouder than I ever could have imagined I’d be of this series but I’m eternally grateful for the entire experience. All of it. The intense highs and the devastatingly heartbreaking lows… the laughs, the tears, the cheers, the screams, the achievements and the disappointments were all one big gift.
Another little known fact, the first person to don the “Crowley” costume (or a very basic version of it) on the production was actually Kane Hodder’s right hand man and Assistant Stunt Coordinator Rick McCallum- who is the only other person to ever portray the character on film.
For the stunt when “Mr. Crowley” (Kane Hodder) breaks through the burning door with a hatchet and accidentally hits his now fully grown son “Victor” (Rick McCallum) in the face and kills him… Kane couldn’t possibly play both parts in the same shot. One of the most defining moments in Kane’s career, he cites this scene in his autobiography as the one that opened far more doors to on-screen acting roles out of prosthetic make-up.
Someday perhaps there will be a book or a documentary or some other piece of media that truly tells the real story of how this cult slasher franchise found it’s way, but until then all I can do is say thank you to every single person who served time and stood with me on this crazy, crazy journey. I might be the face of HATCHET as the creator and main driving creative force behind it, but it was the cast and crew of each film who really made it all possible. Many of whom also returned again (and again) for the sequels which is quite rare for a slasher series. But more so than anything, it was (and continues to be) the FANS worldwide who really made it all worth it. The fans who carried us the whole way through and who continue to make HATCHET something bigger and more important than every single one of us who stood together on set that fateful first day of production 10 years ago. They aren’t just fans, they are an army and no truer name has ever been bestowed upon a fan base.
To my cast and crew who spent such a huge portion of their lives working on HATCHET, congratulations on our 10th year anniversary of our first day of filming. I mean, fuck… who would have ever thought?? I don’t even think “Victor Crowley” himself could have imagined what our efforts would produce. But then again, he would probably have been too busy tearing us limb from limb to ever stop and think about what he would go on to mean to legions of horror fans around the world.
So go on… put on your favorite HATCHET T-shirt and enjoy all three films in the trilogy today while dining on a “Moons Over My Hammy, yo”, some chicken and biscuits (and gravy), some of Reverend Zombie’s fancy Chips O’hoy cookies, or be a man and have a Twinkie. Watch the various behind the scenes documentaries. Listen to the various commentary tracks. Reach out to any of the various films’ cast or crew members that you follow on social networking and let them hear your appreciation for all that they did. But most of all, remember that anything is possible if you’re willing to dream, willing to work hard, willing to keep getting back up again no matter what, and willing to suffer a bit for what you believe in along the way. From an 8 year old kid at summer camp with nothing but a Twisted Sister tape and a dream, to a handful of friends standing in a parking lot in Santa Clarita believing they could actually make a horror movie, to audiences of fans worldwide who embraced HATCHET with open slasher loving arms… Victor Crowley lives on today and forever more.
So heed Jack Cracker’s warnings and stay out of the swamp because with fans like the HATCHET ARMY Victor Crowley will never really die. In fact, if you listen closely in the dead of the night tonight, I swear you’ll still hear him. He’s still out there. Still roaming the swamp. Still crying for his daddy…
-Adam Green – Hollywood, CA. April 25th, 2015.