The Fear Effect (2000)

In the fall of 2000 I set out to make a 10 minute short for my Studio class.  The end result was a 30 minute film that taught me that movie-making is a laborious but rewarding process.  The final cut of my film didn’t end up exactly as I had originally intended but often setbacks and limitations can make for better results.

Kyle – 2016


POSTMORTEM (December 2000)

Making “The Fear Effect” was a labor of love . . . and I stress labor.  When I began Studio [Com Arts 355] way back in the beginning of the semester I knew that I wanted to start brain storming my Remote project right away.  I was excited by the idea of making a video, and I new I wanted to go all out with this project.  So it happened that on one fateful afternoon in September I was struck with an epiphany.  Was it the idea for the finished project that I turned in no less than a week ago?  Actually, it was an idea for a movie that couldn’t have been further away from the final cut of “The Fear Effect.”

The idea that I originally had was for a comedy about the stress of a manager working in the most ramshackle movie theater in the mid-west.  I had the whole movie outlined and most of the scenes written in my head when I saw an example of a “standard ‘A’ project.  It was then that I realized that my concept was uninspired.  I needed to come up with a new idea; a story that had more meaning than just a series of comic events.

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Trying to force a good idea is like trying to ice skate uphill, and that was essentially what I was doing.  I knew that I would have limited access to talent, crew and shooting locations so I restricted my thinking to smaller scale stories.  I wanted to concentrate on a single character and some aspect of their unique life.  But choosing a character is a lot easier than developing a plot.  The evolution of “The Fear Effect” was a long and frustrating development, and I had never felt the pains of writers block more prevalent than with this script.

The story started with a young man (a theater manager) that then turned into a story about an old man (a retiring projectionist).  It then became about a story about a depression sufferer, a suicidal girl and finally an AIDS patient (planning the end of his life while opening his home to a college student who was looking to start his).   I realized I was slowly sliding down the emotional scale, delving deeper into more morose and unhappy storylines, and becoming increasingly unsatisfied with every idea that came to me.

It was at this point when I decided to stop brain storming and just start writing.  I sat down in front of a blank screen and – almost by magic – immediately wrote the opening scene nearly exactly as it is presented in the final movie.  It was definitely a dark vision, but there was something mysterious and alluring that I thought would captivate my audience.  I decided to root my story from this seed of an idea and just see where it led from there.

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I knew that the opening would be a dream and I considered what kind of a person would have such a nightmare.  It didn’t take me long to associate this unsettling dream with a female friend who lived alone.  She is a single, professional, woman who use to live in Chicago.  Since her move to Madison she has retained the guard that she developed from living in a big city.  To an everyday, male, suburbanite like myself, her constant “locking of doors” and “slightly paranoid” behavior was strange to me but (as she would explain) is actually common among other young women in her situation.  I wanted to explore that perspective that seemed so strange to me so I based the character of “The Fear Effect” on my friend.  I wanted to explore the idea of why fear motivates behavior.  However, I knew that in order to do this, and make my video compelling, I would need to adapt a visual style that represented the perspective of the fearful.

I began doing research, online and at the library, on the psychological effects of fear and behavior.  I wanted to have a character that an audience could relate to, but at the same time treat her anxiety as justified and not dismissed as paranoia.  In trying to justify this characters apprehension I included a backstory that involved trauma and domestic abuse.  In my research I learned that people who suffer the effects of domestic abuse demonstrate the same fear, depression and anxiety in a person like the character I was presenting.  With this established I could now create a story that  not only addressed my theme of fear but also explore an important but stigmatized problem.

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Looking back on the production of “The Fear Effect” I realized that a director’s biggest responsibility is to solve problems.  I don’t think there was ever one day of shooting that went perfectly, but the hiccups that occurred sometimes resulted in solutions to bigger problems.  An example was the casting of my father to play several, different minor roles because of “no shows”.  The fact that he played every physical manifestation of my lead character’s fear only helped to add dimension to the project. My original idea was that the woman jumping at strangers only to be stalked by a specific person.  With a single actor playing every incidental encounter the audience is left make their own interpretations.

Still, while some restrictions lead to artist solutions, by biggest problem was having an unreliable cast and crew.  Because of tardiness, no shows, and having to do a lot of behind the scenes work by myself, I lost a lot of valuable time and ended up having do twice as much work to get the shots I wanted.  I suppose my expectations for how I wanted to make this movie were a little bit high, but I was determined to produce the vision that I had in my head.  This unfortunately meant doing several reshoots (the scene at the office and the entire opening with different lighting) and working until early in the morning.  On more than one occasion my actress and I finished shooting close to 4a.m.  I suppose a stricter shooting schedule and more incentive for what help I had could have made things smoother, but some problems just couldn’t be avoided.

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The original concept for “The Fear Effect” was a movie with a heavy emphasis on sound design.  I knew from the beginning I wanted little to no dialogue, and to concentrate on the details of all the little sounds surrounding my character.  This proved to be too challenging with my limited foley skills and time, and I had to abandon this approach.  I was actually very pleased with the results of my solution.  Forgoing the use of sound incorporated in post I chose instrumental music to cut my scene to help tell the story.  I think the music helped establish the mood I was going for and at the same time convey the character’s emotions very well.  I was very pleased with how the soundtrack turned out and was not disappointed with my contingency plan.

However, if I was unsatisfied about any aspect of the final cut of “The Fear Effect” I would have to say that the movie works much better at 30 minutes than the project dictated 10 minutes.  I extended cut of the movie develops the character in much more depth and provides a much better resolution than the abbreviated cut I turned in.  In hindsight I wonder if my approach or this topic was too complicated for the time that was allotted.

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Despite the problems and the frustrations of production (and post!) I can’t describe how pleased I am with how the movie turned out and the reactions from my classmates and teachers.  I am post proud about how close I was able to match my vision and how I was able to create a better story than my original concept.  The completion of this project reaffirmed all my hopes about my dream of being a filmmaker.  I couldn’t be more happy with the response I recieved from my peers and the feeling of satisfaction I had when I finished.  All the blood, sweat and tears that I put into this movie were worth it.

Kyle – 2000






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