It took over a year-and-a-half of scriptwriting, applying for permits, finding a cast and crew, filming, and post-production, but film director Maria Collette Sundeen’s horror short …
It took over a year-and-a-half of scriptwriting, applying for permits, finding a cast and crew, filming, and post-production, but film director Maria Collette Sundeen’s horror short “Lifeless” is finally finished.
The Los Angeles-based director shot most scenes of the short film in Port Townsend, utilizing city spots and landmarks from the Haller Fountain on Washington Street to the Undertown.
To commemorate the achievement, Sundeen, crew members, and film supporters met Saturday, Feb. 19 via Zoom to debut the short film and discuss the journey to completion.
“I’m really proud and excited by the team who got together to make this come alive,” Sundeen said.
“I know its not a traditional kind of film, but it was a piece of art that I needed to do and that’s what I feel like came out of it.”
Greatly influenced by the horror elements of past authors and poets like Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, and HP Lovecraft, Sundeen’s short involves life, death, horror, the supernatural, and more.
After making introductions between crew members and supporters, Sundeen premiered Lifeless to the group, eager with anticipation.
WORK BEHIND THE SCENES
Opening with wide shots of an eerily empty Port Townsend, cloaked in the signature gray clouds and hues of the Pacific Northwest, the story is guided by the internal monologue of a nameless narrator. Deliberately shifting from the traditional character dialogue style of film, “Lifeless” follows the meandering thoughts of a woman wandering around Port Townsend, and her eventual frightening discovery.
“I’ve never had to direct a voiceover artist before, so that was a really unique experience,” Sundeen said. “There’s no dialogue. It’s not a traditional film where you’re getting people talking and then you have music coming up. This is all laid on to the visuals so it’s its own entity as a sound piece for sure.”
With less emphasis on verbal communication in the horror short, Sundeen honed in on the visual and audio elements. A riveting film score, various sound effects, and crisp audio throughout truly enhance the short, while the film’s color palette transitions throughout the different scenes to advance the story.
Sundeen hired highly-acclaimed American film score composer Douglas Pipes to write the music for “Lifeless.”
“The whole post-production process was what really made this film over the top. The music, the sound effects, the vocalization,” Sundeen said.
“The score was freaking phenomenal and I give [Douglass Pipes] super credit. He is a master film composer. He’s a very intuitive musician. He said, ‘Do you trust me?’ and I said ‘absolutely.’ We went and hired an orchestra in Budapest, Hungary.”
After the score was finished, the crew had to complete the delicate process of fitting the music, sound effects, and narrator’s voice together in a smooth manner.
“We had to take the raw audio and place it in the right place within the story after the music already had been laid out, so we could pace it with the vibe of the music. That was the very last thing we did,” Sundeen said.
The ominous and lonesome elements of the horror short were inspired by real life emotions and encounters experienced by Sundeen while she was living in L.A. at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
“That came from a very dark place when I wrote that and what was happening to me, because I was alone,” she said. “Unlike a lot of people during the pandemic, I was alone for most of it.”
Between feelings of isolation, lack of art events to attend or take part in, and multiple negative encounters with people on the streets, Sundeen looked for inspiration within the madness of a global pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
“[The streets] were empty; I’d walk in L.A. and there was no traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard at all. I had to leave. I just said I couldn’t be here anymore and I felt like I was dead. Am I alive or am I dead, what’s happening? The same day, no one’s out there, you can’t touch people, you can’t communicate, there’s no poetry, no theatre, no music, and thats where that came from,” she said.
The empty streets that’s filmed of Port Townsend, the lonesome monologue of the narrator, and internal questioning of whether or not one truly exists were key aspects of “Lifeless,” spurred by Sundeen’s own emotions and personal thoughts.
A COMMUNITY EFFORT
As dark as the content of the short film is, Sundeen said her experience with the people and atmosphere of Port Townsend was anything but gloomy.
“The city of Port Townsend was phenomenally supportive from the shop people to the people in the streets, to the police, and the chamber, and Key City Theater who let me use this major prop from their stage,” she said.
“There were tons of local people who really stepped forward and were really supportive. It’s really different than shooting in Southern California; it was a very different experience, so I was very grateful for that part of it.”
Before coming to the Victorian seaport, Sundeen had to apply for numerous permits to film in the city, she said.
“I got a permit for everything we did. It was months and months of work before we actually started shooting. It was a lot of work before we even got into the street,” Sundeen said.
Many local businesses on the Peninsula helped make the short film happen, such as Ferino’s Pizza in Port Hadlock, which donated meals to the cast and crew during filming.
THE NEXT STEP
Before distributing the film to the public, Sundeen plans to take “Lifeless” to multiple film festivals in the coming months.
“The next step is to get [“Lifeless”] out to festivals. It’s already been submitted to about 10 or 11 [film festivals]. One in Bremerton, one in Port Townsend, so definitely where it’s been shot,” she said. “The rules for film festivals is that it can’t be publicly available or be publicly shown before it goes to film festival circuit.”
For the time being, folks will have to wait a bit until “Lifeless” is available to watch.
Sundeen thanked everyone in the film crew, including associate producer Kris Bradley, camera operator Skyler Mullins, gaffer Nicky Smit, and numerous others involved in the videography process.
“Your creativity and input cannot be downplayed. I could not have done that without you,” she said to the crew.
“There was a lot that happened to get in the way and cause hurdles through all of this. It was like dragging a truck uphill with my teeth. It felt like that sometimes,” Sundeen said. “While there were hurdles in other areas, we got what we needed. And in other areas the doors just magically opened.”
To learn more about “Lifeless,” cast and crew members, Sundeen, and other aspects of the film, visit www.museworks.tv/lifeless-short.