Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a man quite like the idea of alien abduction. Matty Beckerman makes his directorial debut with a gripping found footage film is based on the real-life Brown Mountain Lights phenomenon in North Carolina (mysterious orbs that have appeared over this mountain range in North Carolina for over 800 years which coincide with people going missing). ‘Alien Abduction’ centers around a vacationing family who encounters more than they had bargained for.
While driving to a campsite, the Morris family’s GPS malfunctions and they are led to a remote tunnel surrounded by abandoned vehicles. The father, Peter Morris, is abducted leaving his traumatized wife and children to flee and seek refuge in a nearby cabin. There they are horrified to learn that strange lights in the nearby mountains have been linked to alien abduction and human sacrifice for centuries. When their attempts to alert the authorities are intercepted by the deadly extraterrestrial threat, the surviving members of the family find themselves under siege. A brutal and bloody attack unfolds as we witness the horrors through the lens of the youngest child’s video camera.
Brought to us by producers Mike Fleiss (Hostel) & Lawrence Bender (Inglourious Basterds), the upcoming thriller opens in select theaters & VOD on Friday, April 4th. Jason Price Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with director Matty Beckerman to discuss the origin of the story, the challenges of bringing the film from script to screen and much more!
I wanted to give our readers a bit of background on you. What initially intrigued you about the world of filmmaking and sci-fi early on?
As a kid, I watched thousands and thousands of movies. I think I must have seen “Close Encounters” about three hundred times! [laughs] Being a sci-fi geek, I grew up on things like “Star Wars” and reading Isaac Asimov, those were huge inspirations to me.
Where there any specific directors who you looked to and hoped to shape your style after?
My favorites were always guys like Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas all of those science fiction prophets; not that I compare to any of those guys.
You debut flick is “Alien Abduction.” How did the idea for this film come about and made you want to pursue it as your first film?
I was living in the mountains of North Carolina. For over 800 years, there have been these lights that appear on Brown Mountain; which are referred to as “The Brown Mountain Lights.” Reports of these lights date back to the Cherokee Indians. They are very real! I have seen the lights myself, I have videotaped them and I have taken pictures of them. There are hundreds of abductions stories that have happened throughout that area and it is usually when people see these lights. The correlation is pretty incredible. I think that the Brown Mountain Lights are a bigger story than Roswell or Area 51 because people can today go up to these overlooks that are clearly marked and actually see something. It is terrifying.
Obviously, you were familiar with the subject matter going into the project. How far did you go in terms of deeper research?
I went back and looked at the legends that existed. The first legend that comes up is from the Cherokee Indians. The Native Americans who live there say a huge group of them went missing on the mountain. The lights have been said to be the souls of the Native Americans that went missing. In the plantation days, I can’t recall the exact year, there was a plantation owner who went missing around the mountain when the lights were seen. His workers went out looking for him and also went missing. This was well documented. There is a bluegrass song called “The Brown Mountain Lights,” which documents that whole thing. The song was most famously done by Roy Orbison in the 1950s. There was also a woman who went missing on Brown Mountain in the 1950s and when the search party went out to look for her, they also went missing. There is a big history of large groups of people who go missing around Brown Mountain and it is constant. The stories are woven into the folklore of the area but it hasn’t happened for so long that it has become legend. At their core, the stories are all the same — when the lights show up, people go missing.
How did you prepare to tackle the film stylistically and did you have any particular goals you were hoping to accomplish with the film?
Yeah. The story is told through the lens of an autistic eleven year old kid. The reason we did that was because I had actually sat down with a psychologist who had a patient who was autistic and his entire way of viewing and communicating with the world was through the lens of his camera. It was a medium that made complete sense to me as to why he would keep the camera on and rolling throughout these crazy moments. It really lent itself to being a really terrific vehicle for storytelling. I love the found footage genre. I feel it is still different and innovative, You are putting yourself into a box and trying to figure out how to tell the story in the most realistic fashion is really fun filmmaking!
How did the script evolve on set when you began shooting? Did you encounter any major obstacles?
Everything changed! [laughs] Each scene, the way we shot, was really ad-libbing almost the entire thing. We did have a set script and points that we needed to hit, the actors were really free to be themselves and explore the characters. In most found footage films, I have heard that is the way it goes. You give the freedom to the actors to really discover who they are as the characters and you don’t have to stick to the written word, line for line. You just have to get to the point of what the scene is trying to spell out.
Speaking of your actors, was it difficult to assemble the right mix of people to bring the characters to life?
We had incredible casting agents here in LA. The roles, for the most part, each of the people we cast, are these characters. The characters aren’t really characters as much as their own personalities. The exception is Sean McClane, who is our redneck! [laughs] Jeff Bowser is a method actor and he came into the audition as Sean! He really just freaked me out! [laughs] I knew immediately when he walked in that he was the guy! He stayed in character throughout the shoot of the film and really, I only know him as Sean! [laughs] I spent more time with him as Sean McClane than as Jeff Bowser!
Looking back on the process of bringing this film to life, what do you consider the biggest challenges?
There are so many challenges when you are making a movie, especially when you are doing it independently. The biggest challenge overall has to be believing in your vision and knowing that what you are doing will work. It is all about having confidence in your ability to make a movie. It’s tough! There are always going to be people who will tell you that you can’t do it, it is a crazy idea or that you can’t make it happen. It is getting over that obstacle that is the biggest thing, along with never taking no for an answer! [laughs]
What is the biggest lesson you learned as a filmmaker on this project?
This is the first movie I have directed, so it was really challenging. I am always listening to people who know more than me. That is the biggest take-away. I surrounded myself with people who know more than me. My DP was amazing, my first AD was incredible and they had tons of experience. I listened to them and absorbed it. I was truly a sponge when I was around them.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot for this project? Is there something that jumps out at you there?
Yeah! The birds were so hard! [laughs] It was incredibly tough! We really had a hard time getting the bird to hit the windshield the right way. We tried putting it on a wire. We tried getting someone to throw it like a football. The car is driving really fast and to get that shot, we must have done fifteen takes and it just wasn’t working. Finally, I said “Screw it!” I got a fishing pole and one of the hero birds and filled it up with fake blood. I got on the roof of the car with the fishing pole. I would ride the car and start smashing the bird into the windshield with a fishing pole! There are some great pictures of that somewhere! [laughs] That was definitely the most challenging part! Everything we did was practical, so there is not a lot of outside special effects in the film. We were on a stark budget, so we had to try to get everything in-camera. It was definitely challenging but so much fun at the same time!
Is there a particular part of the filmmaking process you find yourself drawn to?
Being on set, working on the scenes and seeing them come to life in front you when you have stared at a script for months is an amazing process. Suddenly what you are shooting comes to life better than what you expected; that is the greatest moment! When that happens, I go to a different place! It is like meditation for me!
What is up next for you? Any projects on the horizon you are excited about?
I have a few projects in the works but I am not sure which will come up next. One of is called “Sympathy For The Devil.” You know how Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and bands like KISS have a lot of satanic imagery surrounding the bands. This film is about a metal band that actually sell their souls to the devil! It is really fun! I am working with Clown from Slipknot on the movie.
That sounds like it is worth the watch! You can serve as a great inspiration for young filmmakers. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those looking to make a career in the industry in today’s climate?
Wow! That is an important question. The best advice I can give is to never back down and never take no for an answer. Don’t listen to anyone around you who tells you can’t do it. I would also say to read books on the business of film because maneuvering that political nightmare is not easy!
Thanks so much for your time today. Matty! We are looking forward to spreading the word on the film and will talk to you again soon!
Thank you, Jason! It was a pleasure!