Updated: Jun 19
While the thriller-horror genre may be a new venture in the pantheon of Mike The Marine filmmaking, thrilling adventure is not. I've made unforgettable memories in the past five years, spanning the slopes of Mount Laguna to the scorching desert sun of the Anza-Borrego in Southern California. Wherever a story takes me, wild adventure lurks around every scripted page.
Until 2019, all of my narrative projects had been Star Wars related. While the thrill ride was worth every bucket of blood, sweat, and tears I filled, fighting the Herculean corporate powers of the trademark will always be an unwinnable endgame. Star Wars will always have a special place in my heart, but it was time to let it go and find something new. After a long and tumultuous love affair with the Force, I decided to turn toward the thriller-horror genre for Shadow's Edge.
When scouting for locations, I wanted to find a local area in San Diego that felt secluded but provided convenient access. Before Shadow's Edge, the filming locations of The Dark Resurgence and Wrath of the Empire were between one and two and a half hours from the city limits.
My team on Shadow's Edge was only available for one weekend before the project's deadline, so the shooting schedule was tight. Coordinating extensive travel to far-off locations wasn't a luxury the team could afford. Luckily, the convenience of staying close to where I lived at the time made logistics more manageable. It allowed me extra time reviewing and improving the story, script, and storyboards (something to consider on a project you may be thinking of doing).
In the end, I found a great location that met my vision for aesthetics, convenience, and availability - Presidio Park in San Diego. The location's natural, aged aesthetic made the 80s illusion possible to accomplish on a limited budget.
During daylight hours, the park is a relatively safe spot for an afternoon family picnic, but after closing, it morphs into a far less innocent environment. In all seriousness, do not bring the kids here after dark. However, if you can hire a babysitter, save $100 on a motel and be one among many of the park's promiscuous youth. The park oozes character from all the wrong places making it one creepy place to film. Once we added our motley crew to the mix, it felt like an early Halloween.
There were moments on set that reminded me of a creepy episode from the Twilight Zone. While a freaky movie feels safe to watch in the comfort of your own home cuddled up to your Netflix boo, we had no safety bubble. The creepy film we watched was real, in living color, and all started with a death stare.
Creepy Thing I - The Death Stare
Before I can make any sense of what happened next, I need to introduce our beloved cast member and fellow victim of the first creepy thing that happened to us on set, Andrew Biernat.
Andrew, who plays the rough-and-tumble badass Jay, is a hunky male model. To put it bluntly, if you took Fabio, cut the hair, and gave him an American accent, you'd get Andrew. That is why his mug is plastered across every romance novel at your local Barnes and Noble.
Around midnight on day one of filming, we had a brief break to relax and recharge in between shots. I walked over to Andrew, who stood alone, hoodie drooped overhead, with his prop slugger in hand.
As we began shooting the breeze, he suddenly froze, staring off into the great dark beyond. I curiously wondered to myself if he had lost his mind.
I could understand if we were filming Baywatch in 1988 because of all the beautiful distractions, but staring into the darkness doesn't make any sense for a sane person unless you're Andrew looking into a mirror. News flash: there was no mirror.
Suddenly, Andrew revealed what had distracted him.
"Some creepy guy is looking at us behind you," Andrew alleged.
"You're full of shit," I replied.
Andrew calmly laughed, sounding confident in what I thought was a joke.
But in the end, curiosity bested me, and I turned toward the alleged "creep".
To my shock, a scary-looking white man stared at us half-way submerged in the dim amber light of the female restroom's overhead lamp. He froze his eyes on us in a cold lethal manner like we were in the middle of a B-grade horror flick. I wasn't sure if he wanted to murder me or make love to Andrew.
Whatever urges he had, I felt a tinge of mortal danger crawl up the back of my spine, into my skull, and out my eye sockets. His unwavering gaze stuck to us like melted gum on a hot sidewalk without so much as a twitch of human-like expression.
Thankfully, I broke free from the man's dark entrance and refocused on something else in the opposite direction. I strained to see if the man stilled gawked at us like a psychopath from the corner of my eye, but it was too dark to see clearly. When I finally relocated my testicular fortitude and looked back toward the bathrooms, he was gone. That creepy death stare put me on edge for the rest of the night to expect the unexpected. A murderous-eyed lunatic stalked us in the shadows capable of who knew what. Whackos surrounded us in the heart of lunacy with nothing to stand between death and salvation except Fabio Jr. and homoerotic attraction. In one way or another, we were screwed.
Creepy Thing II - The Naked Man
The night was off to a creepy start, and I had a bad feeling it would only get creepier. Around midnight, a lone car parked at the edge of the empty road beside our camp.
The car idled for what seemed like an hour or so windows fogging in raunchy obscurity. I imagined what could possibly be going on inside the vehicle.
And to be brutally honest, you or friends you know have probably parked a car or two under secluded moonlight to indulge in the raging hormones of adolescence. But, if you're not getting frisky, wishing upon a shooting star, or filming a documentary on bats - a good chance remains that you are up to something far more nefarious than nooky.
So, after the car rattled in angst for what seemed like an eternity, the engine shut off, the driver's door opened, and the night got biblical.
A middle-aged black man stepped out of the vehicle without any pants. Underneath his missing pants, he wore absolutely nothing- no speedos, boxers, or briefs. It was just a man, his shirt, and half a birthday suit hidden in shadow.
No one can surmise with absolute confidence why this man decided to wander a park half-naked in the middle of the night, but common sense would suggest illicit drugs were involved.
After he wandered for a time, a female companion exited the vehicle. She paced in circles looking at her phone as her naked partner searched for his sobriety.
The couple did laps around the park bathrooms as if we ordered front-row seats to the Kentucky Derby. At one point, the lady stopped near us for a moment while we filmed. She stood motionless, staring into the bright blue light of her cellular device. Oddly enough, the only thing worse than her lover's drug addiction was an apparent cellular addiction.
Whatever these loons planned on doing, we indubitably would be first-hand observers or participants. So, we kept a watchful eye on the situation as the two wandered about. In a best-case scenario, they'd get the hanky panky out of their system and leave. In a worst-case scenario, they'd make us watch. And in a hellish nightmare, they'd make us participate.
Finally, after hours of gifting us ambient car noise for a story that was supposed to be set in a quiet secluded area, they got in their car and left. If you were hoping for a horrifying finale to the creepy reality show that graced our set, you're out of luck. We left those dirty climactic details to the privacy of their backseat.
Creepy Thing III - Creepy Noises in the Dark
On the last day of filming, the schedule was proceeding as planned until around 2 a.m when most of the team left because filming was nearly complete. Only a handful of team members remained, including Dalton Currie, our cinematographer, Steven Porter, our sound recordist, and Jillian Trelease, our lighting specialist, to knock out the last shots.
Dalton, Steven, and Jillian worked with me on capturing the last shots of production in a small enclave of low tree branches hanging over a secluded path entrance in a darker area of the park. As we positioned the camera gear, a creepily mysterious moaning noise crescendoed from a dense thicket of bushes a few feet from us.
I have heard many wild animal screams, groans, and growls throughout my life, but this was unlike anything I'd ever heard before. As some human-like creature croaked guttural whisperings from the shadows of the park bushes, a gang of homeless people started fighting alongside the park bathrooms from where we were filming earlier.
At this point, Jillian guarded all the equipment we staged after moving from the park bathrooms to the enclosed path. It was a relatively open area of the park about 30 yards from where we were filming in the dark enclave. Nevertheless, when the rest of us heard the shouts of angry park locals nearly 60 yards away, we had to make sure Jillian was safe. But, all of us reacted a millisecond too late except for one valiant white knight. Sir Avan of Sandiegolot went above and beyond the call of duty, charging toward the staging area in a full sprint shouting Jillian's name to the heavens. That is when I realized how great of an actor he truly was. It was beautiful.
Fortunately, Jillian was safe and sound. But, her safety cheated Avan out of his white knighted gusto. I think he held some genuine passion for defending her lady's honor. The only thing missing from the situation was a psychopathic dragon and noble steed voiced by Eddie Murphy.
All jokes aside, we had to pack up and leave before the bathroom battle crept it's way over to our side of the park. Surrounded by crazies on all flanks, we wrapped filming around 4 a.m. and bid farewell to the land of the loons.
If there is anything you need to remember from this story, it's this- while you were sound asleep dreaming about SpongeBob, we risked life, limb, and innocence to make you wet the bed this Halloween.
We guarantee you a thrill ride just as thrilling as making it thrilled us.