EDITOR'S NOTE — This story was changed to correctly spell Gavin Groves' last name.
CARBONDALE — After a long, five-year production period, a “found footage” horror movie starring a Southern Illinois University Carbondale senior is off to a good start.
“Unlisted Owner” stars SIUC student Gavin Groves as Gavin Landers in a film that chronicles one bad night a group of friends share as they investigate a new string of murders in the already infamous “Owner House.” The narrative is pieced together using handheld recordings from the perspective of particular characters.
Groves said he and director Jed Brian have known each other for years — since they were kids, in fact — and, in 2012, he got a call from Brian asking him to join his new project.
“He said, ‘Hey Gavin, I’ve got this role. It’s you. I want you to do it,'” Groves said, remembering the call.
Groves is no trained actor, as he is finishing up his degree in industrial management and applied engineering, but said Brian wrote the role around him, so in a way there was little acting involved. There was some tweaking, though. Groves said they went through several read-throughs and script rewrites as a cast.
“There were some things that if he wanted that character to be me, we could change,” Groves said.
He said this was a collaborative effort as no one had any formal training. They would just keep trying new things he said until it felt right.
Brian remembered writing the character for Groves.
“I just wrote that character around him because I figured this guy would be outgoing and funny,” he said, adding that he needed to be crazy enough to get people in the situation they are in in the film.
Groves and Brian said one of the biggest struggles of production was just syncing schedules. Groves said balancing not just his fellow actors’ schedules, but also his own, was tricky.
“It was tough to do and there were times where I felt like I was driving way more than I should have because my schooling was away from there and my work was away from there,” he said of the sumner location and production schedule.
Brian said making a horror film doesn’t require a big budget to be successful — he pointed to “Paranormal Activity” as a prime example. He said that movie — which cost about $15,000 to make, according to Forbes — taught him that he could make something of quality without having a break his bank.
Brian has no formal filmmaking background — he studied digital entertainment and game design — but said he just likes telling stories. He said he would get ideas often and think how cool it would be if someone made the movie.
The Sumner volunteer firefighter, city council member and oil field worker eventually decided to sit down to write a script. Years later, in 2013, he was watching his movie two nights in a row with about 110 each night in Vincennes, Indiana, for test screenings.
Brian said he took the feedback from those events to tweak his final product — they needed to add an additional opening sequence. It would still be years, though, until he would see his baby for sale to the general public.
Brian took the film on the festival circuit with little success in 2014.
“We didn’t really get into anything we had hoped for,” Brian said.
It was then that he found out about the American Film Market, a convention for selling films held in Santa Monica, California, each year. However, when he found this outlet he realized he would have to wait until 2015 as they had already missed the deadline for 2014.
Brian said this wait gave him time to prepare to sell his film to distribution companies. After the Market, Brian had three interested distributors and inked a deal in October 2016 with Tomcat Films/Summerhill Films out of Phoenix.
After tying up loose ends with the company, “Unlisted Owner” saw worldwide release last week. Brian said because of pre-orders, DVD copies of the film have already sold out and after it was listed on Amazon, it reached number nine on the seller’s list of new horror releases.
After figuring it out along the way, Brian said he is hopeful to make a career out of filmmaking be that as a director writer or even actor.
Groves, though, he said he just enjoys acting for fun — full time acting seems unlikely.
“I don’t think that’s in the cards for me,” he said.