There must be something about Mobile that invites writers and film producers to choose it as the setting for supernatural tales, for scary stories told around campfires and for haunted legends. Maybe it’s the distant echoes of the city’s somewhat mysterious past, its ancient cemeteries and spooky, moss-draped oaks creating ominous shapes in the moonlight. Mobile has ghost tours, after all, and its share of unsolved crimes, unexplained disappearances and legends of “monster” sightings.
Perhaps that’s what influenced Mobile natives Thomas Smith and Erin Lilley to focus their company, Fighting Owl Films, on creating worlds of fantasy that are moored here in their hometown.
“With supernatural and fantasy themes, your imagination is allowed to run wild. You’re able to tell whatever story you want, and you can explore some interesting concepts. I enjoy telling very human stories set against these unusual backdrops,” explained Smith, the founder and director of Fighting Owl Films.
“I’ve loved movies since I was a kid and spent a lot of time watching them and any behind-the-scenes or making-of shows I could find. I was always drawn to the more fantastical movies — stories of adventure or fantasy and stories that would put an unusual twist on the mundane. I was a very creative child and did a lot of drawing. From there, I branched out into writing and eventually film as a way to express ideas,” Smith said.
Fighting Owl’s latest film, “Full Moon, Inc.,” is a good example.
“The framework of the story is a basic detective tale that just happens to occur within a world of heightened reality and characters,” Smith said. “Films in the supernatural or fantasy genre let people take a break from real life — news headlines, whatever issues they may have in their daily lives, etc. — and lets them have a bit of fun. Plus, it’s always fun having a monster wandering around the set!”
No doubt it’s also fun seeing movie monsters wandering through your hometown’s familiar locales. “Full Moon, Inc.” features paranormal investigator Nick Moon — played by actor Khristian Fulmer — who is “searching for a mystical artifact in a city with a hidden population of creatures and monsters who live on the fringes of society,” producer/writer Lilley said. Many Mobilians will recognize the setting for The Mash monster bar in the film as The Industry Bar on Government Boulevard.
“The city has a lot of great locations that look fantastic on film, from historic architecture to beautiful parks and beaches,” Lilley said. “The Mobile Film Office has really helped us pinpoint some of these amazing locations. They’re great to work with and have helped us quite a bit over the years!”
Smith is the writer/director/producer for “Full Moon, Inc.” and Lilley portrays Daisy O’Reilly, Nick Moon’s assistant. The film also features Leah Christine Johnson as Lilah Fontaine, Moon’s mysterious new client, along with dozens of local extras. Kris Skoda is the film’s director of photography and Soren Odom is the composer.
Fighting Owl doesn’t need to look far from home for talent. “All of our cast and crew are 100 percent Gulf Coast, which is something we’ve always prided ourselves on,” Smith said. “The bulk of our cast [for “Full Moon, Inc.”] was from Mobile and the Eastern Shore, with a handful of actors coming from New Orleans and Pensacola. The Gulf Coast has a large pool of incredible talent that’s eager to gain experience and be involved, and we’re lucky to have them on this movie.”
“Full Moon, Inc.” is currently in post production. “We have a rough edit and are now working on completing visual effects, then music/audio and color grading,” Lilley said. “We hope to have the film finished by spring 2016. Once it’s complete, we’ll have a local screening. In the coming months, we’ll begin reaching out to distributors to try to secure a wider release.”
Established in 2007, Fighting Owl Films concentrates on producing narrative short and feature films. Its short comedies “Not-So Super Friends,” “C.U.P.I.D.” and “The Perfect Couple” have attracted extensive festival attention. The company’s first feature film, “The Night Shift,” and the follow-up short film, “Night of the Krampus,” have won awards: “The Night Shift” was named Best Fantasy Feature at the Shockerfest International Film Festival, and “Night of the Krampus” won First Runner-Up for Best Short Film at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.
Smith’s favorite film is “Jaws.” “It’s a great story about regular people put through extraordinary circumstances that’s full of adventure, humor and scares. I love the way it’s shot and edited, but my favorite aspect of the film are the performances — they’re very natural and honest,” Smith said.
“What differentiates ‘Jaws’ from its sequels and the cheap schlock knock-offs is that if you replace the shark with something more mundane … it’s still a great drama. Clearly, I was influenced greatly by early Spielberg, but I also find a great deal of inspiration from old ‘50s and ‘60s B monster movies, and the style and playful tone of Sam Raimi’s work.”
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