John Gibson, who grew up on a farm in Risingsun, graduated from Lakota High School and has worked in construction for years, recently wrote, directed and produced a movie, "Curtis and Dave Are Dead."
Having minimal training in moviemaking, he went to work on it in 2009.
Assisting him was his sister, Cathy Brickner of Tiffin, who has a bachelor's degree in communication and experience in finances and marketing. Gibson finished the movie in October 2013.
"We filmed it entirely in Seneca County, and there are specific mentions of Heidelberg College, Tiffin University, Burger King, Wolf Creek and more. There are also some very beautiful exterior shots," Brickner said.
"I didn't go into it expecting to get wealthy or famous. The idea was to do it just to say I've done it. I can demonstrate that you can make a quality movie anywhere in the world as long as you have a good story," Gibson said.
Actually, Gibson did study radio, television and film as a young college student at Bowling Green State University, but digital technology did not exist at the time. Film recording and high-quality video equipment was expensive, especially for a struggling student. Gibson switched to the construction business, which took him to Florida in the 1990s.
In 2000, Gibson moved to New Mexico to work for a mining company. The treacherous work often had to be done in brutal weather conditions, which motivated Gibson to return to college for a degree in English with intentions of possibly becoming a teacher. In looking for a school, he found a branch campus of New Mexico State near the White Sands missile base. He enrolled in 2006 and later transferred to the main campus in Las Cruces, N.M.
Gibson's attraction to film resurfaced in 2009. He said he enjoyed watching the Shaytards on Youtube. After viewing the movie "Paranormal Activity," he thought he could combine the best elements of both "like a Reese's peanut butter cup" to create a movie with compelling characters and plenty of action, comedy and mystery.
Gibson started writing his story about three young friends, Curtis T. Cobb, Dave Bailey and Beja Lux, who start a Youtube channel. With the depressed economy at the time, Gibson decided his young adult characters would be unemployed and using their free time to record events in their lives. Maybe they could make money from advertising and T-shirt sales.
"So that was the premise. From there, I just started thinking about the characters and plotting it. Eventually, I got around to writing it," Gibson said. "This would be kind of like 'Napoleon Dynamite' meets 'Paranormal Activity' in reality TV- style."
Soon after the characters begin their project, strange happenings occur. Objects are not in their right places, the friends hear strange noises and something evil whispers "I see you" in Curtis' ear as he sleeps. By the end of the story, Curtis and Dave are dead. Beja survives to narrate the tale and edit the movie.
With the advances in technology, Gibson estimated he could make a movie with a $2,000 investment for equipment. He decided to shoot the film in a quality that would be good enough for the big screen if a company, such as Sony or Universal, wanted to distribute it. Otherwise, it could be distributed online.
By the time the script was complete, Gibson had moved to Fort Wayne, Ind. He planned to shoot the film there, but he couldn't find a setting with the look he wanted.
After talking to Brickner and another sister, he decided to search for a filming location in Seneca County. On a visit to the area, he found "the perfect house" near Bascom. Gibson said the house is shown in an ad running on Bascom Communications.
"It's got that Gothic look like the movie 'Psycho,' that scary house. It sits way back off a lane, which was absolutely perfect," Gibson said.
"And Wolf Creek runs behind it," Brickner added.
Gibson moved back to the area to get started. To cast the film, he contacted the theater departments at Tiffin University, Heidelberg, Bowling Green, Findlay and other area universities Although "they were all really polite," his efforts did not generate much interest, he said.
Looking back, Gibson said he wished he had set up an online site where prospective actors could get more details about the movie.
"I never heard anything. ... so I ended up putting an ad on Craig's List," Gibson said. "I actually did all the auditioning on Youtube."
He told the applicants to talk into the camera so he could hear their voices and see how they looked on camera. They didn't need a script.
Tim Fowler was one of the first to respond. Gibson said he arranged to meet Fowler in Findlay the next day. Fowler was cast as Curtis, the main character.
Fowler also offered to send Gibson's casting call to his friends. Soon, more than 40 people, mostly from Columbus, contacted Gibson, including Sara Michal, who portrays Beja and Steve Barrett who plays Dave.
Once the main characters were cast, Brickner and Gibson met with them and reviewed the script. A scene called "The Ashley Judd Incident" takes place in a bar with several other actors from Tiffin, Old Fort, Risingsun and Fostoria. Heidelberg graduates Megan and Danielle Reinhart, who live down the road from the main filming location, served as production assistants and extras.
Brickner said her mother-in-law lives across the street and knows the woman who owns the house where most of the filming took place. Gibson said the owner was cooperative and allowed them to shoot footage at all hours of the day and night. The script includes a lot of screaming, but the terror is portrayed by suggestion - in what the audience does not see. Gibson said there is little on-screen violence.
"There's no blood, no guts," Brickner said.
At the opening, Beja tells the viewers she put the movie together to remember her friends, Curtis and Dave. Then the action flashes back to the trio's efforts to support themselves through Youtube. An evil entity makes itself heard and felt as the filming continues. Initially, it affects only Curtis, but eventually, Beja and Dave also are haunted as it whistles children's songs and toys with them in other ways.
Gibson names the spirit Pikaboo, suggesting it has existed since the earliest times.
Most of the movie is focused on developing the quirky characters, the producers said. The characters wear T-shirts that refer to "Cobb-
ville" because "Kingofcobb-
ville.com" is the name of their Youtube site. Although the characters and events are fictional, they are set in real locations to give the audience a sense the events really happened.
Brickner described her favorite scene of the three friends squeezed into a bed together.
"There's a scene where the Dave character gets scared and he ends up in bed with the other two characters. ... He's like a little kid who crawls in between them. And the bed we used was a double bed," she said. "The actors played it off perfectly."
Brickner's hobby is miniatures, so Beja also has that hobby in the film. Some of Gibson's original artwork was incorporated into the sets and he composed the music for the soundtrack.
"Every scene is layer on layer. It's very complicated," Brickner said. "Everything in the film is intertwined and somehow related to another thing. ... There's hidden meanings throughout the whole thing."
Gibson said the actors were nervous during the first rehearsal, but that soon dissolved. They worked well together and made their characters believable. After two rehearsals at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, Gibson directed them to stay in character and go into downtown Tiffin with cell phones to record their own footage.
The filming was finished in 2012 and editing took more than a year. The working title of the film was "Found Footage." Brickner said the script did not contain the ending of the story, so the actors were unaware of the conclusion until they saw the finished DVD.
Although Gibson continues to promote the film, he managed to finish his bachelor's degree and start working on a master's degree. He said the film has done well enough to cover his expenses, and the positive feedback he has received is encouraging. He even is contemplating a sequel.
"It's better than I expected this early in the game. It's been a lot of fun. It was a lot of hard work ... but it really opened my eyes as to what is possible," Gibson said.