The notion of business over art isn't something you often hear in young filmmakers, but Miami resident Jarrod Knowles is more than happy to view cinema through that scope.
A long while in the making, his feature film What Lies Beyond... The Beginning is getting a red-carpet screening at AMC Aventura 24 Thursday, April 10th. Cultist caught up with Knowles and two of the film's actresses, Lexi Delarosa and Melissa Pastrana, as they all reflected on what it's like to see this bare-bones production become this big.
"It's pretty much the epitome of starting from the bottom. Started with a script, first couple of weekends were rough, but it's just the determination to see the project through," Knowles says. "Success is not an ultimate resting place. Success is the daily grind."
That drive to make his film a success is something his actresses see in him as well.
"Honestly, I never would have imagined that I would be sitting here right now. It started as a student film, but as an actress, seeing Jarrod's drive was contagious. If you didn't feel like you could keep pushing, he was behind you to tell you, 'Yes you can," Delarosa recalls.
"It's definitely true," Pastrana adds in. "I see a lot of potential in him and flavor in his film. Plus, there's more character development in this than some television work I've done."
Those characters and that quality of diversity is something Knowles takes pride in. He knows it's not the norm with horror.
"It's always a whole bunch of white people," he laughs. And it's a sad truth that hasn't been addressed much until recently. What Lies Beyond... The Beginning features a multitude of backgrounds in its main cast of college students that embark on an ecology research trip gone horribly wrong. While that may sound like your typical horror film, Knowles assures there's more to it than that.
"When I originally wrote the script, it was strictly horror, but that's not gonna sell well." As a producer first and foremost, he adapted the film to what worked best, and that meant adding comedy. There was improvised conversation, new ideas popping up on set, and as Lexi recalls, "The actors are hilarious. Just to watch them come up with some of the conversations they have is amazing, and it adds so much to the movie."
Horror, with or without a dose of comic self-awareness, seems to be a typical route for filmmakers with micro-budgets. Not a fan of crowdfunding, Knowles raised the money on his own, but crowd support still seems to factor into the way his film got off the ground.
"It's all about word of mouth," he says. Word of mouth helped Knowles get his first event at O Cinema, featuring a work-in-progress cut of the film and a packed house. "That kind of hype and support comes with months and months of trial and error. People are seeing our rise. We started from nowhere, and now we're premiering at a first-run theater.
Of course, mouths need something to talk about, and Knowles believes his Red Band trailer, influenced in part by the trailer for Evil Dead, was an integral part of the movie's marketing.
"It blew my mind," he says. "I thought, 'What I need to do is cut my footage in a similar way to sort of create such a big momentum and intensity.'" Not that he'd compared his film to that one, but it helped him craft something many would find appealing.
The trailer itself was a big reason Pastrana got involved.
"What appealed to me was actually his trailer. I started my television appearances with Mi Sueño Es Bailar and a One Direction video, but with this being one of my first film projects, I'll back Jarrod up. He's got a lot of heart, and it's great to be part of his dream."
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"At the end of the day, no one's gonna care about the film as much as I do," Knowles admits, but with a cast and fans as supportive as his, it's clear why What Lies Beyond... The Beginning has traction. With any luck, their screening Thursday night will be followed soon after by the theatrical release of their dreams.