One day in 2007, Sam Bahre was sitting in a packed movie theater waiting for the show to begin, when suddenly, the lights came on. "I'm part of the Columbine generation," he says. "We grew up with mass shooting drills and such. When something like that happens — out of the ordinary in public — I get anxiety, thinking, 'What if this is one of those situations?' I start looking at the exits. Nothing happened that night, obviously. But it put the idea in my head."
The idea became I Filmed Your Death, an ambitious work of meta-horror with a long and eventful gestation period. "Throughout 2008, I wrote the script. I shot it then, originally, but ended up scrapping that entire version of it."
After I Filmed Your Death's false start, Bahre, a Connecticut native, spent the last two years of his time at the U of M film program rewriting the script. "Completely re-doing it helped me understand what I could get out of the characters and the world," he says.
After casting the film and raising $10,000 on Kickstarter, it was time to start again. "Half of the cast and crew were from Memphis. Some of them quit their jobs and drove up to the middle of nowhere in Connecticut, where we all lived in a cabin together," he says. "That's where we shot it."
- Memphis actor Nathan Ross Murphy stars in writer/director Sam Bahre’s I Filmed Your Death.
In the film, Pierce Lyndale (Michael Bruce) is a struggling, small-time filmmaker in a rural town that is still reeling from a mass shooting that took place a couple of years before. Pierce discovers that the shooter, Albert Ridgeway (Alex Bahre), had an accomplice who helped him keep a video diary of the time leading up to the crime. He takes the killer's footage and combines it with reconstructions to create his own film about the tragedy, which he intends to broadcast on the local cable access television channel. But when a local talk-show host named Andy Bones (Michael Horse) finds out about the film, he raises a ruckus condemning the director and his "heartless" production.
Bahre says he identifies with Pierce: "He was basically a version of myself if everything had gone wrong 15 years ago, if I had never left my small town and just kept making my movies with my friends. I think of him as a shadow self. And that's what this whole process has been like for me — creating a shadow self, and then creating this whole play world and then watching what happens when he's let loose."
Pierce is stunned by the reaction his work produces before it's even released, but that's nothing compared to what happens once the film, which is also called I Filmed Your Death, is revealed. A satanic LSD murder cult inspired by Ridgeway decides to start their latest murder spree against Pierce's cast. "I like to think of this as The Muppet Movie in reverse," Bahre says. "It's Kermit making a movie in the beginning and then losing all of his friends."
I Filmed Your Death splinters into a funhouse mirror of competing realities, reflecting the feedback loop between acts of shocking violence in real life that are rehashed in the media, inspiring copycats and twisting belief systems into unrecognizable shapes. What's the line between a drug-fueled death cult and a film crew? "It's a very thin line in this movie," Bahre says.
The director got former Monkee Peter Tork and cult-movie icon Lloyd Kaufman to guest star in his labor of love, but he says that Twin Peaks actor Michael Horse was his biggest get. Horse came out of semi-retirement to play what Bahre describes as a "Bill O'Reilley type character. "My parents were both huge fans," Bahre says. "It was like I was raised in a Twin Peaks cult."
Bahre says the 11-year journey was an unforgettable experience. "I basically went through maturation into adulthood. But instead of doing all of the regular stuff, I made this movie. I'm 100 percent a different person from when I started it. ... All of the advances I've made as a person have been because of this movie, and also hindered by this movie in some degree."
It is the dedication of his cast and crew, some of whom he has been friends with since elementary school, that moves the director the most. "It was an extremely magical experience — all these people coming in and giving it their complete all, for no other reason than they just wanted to."
I Filmed Your Death screens Friday, April 20th and Saturday, April 21st at Malco Studio on the Square.