Theo Lacey

Alumni Theo Lacey (Production – MFA ’05) takes a detour with horror and finds the road to distribution for his feature film, The 13th Unit

The 13th Unit - Theo Lacey

How did you come up with the idea for the film? Are you drawn to horror films or is this your first foray into this genre?  Honestly, I can’t say that I love the genre of horror but I do appreciate how great horror films manipulate our fears. My favorite film of all time is The Shawshank Redemption, but after hustling in the business for a few years a close mentor of mine, Christopher Lockhart, (a story executive at ICM at the time) advised me to focus on horror films because they provide lots of opportunities to break into the business. 

I started studying horror films and through my connection with Chris, I got to meet and do some work for “Mr. Shawshank” himself, Frank Darabont.  Hearing Frank talk about his start in horror and getting his big break writing Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, motivated me to focus on making a horror film after graduation.

Originally the film was supposed to take place in the middle of the woods.  I spent months writing a horror script, found a location at a production ranch, and gathered a crew and an EFX team. I was also extremely fortunate to find a group of committed/passionate/talented actors.

A week before the production, the owner at the production ranched wanted more money – almost six times our original agreed upon amount.  I was crushed and didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want all of the resources I had gathered to go to waste but I never give up that easy. I remember a conversation I had with friend about how scary his daughter’s storage facility was while he helped her move her stuff, and that’s when it hit me. I rewrote the script to take place in a storage unit, found a location, gathered my team (crew and actors) and we pushed through and got it done.

How did you go about getting the funding to make this film?  I worked two jobs, saved for years and was extremely fortunate to have a few close friends (and my brother) chip in to help finance it.  The success of the film getting such a wide distribution platform is more for them than me – they believed in me when nobody else did.

Is this your first feature film?  Yes, and hopefully not my last!

How did you obtain distribution for the film and can you share any advice about this process with our students?  Years of trying to self-distribute the film lead to nothing, but I always kept pushing, putting trailers and clips of the film on the web, and doing different things. Honestly it came down to luck and being prepared when the opportunity came.

A friend of mine told me he knew a distributor and asked if I had a trailer online. I said yes and sent it to him.  Then, the distributor called me, asked if I had more clips, I said yes and sent them to him. He asked me if the film was complete, and luckily it was so I said yes, sent it to him and the rest is where we are now.  I am extremely blessed, but if I didn’t have something to show and it wasn’t a finished product, he would not have considered the film.

Any additional things you want to share about the process of making, financing or distributing this film?  Never give up and understand that this business is a “marathon, not a sprint.”  I studied horror for years – the stories, the characters, cinematography, music, etc. – so that I could produce a finished product. You must have a finished product and understand the genre you are attempting to do.  The owner of the distribution company told me that if the film wasn’t finished, he wouldn’t have even asked to see it.

If I wrote about everything I wanted to share it would be an encyclopedia, but I will say this:  I have always believed that you should “be creative with limited resources.”  If all you have is one location you should be creative and make it look like five.  If all you have is rope, a box, and a toy doll, you should be able to write something.  Do something with that – be creative. Because if that’s all you have, that’s all you have!

The 13th Unit will be available on DVD and RedBox instant (by Verizon) in February 2014.

Also available at:
iTunes, Playstation, Xbox, Vudu, Google and Cable TV (Comcast) – March 4 2014
Hulu Plus – March 21, 2014

Running Time: 83 minutes