The Lavin Production Company serves up local commercials… and a zombie apocalypse.
Out on the Rock Island Trail, just before the Mt. Hawley Airport, there’s a tunnel beneath Route 6 that’s creepy as hell. Or so says Kate Lavin, who, in July 2013, was biking the trail with her husband when the zombies attacked. Or easily could’ve, she muses.
“We’d lived here for about eight years at that point, and that was the first time we ever knew about the tunnel,” Lavin explains. “The creepiest tunnel ever!”
The lights weren’t working—it was pitch-dark. Her husband walked too far ahead. She trailed behind, imagination running rampant. “I was just picturing dead arms reaching out at me.” And then it clicked. “Let’s make a zombie movie here!” she recalls squealing in the tunnel. Never mind that she had just quit her job directing news for a local TV station to start her own production company, and was already juggling wedding videos and commercials for a growing clientele of businesses. “Everything happened at once!”
In attempting to set up the perfect wedding proposal for his girlfriend, a young man plans a biking excursion to a “tunnel of love,” where a clown will be waiting with an engagement ring. Along the way, he discovers she doesn’t like biking… or clowns—all amidst a zombie apocalypse.
“When they get to the tunnel, they start to realize things have gone wrong,” Lavin concludes the short pitch, laughing. Albeit off the wall, she speaks with the air of a confident filmmaker. But initially, she admits, the zombies gave her pause, fearful her first film might become “just another zombie movie.”
And so, she added a twist in the form of comedian Brett Erickson, longtime host at the Jukebox Comedy Club. “I thought he was just wonderful up there on stage,” Lavin explains. Erickson agreed to come aboard as the film’s lead, bringing in other comedians and actors from the local theater circuit.
“A lot of friends said, ‘I’ve never acted before, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,’” Lavin recalls. “I said, ‘Well, I’ve never shot a movie before, so we’ll make it work!’” She laughs. “By bringing Brett Erickson on and adding some of his comedy, it refreshed [the zombie theme].”
The Motley Crew
Lavin shot the entire film herself, save a few scenes by her husband Jeremy Friedrich, dedicated shotgun mic grip and LavProCo’s designated equipment carrier. (The Lavin Production Company is co-owned by the couple—Lavin calls herself the “creative team”; Friedrich is the “business department”). And as she brought in hair and makeup artists, “a wonderful horror community” unveiled itself, right here in central Illinois.
“People started coming out of the woodwork,” she explains, noting how word of her zombie film eventually led to a cohort of talented makeup artists known for their work at Spider Hill, the popular Halloween attraction at Chillicothe’s Three Sisters Park. “The surrounding communities are just filled with people with talent!”
There was just one problem: there were too many zombies to go around, Lavin explains. “[The artists] could only get to so many, so I [had to] go through digitally and add extra wounds [in editing]”—a process that “took forever”—a year and a half, to be precise. She details her purchase of a “digital wound pack,” and how the online tutorials made it look super-easy to add special effects to any still, dead body. But that’s the trouble with zombies, she adds. “I had [them] running at me, and cameras all over the place! I would literally have to go through frame by frame to track their motion.”
Means to an End
Prior to making the film, entitled Trail of Blood On the Trail, Lavin had only fantasized about making movies. A graduate of the TV production program at Illinois State University, she alleges “practicality” as her dream’s arch-nemesis.
“It didn’t seem feasible to do movies here in central Illinois.” But she was wrong, she admits. The community opened its arms to her, and in many ways, it proved easier in Peoria than, say, L.A. “Getting a permit to shoot video out there [is] $600!” she says. “Here, businesses are willing to work with me and [understand] I’m very small-budget.”
And for the most part, getting permission to film was a walk in the park, literally. To use portions of the Rock Island Trail, Lavin had to obtain the blessing of the Peoria Park District—a wonderfully accommodating organization, she notes—as well as consent from the homeowners whose properties appear in the film. “No one ever said ‘no’ to me,” she adds. “That’s what’s so wonderful about this community. Everyone’s like… ‘This sounds like fun! You can use our property!’”
That’s a Wrap!
With a screening for cast and crew held in July, Lavin now awaits word from the horror film festival circuit, having entered Trail of Blood On the Trail into some 40+ festivals. The film will be available online by the end of the year, and in the meantime, she’s busy multitasking again, producing local commercials to fund future creative pursuits. “I keep coming up with ideas!” she exclaims. In August, she began filming a second horror film, slated for direct release online, and she has plans for a third one this fall.
“I’m not obsessed with horror,” she clarifies, “[but] right now, it’s a wonderful creative outlet.” Eventually, Lavin would like to expand her company, hire some likeminded, passionate people, and film a drama. But in the meantime, she’ll pursue horror… and continue seeking the light at the end of some really creepy tunnels. a&s
Watch the film’s trailer at youtu.be/9qeK9xz3pcE. To learn more about The Lavin Production Company, find them on Facebook.