By Laura Ross
Photos courtesy of Lunacy Productions
Situations can turn on a dime. What started as a good day can suddenly become horrid. One mistake, one misstep, can change the game.
That’s the premise behind “Rust Creek,” a survival thriller brought to the screen recently by filmmaker Stu Pollard, a Louisville native, and his company, Lunacy Productions.
“It’s that moment in time where you’re a young person and you think you’re invincible, but then, you have that reality check and realize you’re not,” said Pollard, with his own sense of intensity, perhaps leaning back to the origin of the “Rust Creek” story.
“Something happened to me when I was 22,” he explained. “The story isn’t that important, but in my case, it was somewhat dramatic, and for a few hours, I was legitimately concerned that I might be taking my last breath. You have that paradigm shift in those situations where you realize there are certain things in life that might be more important than what you first thought of when you hopped in the car and didn’t tell anyone where you were going.”
Pollard nurtured that life-altering experience in the back of his mind for years until he finally approached screenwriter Julie Lipson in 2010 and asked her to develop the idea behind “Rust Creek.”
The film follows Centre College student Sawyer Scott (played by Hermione Corfield) as she sets out alone on a road trip from Kentucky to Washington, D.C. for a job interview. When a detour along the way takes her far into the Appalachian Mountains, Sawyer finds herself lost and alone. A menacing encounter with backwoods criminals sends her into a frantic race against her own mortality in the punishing elements of the Kentucky wild in the depths of winter.
It’s an intense, slow burn of a thriller that was produced by Pollard, written by Lipson with input from Pollard and directed by Jen McGowan. “Rust Creek” was filmed throughout Louisville and the state.
“We moved around a lot,” said Pollard, “but primarily shot in Mt. Washington, the Parklands and the Floyds Fork Conservancy in southern Jefferson and Bullitt counties. You’ll also see spots in Fern Creek, St. Matthews, Clifton, as well as Danville and Franklin County.”
For Pollard, who grew up in Louisville and has produced eight feature films in Kentucky, the setting was a natural choice. “I could have shot in California, but this is home,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and have invested north of $5 million in this state. When you make films in your backyard, you’re doing it with a home court advantage that includes a supportive community, great local actors and extras, local law enforcement and government and locations that are important and full of natural beauty.”
Pollard’s Lunacy Productions also heavily supports female filmmakers with “Rust Creek” acting as a shining example. The key roles in the film are all filled by women, including the writer, director, lead actor, director of photography, production designer, colorist and sound mixer.
“It wasn’t that I had a woman director; I had a great director,” said Pollard. “All the women on ‘Rust Creek’ are extremely talented at what they do.”
Director Jen McGowan is a rising star in the film industry and the creator of filmpowered.com, a skill-sharing site by women and for women in film and television. She leapt at the chance to direct a strong, female-based film. “(Rust Creek) is a fast-paced suspense drama about survival. It is exciting, guttural, perilous and primal,” McGowan said. “It’s only when Sawyer digs down deep, finding strength in the stillness of the coal country roots she shares with her pursuers, that she is able to fight back and triumph, sanctified by the blood and guts and sweat and tears of Rust Creek.”
Another favorite Louisvillian, musician Ben Sollee, lent his talents to the score, which was written by composer H. Scott Salinas. “The score for ‘Rust Creek’ is austere, beautiful and creepy, and I added some additional creepiness with my cello,” said Sollee. “I was fortunate to work with Stu on this film.”
“Rust Creek” was released digitally nationwide and had showings at Village 8 Theatres in Louisville in January along with special showings in Los Angeles, New York and other selected markets. The film is currently available on digital platforms such as Amazon, iTunes and more through IFC Midnight.
“From a filmmaker’s perspective, everyone still dreams of a theatrical premiere, where the lights go down and you have a packed house,” said Pollard. “But the industry has evolved. It’s very expensive to do advertising campaigns to get everyone out of their house and into a theater and watch it on a big screen. In terms of efficiency and reach, digital has come full circle and is embraced by independent filmmakers to get their films in a position where they can be seen digitally by the largest audience possible.”
Pollard’s long career as a director and producer allow him to wear both hats, which he enjoys. “My favorite part of directing is being the chief storyteller,” he said. “You make the decisions that impact what ends up on screen. When you’re producing, like I did with ‘Rust Creek,’ it’s different. You are the CEO and minder of the shop. My job is not to interfere but empower the director. I was lucky because Jen was an inspiration to work with.”
The film’s genre makes a difference as well. “It’s easier to make a comedy,” he said, noting that the goal is a big laugh from the audience. “But with a thriller like ‘Rust Creek,’ you want to feel tense and yet identify with the characters. One thing that is so special with this film is there are only seven characters, and each brings a certain gravitas to the table. You have to think and feel how human they are. For the careful viewer, there should be a lot to enjoy in ‘Rust Creek.’”
As the intensity and drama builds throughout the movie, Pollard hopes audiences feel Corfield’s angst and fearful realizations as the hunted Sawyer. “I hope audiences see that moment in time where it causes them to shift their thinking,” Pollard said. “Should you focus on that job or instead spend the holiday with your family? What’s the most important thing? I hope they focus on the little things and relationships and how important they are versus some of the more trivial things we get wrapped up in daily.”
But the most important takeaway for viewers with a visit to Rust Creek?
“I hope they will have to let out a big exhale at the end,” Pollard laughed, “because it’s certainly a film that I hope will keep you on the edge of your seat.” V