Rocky Karlage was born in Cincinnati OH and raised in a small, country town named Amelia, worked as professional photographer in the fashion industry after serving in the U.S. Army and a career in engineering. Several years later moved photography into filmmaking, co-founded a production company named Ghost Walk Productions with model and legal representative Victoria Vardon (nee Bonk), created The Ghost Walk Saga series of stories for film, published a magazine Haunted Path and radio show of the same name. Wrote the script for THE FARM which won Best Short Horror film in it’s first international contest, and chosen Official Selection at several film festivals. Currently writing the major film feature THE DAWSON WAR which furthers the story line of the Lane and Dawson families of a fictional Ohio.
ECIM: When did you start Ghost Walk Studios?
ROCKY: It seems like 20 years, but Ghost Walk Productions has only been around since the end of 2009. Before that my good friend and partner Victoria Vardon (nee Bonk) and I started a gothic, photographic series. Even before that my wife Jeannie and I attended a hosted ‘ghost walk’ in Chillicothe Ohio. We enjoyed it so much, I trademarked “Ghost Walk” for all our media and entertainment work. The name Ghost Walk Studios is new as of 2013.
ECIM: Your first feature The Farm won some awards? How did that feel as a producer/writer?
ROCKY: It was really a shock and awesome at the same time. I knew the story was special, but we had so little money to film it, and we really didn’t know what we were doing. We learned! When I submitted the film, we would have been thrilled just to have it shown. To win the “Best Short Horror” film award … that was amazing! I still smile when I walk by the trophy in my home. We stopped submitting the film to festivals, but have 4 “Official Selections” in addition to the best of award.
ECIM: I hear it was based on a true story? What was it like, seeing it on the screens at the festivals?
ROCKY: This may be a strange answer, but it was just really odd. We could only film a small part of the story, but to see some of the moments I had lived portrayed on screen felt weird; almost too intimate. The original experience was so frightening, and I’ll never forget the feeling of being trapped in that house. Some think we fictionalized a lot of the film, but almost every paranormal scene shown happened. The biggest change from real to film was it happened during heavy snowstorms. We used the concept of rain and flooding for the film to trap the honeymooners on the farm.
ECIM: Your second feature The Dawson War is a sequel to the Award Winning The Farm.
ROCKY: That’s half true. It is both prequel and sequel to The Farm. In the new film we lay the groundwork for who or what “The Dawsons” really are. In “Ghost Walk” history, they are the descendants of the original family we plan to film after we hopefully gain success with this film: the original Victorian Trilogy which takes place in 1898 northern Ohio. The set of 3 films will show the beginnings of the Lane/Dawson family, and the secret organizations surrounding them; fiction based in fact. The current films all lead into that series.
ECIM: Can you tell us a little about this movie and how it follows The Farm?
ROCKY: It’s massive. It really is. It was really too much for us with over 40 actors and 20+ locations, but we’re still on track to finish in September. In “The Dawson War” we find the lovers of “The Farm”, the wive’s relatives who would be dangerous for anyone to know, and a man behind too many things, Solomon Taggart, who should not be alive. His presence and ‘influence’ is felt through most of the planned Ghost Walk Saga series of films. But it doesn’t end here either. A sequel is planned with “those who survive” this film, named “The End Was Then”.
ECIM: How are some ways that you’ve been able to reduce costs on the set?
ROCKY: Having friends help each step of the way, and recruiting others with artistic nature who want to break into the film business. I’m a big believer in giving the ‘inexperienced’ a chance to prove themselves. While some costs are unavoidable, finding local settings where owners are thrilled to allow you to film is a major help. We also do our best to find deals for food to feed our hungry staff and actors. We give our crew and cast credit on IMDb which is better than pay for some, and we’re honest that we are not rich, but “we can do this” if everyone pulls together. You find over time that some do and some don’t but, overall, you find people who want to work together and help you keep costs low; and those also become your friends.
ECIM: How has it been working with the cast on this film? Have there been any struggles?
ROCKY: Overall, very rewarding. There are always a few who try your patience, and some who don’t understand they need to not book themselves continually when you’re working in a big film. But those, who make you want to pound your head into the wall, can also bring you some of the best acting you’ve seen anwhere on set day. I have been told by many actors that almost all actors are insecure. I knew this but my actor buddy Parrish Randall drove it home: Actors want and need attention, and it’s up to the production team and director’s crew to give it to them, and make them happy without sacrificing the story or production value. Struggle is a necessary component of any great film, and we believe we’re on that road.
ECIM: What is it like having a fabulous makeup team led by Alan Tuskes?
ROCKY: Wonderful. Alan is a gem and such a fun person to be around. You would never know he has worked on special effects and supervised SFX in some of the most successful Hollywood films just by talking with him. He knows his trade and doesn’t need to brag. He shows you how great he is by doing it, and his work is amazing!
ECIM: Any tips or advice for other independent filmmakers out there?
ROCKY: Too many, but mainly only one: never give up. There are thousands of reasons to stop filming during production, and many will be valid. If you listen to those reasons or the many critics who will say you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t finish the film and you will prove them right. Don’t do that. I suggest, if you get close to feeling that way, to remember why you wanted to film in the first place. Find the solution(s) even if you have to take time off production to do it. Ask other people to help. Talk to your friends, but don’t blame anyone. Just fix it. Sure, it’s painful, but there is almost always a different way to look at things and make it work. If you want to do it, then do it!
ECIM: I enjoyed being on set with you and the cast and crew. The Dawson Family – it was a great experience. Thank you for making me feel comfortable and welcoming me to the set. I can’t wait to see this film when it’s finished.
ROCKY: It was a fun day, Jim. I enjoyed talking with you. Thanks for stopping by!