Homegrown Horror Movie: Local Filmmaker and Skins Star Aim to Get Hollywood’s Attention

Washington might not be a spawning ground for movies like Los Angeles is or a default filming location like New York City, but that doesn’t matter to Aaron Goodmiller. The CEO and founder of 19th & Wilson, a film studio and production company based in Northern Virginia, has ten short films under his belt since the company’s inception in 2001. Now, with Redskins star player Chris Cooley on board as an executive producer for 19th & Wilson’s next film, Ghosts Don’t Exist, Goodmiller is ready to bridge the gap between the East Coast indie scene and Hollywood.

We contacted Goodmiller to get the latest on Ghosts Don’t Exist and working with Cooley.

Many of your past films involve some element of horror or thriller. What inspired you to make Ghosts Don’t Exist, and how is it different from your previous films?

Our previous films are a limitation of what we could accomplish with a minuscule budget. We believe that regardless of the genre, a great story is always the key to a great movie—sounds easy enough, but it’s really hard to execute. Also, it just so happens that Eric Espejo [the writer/director] is a big fan of horror movies that have a compelling story, such as The Others, The Sixth Sense, and more recently The Orphanage. So when he came to the table with an interesting twist on the paranormal horror, we all wanted to go forward with Ghosts Don’t Exist. None of our horror films rely on gore, so it’s not along the lines of a zombie flick. Not that there’s anything wrong with those type of films—it’s just not our style.

Do you plan to begin shooting Ghosts Don’t Exist by the end of 2008? Will you be filming in the Washington area?

We hope to go into preproduction by the fourth quarter of this year and into production by the first quarter next year. We will be filming the movie entirely in the Washington area.

How did Chris Cooley become involved with 19th & Wilson? Will he and his brother Tanner [also a producer for the film] play a hands-on role with filming and production?

Eric Espejo contacted Chris and his management team several months ago about whether or not they would like to be involved in an independent film. They talked for several months over e-mail and phone calls; then after a face-to-face meeting with Chris, they decided to jump on board. Chris will be an executive producer, so he’ll be involved with some areas of the process but not as hands-on as Tanner, who is a producer on the film.

Do you expect Cooley to participate in future projects?

We hope to have a long future of working with Chris Cooley. He and Tanner both are terrific people who are not only good at what they do; they’re genuine, and they care about giving back to the community. It really is an honor to be able to work with them, especially in this capacity.

Tanner Cooley wrote on Chris’s blog that if anyone wanted to get involved in the film, they should contact him. Is this a casting call, or is it a message for potential sponsors?

Anybody who would like to be involved with the film—be it investors, cast, crew, catering, you name it—feel free to contact Tanner or 19th & Wilson. According to Tanner, we are already getting a lot of messages, so I hope we’re able to leverage everyone as best as we can. That being said, our immediate goal is to secure financing so we can green light with the targeted budget: You don’t go into production that doesn’t have the amount of funds required. You’d be surprised how many indie filmmakers do that, and to us that just seems like a recipe for disaster.

Are you planning for Ghosts Don’t Exist to reach audiences and movie moguls in LA?

Short answer: A resounding yes, we are aiming for a theatrical distribution. Long answer: Everything starts with a good script—sorry, make that a great script. You have to have a unique story with a great hook when you’re an indie—that’s the only thing that will get you noticed. Filmmakers may say different things, but typically it’s known that horror is the better genre to break through with because horror sells with or without a recognizable name [actor]. Don’t do horror just for that reason; we happen to be fans of horror, so it worked out that way. Again, story is first and foremost, which is why we signed the other executive producer on the project, James P. Mercurio. He’s a very well-known script consultant, and he just produced the movie Hard Scrambled staring Kurtwood Smith (That ’70s Show), and Richard Edson (Do the Right Thing). Having him in our corner is a huge plus with regards to making sure our story is top-notch, and his experience is a definite asset for production.

Once we’re in postproduction, we plan on getting hold of some of our contacts who are producers’ reps. They can get the word out and get the film in front of the decision makers at the studios that look for indies—Lionsgate, Focus Features, Sony. We’re also planning on submitting the film to major film festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, and Toronto, to name a few. A lot of deals are made at the major fests because those are the events that attract the acquisition executives.

So just how do you bridge the gap between a successful indie from Washington making it to Hollywood?

It’s very easy to reach Hollywood; it’s very difficult to break in. What that means is that if you do your homework and research, it’s possible to get your script read and/or get on the phone with the right people—even when you’re in DC. The tricky part is having a good-enough concept to hook them and make the deal.

For more information about 19th & Wilson and Ghosts Don’t Exist, visit19thandwilson.com. To get involved in the project, contact Tanner Cooley at tanner@chriscooley47.com.

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