In a cinematic landscape where superhero movies and other blockbuster adaptations dominate genre filmmaking, a handful of indie horror filmmakers have carved their own space amid studio juggernauts, with original films such as “The Babadook,” “It Follows,” “The Witch” and “Get Out” leading the way.
Twenty-year-old Antioch-based screenwriter Brandon Lawson aspires to join the pack with his horror web series “Strange Sagas.”
“I like getting scared,” he said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I have to scare myself in order to get my ideas.”
Lawson either scares himself frequently, or simply has a constant flow of ideas. He pitches concepts for screenplays and short stories with the same frequency that most people blink, and they range from workplace horror to a murder mystery taking place on election night. There’s a certain urgency with which Lawson describes his creative process.
For now though, Lawson points to “Strange Sagas” as an outlet for that creativity. The web series centers on the mystery of the Impostors, an alien race of human lookalikes with murderous intentions. It’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” by way of YouTube.
“Strange Sagas” began when Lawson’s brother introduced him to his friend, the series’ director and co-creator, Mario Castillo III. “My brother worked at a car dealership with (Mario). We all went to Antioch High and we all knew each other,” Lawson said.
Together, Lawson and Castillo would start GreyOx Films, the production company behind “Strange Sagas” and their earlier short film, the demon-hunting, action-driven “Eden’s End.”
By writing “Eden’s End” and “Strange Sagas,” Lawson wanted to emulate the films he devours. “When it comes to influences, it was the same thing that came from writing short stories — it all comes from what I see, and I watch a lot of TV and a lot of movies,” Lawson said.
You can bet he casually references the 1979 horror cult classic “Phantasm.”
But most importantly, writing for GreyOx Films was a way to channel his newfound appreciation for screenwriting, which he discovered after taking a creative writing class in high school. “That led me to want to write short stories,” said Lawson. “From there, that’s when I was introduced to Mario, and that’s when I got into screenwriting. That’s when I started writing my own script, which was ‘Lost Among the Tides.’ ”
“Lost Among the Tides” tells the story of a troubled teen who is charged with caring for a foster child, an endeavor that ultimately ends in mutual growth, but also tragedy. For Lawson, writing “Lost Among the Tides” signaled a burgeoning sense of ambition, one that was encouraged when Amazon launched their Amazon Storywriter app, which allows users to submit their scripts directly to the company’s production studios for review.
“My hope was for it to get produced, get accepted by Amazon, and become a big movie and win an Oscar,” Lawson said. “I was hella juiced. You just don’t know how to get your script produced. You can’t submit to Netflix because they don’t do that. Seeing Amazon actually accept scripts was a golden opportunity.”
Even though “Lost Among the Tides” was rejected by Amazon, Lawson decided to submit the script to film festivals. “People have submitted through film festivals and have gone on to bigger things. With the film festivals, that’s your opportunity. You have all the opportunities there, you just have to take it,” he said.
It was a decision that ultimately paid off — Lawson won the Best Screenplay award at the Davis Chinese Film Festival, and second place for screenplay features at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. In this sense, Lawson’s urgency to tell stories lends itself to using the resources at hand, though they may be sparse, to indulge his creativity.
In fact, Lawson said low budgets and limited resources often drive creativity. “It’s not that I’m limiting myself, it’s more like I see what I can do,” he said, in regard to writing “Strange Sagas.” “I really had to dig deep with a story where things are happening but we can’t really do so much. Obviously there can’t be a main car chase, or something.”
Watching GreyOx Films’ content, one gets the sense that, for young artists seeking to enter an industry, it’s better to make an idea manifest than to let it stagnate — inexperience and mistakes be damned. The “aliens” in “Strange Sagas” might just be actors putting on a creepy smile and a pair of big glasses, but yet, an idea was made concrete, and now exists for the world to consume.
Of course, the imperative to create isn’t always an easy one to enact. But it is by no means impossible. “Make sure you use what you have. (At GreyOx Films) we use people we know. Use what you have, use your community,” Lawson said. “I think everyone has what they need.”
Contact Harrison Tunggal at [email protected].