Will Gartside began his fledgling movie career while clerking at Video Station. That's where he met local playwright Rob Matsushita, who had written a slasher short for Mercury Players Theatre's Revenge of the Mini-Musicals. After seeing his workmate's 15-minute play, Gartside seized the opportunity to turn his own abiding interest in slasher films into something tangible. Together with Matsushita and another Mercury regular, Morey Burnard, he worked up a script and 10 songs and embarked on his first directing job of any kind. The result is Massacre (The Musical), premiering at the High Noon Saloon on Sunday, Jan. 27.
"Anyone who wants to do a film really just has to go out and do it," says Gartside. "It takes some time, but it's really not that hard. There's a great theater and film community in Madison. You don't need to go to Hollywood to make movies."
The 45-minute horror comedy begins with ax-wielding Catholic schoolgirl Discordia surveying the grisly aftermath of her own killing spree. Then it moves backwards in time to explain (often through song) how the sweet-faced teen could do such a terrible thing. Along the way, there's plenty of opportunity for showcasing Gartside's attraction to faux blood and viscera.
"We found a good recipe for intestines at an independent site online," he says gleefully, noting that blood made from Karo syrup photographs well but is a bitch to clean up. "I tested it in the kitchen, and it turned out really well. I'd hold our intestines up to things being done in Hollywood."
Gartside is pursuing his master's in broadcasting, television and communications at Milwaukee's Marquette University. But all the filming was done in and around Madison during the summer and fall of 2007 with a local cast and crew. Unsurprisingly, Massacre's tiny $7,000 budget required a lot of pro bono work and favors. Quivey's Grove, where Gartside once worked, gave the project free access to its gothic-looking tunnel for several nights, providing a ready-made horror set. And Matysik Studios offered extensive studio time for Burnard to cook up versions of the musical's songs that actors could sing along with during shoots. Indeed, Gartside says recording work at Matysik took about as much time as filming did. Judging from the film's trailer posted on YouTube, all those hours in the studio were well spent.
Although a final edit hadn't been completed as of last week, Gartside is confident that Massacre will connect with audiences who've been primed for bloody comedy by cheeky films like Shaun of the Dead. At 45 minutes, it's not apt to pique the interest of the DVD market or commercial theaters. But having caught the film bug in a big way, Gartside hopes it will be a convincing calling card.
"We're submitting to the Wisconsin Film Festival and a lot of other festivals," he explains. "Ideally someone in the industry will see it and will allow us to do a feature."