After two years of work, it’s in the can.
Thomas Elkins, a movie editor who calls Omaha home, is now a first-time director. He just completed post-production work on “The Haunting in Georgia,” a project he agreed to direct in early 2010.
Elkins sat down last week to talk about the experience, the advice he took to heart from some big Hollywood names, and the insights he hopes to use if he gets to direct again.
“It’s not easy directing,” Elkins said. “It’s exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. You’re being creative, but you’re also managing chaos. You have to be mindful of the logistics and the people and the politics. It’s quite a balance.”
On challenging days, he said, he reminded himself of the day Steven Spielberg was directing “Jaws,” and the mechanical shark sank — in front of producer Richard Zanuck.
“If he could figure out how to make ‘Jaws’ when the shark didn’t work — the star of the movie — I think I can figure this out,” Elkins told himself. “Even Spielberg acknowledges the daily uphill battle to get a movie into the can, and the compromise involved.”
“The Haunting in Georgia,” a companion piece (not a sequel) to a movie Elkins edited called “The Haunting in Connecticut,” is based on a true story about a family that moves to a house in the woods.
The mother and daughter have visions of ghosts. Those visions become more intense after the move because of the property’s dark past.
Elkins soon learned why directors are warned about working with children and animals, as well as weather. None of the three is completely reliable.
Several scenes involved a dog and an owl, which didn’t always cooperate.
But he said he was lucky when he cast Emily Alyn Lind (“J. Edgar,” “Revenge”) as the young daughter, 9. Preview audiences praised the movie’s acting strength. The cast also includes Oscar nominee Cicely Tyson (“Sounder”), Chad Michael Murray (“One Tree Hill”), Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Galactica”) and Abigail Spencer (“Cowboys & Aliens”).
Because the movie was shot in Louisiana, scenes that began in sunshine sometimes ended in rain.
“You just figure it out,” he said. “The color (film) timers can make a shot look sunnier than it is. It’s all just part of having to make last-minute creative decisions.”
Elkins, a native of Red Wing, Minn., got his start in movies when he made a spoof video about Godfather’s Pizza’s training procedures. When then-Godfather’s chief Herman Cain saw the video, Elkins thought he’d surely be fired.
Instead, he was hired to move to Omaha in 1987 to make humor-tinged Godfather’s training films. That led to commercial work as well.
In 1995 Elkins and his new wife, Omahan Suzy Dalton Elkins, moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of making movies. He began as a production assistant, learning the basic groundwork of putting together a movie.
The family moved back to Omaha in 2000 to do more Godfather’s commercials and raise two children, but Elkins missed the movies. With the support of his wife, he managed to find Hollywood work while keeping his family’s base in Omaha. He worked his way up in editing under director Ron Howard’s editors, Dan Hanley and Omahan Mike Hill (“The Missing,” “The Da Vinci Code”), and Wes Craven’s editor, Patrick Lussier (“Red Eye,” “Cursed”).
It was Oscar winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) who urged Elkins to tell producers his dream was to direct, or that day would never come. Elkins did just that 10 years later. Paul Brooks, head of Gold Circle Films, liked the editing work Elkins did on “The Haunting in Connecticut” and remembered his request.
“When I got the opportunity to direct ‘The Haunting in Georgia,’ Ron Howard wrote me a great note with advice he got from his own dad when he was starting,” Elkins said. Rance Howard told his son: “You know where to kick it. Kick it in the (rear).”
The budget was small, under $10 million, and the shooting schedule was tight, just 25 days. Elkins said pre-production planning was crucial.
He’s proud of the result, and preview screenings earned good audience scores, he said. Now he’s waiting for a distribution plan.
The invaluable lesson he learned from his first film, Elkins said, was having the flexibility to come up with creative solutions on the fly.
“Your ability to adapt to your challenges, to the realities of shooting a movie, is something I took away from this set,” he said. “I think I’ve made a scary movie with a lot of heart and a strong story.”
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