‘Happy Camp’ Director Josh Anthony Breaks Down Indie Journey

Happy Camp,which is now available On Demand and on other digital platforms, centers on Michael Tanner (Michael Barbuto), a guy who ventures back to Happy Camp with his friends to retrace a tragic moment in his life. Back in 1989, when Michael was living with his adoptive family, his brother was abducted and was never found. People seem to disappear in the remote confines of Happy Camp, Ca. and Michael’s decision to return to his tragic roots places his entire crew in danger.

First time filmmaker Josh Anthony received the support of Flower Films, a top notch production company headed by Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen, and with their backing Happy Camp set sail for production.

Anthony, who also stars in the found footage/documentary style thriller, talked about the challenges of making his indie film, and he also elaborated on how his own background in financing and acting helped him along the way.

The film, clocking in at a brisk 74 minutes, captures the real town of Happy Camp in an eerie and ominous fashion. With such a low budget to work with, it’s a credit to Anthony and his crew for creating an atmospheric, and occasionally scary, tale of how one’s haunted past should remain untouched. Here’s our Q&A with Mr. Anthony:

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With Happy Camp, I’m sure editing was just a huge key to making this project work.

Very much so…it was something that from the beginning we knew we had to be aware of or this would never work in the editing room.  Kevin Poutenin did a great job keeping all of our footage organized. Kid worked his ass off. We edited (the film) for a couple of months, making several tweaks along the way. Omar and Sam worked really hard at making this film look amazing. Both guys are very talented.

Can you talk about the genesis of the project? Did it start from a visual inspiration?

It kind of all started going back with Flower Films. I’ve been working with them for 12 years and I really wanted to make a film. They talked about going back and doing genre films. Donnie Darko was a favorite film of mine that they had done. I started doing some research, and we started kicking around some ideas and then we kind of landed on this one.

 For me, the scariest thing in the world are people. People scare the heck out of me. After doing a little more research, I found the town of Happy Camp. I pitched (the idea) to Flower Films and they loved it.

I really liked the style of documentary filmmaking because you take out that fourth wall and that’s kind of what we did here.  We just developed that idea of a town and (the idea) of what if someone went missing? What if something tragic happened when someone was young you have to go back and facing his fear? Looking back on things, it’s a little bit different when you’re an adult then as you remembered as a child.

Can you talk about the visual design behind Happy Camp, since this found footage flick has a documentary style but also has a very open, cinematic sense as well.

A lot of these genre/documentary films that are being released are really claustrophobic. We wanted to evolve the documentary style, but maintain that rawness, keeping in mind that we were making a movie.

Matt Sanders did a fantastic job shooting the film. If you watch the film, it starts out with a very wide look, you see a lot of landscapes. When you get to the end of the picture we bring in everything tight. We watched a lot of documentary footage in order to mimic (that style) and also be very cinematic at the same time.

What was the experience for you and your crew shooting in Happy Camp?

I’ve been up to Happy Camp a few times so I knew what to expect. Some of the other crew members…weren’t prepared as to how remote the town was. It took a day or two to get use to spotty cell phone service…if any. We were so busy that it didn’t matter. We had a lot of fun too… I think we ran up the record for the largest bar tab in town after we wrapped.  There are some really talented people that worked on this film. Mike, Anne, Teddy, are all great actors. Everyone was locked in and did a fantastic job.

What does a production company like Flower Films do for indie projects?

I would say, to be honest, it actually means everything. Flower Films…Drew Barrymore..everyone over there – they’re the nicest people and they were 100% behind us. Once Flower Films was behind us we felt confident we can get something really special done. Without their support, it would have never happened. It was a pretty wild ride. Chris Miller, he really championed (the project).

There’s tons of films that get made and they don’t get distribution. A lot of my friends have made films and they go nowhere. It was a pretty beneficial thing to have and we wouldn’t be here without the backing of Flower. We owe a lot to them.

In general, how do you feel about online streaming services in relation to how many movies are seen? Is it a viable market for indie films?

I think it’s a double edged sword there too. Everyone can grab a camera and go shoot and you have a place to put it. You can put it up on YouTube or wherever. I don’t want to say it’s bad, because it’s never bad if you want to make a film. Sometimes there is just bad execution. I support independent films.

If you’re a filmmaker and you want to make a film you should grab a camera and you should do it.  I think as a consumer, you know what you like, and you should take a chance on some of these films, try everything out. That’s what online streaming is for. Low cost, low risk purchases to be entertained. It’s a viable outlet and it’s here to stay.

What type of cameras did you use for Happy Camp? Did you have an expensive camera package?

We talked about shooting on little handhelds like mini-DVs but after a conversation with Matt Sanders, and seeing if the camera package could fit into the budget, we ended up using Canon 5Ds you saw in the film.  At the end of the day it’s really about how you use those cameras, and Matt did a fantastic job.

When people ask you for movie advice, it’s not simply about picking a camera, correct?

Absolutely. I’ve acted for 10 years so I’m able to talk to actors, and understand what they are going through. I learned how to edit so I can understand what the editor is doing when we are working on a sequence . And then there is sound design and color correcting…   You have to wear a lot of hats, and understand what’s going on in all aspects of the film.  For filmmakers, I think it’s good to learn everything.

Also (it’s about) surrounding yourself with people who know more than you and being able to admit that they do and then working together. It takes a lot of collaboration, especially on a smaller level like this.

Are there any projects down the pike?

For the last four years of my life, I’ve been working on this film. I’ve also been writing a lot, and have a few ideas. There is one script that is a broad comedy that’s based on my college experiences. That’s a wild ride! There are two or three genre films that we’re also working on and trying to get off the ground.

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