The team behind the fright flick ‘Risers’ turns to the service industry for help

Photo by John-Paul Newton

In “Risers,” the new horror movie being filmed around town by writer/director Jeff Martell, a group of teens are aching to leave their home town. But the city doesn’t want them to leave, unleashing a horde of monsters to stop them.

“It’s kind of a throwback to 1990s-era Wes Craven, with a little bit of John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ thrown in,” Martell says. “It centers on this group of teenagers looking forward to escaping their small town, and the neighborhood starts attacking them like an autoimmune response. A couple of them get picked off, and then we follow a couple of them who are trying to figure out what’s going on and trying to survive.”

“Risers” is Martell’s first venture into creating a full-length movie after studying film and photography at the Fine Arts Center and working on features and short films.

“I actually edited a local feature called ‘More Than Diamonds’ that was shot in 2010 in Greenville and Berea, and I’ve directed a couple of shorts of my own,” he says. “But I’ve spent most of the last few years working in advertising, which has been really good practice. But I’ve never directed a full-length feature, and a narrative film has always been my goal.”

What’s perhaps the most interesting about “Risers” is that about half the crew for the film is made of volunteers from restaurants and bars around the Upstate.

“Both [co-writer and director of photography] John-Paul Newton and I know a lot of people who work in the bars and restaurants,” Martell says. “Greenville is a food-and-drink town, so you almost can’t avoid getting to know people in that business, plus John-Paul actually used to work at The Owl on Wade Hampton Boulevard. As we started getting ready for the shoot, we started going to our friends and asking for help and volunteers, and it just ended up that our friends in the service industry were interested and wanted to be part of the film.”

In fact, Martell actually sees a parallel between creating a successful restaurant and making a movie. “You have to build a crew and do a lot of prep work, and you need a lot of money to do it,” he says.

Martell got to know Newton through the latter’s work as a photographer, and as the two became friends, they realized they had a shared passion. “We both love horror movies,” Martell says. “So I just said, ‘Hey, let’s make a horror movie together.’ We ended up writing a script over four years.”

There’s a brief cameo by a local bartender in the film, as well. Kirk Ingram, who crafts some seriously creative high-end cocktails at Vault & Vator in downtown Greenville, appears at one point in “Risers,” and (spoiler alert) he doesn’t last too long.

Martell would like to use Ingram’s appearance, as well as his service-industry crew, to forge some sponsorship arrangements with restaurants and bars around the Upstate.

“We’d like to have a partnership with Vault & Vator, since we’re going to kill their bartender,” Martell says with a laugh, “but we’d also like to get a sponsorship or partnership going with a local brewery.”

Martell and Newton are seeking funding to complete their shoot, and Martell says that he might have figured out why their fundraising efforts so far have been met with some resistance.

“I did some research, and I found two or three local features that reached their goal on Kickstarter but didn’t get made for whatever reason,” he says. “So we have to prove to people that we’re worth investing in, because they might feel like they’ve been burned before.”

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