'Leach' to premiere in Chambersburg

August 19, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Libby McDermott, left, of Waynesboro, Pa., played the role of Sarah and served as production assistant for "Leach," an independently made thriller made by a cast and crew with many local connections.
Submitted photo,

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The plan was to film a car wreck and explosion on an isolated road in the middle of nowhere.

Secured behind the steering wheel was director John Taylor, who was now taking on the role of stunt man for a scene in his movie, "Leach." Taylor was supposed to strike the van of the bad guy with the car, which was supposed to later explode.

Neither the cast nor crew had done this before. They had to get everything shot in one take.

Pressure? Nah. This is what happens when you go from no-budget filmmaking to suddenly having a budget, Taylor said.

You get to blow stuff up.

On Saturday, the cast and crew behind "Leach" plan to bask in audience appreciation of the hard work that went into making the indie film, which will be shown at The Capitol Theatre in downtown Chambersburg.

"Leach" is a suspense thriller about an unlikeable recovering alcoholic, Wes, who crosses paths with a man named Ron Leach, who the audience eventually learns is the film's real bad guy.


Though "Leach" was filmed in central Indiana -- where it also made its world premiere -- the cast and crew for "Leach" have all kinds of local connections.

Taylor, who now lives in suburban Indianapolis, used to live and work in Fairfield, Pa.

The film's title character is played by Thomas J. Smith, 37, of Chambersburg, Pa.

Actress Libby McDermott, 32, of Waynesboro, Pa., is cast as Sarah and is a production assistant on the film. The director of photography was McDermott's boyfriend, Matt Stahley, 35, of Waynesboro.

Taylor said the hope is to win favor with indie film devotees and gain support and financing from folks with enough money to allow the "Leach" crew to quit their day jobs and make movies full time.

Taylor, 36, of Anderson, Ind., is the cleaning manager for a movie theater. McDermott is a waitress and has her own production company. Stahley is a videographer. Smith works at a factory.

"I used up all my vacation time to tape," Smith said.

Taylor and company were the creative force behind two no-budget dark comedies, "Brainwrap" and "Promenade." The group came to know each other as early viral video posters on MySpace and YouTube.

"I thought they were crazy at first," said McDermott, whose introduction to Stahley and Smith were via their online videos. She was living in Tennessee at the time.

As high school friends, Stahley and Smith were into skateboarding, with Stahley taping the footage.

"Most of us weren't really that good," Stahley said. "We watched a lot of the professional skateboarding videos and wanted to emulate those. So we would just mess around shooting that stuff and actually try and edit it with two VCRs."

Over time the group's interest evolved into more serious ventures -- creating the dark comedies. But lack of budget caused problems. Scripts and scenes had to be adjusted on the fly.

Smith gave an example from "Brainwrap." He said the idea was for each of the film's characters to have a vice.

"For Floyd's -- I don't know if you can print this -- but, his was that he would spend all his money on peep shows," Smith said. "Well, A, we couldn't really find anybody to play that part and B, how are we going to set up the peep show? We changed Floyd's vice so that he was into pain."

Taylor said he felt he had come a long way since those days. For "Leach," he had a $14,000 budget to work with.

It gave him the opportunity to take on more ambitious scenes. Stahley got to tape aerial shots from a helicopter.

There's also the crash and explosion scene, which Taylor described as a very claustrophobic 10-minutes of driving. Jim Dougherty, the film's producer, stunt coordinator and the man cast as Wes, led Taylor through the scene.

His body was protected by steel-toe boots, knee and elbow pads, gloves and a helmet. A pillow was taped to his chest.

"I could push the gas and I could barely move my head," Taylor said. "That's about the only movement I had."

They got the shot.

"I really underestimated the force, but it was pretty awesome," Taylor said.

But then they had to film the explosion. The plan was to remotely detonate a bomb to blow up the car -- firemen and volunteers were on standby for safety. Taylor's original idea was to douse the car in gasoline and kerosene, which was ruled out due to the danger.

But that day, clotting clouds threatened the bright afternoon sky with darkness, which would ruin everything.

Fortunately, the detonator was triggered before it got cloudy ... but there was no explosion, Taylor said.

"Compliments of the fire department, they literally walked up and pitched a road flare in it, and within less than a minute, it was ablaze," Taylor said. "It was something else."

If you go ...

WHAT: Screening of "Leach"

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21

WHERE: The Capitol Theatre, 159 S. Main St., downtown Chambersburg, Pa.

COST: $7, general admission. Tickets can be purchased at the door. Call the theater's box office, 717-263-0202.

MORE: Learn about the filmmakers at .

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