Making “Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb”

The runner-up in AfterEllen.com’s recent Web Series Contest is the horror-themed series Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb, created by Stacie Ponder (pictured with the robot, above) who does freelance writing for AfterEllen.com under the name Final Girl.

Hosted each week by self-proclaimed horror expert and wannabe TV star Ghostella (played by Heidi Martinuzzi), Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb is sort-of lesbian horror version of The Twilight Zone, in which each episode is a self-contained horror story with different themes, actors, and settings.

I asked Stacie a few questions about making a horror series on a limited budget, and what she’s learned in the process. After you’re done reading her very honest (and very funny) answers, click on the link at the bottom to watch the episode — and check back every Wednesday for new ones.

AfterEllen.com: How did you come up with the idea to create Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb? What inspired you to make it?

Stacie Ponder:
Well, once I’d made the decision to enter the contest, it took me approximately zero seconds to figure out I wanted to do something horror-related; it’s my favorite genre, and horror movies are incredibly fun to make. I contemplated maybe one or two other ideas for the series, but then the idea of a bargain-basement Elvira show popped into my head and that was that. I completely worship Elvira and Movie Macabre, and I really miss late-night scary movies and horror hosts.

Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb is a dream come true for me as a writer and director; because each episode features a different horror film in its entirety, I get to draw on countless movie eras and styles. One episode might feature, say, a monster movie from the 1940s, while another episode might feature a slasher film from the 1980s. Those are very different types of films even though they both fall into the “horror” category. Because I can jump around so much, I’ve basically ensured that I’m not gonna get bored anytime soon.

I also really like Ghostella as a character — the idea of someone wanting to be a horror host so badly that she sets up a crappy camera in her garage and tapes herself making bad jokes about B-grade lesbian horror movies delights me. If Ghostella was a real person, she’s definitely someone I’d want to hang out with.

Basically this series gives me the chance to make B- and Z-grade horror movies and the chance to make fun of them — it’s win-win!

How did you decide who to cast as Ghostella?

Casting Ghostella was a no-brainer. Heidi can act. Heidi loves horror movies (she’s the owner/operator of Pretty/Scary, a site for women in horror, about women in horror). Heidi digs Elvira almost as much as I do. Heidi is absolutely hysterical and is great at improv.

Most importantly, though, Heidi is my friend and roommate, so she can’t lie to me about her availability to film! Living together and filming the Ghostella segments at our house makes things super easy, and I don’t have to buy her food. It’s another win-win!

Casting all the other roles is a little more tricky — getting schedules to coincide can be a real drag, especially when you’re asking people to work only for love, glory, and pizza. I live in Los Angeles, though, so it’s not too tough finding people who want to be in front of the camera, you know? I think even my mailman has a SAG card!

The truth is, I’m blessed with some incredibly talented, generous, supportive friends who are willing to help out, play around, and have fun with me whenever they’re available. They’re awesome and I’m incredibly lucky.

Were there any budgetary challenges to making the series? How did you work around those?
The biggest budgetary challenge was that I’m always broke, and while my estimated budget on these was, you know, something like 49 cents, that 49 cents still has to come from somewhere! My mom totally helped out a bit so I could buy the few props I needed…and I ate mustard sandwiches for a while to save money. Most actors provided their own costumes which was swell and a huge money-saver.

While writing these scripts I have to bear in mind that 49 cent budget, so I can’t always write in scenes I’d like to see. Horror generally requires makeup and effects, so figuring out a way to work around that is definitely daunting at times. Then again, the series is rated PG so I can’t show much in terms of blood and the such anyway!

It’s cool making do with what you have, though — it’s forcing me to be more creative, which is always a good thing.

What did you learn in making the series that you didn’t know before you started?

1) Everything takes way longer than you planned

2) People can be extremely cool and helpful if you just ask

3) I learned a great recipe for homemade fake blood

4) No one uses VHS anymore

5) I really REALLY enjoy searching for and adding sound effects to my movies

6) I go a bit mad after 30-odd hours with no sleep

7) All things considered, mustard sandwiches really aren’t that bad

What advice would you give other people thinking about making a web series?

Plan, plan, plan, plan…then plan some more. Write the script and storyboard it, no matter how rudimentary — it saves so much time when you’re shooting if you know what you want when you get on the set. People are a lot less willing to donate their time if you waste it by standing around going “Hmm…maybe we should try to shoot over there…”

Shoot more than you think you’ll need. Don’t wait until you have some fancy-shmancy camera and computer set up- just start making films with what you have, or whatever’s cheap. Since it’s all done for the love, work in a genre you love. Above all else, have fun with it, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid of failure.

Watch the first episode of Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb,
and check back every Wednesday for new episodes

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