Making of a Horror Short Film

First of all, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here:

SEVER was the first short film I made with a crew.  I had the help from Larry Pritchard doing audio on a previous short film Monster in the Car but in SEVER, I had sound, special effects, makeup and an assistant director/production photographer/production assistant.

This short film also brought on the largest cast I’ve had yet.  It turns out that when you announce on Facebook that you want extras to play zombies, there’s a lot of people more than happy to show up.

SEVER started as a script experiment based on the book How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days by Viki King

Link to the book is here:  How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days . What I like about this book is how it breaks down the segments of a 90 minute or 90 page script.

Creating a Short Film can be easy and a great learning experience.

What I did for the short film was to reformat this structure into a 9 page script.  It ended up being only about 5 pages but the structure remained in tact.

I also was inspired by J.J.Abrams’ TED lecture where he explained the importance of what to copy in other movies.  He showed a segment of Jaws by Steven Spielberg and then pointed out how people make the mistake of copying the monster rather than the heart of the film.  For Jaws, the movie is about a man coping with his own sense of value.  The shark is merely a metaphor for his internal struggle.  This isn’t obvious and it shouldn’t be.  It’s a subtext or even subconscious element to the film and it’s an integral part of what makes Jaws an enduring movie.

For SEVER, I played in the zombie niche but asked myself what would happen if someone was becoming a zombie and had the power (or at least the hope) to stop it.

rebecca abraxas behind the scenes sever short film matt abraxas

Photo by Larry Pritchard

And then I thought about the character.   If this person would have to potentially ruin her body to save herself, what would make this even more impactful?

The movie could have been about a fitness competitor but that would require more resource than I had and I also didn’t want the protagonist to be a muscly, typical hero.  She needed to be a woman with vulnerability, so it made sense to put her in flimsy, non-supportive evening wear.

rebecca abraxas little black dress short film sever matt abraxas

Smiles between intense scenes

I also liked that she is a woman in her 40’s going on a date.  This lends even more to someone who is vulnerable.  I can imagine that it’s difficult for anyone to still be seeking their life partner in their 40’s, but even more so for women who have to discern men’s intentions.

So, this was the premise of the script and it then wrote itself.  There’s not much to it at only 5 pages, but I’m still proud of it.

Next came working with the actress and this is my favorite part.  Not only because she’s my wife and I enjoy spending time with her but I really love developing a character and emotion with the talent.  Rebecca was great at diving into the nuances of emotion for this little role.

Rebecca dug through different emotions until landing on the sadness of recently losing her dog of many years.  She used this and it helps sell the idea that this woman is feeling the pain of losing her life as she knew it.

behind the scenes of Sever by Matt Abraxas

Rebecca Abraxas with Larry Pritchard on sound

We filmed the bathroom scene over one day.  I give Rebecca a lot of credit for flopping around the bathroom floor in a very tight, short dress, with several guys standing around her to get the shot.

There were several times I had to stop a shot to help her cover parts.  This would be the good side to having your husband be the only one behind the camera.

To learn more about Rebecca and see a whole different side to what she offers the world, check her out at

and to learn more about Larry Pritchard (pictured to the left, in the shower working his magic with sound) check out: Foto Kino Studio

boulder filmmaking incubator - short film sever matt abraxas

Cast and Crew day one

The crew and some of the extra actors were all found through the amazing group at Boulder Filmmaking Incubator.  If you’re in the Boulder area and want to connect with a variety of filmmakers (from total beginners to competent experienced pros), check them out at Filmmaking Incubator


Once we completed filming the bathroom scene with Rebecca, Doug Leviton and Quinn Miller, we scheduled the zombie street scene and this introduced me to the incomparable Evil John Mays who showed me that a good zombie wound doesn’t need to take several days to create (as I did with Rebecca’s arm wound and Doug’s neck wound) but can be made in mere minutes as he did with multiple zombies right before my eyes.

zombie bite wound by evil john mays

Wound by Evil John Mays – Photo by Larry Pritchard

In this photo of my son, Zorba, we see a fantastic zombie bite mark.  Evil John made this in about 15 minutes.

What I especially love is that Zorba had to rush from the set to a choir performance for the grand opening of Alfala’s grocery store in Louisville, CO.  Zorba would not remove his makeup so his understanding mom said ok and let him go sing in full makeup.

The choir teacher looked at it and shrugged.  The other kids thought it was awesome.  The other parents, needless to say, were concerned.

Fortunately I didn’t a call from parent services.

zombie short film matt abraxas

Day 2 of Sever – Photo by Rebecca Abraxas

Sever was one of my funnest filming experiences.  It was fairly easy to pull off.  I can’t say the same about editing, but that’s another story.

If you want to make a short film, don’t hesitate.  The best way to learn is to do it.

And if you’re looking for cast and crew to help you, join a group like the Filmmaking Incubator where people are eager to get involved.  They only need someone to take the reigns on an idea and be willing to make it happen.

~Matt Abraxas