Mouncey Ferguson, a native of Falls Church, has recently produced a horror movie called “Donner Pass” alongside his wife, director Elise Robertson. As a self proclaimed “theater kid,” Ferguson was involved in many school plays and variety shows at George Mason High School. During that time, he volunteered for Channel 38 and used his access to the station’s video equipment to interview and shoot a short narrative piece on then-principal George Thoms.
In his late 20s, Ferguson moved to Los Angeles and worked on small independent projects. He produced a short film in 2003 that was well received on the festival circuit, but didn’t bring in the revenue he had hoped for. Ferguson said he and his wife sat down to figure out a new angle to approach the industry with.
“She and I said we could do a few comedies I was working on under a low budget,” Ferguson said, “except comedies are tough in the independent film realm. You have to have a lot of well-known actors, but with thrillers and horror movies, it’s not quite the case. People watch it more for the concept and less for the stars. It’s friendlier for independent productions.”
At the time, Ferguson was in a writing group with R. Scott Adams and remembered Adams’ script, “The Last of the Donner Party.”
“I always liked [the script] and thought it could be done for not too much money,” Ferguson said. “We worked the script title, changing it to Donner Pass. Your title and your cover art are half of your marketing campaign in the independent realm. It’s got to get the people who want to see it just by looking at it.”
Donner Pass is a contemporary horror movie developed from Adams’ script that follows a group of teenagers who head to the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a ski trip. The teenagers joke about a hunger curse left by George Donner and his party in the 1840s after the group was trapped on the mountain and forced resort to cannibalism to survive. No one in the group believes the curse until one of the teenagers goes missing and is found half-eaten.
The film can be found on YouTube, Redbox, Amazon, iTunes and through various On Demand cable providers.
Ferguson said that though his film is in the early stages of getting started internationally, it has been well received by American audiences.
“When you make a horror movie, you’re not counting on the critics liking it,” Ferguson said. “So it was nice to get a great response from folks.”
Ferguson told the News-Press that part of what makes a low-budget film successful is time management. Elaborate scenes that take a few hours to set up aren’t feasible when shooting for the day will take the same amount of time. Beyond the pacing, music, and sound effects of the film, Ferguson said that the actors are responsible for bringing a lot of the creativity and authenticity to the scene.
“The drama of those moments, that’s about the actors having to get into the headspace of their character,” Ferguson said. “A lot of the actors commented on how exhausting it was to spend days at a time at this heightened state where you have to breathe heavy to get your heart rate up.”
Desiree Hall who plays Kayley in the film said she enjoyed playing a leading role because the extended filming time gave her a chance to invest in her character. She said that though she had never been in a position like her character, the process of examining how she would react in similar situations was an interesting experience.
“Having qualities that I see in myself in Kayley made it a whole lot easier to identify with her,” Hall said. “Generally, I think people expect a lot of screaming and panicking, but we decided that Kayley was going to keep her head on her shoulders and not lay down and die. It was definitely a lot easier to play her knowing she was, in some ways, similar to who I am as a person in real life.”
Now that he has completed the film, Ferguson and his wife are actively working on a TV series while considering multiple film genres for their next project. He is waiting to see how Donner Pass continues to be received, but is pleased with the outcome of the film.
“So many horror movies are about being scared and the experience of that feeling, but ours is a little more literary,” Ferguson said. “There really is a message and a commentary that is made about the nature of people and the nature of good and evil and the choices you make.”
More information about the film can be found at donnerpassmovie.com.