Ted Geoghegan has been a horror fan since he was in high school in Great Falls.
He remained a fan as an undergrad at the University of Montana, and the years he worked at Crazy Mike’s video rental stores here.
Pursuing movies and writing scripts on the side here, and in New York City, has culminated in the premiere of a horror drama, “Brooklyn 45,” his third feature as director, at SXSW.
The script was completed thanks to insights from his father, an Air Force veteran.
“The whole script came to life,” he said. "I knew exactly what everyone was supposed to do."
It’s a “chamber drama,” in which all the action takes place in a single room. In this case, it involves a seance, in a Brooklyn brownstone apartment in 1945, attended by friends who know each other from World War II, a conflict that’s still with them, each coping in different ways.
The movie had its worldwide debut in Austin in the “Midnighters” category. His project was produced by Shudder, AMC’s horror streaming service, and will go live this summer. Geoghegan arranged for a Missoula screening on March 17 for friends and family and the public.
Geoghegan grew up in Great Falls and moved to Missoula for college, which he still considers his home. A cinephile since high school, he developed a love of horror films early on. In 2000, while studying English education, he emailed a director to say he was a fan, partly out of the novelty of the new ability to reach people across the world via the internet. That led to a collaboration on a film script for a movie called “Demonium,” in which he traveled to Europe to help with the shoot. On his return, he said he was expecting success – only to be startled after it was released in a single country, and the reviews were harsh.
The experience, however, did lead to more work in the industry. Locally, rock fans may remember “Ghouls Gone Wild!,” a movie he made with a band, the International Playboys.
In 2007, he departed for New York City in 2007, thinking he would give it a go for two years.
The concept for “Brooklyn 45” first took root several years ago, based on reactions to a small part in a prior movie. His first feature, “We Are Still Here,” included a minute-long seance that drew an outsized amount of attention at his screenings.
“My joke response was always, ‘Oh, if you love that seance scene, my next movie is just going to be a seance,’ ” he said. "The whole movie is one big seance."
After he’d made the threat, it took awhile for him to figure out the script. He got 20 pages deep and reached an impasse at a crucial plot juncture. He decided to email the work in progress to his father.
Michael Geoghegan, a U.S. history teacher, signed up for the Air Force during Vietnam in the U.S. (In 1971, he was paralyzed in an accident.) His father initially refused the collaboration, saying he wasn’t that creative. Geoghegan found a clever way to get him to participate – he asked his dad to read it and tell him everything that he’d gotten wrong. That gleaned more information and feedback, first about ranks and then about attitudes and worldviews. Because of the accident, his father spent time in Veterans Affairs hospitals with men who’d been wounded in combat. He talked with them about their experiences and it raised questions that ended in the script: Are we the sum of everything we do in our life? Do some actions define us more than others?
Weaving in those viewpoints in the pressure-cooker setting – a spacious parlor with locked doors – Geoghegan wanted the film to remain ambiguous in its politics, so that it could be enjoyed by either a liberal pacifist or a veteran.
He and his father sent the script back and forth six or seven times, and finally felt that it was done. His dad told him “Well, I can’t wait to see this movie.
“It was the last conversation I ever had with my dad,” he said. Before they spoke again, his father died at age 69.
“Suddenly it went from just this weird little movie that my dad was helping me on to now this is the only movie I would ever be able to make with my dad,” he said.
The cast includes some recognizable faces. Fans of The Onion’s movie reviews will notice Ron E. Rains, a Chicago actor who plays the site’s fake movie critic, Peter. K. Rosenthal. He’s a “pencil pusher” at the Pentagon, who’s married to Marla (Anne Ramsay of “A League of Their Own” and “Mad About You”), a top interrogator during the war.
The film also falls into a very specific microgenre: It takes place in real time. While many movies are shot out of order for logistical reasons, they were able to shoot it in chronological order.
“It was really magical. We'd wrap for the day and come back the next morning and I'd be able to tell the actors, 'okay, so where were you yesterday?’ ”
With the tax credits available for films in Illinois, they decided to build a brownstone from scratch on a soundstage. Since the action is confined to one space, they wanted it to be a “visually arresting” one, down to an antique Zenith radio.
“If your audience gets bored, it's going to be very hard to get them back,” he said.
Geoghegan sourced historical photographs to decorate the apartment. Keep your eyes peeled for the shot of downtown Missoula and Bear Tracks Bridge.