An overview by Robert Long II. Production photos by Leanna Chamish ©2011
CRAWLER is a Timewarp Films production that got into principle photography back in 2003. It’s a sci-fi/horror hybrid story about an alien that lands in the woods of Northern Maryland. Birthed from the meteorite from which it traveled in, the creature starts to roam the countryside, looking for its first meal. The “Crawler” as it is called is carnivorous… and is very, VERY hungry.
Three UFO enthusiasts (portrayed by Darla Albornoz, Justin Timpane, and Daniel Ross) in the area happened to track the meteor as it landed, and decide to investigate the location the next day. They run afoul of a couple of government SPOOKS (James Keegan and Nikki O’Dell) that are heading a military unit operation (the unit is portrayed by Maynard Edwards, John Patrick Barry and Ayo Sorrells); that of locating the Crawler – and putting it on ice. Given a “snow job” from the SPOOKS that the woods are off limits, the UFO members are ordered to go back home.
However, the Crawler has not been idle. Through the night it has been feasting on several town folk and has been getting larger with each victim it devours. When it attacks and kills a family member of the team, the cat is out of the bag and the SPOOKS are forced to quarantine the entire town. What follows are lies, double-crosses, government cover ups and death as both sides try to put an end… to the CRAWLER.
CRAWLER was the combined brainchild of Timewarp Film partners Joe Ripple and Don Dohler. Penned by Ripple, it was a bit of a throwback to Dohler’s earlier films like GALAXY INVADER and NIGHTBEAST. Having seen a rough cut I can say that writer/director Ripple has put a nice spin on the storyline, and that there are hints of PREDATOR in the motion picture.
Having just come off their most modest production VAMPIRE SISTERS, Timewarp was back behind the camera in 2003 with what was to be their most ambitious movie yet. the cast of main characters was going to be larger than usual, including such talented performers as Darla Albornoz (VAMPIRE SISTERS), Daniel Ross (NINJAS VS ZOMBIES), Justin Timpane (DEAD HUNT), and James Keegan.
It was also a bit of a reunion of sorts, as cast was going to joined with such Dohler mainstays as George Stover (BLOOD MASSACRE), Dick Dyszel (GALAXY INVADER), and Don Leifert (FIEND). Those behind the scenes were going to include Glenn Barnes (sound), Leanna Chamish (BTS footage), Dave Oldaker (key grip), Steve Myers (special makeup effects), Mitch Klein (special visual effects), Don Dohler (producer & cinematographer) and Joe Ripple (writer & director). Justin Timpane was not only going to be one of the leads, but was also going to score the movie as well (Timpane is an accomplished composer and did the score for DEAD HUNT as well).
Initially the Crawler was going to be realized by a “man-in-a-monster-suit” type of production, with the effects to be done by special effects makeup artist Steve Myers. However, once the range of motion the creature was supposed to have was determined, it was decided to go the route of CGI, with special visual effects artist Mitch Klein at the helm of the Crawler effects. Mitch is a fantastic visual effects artist, but even he knew it would be no easy task to bring the digital creature to life.
With this decided, principle photography continued in 2003, with Mitch on the location more often to give input on necessary shots needed for the integration of the CGI monster. Once the live action was complete, Klein got together with a few other animators and started to hash out the plethora of visual effects that would be showcased. Not only was the CGI needed for creation of the monster as well as the execution of it, but several other shots as well. These included satellite dishes, the meteorite landing in the woods, outer space shots, “Crawler” cam, and a few other special effects. This was going to tie up a lot of time for the visual effects crew.
While the post production started on CRAWLER, the heads of Timewarp Films were not going to be idle. Both Joe and Don moved forward on prepping for another movie – a suspense thriller called DEAD HUNT. This was to shoot in 2005 while Mitch moved ahead with the CRAWLER animation. By this time graphic designer Robert Long II had come on board to help with DVD cover and poster design for both DEAD HUNT and CRAWLER. Producer Don Dohler also asked if Robert could help make one of the gory deaths even gorier with his skills in photo-manipulation. Long was more than happy to do so and the end result will be surprisingly grisly to the movie viewing audience.
The year 2006 comes along. While Dohler edits DEAD HUNT, Klein is hard at work on the visual effects. One thing that has been a hindrance is the computer “muscle” needed to render the CRAWLER realistically and to insert into the live action; the software being used unfortunately crashes often, making the rendering go slower.
A further monkey wrench is thrown in the works when a few visual effects are going to be needed for DEAD HUNT, and the visual effects artist that was working on them is unavailable. Producer Dohler wanted to make an early June premiere for the movie, so that meant that Mitch Klein had to drop CRAWLER for the moment to help finish the thriller.
The premiere of DEAD HUNT is a great success, and so the beginning of the Summer of 2006 sees Timewarp Films busy getting DEAD HUNT ready to shop for a distributor, and Mitch Klein is back onto the post production of CRAWLER. On a visit over at Dohler’s home, the producer was pleased with the progress of the creature and even gave a demonstration of how the Crawler would rear back when it got ready to bellow and roar. Good times indeed.
Then a situation developed that no one could have seen coming; Don Dohler was diagnosed with two forms of cancer. Family, friends, and fans of Don were shell-shocked by the news. Knowing that he would have an uphill battle fighting the disease, Dohler nonetheless remains optimistic and urges Joe and the Timewarp team to continue their work on both films.
In the early Fall of 2006 Dohler and Ripple do the audio commentary for DEAD HUNT over at Don’s home. It is also on this occasion that Don turned over all the video footage to Joe, should the worst happen. Unfortunately, the worst did happen; Don Dohler passed on December 2nd, 2006.
2007 – The Show Must Go On: Joe Ripple got the Timewarp Films team together to decide the next course of action since Don’s passing. After a round robin discussion, everyone basically agreed that it would be a good idea to regroup and focus on doing another movie. This would become the start of the production for SEALED FATES.
However, there proved to pose a new problem; because Timewarp Films was now down a producer, cinematographer, and editor – the roles that Dohler had performed – that meant these areas would have to be filled by other members of the team. This meant that Ripple was to become the producer as well as the director, and that Klein stepped in to do the cinematography as well as the editing. Because of this – and the nature of independent film-making – CRAWLER would have to once again go on the back-burner.
2010: SEALED FATES was an anthology film, and the logistics of doing three different stories for the production took just as long – if not longer to do – than a regular low-budget independent horror film. Thankfully, the movie gets very well-received at its premiere! With the dust settling from that production, director Joe Ripple turns his attention to another horror movie he has had in mind – JEBEDIAH – which stars Brian Greenwell in the lead role. Auditions and pre-production start on that.
Mitch Klein was now off the post-production duties of SEALED FATES, and could focus on the CRAWLER effects once again. During the last couple of years, there had been major improvements in both computer hardware and software. It was time to up the ante on the creature and make it better, badder, and more vicious than ever. Though Robert Long was not a 3-D animator, he was on board to help out with some graphic design of some computer screens that would be needed for a few scenes.
Taking a break from special effects for one weekend, both Klein and Long attended a premiere of the horror-comedy NINJAS VS VAMPIRES. This was the second feature produced by Justin Timpane and Daniel Ross; yes – that’s right – two of the performers from CRAWLER! While speaking with the cast and crew, Klein struck up a conversation with a kindred spirit – Brian Anderson. Anderson was responsible for the fantastic visual effects that where done for both NINJAS VS ZOMBIES and NINJAS VS VAMPIRES.
Mitch approached Brian about collaborating on the new and improved visual effects for CRAWLER. After seeing a rough cut of the movie, Anderson accepted. Even in its rough form, the movie shows a lot of potential. It’s fast, fun and has a lot of action. It never drags and it keeps the audience’ attention. When finished, it will do what Don Dohler and Joe Ripple had set out to do – be a fun sci-fi/horror action movie that entertains.
Unfortunately, as of early 2011 the production had lost another member of the team. Actor Don Leifert had passed away due to heart complications. Aside from appearing in a couple of documentaries, CRAWLER was Leifert’s last acting role on screen.
The purpose of this article is to show that the film is moving forward. Klein and Anderson are working on the creature; Long has been working on 2-D stills for visual effects. Mitch has also been creating some intricate models to be used in other scenes. The rough cut was looked at again recently, and brought a smile to my face. The finished product is going to be fun.
Independent low-budget film-making is a labor of love that has to be worked on around the responsibilities of everyday life: family, friends, work, and other pursuits. Indie horror is hard enough; independent science fiction can be 10 times as hard to pull off. I want to take this moment to applaud all those that have had a part working on this movie – either in front of or behind the camera. Yes, it has had a lot of starts and stops: maybe people now have a better understanding of why it has taken several years to get to this point.
If you are a cynical, jaded person that judges these movies against Hollywood mega-million block busters… then your pompous ass will scoff and be disappointed in the end result of CRAWLER. I for one can see it for the heart and hard work that was put into it; a group of very talented friends got together to make a fun sci-fi film. It is a throwback to the days when movies like NIGHTBEAST were made, and it is bound to get a solid cult following in years to come. Sadly, it also reflects some of the last work done by friends that are no longer with us.
When CRAWLER comes out – and it WILL come out – remember all the hard work that went into it, and enjoy it for the roller-coaster popcorn movie that it is. You won’t be disappointed.
Robert Long II – March 2011