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An Omaha filmmaker's horror short is a finalist for a feature-length anthology movie.
Summer Johnson's movie “M is for Make Believe” is one of 12 films up for a spot in "ABCs of Death 2,” the sequel to 2012's “ABCs of Death.”
Some context for the non-horror connoisseur: The “ABCs of Death” competition is the closest thing independent horror filmmakers have to an “American Idol.” It's a shot at an unheard-of filmmaker getting their movie seen by potentially millions of people.
Johnson's and the 11 other films were selected out of 541 entries; that's 27 hours of movie.
The “ABCs” movies have a simple format: 26 directors and 26 short films, each one representing a different letter of the alphabet. As with the first "ABCs," the filmmakers are looking for the anthology's 26th director, this time to make a short revolving around the letter “M.”
Six of the 12 finalists were selected by an online voting competition that went from mid-August to mid-November. The other six finalists, including Johnson's movie, were chosen by a panel of judges.
Now, the 25 other already-hired filmmakers will watch the 12 contenders and decide the victor. Their choice will be announced December 15.
The winner will get the coveted “M” slot in the 2014-released “ABCs of Death 2” and a $5,000 prize.
After months of making, cutting, submitting and lobbying for her movie, Johnson's head is still spinning. It's hard to believe that “famous directors are going to watch my movie,” she said.
This is actually Johnson's first movie. She had almost no interest in directing before the competition, but after she wrote the script for “M for Make Believe,” she decided to take a stab at it. With a “tiny, little budget” and a local cast and crew who worked for free, Johnson forged ahead.
Johnson's movie is about two girls who find a dying man and mistake him for "the King of the Forest." They dress him in princess clothes and dress his wounds with glitter as he dies.
It's unsettling, gory and maybe a little adorable.
Johnson has no idea where the idea came from, but she knocked out a first-draft script in three days.
“I wanted children in the movie, but I didn't want them to be creepy,” she said. “I wanted to do the opposite of that. The movie evolved into the two girls trying to help him. I thought that contrasted really well with the horror of the situation.”
The two girls are Johnson's nieces, Gillian and Natalie Mathre, 8 and 5. Maybe it was just their comfort with the director, but they both give extremely natural performances. The story's success largely hinges on their performances, and they each nailed it.
“I was the proudest auntie ever,” Johnson said.
When Gillian and Natalie saw themselves in the movie, they started jumping up and down with excitement. But when they were told “M is for Make Believe” made it into the final 12, Johnson said, “I'm not sure they actually understood the gravity of being a finalist in the 'ABCs of Death' competition.
“I'm still not sure I understand the gravity of it.”
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