While at lunch one day, Brian Hanson told his friend Richard Handley an idea for a film he’d come up with back in 2008 with another friend.
After experiencing some intense sleep paralysis episodes, Hanson researched both the scientific and mythological explanations, from which emerged the idea for “The Black String,” a film that Handley describes as a psychological thriller with horror elements.
“Brian was telling me this story our first year of film school at Mount Saint Mary’s University, and it stuck with me,” Handley said.
Handley’s excitement fired Hanson up, and the pair worked together to rewrite the entire script over the course of a year, which they then used as part of their thesis project.
Neither knew at the time that this story would become what it is or that it would win numerous accolades, including some at the HorrorHaus Film Festival held at The MAIN in Newhall last month.
Both Hanson and Handley came into the film industry later on in life after serving in the military, and though they’ve worked in other productions, this is their first “baby.”
After producing a teaser trailer and pitching to investors, they were able to raise enough money to get the project going.
“It turned out to be on a much bigger scale than anticipated,” Handley said, adding that it really opened up the doors for them to cast bigger talent. “We had amazing actors coming out to audition for us. It was really surreal to see.”
When actor Frankie Muniz came out to audition, it changed the dynamic of the whole project, giving them a unique opportunity for the film, Handley added.
“It was really amazing to see him on set,” Handley said. “He just sunk his heart and soul into it, and went far beyond what we ever expected.”
Though they had written the role to be dark and heavy, Muniz was more comedic.
“He split the middle perfectly,” Handley added. “The comedy pushed through in certain parts of the film, but it was not over the top … A perfect balance, I’d say.”
Much of the film, which was set in the suburbs, was shot right here in Santa Clarita, as they wanted it to seem like the least likely place to see something horrific happen.
“That idea resonates deeply in people, which was very appealing, and there’s no better place than your own backyard,” Valencia resident Handley said. “It made the process much easier had it been somewhere else.”
Filming in Santa Clarita meant the film would get extra help from familiar faces, including Handley’s wife, Marisela, who was associate producer of the film, as well as Frank and Betsy Addelia, SCV residents who helped with the art department and shot the behind-the-scenes footage.
“The Santa Clarita Film Office were just exceptional in their ability to help us along,” Handley added.
Since its release, the film has been played at least a dozen film festivals in the U.S. and Europe, was recently released by Lionsgate in North America and is set to be released in the U.K. under Universal soon.
After seeing the film, HorrorHaus festival director David Lawrence approached them to show it at his festival.
“It was quite a turnout,” Handley said, adding that they were excited to show the film in Santa Clarita for the first time. “We got to meet a lot of really cool people and the audience was loving it.”
During the question-and-answer session afterward, Handley thought it was interesting to see the audience split down the middle when trying to decide whether the film’s protagonist is cursed or mentally ill.
The film also won a few awards at the festival, including best actor, best feature film, best screenplay and the audience choice award for best feature.
Though they hope to sell “The Black String” in multiple other countries, they’ve already begun working on their next project — another occult paranoia story.
For more information, visit blackstringmovie.com.