Written Interview: “TERROR FROM 20,000 LEAGUES BELOW”

“Terror from 20,000 Leagues Below” Short Film Interview. 

Written & Directed by Ama Lea 
Edited by Brandon Scullion 
Stunt by Rozi Keller
Starring: Jared Rivett, Rozi Keller, Marc Gottlieb and Amber Kloss. 

Writer/Director Ama Lea 

Aside from being an independent filmmaker, Ama Lea is also a photographer at Fangoria and owner of Poltergeists and Paramours, where she sells handmade horror-inspired lingerie. The company gained so many followers and became successful enough for her to work there full time in 2018. Her success led to at least six fashion shows at major horror conventions on the west coast in 2019, as well as appearances in film and TV. 

1. What inspired you to do this film as a director and who are some of your biggest inspirations in the film industry? 
I'm inspired by so many different things, but if I had to narrow it down to a few core components, I'd say style, social message, and the ability to create worlds with stories. My biggest inspirations are Karyn Kusama, David Cronenberg, Jordan Peele, and Dario Argento. 

2. Can you tell us the process of this film? How long did it take from pre-production to completion of the film? Any difficulties and challenges? 
My partner Brandon Scullion and I knew we wanted to create something, but we knew it had to be small enough that we could do everything without a crew, and it had to be done safely, so that meant shooting outside mostly. We built everything ourselves, we lit, shot, built props and costumes... It was all us out of necessity. I wrote something based off old radio plays like War of the Worlds where you have to imagine the story more than you're actually seeing it, which was a challenge in itself. When we were shooting it, Brandon was behind the camera while I was running around starting fog machines, throwing blood, lighting fires, and throwing tentacles at people. Ha ha! It was mostly about getting the timing right on all these in-camera effects. 

3. How do you like working with your talented cast? 
We are lucky that we have talented close friends! We really limited ourselves to people we've basically quarantined with. Lucky for us, they all happen to be great actors that we collaborate with often! I wrote a lot of voice-over with the knowledge that Marc Gottlieb, Jared Rivet, and Brandon all are experienced voice actors that could elevate the piece. 

4. I love the tentacles. Did you make them? If so, will you be able tell us a little bit on the process of making the tentacles, what kind of materials, and any challenges? 
We knew we were looking for an Ed Wood-inspired look. So right out the gate, that took the pressure off from anything looking "perfect." Ha ha! I bought some pool noodles, which are like $1 a piece and then covered them with Reynolds wrap and duct tape and glued on some extra large bubble wrap to make the tentacle suckers. We then covered them with layers and layers of liquid latex, and then we painted them with varying shades of green. Brandon and I did this all in an evening in our backyard, and it was actually tons of fun! The day of the shoot, we covered them in TONS of sex lube (I purchased fifteen bottles of it from the dollar store), and they looked pretty awesome! They held up great, too! I think the entire project for all of the tentacles cost us less than $30 bucks. 

5. As a female horror filmmaker, is there any advice you can give to other aspiring female filmmakers out there? 
Make stuff all the time. Let go of the idea that all your films have to be expensive or polished, and just make things with what you have available and tell stories that spark joy. Tell stories that matter to you. The world needs stories and scripts from unique voices and perspectives. And there is an active push against that in not just the industry, but from "fans" who post bad reviews of movies they haven't even seen yet just because they're made or from the viewpoint of female protagonists. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. And don't let men talk down to you, because for every champion you have, there will be a naysayer that you've made feel inferior. Block that noise out and just do you. 

6. Are there any upcoming projects that you can tell us about? 
I am currently working on an experimental film called The Invocation of Lilith about feminine power in the occult. 

 Jared Rivet 

Apart from being an actor and voice actor, Jared Rivet is also a horror screenwriter for movie and television. His screenwriting credits including Jackals, a horror film starring Stephen Dorff (Blade) as well Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2019), for which he was a staff writer. Jared has also written, directed, and acted in multiple episodes of the award-winning audio drama anthology series Earbud Theater, which specializes in horror and sci-fi and was nominated for the Audio Verse Award for his outstanding performance in 2016. 

1. How did you get involved with this film? 
I’ve known Ama for many years now and we’ve worked together on a few projects before "Terror from 20,000 Leagues Below." I am lucky to be on her list of colleagues and friends because she is always working on projects, both big and small. One day, over the summer, she told me that she had me in mind for a short that she and her partner Brandon Scullion were working on. She originally said she wanted me to play a character in the “Rod Serling” mold, but then the material seemed to evolve from there. And before I knew it, I was sitting at a desk in her backyard, getting covered in chocolate-flavored blood and 99 Cents Store lubricant. 

2. How did you approach your character and how did you prepare your character? 
I think the Rod Serling thing kind of stuck in terms of the suit and tie and dead serious “straight to camera” tone. I am also a big fan of Night of the Living Dead, and I don’t think that people stop and realize how much of the running time of that movie is devoted the news broadcasts. I love Charles Craig, the actor playing the local newscaster, and his line delivery. He was probably the biggest influence. Him and Kent Brockman from The Simpsons. Ama and Brandon also brought up Orson Welles and the original War of the Worlds radio show, which is another favorite of mine and was a definite source of inspiration. 

The great thing about playing a character like that is that he’s a type, and you’re playing him for laughs. The funniest thing I could do with that character was to play him totally straight. Once we decided that nothing going around on him was going to shake his on-camera professionalism, I knew exactly how to play it, and it was just having fun at that point. 

3. How did you like working with Ama the director and the rest of the cast? 
Ama is the best. I always love working with her. Like I said earlier, she is always working on something, sometimes she’s working on several somethings. She’s one of the most creatively industrious people I know. And not only do she and Brandon actually do the things that they say they’re going to do (a rarity in this town), but they do everything. Costumes, sound, sets, lighting, at one point Ama had the fog machine in her lap making sure it blew into frame the way she wanted it to. She isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirt under her fingernails. Or lube. I’m guessing there’s still lube out there from the tentacles… 

I didn’t get to work with Marc and Amber, unfortunately; their scenes in the living room were shot separate from the newsroom stuff, which was just a practical thing but also a COVID-safety thing. But I go way back with both of them and have worked with Marc a couple of times before. He has done voice work in some of my Earbud Theater audio dramas, and Amber is the real deal. She is a pro and just a great person. 

Besides the tentacles, my only real co-star was my partner, Rozi Keller, who played the role of the P.A. handing me updates as things escalate. She was integral on set as well; she did my makeup and operated some of the tentacles. I love that she got a “stunts” credit for her character’s death scene. She got the tone of the piece perfectly and threw herself into it as well. 

Rozi Keller

4. I see you did voice acting, too. How did you manage to take on both characters? Since your character was sitting behind the desk and you had to listen to yourself, was anyone on set actually feeding your line? Will you be able to tell us a little bit about the process from the set to recording session? 
For my part of it, we shot the newsroom stuff first, with Ama reading all of the other characters' dialogue just off camera. That gave me something to react to as well as giving them a lot of footage to play with of me looking concerned and intrigued while the audience is hearing the reports coming in. I love what they did with that, by the way. The 4x3, black and white footage came out better than I ever could have expected. And the filtered, sort of “scratchy” mono audio really sells it, too. 

And voice acting has turned into my second profession (after screenwriting), so I’m always happy to grab a microphone and do some radio acting. We very quickly recorded the oceanographer’s lines on the same night we shot the newsroom stuff. That took about five minutes. 

5. Are there any upcoming projects that you can tell us about? 
The same week that "Terror from 20,000 Leagues Below" went up on YouTube, a video I wrote and directed of a “live script read” of one of my Earbud Theater scripts was released as well. It’s called Chains and you can find it on either YouTube or earbudtheater.com. Covid has put a damper on Earbud Theater’s usual “in person” studio recording methods, so Tracy Clifton and Casey Wolfe came up with this live Zoom-read alternative. They did four new episodes which are all great (I am also in two of the other episodes as an actor), and Chains was the finale. It stars Clarke Wolfe, Rico E. Anderson, Josh Miller, Tracy Clifton, and Briana Walden, and I’m extremely proud of it if people want to check it out. 

There’s Day of the Dead, which I worked on as a writer for showrunners Scott Thomas and Jed Elinoff. It’s a new ten-episode TV series for Syfy inspired by George Romero’s original, which they’re filming right now in Canada. I had a great time working on that, and I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised when it hits next year. 

And I continue to co-host Dead Right Horror Trivia with Dr. Rebekah McKendry every month via Twitch, since our live events at Blast from the Past in Burbank are on hold for the time being. It’s still a lot of fun even though we both miss seeing everyone and putting the game on for a live audience. I will have some exciting podcast news to announce soon, but I’m not allowed to talk about those projects just yet. Check in with me later! 

Marc Gottlieb

Marc Gottlieb is a voice actor with a screenwriter background. He has been a voice actor since he lived in New York years ago. Marc has also written many screenplays over the years, with one of the biggest independent film companies, The Asylum, over the years. His screenwriting credits including Alien Convergence, Triassic World (in which he also starred), and his recent release Fast and Fierce: Death Race, which stars DMX. 

1. How did you get involved with this film? 
Ama approached me with the idea and I thought it was fantastic. I wanted to be part of it immediately. We've worked together many times before, so I knew it would be a lot of fun to shoot, and the final product would be excellent - which it is! 

2. I see you played two different characters: one in front of the camera and one as the voice acting. How did you like it, and how did you approach and prepare on each character? 
I used to do voiceover work when I lived in NYC, and Ama knows this. She asked me if I was comfortable doing a Transatlantic accent. And I said I was a bit rusty, but I should be able to deliver what she was looking for. Turns out I was rustier than I thought, but Ama guided me along the way, worked with me on every line to help me get it right. As for my role in front of the camera, I'm very comfortable with sitting on the couch and enjoying an alcoholic beverage, so I didn't need to do much prep work there. Plus, having the opportunity to share the screen with Amber Kloss is always a dream come true. 

 Amber Kloss

3. What was your experience working with Ama and the rest of the cast? 
Ama and Brandon are brilliant. They constantly amaze me with their creativity, and I'm just happy they ask me to come along and work with them. I'm ready to do anything they need on set. If they want me to write something, great. If they want me to hold a light or be covered in blood in front of the camera, I'm there. In fact, I think I've done all those things (and more) on a few of their projects. 

4. Were you on set to guide Jared Rivet when he was listening to your character's broadcast? 
No, I was never there when Jared was working. Ama shot us on two different days. 

5. Are there any upcoming projects that you can tell us? 
We have a segment in the upcoming holiday horror anthology Deathcember, which comes out on Nov 24th. Right in time for Christmas! Ama directed, I wrote it, Brandon edited it, and Amber is an executive producer on it. 

“Terror from 20,000 Leagues Below” is a short retro horror film that was inspired by War of the Worlds and B creature features from the late 1950’s. The film premiered on Halloween 2020. 

Check out the short film here: