By Matthew Liebenberg
Swift Current-based Dead Prairies Productions experienced some notable success with its latest movie projects.
The horror comedy The Killer Balloon received a film festival award and the premiere of the latest movie Swift Nightmares 2 on May 6 sold out.
The festival award for The Killer Balloon, which was released last year, came as a surprise for filmmaker Devon Oman. It received the Gold Tape audience choice award at the Terrible Fest 2023 film festival held March 24-26 in Toronto.
“I never expected to win an award,” he said. “I was thrilled just to have the nomination for our film. So I never expected to win the actual award for it and it was shocking when I found out.”
Terrible Fest is an annual film festival for independent low budget horror films. The positive audience response to Killer Balloon was similar to what Oman experienced at the movie’s debut screening in 2022.
“People loved the editing, the soundtrack, the dark humour to it, and the bizarre death scenes,” he recalled. “The feedback from Terrible Fest was a good turnout for it and people loved it. People loved the soundtrack and the humour of it.”
He decided to submit The Killer Balloon to a few film festivals after speaking to another Swift Current filmmaker, George Tsougrianis.
“I have to give credit to George from Overtime Studios,” Oman said. “I met with him for coffee and he really inspired me back in November. … He actually talked to me about film festivals and I was like, you know what, why not submit The Killer Balloon. Let’s take a chance and I submitted it to a few film festivals and we got selected for Terrible Fest.”
He will consider submitting other Dead Prairies Productions films to different festivals in the future, both new and former movies.
“I think I’ll submit a few,” he said. “Some film festivals actually have guidelines where you had to have a movie that’s been done in the last year or two or some of them actually doesn’t matter of the year. So I might actually submit some of the older films too.”
He has been working on the latest movie Swift Nightmares 2 since last fall. Filming started in September and the final scenes were shot during January. Most of the filming locations were in Swift Current, but they also used settings in the hamlet of Piapot, including an old school building.
“We got an opportunity to film in Piapot at some really cool locations out there,” he said. “It worked out perfectly. I was really thrilled that they gave us the permission to do that.”
This is the fifteenth movie by Dead Prairies Productions since 2012 and it has the longest running time of around 95 minutes.
“I did not plan it that way,” he said. “At the start it was going to be the one film in there, Darkness Within, but it was going to be only 35 to 40 minutes tops for that and I needed more footage. I added the other two short films and the main story. So I made it a sequel. It wasn’t originally planned that way, but it worked out in a better way. It gave more people more opportunities to act and to be a part of the crew.”
The 22 actors in Swift Nightmares 2 are all from the Swift Current area. Oman wrote the three stories for this horror anthology. The other two are called Winter Massacre and Game Over. He was one of the actors and also co-directed the film with Corey Schimmel.
“Corey filled in some parts there for us when he was available,” Oman said. “I actually handed off the camera a few times to people for acting. We’re a skeleton crew, that’s the thing. We’re very low budget. So sometimes if you’re acting, there’s a good chance you’re still going to be holding the camera for a scene or two.”
The new movie is to some extent a sequel to the original Swift Nightmares, which was released in 2013. However, the stories in Swift Nightmares 2 are brand new and it will not be necessary to watch the previous movie. Those who have seen the previous one will be able to spot some references to it in the new film.
“It’s different than The Killer Balloon,” he said about the new film. “I would say less dark humour to it and more scary, but comedy too. … I would say most of our films have comedy in it, because we are very low budget. So we throw that cheesy factor in there too and I love having a bit of comedy in horror movies.”
He felt viewers will enjoy the main story in Swift Nightmares 2 that connects the three individual stories together.
“Darkness Within has some cool scenes,” he said. “Game Over is a really fun one with the video games and Winter Massacre was pretty fun to film out in Piapot with a small cast there, but I have to admit that I do not like filming in winter.”
The new movie features music of 10 different Saskatchewan artists as part of the soundtrack, which is something done previously in other Dead Prairies Productions films.
“I’ve noticed each time we announced it, it’s getting bigger and bigger and people are more in line to be part of it,” he said. “We have a variety of music too. It goes from rap to hip hop to metal to country to industrial electronic, all over the place. So it’s really cool hearing all kinds of music from different people around Saskatchewan.”
Tickets for the new film’s premiere at Lucky Charlie’s Pub sold out fast. Some extra tickets were made available, but it did not take long to sell out as well.
“I’ve noticed a growth for Dead Prairies Productions since 2018,” he said. “Before that we’ve had people just buying their tickets at the door and pre-sales weren’t happening. This will be our third film that we did in a row that sold out. The fan base is growing more and more. People are telling their friends and family to check it out. We make it an event. We make it like a fun thing for everybody to come out, even if they’re not a big fan of horror films.”
Dead Prairies Productions is a non-profit movie company and all proceeds from movie screenings as well as sales of DVDs and merchandise are donated to the Swift Current SPCA. It has raised over $27,000 for the animal shelter during the past 10 years and the same will happen with the proceeds from the May 6 premiere of Swift Nightmares 2.
Those unable to get a ticket for the screening will have to wait until the new movie is released on DVD. All previous movies are available on DVD through the online Dead Prairies Productions store at http://www.payhip.com/DeadPrairiesProductions