Interview: Director Hunter Adams on Release of ‘Dig Two Graves’

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CHICAGO – One of the local filmmaker heroes has been Hunter Adams, the director of “Dig Two Graves.” Shot in Southern Illinois in the infamous “Little Egypt” area, Adams took a shoestring budget and created a tense and mysterious supernatural thriller. “Dig Two Graves” will get its theatrical and iTunes release on Friday, March 24th, 2017, and will play in Chicago at the AMC River East Theatre (details below).

The film mixes unexplained elements with a thriller about generational violence that has plagued a small town. After 13-year-old Jacqueline Mather (Samantha Isler) loses her brother in a mysterious drowning, she is visited by three backwoods moonshiners who give her a strange offer…they can bring her brother back to life. This bizarre promise is linked to Mather’s grandfather, the local Sheriff Waterhouse (Ted Levine), as his dark history is tied to the true intentions of the moonshiners. The film is set in the 1970s, and uses flashbacks from the 1940s.

Samantha Isler in ‘Dig Two Graves’
Photo credit: Area23a

Director Hunter Adams is from Wisconsin, and studied film theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the La Sorbonne in Paris. He combined the resources of the Independent Filmmaker Project, the film program of Southern Illinois University and connections from executive producer Larry Fessenden to realize the completion of his second feature film. He is currently working on a several projects – an animated comedy series, a limited series with a darker tone and another feature that will also be set in Little Egypt – and lives in Los Angeles. talked to him via phone about the upcoming release of his “Dig Two Graves.” What fascinated you and about a mystery unsolved from the past, and how did that fascination become ‘Dig Two Graves’?

Hunter Adams: It actually worked in reverse. The mysterious backstory was constructed into the screenplay later in the process. The initial story was about a young person whose brother disappears, and is visited by these three backwoods guys. Ultimately, we wanted to give those three guys more of an impetus for messing with the girl. That became the backstory of her grandfather, and going back into a past that haunts the present. It was an evolution. You had to replicate convincingly two eras. What were the challenges and triumphs of achieving that?

Adams: It’s always a challenge to shoot period scenes when we were on a low budget, especially when dealing with two separate time periods. The idea to not do that on our budget was a golden rule we recklessly disregarded. [laughs] But the fortunate thing was shot in the ‘Little Egypt’ area of southern Illinois, and made the period set-ups possible, more so than in other places. That area is out of time to begin with, so it was easy to make the downtown area feel like the 1970s. And because the surrounding area is rural, we were able to duplicate the 1940s in the middle of nowhere. It was a matter of tracking down the right cars and costumes, but the regional location and people were a great help. What did you learn specifically about those two eras to pull it off?

Adams: Having not grown up in the 1970s or 1940s, I relied on our production designer and research. The 1940s were important to me because the Sheriff character was loosely based on my grandfather, and his stories from World War II. That’s probably why I wanted to set it in that time period. Also I wanted to avoid the pitfalls of modernity, like mobile phones. The supernatural element worked better in the past.

Danny Goldring (left) and Ted Levine in ‘Dig Two Graves’
Photo credit: Area23a Since you had a writing partner on the film, Jeremy Phillips, at what point in the writing process – drafts, pre-production, etc. – was the partnership most necessary?

Adams: I had pieced together the first draft, without Jeremy, which didn’t have the backstory, but just the basic conceit about the girl and the proposition. I met Jeremy, and we started adding in the other flashback story points, and that became the second draft. We then went through the Independent Filmmaker Project [IFP] lab in New York, the scriptwriting program, that allowed us to hone the story of the emotional arc between the grandfather and granddaughter. It was a step-by-step collaboration. How did you assemble the cast you had, and which cast member used their audition as a springboard for what the character became, and why?

Adams: We knew that the casting of the young girl was going to be the most important decision we had to make, because the film rode on her shoulders. We did a national search, and found Samantha Isler in Tulsa, when she sent us an audition tape. It was her first film, so she brought a natural wide-eyed wonder to the part. She was actually 13 years old, which was different than asking an 18-year-old to play younger. I wanted that authenticity. Ted Levine is a great character actor, and I was excited about the opportunity to give him a leading role. He really delivered, and he worked hard on getting the character right. You credit your executive producer and the Independent Filmmaker Project and Southern Illinois University film department for making the film possible. How were their contributions most vital?

Adams: The IFP was significant on many levels, helping to craft the story so we could begin shooting. We also went through their editing lab, which was instrumental in reshaping the film once we were in post production. They also helped with financing, which helped to get the film made.

Through that, we also met our executive producer Larry Fessenden, who is a indie horror guru and was a considerable associate, and he helped us tremendously in promoting the film. The Southern Illinois University film department just sent us students to help out. Since it was a low budget film, we needed them to fill in positions like craft services and extras casting. They all did an amazing job, and many of them have continued in the industry.

Hunter Adams on the Set of ‘Dig Two Graves’
Photo credit: Area23a Since you worked on many levels to get ‘Dig Two Graves’ completed, what do you think you learned the most, and what skills will you take into your next projects?

Adams: Basically it is taking into account not only making a film, but promotion and distribution afterward. It is something I had to learn along the way, which is why it has taken a longer period to get to release for the film. It’s about partnering with people who can help on that, and help to facilitate building an audience. I will definitely take that into account on my upcoming projects. Since the film will have a showing in the Chicago area, what is your one paragraph pitch for potential audiences, as to the type of experience they can expect from ‘Dig Two Graves’?

Adams: We want to give a unique cinema experience, and shooting in southern Illinois ‘Little Egypt’ gives it a cool and atmospheric feeling. There are great performances from Chicago actors, from the theater and TV there…it was an all-Chicago crew for the most part, so it is a bit of a hometown effort, and I hope people will check it out.

“Dig Two Graves” will screen in Chicago at the AMC River East 21, 322 East Illinois Street, and elsewhere nationwide on March 24th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Simultaneously on March 24th, it will be available on iTunes. Featuring Ted Levine, Samantha Isler, Danny Goldring, Troy Ruptash and Rachael Drummond. Written by Hunter Adams and Jeremy Phillips. Directed by Hunter Adams. Not rated. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2017 Patrick McDonald,

Susie McGibboney's picture

Dig two Graves

I think your movie is wonderful. It kept me glued to my chair. Watched it three times & will watch it again. What other movies have you made ?

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