By MICHAEL GINGOLD
There are no police left in the post-viral-apocalypse world of the independent fright film ANECDOTA–but they certainly are present the day RUE MORGUE visits the location. When this writer arrives, the cops have just been called because a maintenance man spotted actor Guyviaud Joseph on a rooftop carrying a (non-functional) bow-and-arrow set and got the wrong idea. Later on, when the crew is filming a faux-blood-spattered man (played by Albert Marks) out on the street, they similarly mistake him for a real victim, and a squad car arrives again.
Fortunately, both misunderstandings are cleared up relatively easily, and the rest of the ANECDOTA shoot goes smoothly. The setting is an abandoned building in Westchester County, New York, where 11-year-old actress Bella Grace is confronted and chased by another red-stained intruder (James Allerdyce, pictured above with Grace). Her character may be young, but the actress says she’s able to handle herself. “Her name is Tabatha, and she’s all alone in this apartment building,” Grace says. “Her parents are gone, and no one else is around to help her, and there are these crazy infected people walking around. But Tabatha is so strong, and that’s pretty much what the movie’s about.”
Tabatha’s experiences in the building comprise one segment of what will ultimately be an omnibus of interconnected stories in ANECDOTA, which begins a year after a virus has swept the country, decimating the population. Not everyone has been killed by the plague; some have survived to become deadly infected threats, though writer/director Don Capria notes that these are not the mindless ghouls of many such movies.
“I wanted to make sure that the people Tabatha has to watch out for aren’t like the infected in other films, where they’re mutated and it almost looks like they’re dead,” he says. “I wanted to keep this where it’s like they’re dealing with a kind of psychotic breakdown. I took some inspiration from watching people on bath salts, or having really bad drug reactions. It’s not as severe as zombies running everywhere wanting to eat brains or anything like that. It’s more like these people have no physical or mental control, and we see them banging their heads on things. It’s kind of like when young girls cut themselves to release stress; these guys are experiencing pain to the point where they need to bash their heads. Any kind of shock they can give themselves makes them feel better, if only for a brief moment.” Making up the sickies and their self-inflicted abuse is Jacqueline Helene (pictured below with Marks), whose credits include Frank Sabatella’s THE SHED.
Capria got the inspiration for ANECDOTA after COVID-19 first shut down filmmaking early last year, scuttling another project he was going to shoot in the summer. “I was actually writing in an office in an abandoned building, and I had the idea of this young girl being trapped in a place like that, taking care of herself. And I wrote it during the pandemic, so it was definitely influenced by being quarantined and away from everybody, and stuck in a lonely place, and imagining what that would be like for a younger person.”
Having previously worked with, and been impressed by, Grace on another horror short called ABADDON, Capria wrote ANECDOTA with her in mind, and collaborated with her on the scripting phase. “She had just a small part in ABADDON,” he notes, “so I wanted to explore all of her different moods and show how good an actress she really is. I wanted to make sure I had an 11-year-old’s point of view, so I asked her a lot of the questions in developing the character, like, what do you think this girl likes to eat? What do you think her mom and dad were like? All those different elements of Tabatha’s character came from her.”
“That was amazing,” Grace says of being part of that creative process. “I wasn’t sitting there with, like, a pen and paper or at a computer, but if I didn’t like something in the script, I would tell Donny, ‘I don’t like this word, can we change it to something else?’ There were a whole bunch of lines in the script that just didn’t come to me so fast, so I changed them a little bit. I’d say I contributed a good amount.”
Grace already speaks, and performs, with the confidence of a veteran, and has indeed been training and acting on stage since she was 5. When asked if she’s a horror fan, she replies, “I always have been, since I was little,” then laughs at how that sounds (for the record, her favorites are IT and ANNABELLE). “Sometimes when I’m acting in a horror film, it can scare me a little bit, but when I watch them, they’re really fun. This one is excellent, and I’m really enjoying doing it.”
Once this section of ANECDOTA is completed, Capria and the rest of the team (including producers Ray Vanacore and Paul Travers and unit production manager Leon Vataj) plan to use it to attract financing for the rest of the feature, which will leave the apartment building and head north. “Grant [played by Joseph, pictured below] is an ex-military guy we bring in at the end,” Capria explains, “and he’s going to have his own section, and then we’ll have other people living through this who will have their own stories. We want to re-introduce Tabatha later in the film, and her cousin and her grandmother up in the Catskills. What we’ll probably do is have Grant and Tabatha link up, and they’re going to try to make that journey all the way up to the Catskills, and they’re going to encounter people along the way. Some of them are going to be team players–and some are not going to be on their side.”