Excitement is building in Billings where scenes from the horror film “A Writer’s Ghost” are being shot.
Even cooler is the fact that filmmakers are embracing parts of Billings culture for the project, selecting local bands for the soundtrack and choosing popular hangouts for filming.
It all started back when filmmakers Michael Hitchcock and David Bulkley were roommates in the Army stationed in Seoul, South Korea, in 1989 and ’90. Hitchcock played in a band and wrote stories on the side. The two kept in touch over the next 20 years, and at some point Bulkley talked Hitchcock into relocating to Billings to film his first big film project. Bulkley is serving as executive producer and creative director on the film and Hitchcock is the executive producer and screenwriter.
“When I watched the film ‘Way Darker Thank you Think’ in 2012, I was thinking, ‘Why not make a movie in Billings?’ ” Bulkley said. “Billings has talented people who make movies.”
On his first visit here, Hitchcock caught a show at the Railyard Ale House featuring Billings rock band Omnithex. The song he heard them play, “What Can’t Be Seen,” sounded like the perfect fit for a haunted house scene.
“Writer’s Ghost” is a story about Becky Cook, a writer with a second book deal and a new home. She discovers that the house comes with a mischievous but seemingly benign spirit. Until her boyfriend shows up.
“It’s a haunting followed by a possession,” Hitchcock said of his script.
On a later trip to town, Hitchcock discovered the laid-back vibe at the Garage Pub, where dogs chase balls and children occasionally take a twirl in front of the stage. Then he sampled one of the Garage’s newest brews, Old No. 13, and discovered it was named for a song by Billings rock band ENDever. One more band for the soundtrack. Hitchcock also picked up Wes Urbaniak for the soundtrack.
“I want people to be aware that this could have been filmed in Boston or L.A., but we want it to be a film set in Billings,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock organized a Soundtrack Showcase party for April 5 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Garage Pub. Most of the cast and crew will be on hand and locals can sign up for a chance to audition with the director for a spot in the film.
Mike Mathews, of ENDever, believes this is a chance for his band to represent Billings and Montana on the national scene.
“We’ve had this band, which is like our family, for 16 years,” Mathews said. “It’s about time for us to leave a legacy.”
The guys in Omnithex are equally stoked. Tim Chamberlain said he was impressed to work with Paul Black on the soundtrack.
“Paul is the former singer for L.A. Guns. Do you know how big a deal this is going to be?” Chamberlain said.
Filming begins in April, with one shoot at the Garage in mid-April and another at the Cowboy’s Restaurant in Huntley. Filmmakers are also using a house in the area as the lead character’s haunted house. All of the filming will be done in Billings.
Boston film director Douglas Guarino was selected through an online contest where prospective directors were sent the script and asked to produce a trailer for the film.
“Douglas produced, directed and edited a trailer that completely captured the feel of the original script. Landing Douglas was exactly what we intended, as his background and vision are precisely what we need to make this a top-notch film,” Hitchcock said.
L.A. producer and actress Gia Franzia also signed on to lend her expertise.