Filmmaker Billy Hanson has made an impact on us in several ways. He has been a part of the film industry since 2005, directing both short and full-length features, and is the winner of several film awards for his outstanding work. He is also the director behind one of the most popular, most gross, award-winning Stephen King Dollar Baby films, SURVIVOR TYPE. This short film is based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, which is one of the titles Billy selected from the Dollar Baby short films adaptation program, allowed by Stephen King to be purchased for the amount of…one single dollar!
He has not only made these significant impacts in the film industry, he has made a huge difference in my life as well. With his Dollar Baby adaptation from book to film, he was the very first Stephen King Dollar Baby filmmaker I interviewed, way back in 2013. My review of the film, followed by an interview with Billy paved the way for many, many Dollar Baby reviews and interviews to follow. These wonderful directors were the reason for me to host two Dollar Baby film festivals at Crypticon HorrorCon in Minnesota, and other film festival opportunities. This also led me to my first published book about Stephen King’s Dollar Babies entitled,Stephen King Dollar Baby: The Book, as well as a second book in the works, pending release date, as soon as I get it off to my publisher. So, I hold Billy Hanson in high regard, and he has become a dear friend as well. I have walked a path of sorts with Billy over the past several years, and I am so honored and excited to bring you yet another new film review of Billy Hanson’s newest film release. It’s a full length feature film entitled… BONE COLD. I am also happy to bring you my exclusive interview with Billy about his new film as well.
BONE COLD (2023)
The film begins with military mercenary Jon Bryant returning home to the United States after a failed mission. Jon feels uneasy about this failed mission, and feels there was more to it than the higher brass let on. This feeling stems also from a bit of PTSD, which many soldiers experience after such an intense mission. Now home with his family, he receives yet another call (nearly immediately) to go on another mercenary mission with his partner, Marco Miller. This new mission takes him to a snow and ice covered woodsy area near the war torn Ukrainian/Russian border. There they must complete their mission by taking out one final target that has eluded them on the first mission. However, when they learn they’ve killed the wrong man, enemy soldiers who are out for revenge, and a sniper hiding out in the woods soon become the least of their problems. When Jon begins seeing a dark creature lurking in the woods during the mission, paranoia and fear set in. Now all Jon can do is focus on surviving whatever he faces with this menacing creature.
The two soldiers must stay alive long enough to complete their mission, and only then can they be airlifted to safety. Not only are they being hunted by enemy soldiers, and a sniper, now this strange creature is also hunting them. Jon is struggling to hold onto his sanity, and all reality seems to fade away by the end of the mission. To find out if they do survive, as well as what’s stalking them in the woods, I recommend watching…BONE COLD.
I found this film entertaining. I’m not usually a fan of military films, however, the twist in this film takes us beyond the typical war games. It was filmed well, is suspenseful, intriguing, and is a psychological thriller as well. Many scenes kept me on the edge of my seat. It has a “Twilight Zone” episode quality, but is a full feature film, and lends to heavy overtones of something you’d hear a “Rod Serling” narrative closure to. I think director Billy Hanson knows how to tap into the human psyche, and plays with us that way throughout the film. The locations were beautiful, it’s filmed well, and the cast was very impressive. If you want to watch a film that gives you chills, and is not only suspenseful, but truly taps into the psychological aspect right up to the end then I suggest you watch Billy Hanson’s…BONE COLD. This film is a new release on Amazon Prime Video as a rental, as well as being available on DVD for sale.
Now I invite you to read my exclusive interview with the director…Billy Hanson!
Anthony Northrup – How did BONE COLD first come about? When did production first begin?
Billy Hanson – Bone Cold was born out of a single image in my head: A man running through the snowy woods holding a rifle, and a dark creature in the distance. From there, I started to pull back the layers of what was going on in that image, who the man was, what the creature was, what they both wanted. And the story grew organically from that. It was a very fast turnaround from the inspiration to our first day of filming. The idea came to me in November of 2018, and we were filming by February of 2019, which gave me only three months to write the script, cast everyone, and get through a tough pre-production. So, it was a mad dash to get the project off the ground, but it would take another four years for us to finish the whole thing.
AN – You have many credits to your name. One of them is a Stephen King Dollar Baby short film, SURVIVOR TYPE. What are some of the differences and challenges between making a short film as opposed to a full-length feature?
BH – Yeah, I really like to work. I love creating stories, whether that’s story producing for a cooking show, or an animated series for a new app., or publishing my short story collection. That’s resulted in lots of work across several storytelling mediums, but my bread and butter is filmmaking, both shorts and features. I’d say the major difference is that with a feature film, you’re constantly going back and forth between the macro and the micro. You’re making endless little decisions that could have an impact in a scene you won’t shoot for another two months, so the scope and scale of your thought process has to jump back and forth. You’ll likely set some accidental traps for yourself down the line anyway, but you learn to roll with those punches. And once you get into post, the enormity of it can be daunting. Just the amount of footage you’ll have for feature instead of a short film creates a vastly different workflow. On the flip side, short films can be intense, because there’s very little room for error. Many shorts have only a few days with a crew, so any mistakes or mishaps, you probably won’t have the time to course correct. Stakes can be a little higher on a short film set.
AN – Share with us the audition process. What did your two main lead actors bring to the table to win them their roles?
BH – Well, the first person I called for this movie was Jonathan Stoddard. He’s a good friend and a great actor, so I knew if he was interested and available, it would be a solid start for the project. Then we worked with Casting Director Judith Bouley to help round out the cast. Matt Munroe came in and absolutely crushed his monologue for Marco Miller, Elise Greene had that great scowl in close-ups, Jennifer Khoe and Shaan Sharma floored everybody in the audition rooms. We were very lucky to have the team we did, because there’s not a weak performance in the whole film, which is exceedingly rare for an indie like this. Once the movie was finally released, the first thing we heard was how great the performances are, each and every one of them.
AN – Where was BONE COLD filmed? How long was the shoot? And, were there any challenges filming in the snow?
BH – We spent three weeks in Southern Maine filming all the winter scenes in February of 2019. Then we regrouped, raised some money, and filmed in LA for two more weeks of interiors in October and November of 2019, which wrapped principal photography. Then we had a few days of small pick-ups, VFX plates, and inserts just before the Covid lockdown. Filming in the snow was extremely challenging for many reasons, not the least of which was the sheer fact that it was often below zero out there. We were filming in the middle of the Maine woods, so we had to be extremely careful. In addition to that, there were locations that could only be reached by snowmobile, all of our batteries drained about ten times faster than normal in the cold, and the winter weather would change from moment to moment, meaning it could be snowing for one take and not for the next. There are a few scenes in Bone Cold that have digital snow added, although I’ll never admit which ones they are. But there was one happy accident during Marco’s big monologue, where he’s opening up about his own fears and worries for the first time. In that shot, you see the sun peek out from behind the clouds and light up his face, but as he retreats back into himself and closes off again, the clouds come back and the bright light goes away. That’s the kind of thing you can’t plan, but it is what you find if you just dive in with a “come what may” kind of attitude.
AN – I found this film to be very suspenseful, twisted, and psychologically thrilling. Would you say this film was more Twilight Zone influenced than horror?
BH – You know, I struggled early on while trying to pitch this film. I always said it was Predator meets Jacob’s Ladder, which still fits, but even that was a tough sell for some. It certainly walks the line between a few genres with elements of horror, action, drama, suspense, psychological thriller, and creature feature all rolled up into one man’s struggle to hold onto himself through brutal violence and trauma. I’ve always been tremendously inspired by The Twilight Zone, so any comparison to that is most welcome. I love how those stories break down the human condition by taking our existence to extremes. And so I guess the simple answer to your question would be yes, this story leans more toward the Rod Serling idea of horror.
AN – Who conducted the music for the film?
BH – A good friend of mine named Charles Honderick was the composer. I also had him record the song “Dark Cold Place” for the end credits, which was written by a childhood friend of mine, Joshua Lemay. Charlie was also the composer for my short film adaptation of Survivor Type, so he was the only person I reached out to when it came to Bone Cold music. He’s also a fantastic singer/songwriter who has this incredible 60s rock/pop style and he’s released a handful of tracks under the name Coach Hop. He and I did some music videos together – which can all be found on YouTube now – so we’ve been working together for a long time.
AN – Share with us some of the F/X process, most difficult, and the design of the creature?
BH – Well, with the creature itself, I always knew it would be some sort of combination of practical and VFX. I needed it to be creepy and surreal, and I didn’t want the audience’s eye to ever fully land or focus on it. So, we started with a statue-esque silhouette of a humanoid creature. For that design, I went to Brian Hillard and Matt Cunningham, who have done some astounding effects in Hollywood over the years, including the Well Walker from The Walking Dead. and numerous blood effects for Tarantino movies. Brian Hillard also pulled from his work with combat veterans and some of their descriptions of what haunts them. That’s how we ended up with the suit and the mask we shot with. From the moment you first see him in the woods, it’s a creepy shadow man that you know shouldn’t be out there with them. When we got into post, it took a long time to really nail down a look for the creature. We made it look as dark as we could without getting dinged in quality control, added some warping and morphing on top of that, then dropped a shaking and zooming effect to the entire screen that intensifies as the creature comes closer and closer to Jon. It took some serious trial and error, but the effect we ended up with really sells the idea. Most of our blood hits were a combination of practical and VFX as well, which really helps give the blood a physicality that a lot of indie actioners lack. People can tell if it’s digital blood. The other major task for VFX was the scope shots. There are well over a hundred shots looking through scopes, and because so much of the story is told through them, that’s another effect we really had to get right. So, we shot on a long lens, added magnification in the center, blurred the edges and added a reticle over the top. That’s another effect of which I’m very proud of.
AN – Were there any bloopers or funny moments on-set? If so, what were they?
BH – Oh, trust me, we had bloopers! You get a group of friends together, throw us in the woods for three weeks playing soldiers and monsters, you bet we’ll have a good time and have some fun mishaps. We had a whole series of shots of Jon falling face first into the deep snow, Matt getting angry and cursing himself out, and one set up where Jon simply could not raise his rifle without almost dropping it or hitting himself in the head. We actually ended up with a ten-minute blooper reel that was funny enough to make it onto the DVD and Blu-Ray, so if people have a physical copy of the film, they can check it out. It’s worth your while.
AN – Who plays the young daughter in the film, and what was her audition like? How many children auditioned for that role?
BH – Wendy Bryant is played by the wonderfully talented Trinity Jo-Li Bliss. We saw a long line of talented kids come through to read for that part, but when Trinity came in, we knew she was the one right away. At nine years old, she was professional, natural, surprising and inspiring. When we cast her, she had just finished filming Avatar 2 and 3 (and maybe 4?), where she played Tuk, the youngest of the kids in that series. She’s also a fantastic singer/songwriter with an album out and another on the way. Like everyone on Bone Cold, hers is a name you’re likely to see again and again in the coming years.
AN – What made you want to make this film at this point in your life?
BH – When I first got to LA, I received two pieces of advice that really stuck with me: Strike while the iron’s hot, and always keep a lot of irons in the fire. So, it wasn’t so much that I chose this film to do now, as it was the right project, with the right people, at the right time. That’s why, if you want to make movies, you should always have things happening, because you don’t know what will take off, or when, or how. That being said, this is the kind of film I’ve always wanted to make. It’s strange, thrilling, scary, intense, meaningful, and startling. But I don’t think I would have been able to do this any earlier in my life. Whether it’s the experience I’ve gained working in post-production the last decade and a half, or the connections I’ve made with highly talented friends, or just an unwavering stubbornness in holding onto the dreams of making movies, I was finally able to get this one rolling and it didn’t stop until it got to where it needed to go.
AN – What do you want audiences to take away from seeing this film?
BH – More than anything, I want people to remember it, to hold onto the experience of watching it, and not let it leave their minds as soon as the credits roll. Too much programming out there now is easily digestible and easily disregarded, so I wanted my first major film to be something surprising, unexpected, challenging, and exciting. Not to mention that the subject matter is something I believe should be talked about more. Film is a topic that I’m passionate about. Looking at war through the lens of horror should be terrifying in ways an audience won’t see coming, so I hope the story leaves people with more than they thought they were going to get when they hit Play. Thankfully, the early reactions were a mix of pleasant surprise and high anxiety, which feels like a real sweet spot.
AN – Where can audiences see the film, and will it play at any film festivals?
BH – The film was released in North America (USA, Canada, Caribbean) on Digital, DVD, and Blu-Ray. You can find it on the shelves anywhere else that sells physical movies like Target and Wal-Mart, or any digital platform that sells or rents movies, like iTunes, Amazon, etc. Anywhere that doesn’t have it in stock can order it for you, as well. So, it’s around! We aren’t playing festivals with it at this point, since most festivals won’t let you screen if it’s already got distribution, but we were lucky to have our premiere with Dances With Films NYC last December.
AN – Lastly, What’s next for Billy Hanson?
BH – Hopefully several things! First, I’m planning to release a new collection of short stories called “Long Term Damage” in the next year or so, and I’ve already got a few scripts that are ready to go as soon as the writer’s strike is over. Thankfully, the momentum of Bone Cold has put my name in front of people who make big decisions, so I’m hoping I can strike while that iron is hot, this case cold.